William Hutton Walks the Wall: Day Five


now Housesteads.

I am now thirty miles from Newcastle. Becoming a gainer at Twice Brewed by a broken promise, which is seldom the case, I retreated next morning over a Moss to my favourite pursuit, which brought me to Housesteads, the grandest Station in the whole line. In some Stations the Antiquary feeds upon shells, but here upon kernels. Here lie the remains of antient splendour in bold characters.

The line, as usual, proceeds over the crags, which leave a precipice fifty feet high on the North. At the bottom are three pools. The Wall is six or seven feet high; but miserably broken, and continues in the same style six or seven miles, a heap of rubbish. In some parts only three feet high, and occasionally shews five or six courses of facing-stones.

The Station is, of course, much elevated; declines to the South; the ramparts are plain. A very large Suburb seems to have been added to this populous City, now reduced to one solitary house; the whole about fifteen acres. The curious observer, I believe, may count twenty streets. The population, perhaps, could not be less than two or three thousand souls.
From the melancholy relicks on the spot, it must have been graced with some elegant buildings.

A Temple, no doubt, was one. I saw the square base of a large pillar, with a circular shaft proceeding from it, fourteen inches diameter; curiously moulded. Another, of a different form, with a square shaft eighteen inches diameter; noble remains of fifteen hundred years! which loudly declare the days of antient splendour. The Castle stood at the corner, North-West, within the Station; was itself moated round, as were also the Station and the Suburbs, separately.

Joining the Wall, within, are the remains of a court of Justice, about twelve yards long, and six wide. In the West corner was the Judge’s seat, six feet diameter, and quoined with stone, ten courses of which remain. It is not easy to survey these important ruins without a sigh: a place once of the greatest activity, but now a solitary desert; instead of the human voice, is heard nothing but the winds.

In the farm house, down in the valley, the jamb which supports the mantle tree is one solid stone, four feet high, two broad, and one thick, compleat as in the day the workman left it, as in the Plate here annexed; which may be also found in Warburton’s History of the Wall, Plate III. p.60; and in Gough’s improved edition of Camden’s Britannia, vol. III. Plate xvii, p.245.

There are also many curious figures, all Roman, in this Station.

I had now the severe task of creeping up rocks, and climbing stone walls, not well adapted to a man who has lost the activity of youth.

As the works of the two celebrated Chiefs continued in view, and being invited by a single house in the valley, of some magnitude, called Bradley Hall, where I might gain knowledge; I descended the hill, to tread upon that venerable ground; a distance Warburton calls 600 yards, perhaps good measure. I found them all very distinguishable, though in mowing grass, and in a perfect swamp.

The annexed Plate shews a profile of the Mountains at Bradley Hall, on the top of which runs Severus’s Wall, and Hadrian’s Vallum at the bottom.
Entering the Hall, the family, whose name I am sorry I have forgotten, seemed to strive which should treat me with the most kindness. It consisted of a father and mother, two sons, near six feet each, and two beautiful Sacharissa’s, who, though aiding the churn, will not, like Waller’s lovely rose, bloom and wither in a desart [sic], but find their way into the busy world.

On the rough rock, opposite Crag Lough, the Wall is three feet high; but deprived of all the facing-stones, and bends to avoid the pool. The ditch is in perfection.

At another spot upon this Crag, the Wall is eleven courses high on one side, and from three to five on the other; and, for sixty yards, is eight feet high.

I now consider myself in the middle of the kingdom, between the German Ocean, and the Irish Sea; consequently upon the most elevated ground between both, and distant, in a strait line, by land, about fifty miles from each. We must allow, from the convexity of the Globe, a rise of one hundred and fifty yards; and the mountain on which I stand will perhaps give a rise of forty more. It follows, I am elevated one hundred and ninety yards above the Sea. The prospects are not grand, but extensive, and rather awful. Upon the Great Crag, are three courses of facing-stones.
The judicious Warburton “believes, that the works of Hadrian lie at a considerable distance South of this Station, and that they make a small turn at the brook to come at it.” But can a thing be brought near to what does not exist?

Hadrian was dead long before the appearance of this Station.


Vindolana; now Little Chesters.

I think myself bound to place Little Chesters among the Stations, that I may follow my predecessors, and not break their numerical order. Although Roman, and garrisoned by Romans, it does not appear to belong to the works of Severus. It stands near two miles South of the Wall.
Agricola erected Castles adjoining his Works; but this stands nearly a mile South of his, therefore it could add no security.

It probably was used as a prison, and this is corroborated by a remark of our writers, “That there was discovered under a heap of rubbish a square room below the ground, strongly vaulted, and paved with large square stones, set in lime; and under this another room, whose roof was supported by rows of square pillars.” These two rooms could answer
no end but that of a prison.

There are four Stations, of the eighteen, smaller than the rest, which are detached from the Wall, and lie considerably to the South:

Little Chesters;
Cambeck Fort; and
Watch Cross.

As Little Chesters is the first that occurs, it is necessary to speak of the four.

Hadrian and Severus could have nothing to do with these. They were most probably the work of Agricola. That he made the banks and ditcbes I have described in his name, is not doubted. That he erected some Castles, is as clear; but, for many ages, all his ramparts, mounds, trenches, and Castles, have gone under the name of Hadrian’s.
If he erected Castles and mounds, there must have been roads to communicate with them. It is reasonable then to conclude, that he was the author of all the roads appertaining to his Works.

A Roman road went from Walwick Chesters, directly to Little Chesters, and left Carrowburgh and Housesteads much on the right. It then proceeded from Little Chesters to Carvoran, leaving Great Chesters on the right, and directed its course to Cambeck Fort, leaving Burdoswald to the right, and then took its course to Watch Cross. All these four Stations lie to the South, totally distinct from Severus’s Wall, or Stations; Agricola must have formed them for the accommodation of his works.

The road I have described is about eighteen miles; besides many smaller roads, which were connected with his grand undertaking. It may be considered as a string, and Severus’s Wall the bow. It ends in the great military way, and joins Severus’s Wall, about four miles before we come to Carlisle, in all about twenty-eight miles.

Severus, afterwards, constructed a great number of roads, now to be seen, which branched from this towards the North, and communicated with his Wall, Stations, &c.

The Wall, at Wall-green, takes a small turn, and continues about three feet high, broken as usual; and Severus’s Ditch is in high preservation, as we rise the hill to the next Station.


Aesica; now Great Chesters.

This Station is elevated as usual, and thirty-five miles from Newcastle; is about five acres, very uneven. No buildings remain, except a modern farm house, all the doors of which I found open, and none to guard the premises but a child, from whom I could gain no intelligence. There was no danger of a thief; for, in this solitary place, he must come a great way to take a little.

The trenches and ramparts are bold, particularly on the waste, where they are very large. This appearance of the place, and the idea of past transactions, strike the soul with awe. It appears by the ground, that the buildings have swelled into a Suburb. The marks of a Temple, and Court of Justice, are visible. The Wall, in confusion, is here about three feet high. The swelling banks shew where the Castle ftood, and particularly mark the butments.

The General and the Emperor, with mild features, are seen half a mile below, gliding along the valley.

Drawing near Cockmount Hill, four hundred yards forwards, and in a high situation, I am frequently favoured with a few courses of facing-stones. Agricola and Hadrian, still half a mile South, in the valley; the reason is, Severus attempts a precipice, if he can. Here the Wall ascends the rocks.
There is a Tumulus in the meadow, near the works of the two great men. Now we come to a Well, made famous because one of the Saxon Kings was baptized here, perhaps without a feast.

We arrive at Walltown, if a single house deserves the name. On each side the door stands a Roman Altar, used for washing hands, kettles, dishes, &c. and has at last the honour of supporting the dish-clout. I saw one old female, who treated me shily, and heard a younger, who durst not see me; and both, I have reason to think, wished me gone: but, perhaps, I had the most reason to be frightened.

The Wall ascends the rocks. Here Camden was terrified again, at the imaginary houses of the Moss Troopers, and relinquished his examination of the Wall. The name is Walton Crag. I found the ascent so difficult that I sometimes was obliged to crawl on all fours.

Here the Wall having facing-stones on each side, allowed me to take the measure; I found its thickness barely nine feet. In one place, for about two yards, and that upon a sharp declivity, there are eight courses of facing-stones.