The visible remains at Corbridge are largely those of a Roman town, 2½ miles south of Hadrian's Wall, which developed after AD 160 around a base for legionary soldiers. This replaced a succession of forts on the site, built from about AD 85 where one of the main routes northwards crossed the river Tyne. Corbridge became one of only two substantial towns in the Hadrian’s Wall zone and remained a vibrant urban community until the last days of Roman Britain. The site was extensively excavated in the 20th century. Of the original fort to the west, at Red House, only the baths and a few associated buildings have ever been found. Its short life may have been due to river flooding. The present, eastern site may also have offered a better spot to build a permanent river bridge. A tombstone of the first century AD, found in nearby Hexham Abbey, strongly suggests that the crack cavalry regiment ala Petriana was based at Red House or the earliest Corbridge fort (or both). The successive forts are deeply buried and largely invisible beneath the remains of the later legionary base and town, but were explored in excavations from the 1940s to the 1970s. The role of the fort was to control the river crossing and, from about AD 122, to provide support for Hadrian’s Wall, the building of which began in that year. Corbridge was the scene of concentrated activity in the years AD 139–40, when inscriptions show that major buildings, probably granaries, were under construction. This was precisely the time when Hadrian’s Wall was abandoned and replaced by the Antonine Wall in Scotland. The surge of activity at Corbridge is connected with its role as a supply centre and strategic base on Dere Street, the main road into Scotland.
The occupation of Scotland under the emperor Antoninus Pius was short-lived. By AD 160 the Antonine Wall had been given up and Hadrian’s Wall had been recommissioned. Corbridge now lay a short distance to the rear of the restored frontier Wall. It was most likely at this time that the first bridge built by the Romans across the Tyne here, which was probably of timber, was rebuilt as a magnificent stone structure. As early as the AD 160s, detachments from the Twentieth Legion (Legio XX Valeria Victrix, whose main base lay at Chester) and the Sixth Legion (Legio VI Victrix, from York) were present at Corbridge, building temples and other major structures. These legionaries had two main roles. One was to support and help garrison Hadrian’s Wall and in particular a chain of outpost forts that extended up Dere Street as far as Newstead-on-Tweed (at least until AD 180). The other was to supervise and administer Corbridge as a stores base and market for the northern frontier. These legionaries had two main roles. One was to support and help garrison Hadrian’s Wall and in particular a chain of outpost forts that extended up Dere Street as far as Newstead-on-Tweed (at least until AD 180). The other was to supervise and administer Corbridge as a stores base and market for the northern frontier. The granaries were probably rebuilt under Severus in their visible and enormous form. Corbridge was one of the two main supply bases during Severus’s expedition in Caledonia in AD 208–11.
By the early 3rd century, if not before, an extensive civilian town had grown up around the core of the military garrison and supply centre. The walls surrounding the legionary compounds are meandering and their gates ornate rather than defensive, suggesting that their main function was to segregate the military personnel from a surrounding community of a burgeoning urban character. Probably by the 3rd century Corbridge was the capital of a self-governing administrative division or civitas (as was Carlisle in the west), although there is no record of its name. In the 4th century the town prospered as a civil centre, probably defended (although our knowledge of the defences is slight) by a walled circuit. There may well still have been a military presence in the compounds at the centre of the town, but the identity of the late Roman garrison is unknown. Major, centrally organised repair works took place on the main road through Corbridge as late as AD 370, but the town seems to have been rapidly abandoned when Roman administration in Britain collapsed in the early years of the 5th century. The Saxon settlement at Corbridge was established (probably in the 7th century) half a mile east of the ruins of the Roman town, at a good fording place. By this time the Roman bridge must have been unusable, but striking enough as a ruin to lend its name to the successor settlement. There is braille signage and handling artefacts are available. There are fully accessible toilets. Guide and assistance dogs are welcome, water available. There is general wheelchair accessibilty, although the Roman street is loose gravel. The museum contains awide range of items which cover every aspect of Roman life, including The Corbridge Hoard (which was a Soldiers Trunk containing his worldly goods) and the tombstone of little Ertola, who ‘lived most happily four years and sixty days’, shown still playing with her ball.
Location : Corchester Lane, Corbridge, Northumberland, NE45 5NT
Transport: Corbridge (National Rail) 1.25 miles. AD122 Hadrians Wall Bus.
Opening Times: Daily 10:00 to 18:00
Tickets: Adults £5.80 Concesssions £5.20 Children (5 - 15) £3.40
Tel: 01434 632349