Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Beyond The Castle Dig on Vicarage Fields Announced

Work investigating Quay Meadow in 2015 by the Beyond the Castle team unearthed some surprises. Photo: Beyond the Castle

A fortnight long archaeological excavation on Lancaster’s Castle Hill will seek to uncover more about the city’s Roman past - and Beyond The Castle are hoping some locals will be keen to take part as volunteer diggers, alongside the professional archaeologists.

Taking place from 23rd May to 3rd June 2016, the new excavation will partly re-open earlier trenches dug in the late 1920s and early 1970s, but also investigate undisturbed ground to test emerging theories relating to Lancaster’s Late Roman Shore Fort.

The Shore Fort was one of a succession of Roman Forts, dating from the first to fourth centuries, which occupied Lancaster’s Castle Hill.

Only limited excavations have taken place and very little is known about the nature of the Roman and later remains. Vicarage Fields to the west of Vicarage Lane displays a well-preserved but confusing set of earthworks. Some are very likely to be Roman; others appear to be later.

The dig will partly re-excavate the 1929 and 1971 trenches to aid understanding of earlier research, and then extend these to the west and north.

Roman Northern England and southern Scotland

Jason Wood, Excavation Director and Heritage Consultant to the Beyond the Castle project said: “The dig represents an important opportunity to test our theories relating to the location of Lancaster’s Late Roman Shore Fort. Hopefully it will enable us to consolidate our understanding of the site and what this might tell us about the nature and character of Lancaster in Roman times.”

The dig is part of the Beyond the Castle project, which is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and led by Lancaster City Council and Lancashire County Council.

Lancaster is one of Visit England’s newly designated Heritage Cities, which rather makes it all the more incredible that the County Council plan to close the Judges Lodgings, but we're told telling the story of the Roman archaeology, will be an essential ingredient in the city’s tourism strategy and in making Lancaster a key heritage destination.

(If only they had a Museum where they could create a dedicated space for the finds, rather than shoe horn them into the City Museum, eh?)

“The history of Lancaster dates back many thousands of years and while we know a lot about much of it, there are still many gaps to our knowledge," says Councillor Janice Hanson, Cabinet member with responsibility for regeneration. 'This exciting project delving into our ‘hidden depths’ could potentially have a huge influence on the way we see our city and the way it has developed over the millennia.”

One of the first 3D models of the area that is prompting the new dig. Image: Beyond The Castle

All trenches will be hand-excavated by a combination of volunteers and experienced archaeologists under the direction of a Member of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists. The public will be encouraged to visit and watch the excavation, engage with archaeologists and the team of volunteers, and assist with finds processing.

The Beyond the Castle project has already greatly contributed to the advancement of understanding of the site through topographical and geophysical surveys and two excavations in 2015.

The dig on Quay Meadow was funded and undertaken by the Lancaster and District Heritage Group, which is unconnected with the Beyond the Castle project; the second a re-excavation of one of Sir Ian Richmond’s 1965 trenches in Vicarage Fields East (the Bathhouse Field), was initiated to mark the 50th anniversary of Sir Ian’s untimely death.

Significant discoveries were revealed in both of these excavations and the results will help inform future management and interpretation of the Beyond the Castle site as a whole. In due course this will lead to the development of a research framework and agenda to secure funding and guide an extensive programme of further excavation, interpretation and display of Lancaster’s remarkable Roman heritage.

• Beyond The Castle are seeking volunteers for the duration of the excavation to join the team. If you are interested, get in touch. To find out more about the dig and how to get involved visit or email

Archaeology UK page on Vicarage Fields

Details of what we know about the Roman fort and its vicus and remains of a pre-Conquest monastery and a Benedictine priory on Castle Hill

Historic Land Survey Report (2011) on Lancaster's Roman Bath House and Wery Wall (PDF)

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