Middlewich (Salinae Cornoviorvm) Roman Fort and Settlement

Auxiliary Fort, Minor Settlement and Salt working

The Harbutt’s Field Roman Fort is located n the W side of King Street, to the N of Middlewich (Salinae) and just to the S of the crossing of the River Dane, geophysical survey and sample excavation in 1993 revealed a camp, almost square in plan, measuring approximately 110m by 125m with rounded corners and entrances visible in the middle of all four sides. In the E and W sides there was a gate, marked by a causeway across the ditch at the central point; on the N and S the gates were offset to the E towards the Roman road. The excavators suggested the possible presence of a timber building within the interior.

There is evidence of a structure located within the northern gateway. The enclosure was surrounded by a single rampart and ditch. There are further features outside the rampart and ditch which may represent ancillary features such as the roads leading to the site, and a possible outer ditch on the north side of the fort. A number of internal features have also been identified.

The geophysical survey work was followed by limited excavation. This revealed that the ditch survives as a buried feature, as do postholes which relate to the construction of the rampart. Within the interior of the fort, deposits of burnt clay were found along with evidence of the slots in which timber beams used in the foundations of the Roman buildings would have been set. Pottery fragments found indicate that the fort was in use in the late first century AD.

Although no upstanding remains of the fort at King Street survive, geophysical survey and limited excavation have established the position and extent of the whole site and confirmed that significant archaeological remains survive beneath the present ground surface.

Excavations in 1970

SJ705665 – Excavations conducted in 1970 at the south end of the settlement uncovered a number of timber buildings dating to the 2nd and early-3rd centuries; all fourth-century occupation levels had been removed during modern times. Four small pottery kilns arranged in two facing pairs were apparently in use for a short period. Debris associated with brine extraction was found in the area to the west of these timber buildings.

Salinae – The Salt Pans

The sole classical geography which mentions the Roman name for the Middlewich settlement is the Ravenna Cosmology of the 7th century, wherein is listed a town called Salinis (R&C#90), between the entries for Derventio (Littlechester, Derbyshire) and Condate (Northwich, Cheshire). This name is derived from the Latin word salis ‘salt’, and the commonly accepted Roman name for Middlewich is Salinae, which is easily translated as ‘The Salt Pans’ or ‘The Salt Workings’.

The Local Salt Industry

Perhaps the most profitable industry of the Cornovii tribe was salt extraction which was carried out at several sites in Cheshire, notably here at Middlewich, although there is evidence of considerable Romano-British salt production at Northwich in the north-west, also at Nantwich in the south which has only recently been discovered. All of these Cheshire salt-factories were closely interconnected via the local Roman road network, which was no-doubt used to ship this precious commodity far and wide.

References for Salinae (cornoviorvm)

  • Roman Camps in England – The Field Archaeology by the R.C.H.M.E. (H.M.S.O, London, 1995);
  • Britannia ii (1971) p.255; Britannia i (1970) p.282.

Map References for Salinae (cornoviorvm)

NGRef: SJ7066 OSMap: LR118

Roman Roads near Salinae (cornoviorvm)

Probable road: SE (14) to Chesterton SW (20) to Mediolanvm NNW (6) to Condate (Northwich, Cheshire)

Sites near Middlewich (Salinae Cornoviorvm) Roman Fort and Settlement