Housesteads (Brocovicio or Vercovicium)

Picture of Housesteads Roman Fort

Grid Reference
NY790687
Owned by
English Heritage
Opening
28 March - 30 September 10am-6pm daily
1 October - 1 November 10am-5pm daily
Winter 10am-4pm
Public Transport
AD122 bus
Car Park
National park car park
Facilities
Toilets, Museum shop, Museum, Cafe

To get to the fort you need to walk for 10 minutes from the carpark up hill to the small museum. The main shop, toilets and a kiosk for drinks are all located at the carpark.

Housesteads is undergoing an exciting Million pound redevelopment of it's museum and visitor facilities. The museum will have interactive and audio visual displays looking at life in the fort and the surrounding civil settlement. For more information follow this link to the English Heritage site: Redevelopment of Housteads

The fort.

Housesteads has the most dramatic setting of any fort on the wall, and the bleak surroundings show how it could have earned the name Vercovicum (place of good fighters). It is also has the most complete excavated remains of any of the wall forts. The walls still stand high enough to make it instantly recognisable as a fort, and you can see the layout of the buildings such as the hospital block and head quarters as well.

Picture of latrines at Housesteads

One of the features that you can see at Housesteads are the best preserved Roman Latrines in the country. These featured an elaborate water supply with wooden seats above deep ditches but offered little in the way of privacy, seating up to twelve at a time. A small channel at the base was used to wash sponges that were used instead of toilet paper .

As with Birdoswald, the fort was home to a cohors milliaria peditata, which was a double strength infantry cohort with ten centuries instead of the normal six . In the third century the cohors I Tungrorum milliaria was based here, which under Hadrian had occupied the Roman fort at Birdoswald and before that had been based at Vindolanda. It was unusual in that it was an entirely infantry unit (most of the wall garrisons were mixed infantry and cavalry)as well as being double strength. Purely infantry units were only based on the central part of the Wall. By the end of the third century or early fourth century, the regular Roman army garrison had been strengthened by the addition of the numerus Hnaudifridi (Notfried's regiment a German mercenary unit) and the cuneus Frisiorum (a Frisian cavalry unit). These were irregular units, recruited from non Roman citizens, who would have fought in their own traditional way and dressed in their tribal dress.

The vicus

Housesteads is also one of the few forts where any excavations have been done on the vicus - the civilian settlement that would have grown up outside all the forts. The remains of several buildings can be seen just down the hill from the Southern gate.

The vicus would have provided the soldiers with supply of goods and services to make the life of the garrison tolerable. The most common buildings were strip houses. These are rectangular buildings with the short side facing the street (An example at Housesteads comes complete with a stone ledge with slots, where the shops shutters would have gone). The front of the house would have served as a shop and sometimes a work shop, while the back provided the living quarters, very similar buidings can be seen perserved at Pompeii. At some vici inns which would have provided overnight accommodation, have been found. Most vici seem to have been abandoned towards the end of the third century, long before the forts themselves were abandoned.

Milecastle 37

Picture of the milecastle 37

If you walk west along the wall from Housesteads you will soon come to Milecastle 37. This is particularly striking at the North gate still has the beginning of the archway. In the early part of the 20th century some people thought of restoring the arch, but unfortunately, although most of the stones for the arch lay around, one of the stones had been smashed.

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