Gabrosentum Roman Fort

In 122, the Romans began construction of Hadrian's Wall, which stretched from Bowness-on-Solway (Maia) to Wallsend (Segedunum) on the North Sea. Thereafter, the Romans also established a security chain on the west coast of Cumbria, consisting of cohort fortifications, small houses and watchtowers. Their crews were to fend off attacks by the Scots from Ireland and the Caledonii and Picts, the most powerful tribes in Scotland. Subsequently, it was also intended to prevent the Wall from being bypassed by a landing on the west coast or by passing through the two relatively shallow Solway Fiords.

Situated to the north of Whitehaven, Gabrosentum occupies a classic fort site formed by a low promontory overlooking the sea to the west. Regiments from Thrace (modern Bulgaria) and northern France were stationed here. The ramparts are still visible in the field to the west of the church. This former fort and adjoining settlement was built during Emperor Hadrian's reign and was in use until the late 4th century AD. Excavations have revealed official buildings including the commanding officers house, as well as numerous civilian buildings, a fort and a small natural harbour.

Gabrosentum Roman Fort, the site of an auxiliary fortification was built by Legio Vicesimae Valeria Victrix as part of the Roman security system on the west coast of Cumbria, the so-called "Western Sea Defences". They consisted of forts and watchtowers along the north-western Cumbria's coastline in continuation of Hadrian's Wall. Visible is an earthwork on aerial photographs. It is probable that a civil settlement adjoined the fort on the south side. The church of St Bridget's occupies the north-east corner of the former fort, and excavations recorded pieces of a hypocaust, suggesting that the commanding officer's house lay on the north side of the fort.

Two altars and six inscribed stones were found in and around the fort, one of which had a Hadrianic inscription, suggesting 128-138 AD as the construction date of the fort.

Inscribed stones record LEG II dedicated to Hadrian and others record II Cohort of Thracians and II Cohort Lingones. 19th century excavations recorded subterranean walls standing 3ft-4ft high.

The church of St Bridget's occupies the north-east corner of the fort, and grave digging recorded pieces of a hypocaust, suggesting that the commanding officer's house lay on the north side of the fort. The coins found on the site indicate occupation until the early fourth century.

Foundations of a building were exposed in 1822 when coins of Constantine and Constantius were found. A number of coins from Domitian to Constans were found when making the road near Moresby Hall circa 1840.

The fort consists of a grass-covered rampart having its largest axis from E-W. The southern side rises from a height of 1.0m at its E end to 4.0m at the well-defined SW corner. The N side is less defined; barely discernible at the E and rising to 3.0m high at the NW corner. The bank within the churchyard is visible as a slight rise 0.5m high. The W side has strong, well-defined corners and the bank is better preserved than the others, flat-topped and with outer and inner slopes, although only averages 0.5m igh in the centre. On the SW corner the earth is broken away revealing medium sized stones within the rampart. No trace of any ditch was seen and no apparent entrances. The interior of the fort is level and has no signs of any internal features.

The west-east aligned fort is today only recognizable by aerial photographs and ground surveys. It had the characteristic of mid-imperial castles, long rectangular ground plan with rounded corners (playing card shape), measured 109 meters (north-south) × 122 meters (West-East) and covered an area of ​​1.41 ha. According to the findings of a 1979 geophysical Investigation, it was additionally surrounded by a single, 3.3 meter wide Moat. It ran from north to south and could be followed to a length of 30 meters. At its northern end, it turned slightly to the west.

The fort wall is best preserved on the west and south side. It reaches there in places still a height of 1 meter at the eastern end and to about 4 meters in the southwest corner of the camp. The north side is less carefully examined, its eastern end hardly recognizable. The remains of the wall at the NW corner, however, stand still 3 meters upright. The rear earth ramp inside the churchyard is still visible as a light, 0.5 meter high land elevation. On the west side, the corner sections and especially the earth ramp (0.5 meters high) are better preserved than on the other sides. At the SW corner you can still see stones from the fort. No traces can be seen from the moat and the gates. The interior of the fort is also completely leveled and shows no special features.

The camp could probably be entered through four gates. The storage wall was probably also reinforced by internally placed, square towers and four corner towers. The fort probably also had the standard for inner-imperial auxiliary troops camp interior buildings: in the center the headquarters ( principia ), the home of the commander (praetorium), one or two granaries (horrea) and crew barracks (contubernia), including functional building as a bathhouse (balineum) , Workshops (fabricae), Bakeries and a latrine. Archaeological excavations revealed the remains of a hypocaust near the north wall, suggesting that it was either home to the commanding officer or the bath house.

Gabrosentum must have been occupied at the earliest from the middle of the 2nd century with regular Roman soldiers. Legionaries could temporarily have been in the camp. They were not usually assigned to garrison duty at the border, but sent special forces for the more demanding construction projects at the border fortifications.

Gabrosentum Roman Fort
Gabrosentum Roman Fort


Whitehaven had been small harbour and fishing village from 13th century or earlier. Expansion began in mid-17th century with building of piers by Lowthers 1632-4 and 1679-81 and granting of market charter 1660. By the 1680s it had grown rapidly, expanding from village of c.30 households in early 17th century to a town of over 1,000 inhabitants by 1685, which more than doubled to 2,281 by 1696. Sir John Lowther had laid out grid of streets by 1680s, making Whitehaven the earliest planned new town in post-medieval Britain.

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