Roman wall find by main men reveals scale of fort near Melrose

Sections of a 2,000-year-old Roman wall have been revealed during work to install a new water main in the Borders.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 26th June 2018, 4:20 pm
Updated Tuesday, 26th June 2018, 4:23 pm
A section of Roman wall uncovered at Newstead.
A section of Roman wall uncovered at Newstead.

The stones now brought to light, but since reburied for their protection, were part of the Roman settlement of Trimontium, near the village of Newstead to the east of Melrose.

Trimontium takes its name from the Eildon Hills, that being Latin for the place of the three hills.

2018 Melrosian Harry Fletcher at the Trimontium Stone at Newstead with a fancy-dress reminder of Melroses Roman past.

The 370-acre site was occupied by the invaders on and off from 80AD to 211AD and was home to a fort and up to four settlements surrounding it.

The Roman stones were uncovered by the Midlothian-based AOC Archaeology Group during work to lay four and a half miles of water main between Newstead and Earlston.

The £4m project, being carried out by Scottish Water partner the Caledonia Water Alliance to improve drinking water quality, got under way in March and is expected to take around eight months to complete.

Project manager Barclay Smart said: “Given the significant Roman history in Newstead, we secured the services of AOC Archaeology Group to supervise the first phases of the project.

“During the initial excavations of the site, we were fascinated to discover parts of Roman wall dating from around 80AD.

“These wall sections were inside a Roman site comprising at least four temporary camps.

“In order to preserve the walls and to adhere to Scottish planning policy and Historic Environment Scotland rules, we have constructed a 5m-wide-by-1.6km-long stone haul road to allow machinery access to the site without disturbing and damaging the archaeology underneath.”

Donald Gordon, secretary of Melrose’s Trimontium Museum Trust, said: “The uncovering of the Roman walls within the great camps complex during this project is significant as Trimontium was a vast settlement.

“The fort itself was started in the first century AD under the governor of Britannia, Julius Agricola.

“At its height, it housed around 1,500 soldiers and comprised the fort and the four settlements surrounding it, which would have included dwellings as well as baths, shops, including trades such as glass and pottery-making, ironworking and weaving.

“Indeed, the fort and settlements were more populated then than Newstead and the surrounding areas are today.

“I’m very pleased that Scottish Water has protected the Roman walls for the next 2,000 years to come.”

Trimontium and its settlements were first excavated in 1905, and there have been three major excavations since, starting in 1947, 1989 and 1996.

Finds made there include a collection of Roman armour said to be the best of its kind, including the ornate Newstead Helmet, an iron Roman cavalry helmet dating back beyond 100AD and known as the Roman face of Scotland.

Those finds are on display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh illustrating the history of the Roman army’s occupation of the south of the country.

The Trimontium Trust, established in 1988, is currently involved in a £2m fundraising project with the Heritage Lottery Fund to renovate and extend its Melrose museum.