Rocester

Fort and Roman Town

Rocester is located in the Staffordshire Moorlands District near the border with Derbyshire, at the extremity of a southward-jutting spur of land lying between the Rivers Churnet and Dove, about a mile north of the confluence of the former with the latter. Situated on the west bank of the Dove and to the east of the Churnet, this is an excellently positioned site from a defensive point of view, with the rivers affording protection on all sides save the north. The only means of approach was along the narrow ridge between the two rivers, which was no-doubt deforested by the Roman military to some considerable extent northwards so as to deny intruders a covered approach from this direction.

ROCESTER . – While making foundations for a cotton mill in 1792 some foundations were discovered, together with a brass spear-head and some copper coins, much corroded and defaced, which were, however, thought to be Roman. Human bones and fragments of pottery were also found [Stebbing Shaw, Hist. Staffs. i, 34, note]. In a field near the church is an earthwork about 45 yds. square, with a circular mound in the centre, and the remains of a vallum on three sides. [Antiq. xxviii, 238 ; Redfern, Hist. Uttoxeter, 65]. About three-quarters of a mile north of Rocester is a ‘camp’ called Barrow Hill, on the side of Dove Cliff. The camp is rectangular, with rounded angles, measuring 147 yds. north and south, 167 yds. east and west, and contains an area of 6¾ acres. The north-west and south-east angles are extant, and the sides can be traced. In 1894 some fragments of Roman pottery and glass were disclosed slightly under the surface [Post, ‘Anct. Earthworks’ ; N. Staffs. Field Club (1894)]. In a barrow or tumulus to the north of the camp Roman pottery and coins were found in 1872 [O.S. Staffs. xxvi, 6].” (V.C.H. Staffordshire)

Outpost on the Brigantian Border

The Roman auxiliary fort at Rocester was probably established during or shortly after 69AD when queen Cartimandua, an old and most trusted client of Rome, was forced to flee for her life from the followers of her estranged consort Venutius, who been finally forced by political and personal pressures to sieze control of the Brigantian state. The old queen had to be rescued by a legion sent specifically to help by the Roman governor Suetonius Paulinus, and a police garrison was placed at Rocester on the borders of the – now hostile – Brigantian client state.

Excavations conducted during 1961 by Graham Webster in the new cemetary prior to its occupation by the church, revealed the line of a military turf rampart with timber buildings in the interior. Webster suggested a two-phased occupation, finally abandoned c.120-150 AD. A civil bank with a stone wall, which followed the same alignment was built not before 200 AD. Later SMR evaluation in 1985 found evidence for three phases of military occupation. No details are available.

Finds From Roman Rocester

Roman deposits have been found at Abbey Farm, and evidence of the civil settlement have been found in Orton’s Pasture, south of Mill Street.

  • SK11233925 Roman pottery has long been recovered from the Abbey Field.
  • SK113393 Roman structures, coins and pottery were found during construction of the Mill in 1792.
  • SK112394 Excavations connected with the rebuilding of the church in 1871 revealed pottery, including samian, and several Roman? burials.
  • SK1118345 (sic.) In 1913, a paved stone surface was found, together with quantities of late first and second century samian and coarse pottery, and a coin of Domitian.
  • SK111394 At Church Lane in 1931, pottery of the late first and second century was found on builder’s spoil heaps.

Barrow Hill Earthwork

Traces of a small earthwork exist on the hilltop at Barrow Hill, about one mile due north of the 13th century church of St. Michael, but the true plan and date remain uncertain. Excavations conducted in 1870 by J.F. Lucas in a mound to the north of the Barrow Hill earth-work produced first century samian. (SK11074091)

References for Rocester

  • V.C.H. Staffordshire Vol.i () p.192;
  • The North Staffordshire Journal of Field Studies ii ();
  • The North Staffordshire Journal of Field Studies iv ();
  • Landranger Map #128 (Derby & Burton upon Trent) by the O.S. (1992)

Map References for Rocester

NGRef: SK11103948 OSMap: LR128

Roman Roads near Rocester

WNW (18) to Chesterton E (16) to Littlechester (Littlechester, Derbyshire)