Greensforge Fort A
Greensforge Fort A measures approximately 460 by 425 ft (c.140 x 130 m) covering an area of about 4½ acres (c.1.8 ha). It was the first of the two forts to be built on the east bank of the Smestow near the confluence with the Dawley, and lies at the extreme southern end of the low ridge between the two streams, immediately south of the modern road junction. The fort utilized the steep bank of the Smestow to delineate and augment its western defences, while the minor stream gave extra protection to the southern and south-eastern circuit. An outlying defensive system was later added to the north and north-east, stretching across the full width of the tongue from the Smestow to the Dawley, and affording further protection to attack from this quarter. The eastern defences of the fort are now delineated and partially destroyed by the line of the Greensforge to Ashford road, the original destruction of the fort’s defences was probably carried out by the Roman military, during construction of the Roman road to Droitwich.
There is said to be a Roman camp, on the level ground called Ashwood Heath, near Greensforge, in the parish of Kingswinford. It is square, easily to be traced, and lies on the south-east side of the road. It measures 206 yds. in length and 160 yds. in width, containing an area of 6¾ acres, and is surrounded by a single ditch [O.S. Staffordshire, 25 in., lxx, 4]. It used to be known as ‘Wolverhampton Church Yard.’ The road crosses it, and the western side is the most perfect. Coins have been found in the locality. The camp at Chesterton in Shropshire, on the same road, is said to resemble it very closely [Ante, ‘Ancient Earthworks’ ; Camden, Brit. (add. by Gough), ii, 380 ; Plot, Nat. Hist. Staffs. 406 ; Erdeswick, Survey of Staffs. 374 ; Cox, Mag. Brit. v, 35, 46 ; Stebbing Shaw, Hist. Staffs. ii, 233 ; Pitt, Hist. Staffs. i, 5, 193].” (V.C.H. Staffordshire)
Roman Military Complex
The Roman military complex at Greensforge consists of two forts and five marching camps, mostly situated on a southward projecting tongue of land lying between the narrow and marshy valley of the Smestow Brook to the west, and the broad valley of the Dawley Brook to the south-east. The topography here provides excellent defensive positioning against an enemy threat from the west. A couple of the marching camps lie anomalously on the western bank of the Smestow Brook, and seem therefore, to have been built to defend against an attack from the east; possibly during the Revolt of Queen Boudica of the Iceni in 60/61AD.
Tentative Building Sequence at Greensforge
- c.45AD Marching Camp 1 was the first to be established, as this appears to underlie Marching Camp 2, the outworks of the Claudian fort and the annexe of the Neronian/Flavian fort.
- c.46AD Marching Camp 3 may date to this period. There are traces of a double defensive ditch on the north-eastern circuit; this may have been a Claudian marching camp built to house a vexillation of the Fourteenth Legion during its march on the Wrekin in the winter of 46/47AD. The maximum size suggested by the meagre crop marks and local topography is large enough to house about a quarter of a legion; at a pinch, maybe three cohorts or 1440 men.
- c.47AD Auxiliary Fort ‘A’ has been positively dated as Claudian, and was probably established during the early campaigns of Ostorius Scapula, following the capitulation of the Cornovii in Shropshire.
- c.48AD – 55AD Marching Camp 2 was built just outside the northern defences of the Claudian fort, prior to the construction of the fort’s northern outworks.
- c.50AD – 51AD Alternative date for the construction of Marching Camp 3. Built in response to the activities of Caratacus in mid-Wales.
- c.50AD – 60AD The outlying northern defences of the Claudian fort were added.
- c.60/61AD The Revolt of the Iceni under Queen Boudicca in East Anglia presents the scenario for a lot of activity at Greensforge:
- The Claudian fort was hastily dismantled and the area levelled, the garrison withdrawing to the relative safety of the opposite bank of the Smestow.
- Marching Camp 4 was built to house the displaced troops from the fort.
- Marching Camp 5 was built – possibly within days of Camp 4 – by a large force withdrawn from mid-Wales. Both of these camps lie on the west bank of the Smestow Brook, evidently to guard against attack from the east; Camp 5 is the larger of the two, housing around three thousand troops, and appears to be oriented directly towards the crossing of the Smestow.
- The marching camp at Swindon is sited on a scarp above the western bank of the Smestow Brook, and could also be assigned this construction date on similar grounds, perhaps built by a large force withdrawn from Viroconium.
- c.60AD – 80AD Auxiliary Fort ‘B’ has been positively dated to the Neronian/Flavian period and may have been built in the direct aftermath of the Boudiccan Revolt; such an important river-crossing could hardly have been left un-guarded after the demolition of the original fort.
References for Greensforge
- Air Reconnaissance of Southern Britain by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. xliii (1953) pp.84/5;
- Air Reconnaissance in Britain, 1958-1960 by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. li (1961) p.123;
- Air Reconnaissance in Britain, 1961-1964 by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. lv (1965) p.84;
- Victoria County History – Staffordshire Vol.I, p.190-1;
Map References for Greensforge
NGRef: SO8688 OSMap: LR139
Roman Roads near Greensforge
S (16) to Droitwich (Droitwich Spa, Hereford & Worcester) N (13) to Pennocrvcivm (Water Eaton, South Staffordshire) Possible road: NNW (16) to Uxacona (Redhill, Shropshire) Probable tactical road: NW (22) to Viroconivm Possible tactical road: ESE (12) to Metchley (Metchley, Birmingham)
Aside from the roads mentioned above, there is also evidence to suggest that an ancient east-west trackway, known as the Hen Ffordd or the Old Road, linked the Greensforge complex with Forden Gaer in Wales. The eastward extension of this road communicated with Metchley.