British Temple Or Shrine, Fort and Marching or Temporary Camps
Nemetostatio – ‘The Outpost of the Sacred Grove(s)’
The name of this fort appears in only one of the four main geographies, the Ravenna Cosmology (R&C#4) of the seventh century. This document lists the name Nemetotacio between the entries for the unidentified station Elconio, and Tamaris (Plymouth, Devon), at the mouth of the River Tamar. The entry was once attributed to the Nanstallon fort, but is now tentatively identified with the fort at North Tawton.
The place-name seems to be an amalgamation of the Welsh/Gaelic word Nemeton ‘sacred grove’ and the Latin word Stationis ‘road-station, outpost’. The profusion of ancient sacred places in the close neighbourhood, their presence belied by modern place-names (vide supra), would seem to indicate that the first word of the ancient Roman name would have been plural in form, the entire place-name being translated along the lines ‘The Road-Station of the Sacred Groves’.
It would appear that the Romans built the Nanstallon fort close-by or perhaps directly upon the site of an ancient druidic sanctuary, and hoped by their presence to suppress the native British religion, together with its reputed practice of human sacrifice.
Other Local Nemeton Sites
There are a great number of curiously-dubbed villages in the valley of the River Taw and its tributaries, which incorporate variations of the word nemeton in their names. The peculiar-sounding villages whose names include the word Beer, Bear or Beere, must also be counted among them for the simple fact that this is the modern equivalent of the Old English word Bearu, the meaning of which is identical with the Welsh/Gaelic word nemeton.
The majority of these ancient sacred sites are all located to the east of the River Taw, the exceptions being indicated in the following list by an asterisk* after the name:
Of particular note is the fact that the last three Nympton sites listed above, namely Bishop’s, George and King’s, are all apparently devoid of satellite groves. It is likely that these sites were all named after the River Mole, which was known to the ancient Celts as the Nemet, itself perhaps named after nemeton groves near its source. The River Yeo, which flows from the area of North Tawton south-east towards Exeter, was named the Nimet in ancient times.
The Nemetostatio Fort
The fort is located to the south of the railway line on the east bank of the River Taw. Measuring roughly 600ft (185m) east-west by 390ft (120m) north-south within the defenses, the area available for occupation within the fort was roughly 5½ acres (2.2ha); space sufficient for an cohors peditata quingenaria, that is, a cohort of auxiliary infantry containing a nominal five-hundred foot-soldiers. An annexe of about 1½ acres (0.6ha) was added on the west side at a later date, taking up all of the space between the River Taw and fort’s western defences. This perhaps means that occupation of the fort was extended beyond its original planned period.
The Roman road from Exeter passes by immediately to the north of the fort to cross the Taw about thirty metres to the south of the modern railway bridge. The northern defences of the fort are undoubtedly aligned with the road, which presumably means that the road was built first, perhaps to supply the fort at Okehampton.
The Temporary Marching Camp
A large Roman marching camp lies less than half a mile to the north of the fort near the top of a slight rise above the River Taw; the south-west corner-angle of this camp is now occupied by The Barton public/farm house?. The complete northern side, the north-east corner-angle and most of the eastern side have been identified on air-photographs. The south and western sides of the defences cannot be traced on the AP’s, but the local topography limits the area available, with the southern defences lying no more than 20 metres to the south of the modern A3072, on the edge of the escarpment. The estimated size of the encampment is roughly 420m east-west by 250m north-south, covering an area of around 10 hectares (25acres). This camp would have been large enough to contain either half a legion, or a mixed vexillatio of Roman legionaries and auxiliary cavalry; either way, a considerable force of around 2,500 men.
Other Crop-Mark Sites at North Tawton
Between the temporary camp and the fort is an area containing numerous overlapping crop-marks indicative of occupation over a number of historical periods. Several of the features have charactaristics of Roman military engineering, namely rectangular enclosures with rounded corners. Easily seen on AP’s is the outline of a large, double-ditched enclosure, perhaps a vexillation fortress, which apparently had a small fortlet of around an acre built into its north-west corner. The whole area is overlain by trackways, enclosures and other cropmark features of uncertain origin, and has not yet been excavated.
Nearby Roman Sites
The North Tawton fort is flanked on both sides by nearby Forts at Bury Barton (SS7307) and Okehampton (SX5996). The Bury Barton fort lies about six miles north-east of North Tawton likewise on the east bank of the Taw, nearby Nymet Rowland and Loosebeare, while the Okehampton fort lies on the opposite side of the Taw about five miles west-south-west of the North Tawton fort. There is also another marching camp at Alverdiscott (SS4925) some seventeen miles to the north-north-west, positioned on the north-western end of a prominent ridge between the rivers Taw and Torridge.
Evidently, the native Dumnonian tribespeople refused to give up their holy groves and the lands through which flowed their sacred rivers Nimet and Nemet, at least not without a furious struggle. The three Roman forts at Tawton, Barton and Okehampton are very closely situated, each within easy supporting distance of the other, indication perhaps of a considerable amount of fighting in the immediate area; no doubt in response to the Roman desecration of the native’s most sacred arboreal temples.
References for Nemetostatio
- ‘Half-inch’ Contoured Map – Sheet 3 Exmoor (Bartholomew, July 1947);
- Air Reconnaissance in Roman Britain 1977-1984 by G.S. Maxwell & D.R. Wilson in Britannia xviii (1987) pp.3 & 5;
- Roman Camps in England – The Field Archaeology by the R.C.H.M.E. (H.M.S.O, London, 1995);
- Dictionary of English Place-names by A.D. Mills (OUP, Oxford, 1998, 2nd ed.);
- Druids by Anne Ross (Tempus 1999) fig.13b, p.37.‘
Map References for Nemetostatio
NGRef: SX6699 OSMap: LR191