Uxelis (Launceston?) Fort

In Ptolemy’s Geography produced in the second century, the name Uxella is listed between the unknown station Voliba and Tamaris (Plymouth, Devon) at the mouth of the Tamar. The Ravenna Cosmology (R&C#13) of the seventh century lists the name as Uxelis between the unknown entries Duriarno and Verteuia.

There are a few contenders for the location of Uxelis.

Axe estuary mouth in north Somerset, by Uphill at ST31795818 and Brean Down, formerly an important port.

Ward Law Roman camp at NY024669, uphill from Caerlaverock, Dumfries.

Cadson Bury hillfort, at SX343673 in Cornwall, by a crossing of the the river Lynher.  This follows a Roman-style almost-straight route from Isca Dumnoniorum, the fortress at Exeter, to Duriarno, the fort near Bodmin.

 

It is probable that a Roman fort was constructed at Launceston just to the south-west of the confluences of the Ottery and Cary with the Tamar, known in Latin as the Tamarus. The rivers Wolf and Thrushel also flow into the Tamar a couple of miles to the south-east of Launceston. The modern border between Cornwall and Devon runs along the length of the River Tamar. The Roman name for Launceston would seem to derive from the Welsh/Gaelic word usk, uisk ‘water, stream, river’, used here in its plural form.

Launceston Cornwall. Lanscavetone 1086 ( DB ). ‘Estate near the church-site of Saint Stephen’. Cornish *lann + saint’s name + OE tun.” (Mills)

The modern name Launceston has Romano-British undertones. The Cornish language is closely allied to Welsh, and the Cornish lann is identical in meaning with the Welsh word llan, which is known to indicate an early Christian church usually associated with an earlier Roman site or enclosure.

No corroborating epigraphic evidence has ever been recovered from the Launceston area to support the premise that a Roman fort was once built here.

References for Uxelis

  • Historical Map and Guide – Roman Britain by the Ordnance Survey (3rd, 4th & 5th eds., 1956, 1994 & 2001);
  • Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names by A.D. Mills (Oxford 1998);
  • Place names on maps of Scotland and Wales by the O.S. (Southampton, 1981).