Wall (Letocetum) Town

Major Settlement

Letocetum was situated on the boundary between two native British tribes, the Coritani in the east with their tribal centre at Ratae Coritanorum (Leicester), and the Cornovii to the west with their capital at Viroconium Cornoviorum (Wroxeter, Shropshire). The settlement here at Wall probably developed as the main trading centre between these two tribes, which goes some way to explaining why such a large town should be found where the local population density would not usually merit one. If we take typical border towns of the Gaulish provinces as models, we would expect to find several temples and an amphitheatre present here in Letocetum, and this seems to be the case.

Watling Street is one of the most important Roman military highways in Britain, running from Richborough on the Kentish coast in a westerly direction through Canterbury to London, thereafter heading north-west through Saint Alban’s to Mancetter in the Midlands, and at Wall turns due west towards the legionary fortresses in north Wales. Arriving from Mandvessedvm (Mancetter) 11 miles to the south-east, the Watling Street entered the settlement at Letocetum through the east gate of the defensive ramparts, and exited from the west gate running directly westward to Pennocrucium (Water Eaton) 16 miles away. The road originally extended to the fortress of the Fourteenth at Viroconium on the Welsh borders, but following the restructuring of the Legions in the late 1st century, most traffic after Pennocrucium was diverted north-west off the Watling Street through Mediolanum (Whitchurch) to the new legionary fortress of the Twentieth at Deva (Chester).

The Icknield Way bisected Watling Street half a mile to the east of the ramparts, travelling along the Trent Valley through Derventio (Littlechester, Derbyshire) 28 miles to the north-east, eventually on to the fortress of the Ninth far to the north at Colonia Eboracensis (York). To the south Icknield Way passed through the fort complex at Metchley in Birmingham to the salt works at Salinae (Droitwich Spa) some 33 miles away, and beyond through the potteries at Vertis (Worcester) to the old legionary fortress of the Second Augusta at Colonia Glevensis (Gloucester).

  1. Compare the modern Welsh llwyd-coed and Scottish Gaelic léith-coille.

Letocetum – The Evidence

There are only three entries for Wall in the Roman Inscriptions in Britain (RIB), none of which are very inspiring. There is RIB 284, which reads CANDIDVS , and is clearly someone’s name. Also, the even more uninspiring RIB 285 which reads simply N , which defies translation. Far more interesting is RIB 2246 (vide infra), a honorific pillar or milestone found near the junction of the Watling Street and Ryknield Street to the south-east of the settlement.

RIB 2246 - Milestone of Claudius II

For the Emperor Caesar Marcus Aurelius Valerius Claudius ..

IMP[    ]
AVR [...]

Claudius II, A.D. 268-70. Inscriptions and coins of Claudius II carrying the name of Valerius are rarer than those without it (see PIR² A, 1626).

Classical references for Letocetum

The first mention of the name for the Roman settlement at Wall occurs in the Antonine Itinerary of the late-second century. The Second Itinerary in this work is entitled “the route from the Entrenchments to the port of Rutupiae“, which details the road-stations between Hadrian’s Wall near the Scottish border to the Roman port at Richborough on the Kentish coast. The entry for Wall appears in the second half of Iter II as Eoceto, 12 miles from Pennocrucium (Water Eaton, Staffordshire) and 16 miles from Manduesedum (Mancetter, Warwickshire).

The seventh century Ravenna Cosmology lists the name as Lectoceto (R&C#94), between the entries for Ratae Coritanorum (Leicester, Leicestershire) and Lactodurum (Towcester, Northamptonshire).

The name Letocetum is a romanised version of the original leito kaito¹ said to mean ‘the Grey Wood’. It is very likely that a native settlement occupied the site before the advent of the Romans. A Roman Burg or stronghold was established here, guarding the two major military highways, Watling Street and Icknield Way, which crossed aout half a mile to the east. A small Romano-British settlement covering 20-30 acres also developed in the vicinity, which traded services and commodities with the military establishments. The site was later the site of a mansio or Imperial Posting Station which provided lodging for official users of the imperial roads, and an impressive public bath-house which was a focal point of local life.

The Roman Military Installations

The Neronian Fortress

A large timber-built campaign fortress was erected on the hill top to the north of Watling Street during the campaigns of governor Aulus Didius Gallus in Brigantia around 55AD, which continued to be garrisoned by Legio XIV Gemina before they were installed in their new legionary fortress at Viroconium during the early administration of Gaius Suetonius Paulinus c.58.

The Trajanic/Hadrianic Fort

In the early-second century a small fort of 2 acres (0.8ha) was built on the hill top, showing the continued value placed on maintaining a military presence at this major junction in the Roman highway system. The south-east corner of this, the latest fort was examined during excavations in 1969/70. Four successive timber-built phases were identified within the interior of the fort, with all building being aligned with the defences. The via principalis of this fort is thought to have run along the line of Market Lane. The fort was abandoned during the early-2nd century.

The Temporary Marching Camps

Three Roman marching camps are known in the area of Wall. On the western side of the tributary stream, opposite the bath-house and mansio site, on gently sloping ground lies the site of two of these. The larger, with an area of approximately 40 acres has in its south-west quadrant a smaller one of about 10 acres. A third camp measuring at least 300 ft north-south by 200 ft east-west was also sited to the south of Letocetum, near the modern village conspicuously named Chesterfield.

The largest of these marching camps, which lies to the west of Wall village is thought to be attributed to the initial campaigns of Ostorius Scapula in 47AD, and was probably the first Roman site in the area. At least one of the remaining temporary camps probably dates to around 60AD, built to act as a rearward base for Paulinus’ retaliatory expedition against Boudicca.

Other Roman Features

Third Century Burg and Town Defenses

Towards the end of the second century the mansio (and bath-house?) was destroyed by fire, and at the same time, several buildings at Viroconivm Cornoviorvm were also destroyed. It is thought that these incidents were related to a general uprising of the Welsh tribes that occurred at this time, which was, however, soon quelled. To guard against futher disruptions, a series of strongholds or burgi were established along the length of Watling Street, Letocetvm being among them. Construction of this defensible site and others located at Pennocrvcivm and Vxacona was completed towards the end of the second century.

… At Wall [6 Vict. Co. Hist. (= VCH) Staffordshire I, 1908, 193-6, with map; R. Mott, Letocetum 1929.] (SK 099065), in Staffordshire, three broad ditches have been seen and recorded, forming 625 ft. of the south side and the rounded south-east angle of an enclosure. A little west of the mid-point of this visible length the crop marks over the ditches are reduced in thickness, as if at a causeway leading to a gate. The ditches lie south of Watling Street, to which they are parallel, and the distance between the modern road and the nearest ditch is about 225 ft. Moreover, as it approaches from the east, Watling Street aims at a point some 225 ft. north of the south-east angle of the enclosure, which may well be the site of a gate; and at exactly this point the road makes a slight change of direction to the south to bring it into parallelism with the three, ditches. 650 ft. further west there appears to have been a further change through some 15 degrees: the rounded curves of the modern road are scarcely a faithful rendering of the Roman line. What more likely than that these two changes in course occur at the east and west gates of a Roman fort? In 1887 there was found, in the field to north of the road a wall, described as 11 ft. thick and 50 yds. long, and thought to be a Roman town wall. In this field, known as Castle Croft, other walls and finds of Samian pottery have been recorded. It seems very probable that the triple ditched enclosure is an early fort upon the east and west gates of which Watling Street is aligned. There are many records of Roman objects from Wall and, on the west of the village, a bath-building and courtyard-house have been excavated (near the present Museum), while there is evidence of occupation in the fields to the north. The small town that existed here seems to have lain to north-west of the postulated fort, and mainly on the north side of Watling Street. The site can only be explored further by excavation, which is needed to determine the extent of the enclosure, and particularly its relation to the high ground near Wall House.” (JRS 1953 p.83)

The nucleus of the town on the hill top was protected by the construction of a triple ditch system, backed by a rampart and wall, behind which ran a gravel road. These defenses were bisected by Watling Street which entered the stronghold from the south-east and departed directly west towards another newly constructed burg at Pennocrucium. These defences measured approximately 625 feet from east to west by about 450 feet transversely (c.190 x 137 m), enclosing an area of almost 6½ acres (c.2.6 ha) on the hilltop.

The Roman Cemeteries

The cemetaries lay along both sides of Watling Street on the west side of Letocetum, to the south of the site of the marching camps. Nine burials with first and second century pottery were found on the north side in 1927, and a further nine of similar date were found in the same area in 1966.

Possible Amphitheatre

In the field between the mansio site and Watling Street, a round depression in the ground may mark the site of a Roman Amphitheatre.

Romano-British Temples?

The site of the modern church was once occupied by a Roman temple, probably dedicated to the goddess Minerva, as a large earthenware statue in her likeness was found in the vicinity.

A rectangular crop-marked area in the field to the north-west of the bath-house, only visible in dry weather, may be the site of another temple.

Conjectural Timeline for Letocetum

Claudian marching camp established to west of native British settlement.
Neronian fort built on hill top, which became garrison fort of Legio XIV.
Legio XIV moved to new legionary fortress at Viroconivm.
Marching camp built during Boudiccan campaign.
Flavian fort built.
Construction of Flavian bath-house discontinued.
Early 2nd c.
Hadrianic fort built.
After c.118AD
Hadrianic mansio constructed.
Courtyard floor relayed in mansio.
Late 2nd c.
Mansio destroyed by fire.
Late 2nd/ Early 3rd c.
Burg defenses established.

Other Roman Finds in the Area

Lead Pigs From Hints Common

In 1771 a pig of lead weighing 152lbs was found on Hints Common about 7km ESE of Letocetum (c.SK160045), just north of Watling Street. The top face was inscribed IMP VESP VII T IMP V COS, naming the emperor Vespasian and his son Titus during their joint Consulship in 76AD (Vespasian’s seventh consulship and Titus’ fifth), and on the side DECEA[N]G[I], naming the producing tribal state the Ceangi who inhabited the coastal region of North Wales. The Victoria County History says of this find:

H INTS . – In 1771 a pig of lead was discovered on Hints Common, with the following inscription on the bottom, in relief: IMP. VESP. VII. T. IMP. V. COS (Imperatore Vespasiano septimum. Tito Imperatore quintum, Consulibus). On the side, DECEAN. G. The date would have been about A.D. 76. The letters on the side are thought to refer to the Deceangi, a tribe which inhabited the district about the county of Flint, and the pig is, therefore, supposed, with others found in different parts of the country, to have come from that locality. The weight is 150 lb., the length 22½ in., and it was found at a depth of 4 ft. below the surface. It is now in the British Museum [Gent. Mag. (1772), p. 558 ; (1773), p. 61 ; Camden, Brit. (ed. Gough), ii, 382 ; Hübner, Corpus Inscrip. vii, 1205 ; Arch. v, 371 ; lvii, 402 ; Arch. Journ. xvi, 28 ; Haverfield, Proc. Soc. Antiq. (Ser. 2), xv, 187 ; Pitt, Hist. Staffs. i, 164 ; Stebbing Shaw, Hist. Staffs. i, 331].

In 1883 (or 1838) another lead pig weighing 150lbs was found in the same neighbourhood. The top was likewise inscribed IMP VESP VII T IMP V COS, but no mention was made of an inscription on any other face.

Non-Roman Information

The City of Lichfield

The Local Watering-Hole

Modern Wall, looking west along the A5 trunk road. The Mansio can be seen through the gap in the hedge in the mid-distance, and the bath-house a little to the left, above the hedge. The modern houses on the left are placed along either side of the Roman road. The picture was taken from the beer-garden at the back of the Trooper pub. The nuisances in the foreground are my son Dan (on right) and his pal Ian. Their heads obscure the National Trust toll-booth at the entrance to the restored site. In the field behind the boys, a depression visible quite easily from the aforementioned gap in the hedge, may mark the site of a small wooden Roman amphitheatre.
Car parking, good beer, decent scoff, kids welcome, an excellent specimen of a Roman Mansio and bath-house nearby, what more could one ask? Get yerself down there!

References for Letocetvm

  • Air Reconnaissance of Southern Britain by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. xliii (1953) p.83;
  • Air Reconnaissance in Britain, 1958-1960 by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. li (1961) p.123;
  • Air Reconnaissance in Britain, 1969-72 by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. lxiii (1973) p.233;
  • Britannia ii (1971) p.260; Britannia i (1970) p.38;
  • The Romans in Britain An Anthology of Inscriptions by A.R. Burn (Oxford 1969) p.25.
  • The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965);
  • V.C.H. Staffordshire vol.I, p.190.

Roman Roads near Letocetvm

Ryknild Street: NE (27) to Littlechester (Littlechester, Derbyshire) Watling Street/Iter II: W (13) to Pennocrvcivm (Water Eaton, South Staffordshire) Watling Street/Iter II: ESE (15) to Mandvessedvm Ryknild Street: S (16) to Metchley (Metchley, Birmingham)

Sites near Wall (Letocetum) Town