Roman Manchester


The Roman History of Manchester

Roman Occupation to the Norman Conquest of

Julius Agricola statue on Manchester Town HallCastlefield Marker, ManchesterRoman Legionaire at ManchesterThe Fort and North gate of the Fort in Castlefield, ManchesterCastlefield Basin, Manchester

The Roman Fort in Manchester

Castleshaw Roman Fort near Oldham
Castleshaw Roman Fort (Rigodunum) near Oldham.
Aerial Photograph Courtesy of © 2005

When General Julius Agricola, (40 – 93 AD), the
commander of the invading Roman legions, arrived at a sandstone bluff
overlooking the confluence of the Rivers Irwell and Medlock on a major
roadway from the Roman settlement at Deva (Chester) to Eboracum (York),
he saw instantly that it was, potentially, an excellently defensible
position against the native Celtic tribe, the Brigantes, (perhaps
where the word “brigand” comes from), who were (to put it
mildly) less than pleased by the uninvited occupying force’s arrival
in their ancestral territories.
Agricola immediately set about building a wooden fortress. He called
the place “Mamucium” (sometimes spelt ‘Mamuciam’ –
meaning “a breast shaped hill”) because of the then distinctive
shape of the outcrop. The site of this encampment is marked today
by Camp Street (actually located in the City of Salford).
Agricola’s original fort covered some 5 acres and was then surrounded
by woods where deer and wild boar were still to be found. Eventually,
the Brigantes were won over and even Cartimandua, their queen, was
to become a firm friend of Agricola.
The original garrison was probably populated by legionaries from Spain
and Romania, and it must have seemed a very dark, cold and damp outpost
at the very edge of the Roman Empire in comparison to the sunny climes
of their native lands. An inscription on the reconstructed North Gate
of the present Fort, (as it would have appeared around 200 AD), commemorates
troops from the provinces of Rhaetia and Noricum (roughly approximating
to modern Austria), and their centurion is identified as Lucius Senecianius
Over the next 3 centuries, a stone fort was built further downstream
at what was to become Castlefield (simply known by medieval times
as the “castle in the field”), and the inevitable small
encampment (or vicus – a place to live) grew around it – at
its height it is estimated that some 2000 people lived within its
walls, including soldier’s wives and families together with craftsmen
and traders. Many of these would have been Britons who eventually
intermarried with Roman legionaries. This was the origin of Manchester,
and the people became the Romano-British.
The later stone fort was built at the present day site, where the
1970 excavations and reconstruction is visible, and well worth a visit.
In summer, two tour guides dressed as Roman legionaries, conduct guided
tours around the fortress.
A Roman exhibition can also be seen in the nearby Castlefield Visitors’
Centre. Many valuable archaeological finds exist, including fragments
of Spanish pottery and a word square bearing the words “Pater
Noster” (Latin = “Our Father” – the beginning of the
Lord’s Prayer) – these two are dated at between 170-175 AD, the oldest
known Christian relics in Great Britain.
The reconstructed North Gate has been built on the excavated foundations
of the original fort, using evidence from other Manchester excavations
as a guide. It shows how the gate would have appeared around 200 AD
This position is flanked by the two original defensive ditches which
were built during the 3rd century AD. Above the arch in the gate is
a guardroom, furnished with reproduction furniture in the style of
the period.
An inscription on the gate commemorates a detachment of troops from
the provinces of Rhaetia and Noricum (modern Austria) and their centurion,
Lucius Senecianus Martius.
At its height, the fort and the spreading civilian settlement around
it probably amounted to about 2000 people.
The fort was abandoned in 411 AD, marking the complete withdrawal
of Roman troops from Britain, and the township (the vicus) probably
fell gradually into disuse. Over time the purpose of the ruined fortress
was lost in obscurity, and “the castle in the field” suffered
as did most other ruins, as a useful place for locals to acquire (steal)
ready dressed stones to repair their houses and barns.

Saxons, Norsemen and Danes in Manchester

The Roman withdrawal from Britain in the 5th century
AD left the town open to the ravages of further European and Scandinavian
invasions, notably the Saxons, who renamed the township “Manigceastre”.
These fierce Northmen attacked and plundered the town in 429 AD. Later,
Edwin, King of Northumbria, conquered and occupied the town in 620
In 870 AD the Danes invaded and virtually razed the town to the ground
in a prolonged and bloody conflict. So bloody was the conflict that,
the southern district of Reddish (now part of Stockport) is thought
to have derived from the blood red field of battle. The rebuilt “Danish”
town’s early streets were named by them. The Danish word “gat”
(meaning “road”) is still evidenced in Deansgate and Millgate.
Danish invaders had arrived by longboat by sailing up the River Mersey,
unopposed, as far as Warrington.
By 923 AD, the town, now commonly known first as “Mamecaestre”
and then as “Manceastre”, came under the rule of West Saxon
kings, and became a garrison for the troops of Prince Edward the Elder.
An effigy of their patron saint, the Archangel Michael, is thought
to have been brought with them, and the so-called “Angel Stone”
can still be viewed in Manchester
. At that time, the Cathedral would have been known as
the Church of St Mary, and is briefly mentioned in the Domesday Book
of 1086 AD. The Angel Stone was unearthed by workmen repairing the
South Porch in 1871, and is almost the only surviving relic of Saxon
times in Manchester
There is a brief historic reference in the town records of Edward,
son of King Alfred the Great, taking over the town in that year and
making repairs to the “fortifications”, (probably based around the
present cathedral), which would still have been little more than a
wooden palisade.
During the 10th century, the church of St Mary was established at
the north end of Deansgate – that church is now Manchester Cathedral.
In 1028, King Canute regarded the town as important enough to found
one of his 10 royal mints here.
It was during the Anglo Saxon period that Manchester, which had hitherto
been established around the Roman Fort at Castlefield was re-established
around the Cathedral, about a mile north of the old town.

The Normans in Manchester

After the Norman Invasion of 1066, William of Normandy
carved his newly won lands into sizeable portions to give out as rewards
to the barons who had loyally supported him in the Conquest of England.
They in turn, further divided the lands as gifts in payment to their
knights and soldiers.
William gave the lands around Manchester to Roger of Poitou, who in
turn bestowed the Manor of Manchester on Nigellus, a Norman knight.
Nigellus subsequently gave the manor as a present to his son-in-law,
Albert de Gresley, whose son Thomas was granted The Great Charter
of Manchester in 1301, under which it became a free borough. His successors
were to create and found the collegiate church which became Manchester

The Trail around Roman Manchester

The trail begins outside the White Lion pub on
Liverpool Road, and is organised by the Castlefield Management Company.
The Trail includes:

The Roman Gardens
A selection of plants, herbs and trees thought to have been introduced
by the Romans;

The Vicus
The civilian settlement outside the fort, mainly inhabited by the
wives and families of soldiers as well as neighbouring tribes (the

The North Gate
The reconstruction of the final fort built around 200 AD with Commander’s
House, stables, hospital, barracks and granary;

Defensive Ditches
In front of the North Gate the 3rd century earthworks which formed
the primary defence;

The West Wall
A largely reconstructed wall overlooking the surrounding countryside.

For more information on Castlefield and the Roman
Fort, contact:

The Castlefield Management Company
Castlefield Centre, 101 Liverpool Road, Castlefield, Manchester
M3 4JN
Tel: 0161-834 4026. Fax: 0161-839 8747.
Registered Charity Number 1054182.

… End of Topic].

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This page last updated 16 Nov 11.