Roman Occupation at Washington
on the Banks of the River Wear

More of my Discoveries
of Primary Archaeological Significance

by
Audrey Fletcher

Copyright 2012
Mount Pleasant and Fatfield are part of the original Biddick lands, parts of which are in the vicinity of the double
enclosure and which have not been built upon in recent years. It is farmland, which, during the ploughing season
highlights evidence of earlier occupation by the crop marks in several of the fields. An example is shown in the photo
below, where there are several layers of earlier occupation. It is noticeable that Cox Green Road virtually bisects the
double enclosure.

The regular alignment, the cross hatching, suggests to me that this site is Roman and that
I have discovered a
Roman settlement, or Vicus, on the banks of the River Wear.
1. Roman Occupation at Biddick ... "By the Dyke"
The name “Biddick” is of Anglo-Saxon origin, meaning “by the dyke”
The word “Dyke” or “Dike” is derived from the Anglo-Saxon “dic” meaning a “dyke”, a ditch, possibly a defence
embankment.

Due to my discovery of the Prehistoric Circles, made up in part by banks and ditches, at Mount Pleasant, the origin of
the name “Biddick” becomes clear. “By the Dike” refers to the land by, near or next to the Prehistoric Circles, termed
“The Dike” by the Anglo-Saxons. The lands of “Biddick” were both to the north and south of the River Wear.
Map by Speed 1610
Map by Casson 1801
The lands of “Biddick” were both to the north and south of the River Wear.
Biddick ... "By the Dike"
“By the Dike” refers to the land by, near or next to the
Prehistoric Circles, termed “The Dike” by the Anglo-Saxons.
The lands of “Biddick” were both to the north and south of the River Wear.
Photo courtesy of Google Earth 23 July 2008
Mount Pleasant and Fatfield
Earlier layers of Roman occupation are highlighted
by the crop marks in the fields beside
and within the double enclosure
Left Courtesy of Google.       Right Courtesy of Bing
However, the Roman Settlement is not confined to just this one field at Mount Pleasant. It continues along the stretch
of fields between the River Wear and Cox Green Road.

An ideal situation for the Roman Fort would be within the loop of the River Wear, directly across the river
from Worm Hill.
A probable site of a Roman Fort across the River Wear from Worm Hill.
The Vicus lies between the River Wear and Cox Green Road.
Aerial photo courtesy of Bing
If you look carefully on the above aerial photo you will see the feint traces of another double enclosure, the loop of the
River Wear forming a segment of the outer circle!

There was a major river crossing to the left of Worm Hill at Washington Staithes, though in more recent times, in 1889,
Fatfield Bridge was built to the right of Worm Hill. As an important river crossing, it would have developed as a religious
centre in Prehistoric Times.

The tide going out to create a ford would have seemed like the intervention of the gods allowing the people to "cross
over" the watery, spiritual realm of their ancestors. Upon reaching the "other side" they would have given thanks, in the
form of prayers and offerings, at the sacred well.

Very often sites of religious significance, and the areas near them, were taken over by the Romans. Moreover as this
particular religious site was at a major, strategically placed river crossing this would suggest a Roman Fort within the
loop of the River Wear to guard the crossing.

Only an excavation of the area would determine the presence of a Roman fort and Vicus.
Left: A major river crossing to the left of Worm Hill. Map by Gibson1789
Right: The River Wear can be easily crossed at low tide at Fatfield.
The Roman Fort would have stood on the site of the houses at the right of the picture.
Old postcard
2. Roman Occupation at Brugeford ... Bridge Ford, Saint Bridget’s Ford
Brugeford, as the name suggests, was situated on a ford of the River Wear. However this was not just a ford for local
traffic, it was a major crossing point in the area for thousands of years. The area has changed little in this time. The
Great North Road (Dere Street) is still there from Roman times and from the previous millennia of the Ancient Britons of
the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages.
This was the second most important river crossing in the area, next only to
Durham itself and an ideal position for a Roman Fort.

Approaching from the South the river crossings at Durham would have been used to gain access to the areas east of the
River Wear, the Salters Track, coastal areas and ports. However approaching from the North, people would have
crossed at
"Brigit's Ford" (my own terminology).
The reader can learn more about Saint Brigit in my web page “Worm Hill”.
Map showing the crossing at Brugeford, labelled "Bridg" as
there was a bridge there at least from the mediaeval period.
Map by Saxton 1575 and revised by P. Lea 1694
Ricknild Street (also known as Warburtons Lane), approaching from the Jarrow area, joined with the Great North Road
at Picktree as shown on the following map by Longstaffe in 1857. This would give the travellers an option heading
straight down South, or crossing the River Wear at Brugeford.
Ricknild Street joined the Great North Road at Picktree.
Map by Longstaffe 1857
Initially I accepted the name "Brugeford" and its variations e.g. Bruggeford, Brigeford, Brigaford, as simply meaning
"Bridgeford", the acknowledged translation. After all it had been a major crossing of
the River Wear for millennia and a bridge had been standing there at least from Mediaeval times. This same bridge
was falling into disrepair in the mid 1500s and needed to be replaced. Hence the name "New Bridge" was given to the
crossing.

As an important river crossing, Brugeford, like Fatfield, would have developed as a religious centre in Prehistoric
Times. The tide going out to create a ford would have seemed like the intervention of the gods allowing the people to
"cross over" the watery, spiritual realm of their ancestors. Upon reaching the "other side" they would have given
thanks, in the form of prayers and offerings, at a
sacred shrine. Possibly the shrine was marked by a standing
stone
. Over time this shrine would have been replaced by a temple, perhaps even a Roman Temple, to be followed
later by Anglo-Saxon and Norman chapels. Brugeford Chapel had been pulled down by 1834.
The site of Brugeford Chapel
Map by Burleigh and Thompson 1737
Brugeford Chapel
Sketch 1800. Artist Unknown
A Roman Temple at Brugeford is more than a possibility as very often sites of religious significance, and the areas
near them, were taken over by the Romans.

Moreover as this particular religious site was at a major, strategically placed river crossing this would suggest a
Roman Fort to guard the crossing. The fort would serve the dual purpose of guarding Dere Street, the main arterial
Roman Road (The Great North Road, the A1), close by. Like Binchester, this Roman Fort would have been
established around 79AD. In addition to a fort the Romans would have built what was possibly the first bridge at
Brugeford to cross the River Wear.

A possible candidate for this Roman Fort is to be found just along the road at Picktree.
3. Roman Occupation at Picktree ... “A homestead or settlement within a small enclosure”
Chester-le-Street fort, named Concangis, is only one and a half miles south of Picktree and is considered to have
been established between 79 AD and 100AD. Its purpose would have been twofold: to guard the Roman Road now
known as "The Great North Road" or "The Street" and also to serve as a supply base for the area. Although today the
River Wear is barely navigable up to New Bridge, it is thought that in Roman times the Wear was navigable as far as
Chester-le-Street.

The Church in Chester-le Street is sited in the centre of the Roman Fort. The original church was made of wood and
erected in 883AD by members of the Lindisfarne Community who had been given the Roman site by Guthred the
Viking, King of York. The monks brought with them to Chester-le-Street: The Linisfarne Gospels, the body of Saint
Cuthbert and the head of King Oswald the Martyr. The early wooden structure was later replaced by a stone church,
using stone from the Roman Fort. This is turn was pulled down and replaced by the current church.

That the Romans had a fort at Picktree has always been a part of local folklore. Approaching from the Picktree
Roundabout it was located at the entrance of the village on the left-hand side. The footprint of a Roman Fort with the
rounded corners can be clearly seen on the following 1945 aerial photograph.  Like the Washing Wells Roman Fort
near Whickham, it is trapezoid in shape.
Location of the Roman Fort at Picktree.
Like the Washing Wells Roman Fort near Whickham, it is trapezoid in shape.
Aerial photo courtesy of Google
Yet the story of the Romans at Picktree does not end there. My final discovery regarding a Roman presence of vast
archaeological importance to Picktree is that
I have discovered a second and possibly later site of a Roman
Fort and also the Vicus.

It was an unlooked for revelation. I had looked at the photo many times and seen neither this second Roman Fort nor
the Vicus. Of a sudden there they were. I was stunned. How had I missed them?
An aerial photo of Picktree in 1945
Courtesy of Google
The previously undiscovered second Roman Fort and Vicus at Picktree are dominant features on the close-up of the
above 1945 aerial photo.
My latest discovery of the second Roman Fort and Vicus at Picktree
is of enormous archaeological significance.
Aerial photo courtesy of Google
I would suggest that this previously undiscovered Roman Fort was later than the trapezoid Roman Fort just across the
road. My reasoning is that it is larger, of regular shape and has a Vicus next to it. Also it is in a slightly better strategic
position directly above the bend in the River Wear.

I would suggest that as the importance of the first, trapezoid shaped fort was recognized and grew, it was realized that
it was too small to cope with the increased demands. A new, larger fort was needed.
The early and later Roman Forts at Picktree
are clearly defined in this 1945 aerial photo
Courtesy of Google
Like Binchester, the later Roman Fort at Picktree is situated just above a loop in the River Wear. This
was a perfect strategic position for a fort. As the River Wear is tidal there would have been a ford at Picktree during low
tide. Moreover as enemies of Rome could have navigated the river during high tide Picktree Fort was in the ideal
defence location. In addition the road from Chester-le-Street to Picktree, then on up to Usworth, Gateshead and
Newcastle was an important Roman artery which also needed defending.

On the positive side the Picktree Fort was well located to receive and disperse supplies by either road or river.
Supplies would have come in from overseas via Sunderland, then up the Wear as far as Picktree Fort, where they
would have been unloaded ready for distribution. They may have even supplied the soldiers engaged in building
Hadrian's Wall. Picktree would therefore have been important both in terms of defence and also as a supply fort, or
distribution centre.

A Roman Fort located on a river suggests that there would have been a wharf. However with the vast amount of trees
on the 1945 photo it is impossible to see. In addition there may even have been a bridge.

The settlement area related to a Roman Fort is called the 'Vicus" and fortunately this is distinctly featured on the 1945
photo. The streets are clearly visible. Today the Picktree Vicus can't be seen on an aerial photo because it has been
planted over with trees. The field where the Roman Fort was located has not been planted over.
The Vicus lay to the east of the later Roman Fort at Picktree  
Aerial photo courtesy of Google
Further evidence of the Romans in Picktree can possibly be found in the following 2006 aerial photo. It is
plausible to suggest that the straight outlines of the building structures within the Prehistoric Circle are in fact Roman.
Three suggestions of what these structures may have been come to mind. Firstly they could be the footprint of a
governmental administrative complex, a Praesidium, presiding over the fort and the immediate area. Secondly they
could be the footprint of a Praetorium, where the Praetor, a Roman Magistrate, administered justice. Finally they could
form the footprint of a Roman Villa.  
There were possibly Roman structures built inside and to the south of the
Prehistoric Circle, in the bottom right of the field at Picktree.
My suggestions are that they could be the footprint
of a
Praesidium, a Praetorium or a Roman Villa.
There is possibly a
Roman Temple just beyond the NW boundary of the Iron Age Circular Enclosure
Aerial photo courtesy of Google
4. The Relationship of the Roman Forts at Picktree
with the Roman Station at Chester-le-Street
It is thought that the Romans built fort at Chester-le-Street because it was at the furthest reach of the tidal River Wear,
and that they received their supplies from boats navigating the River Wear, However I doubt that the tidal reach would
have travelled this far, especially after flowing through the hair-pin bend at Picktree.

It is more plausible that the garrison at Chester-le-Street would have received its supplies overland from Picktree Fort
about one and a half miles away to the north east. I would suggest that this being the case then the trapezoid fort at
Picktree was built before the fort at Chester-le-Street.
These maps highlight the relationship of Chester-le-Street with Picktree
Map by Greenwood 1820
The question now arises as to why the Romans needed to build a fort at Chester-le-Street when there was already a
Roman fort at Picktree. The answer lies in the Cong Burn.

The Cong Burn is a small river which in ancient times had an important NS crossing point in what is now
Chester-le-Street. It flows in an easterly direction into the River Wear. Indeed it was this crossing across the Cong Burn
which is the reason that the Romans settled and built a fort in Chester-le-Street.

This crossing point is as important today as it was two thousand years ago. Until 1823 there was a bridge with tree
arches spanning the river but as it was only a narrow roadway it was dismantled. In its place a much wider, but single
arched, bridge was built. Unfortunately by a hundred years later this also proved to be insufficient for the increasing
traffic and as a result a
concrete culvert was constructed in 1932.The question now arises as to why the Romans
needed to build a fort at Chester-le-Street when there was already a Roman fort at Picktree. The answer lies in the
Cong Burn.
The church spire which marks the site of the Roman Station can be viewed
from the Cong Burn.
The confluence of the Cong Burn and the River Wear would have been a
holy site of ritual significance.
Photos by Audrey Fletcher, June 2014
This strategic crossing of the Cong River is
the reason for the Roman Settlement in
Chester-le-Street
Photographers and artist unknown
The Romans were there to protect this strategic river crossing which lies directly on the route to the fort at Newcastle,
Pons Aelius, in the north from Durham in the south. The Romans named their fort
Concangis of which Cong or Cone
Burn is a derivation.

Concangis is an adaptation of the name of the Ancient British god Condatis which translates as “where waters meet”.
There is such a confluence of rivers just a few hundred meters to the northeast of the Roman Fort at Chester-le-Street
where the Cong Burn empties into the River Wear.
I would suggest that Condatis was not only the name of the local deity but also that the area took his name. Condatis
later took on the persona of the god Mars by the Romans at
Concangis. As Mars was a god of Healing as well as a
god of War this suggests to me that the confluence of the Cong Burn and River Wear was a holy place of ritual
significance. The Romans usually took over Ancient British sites of ritual significance and imposed upon them a
Roman identity in parallel with the Ancient British gods.

This dual role of Condatis, as god of the confluence of the waters and of the god Mars, was recorded on a Roman
altar which was discovered at Chester-le-Street in 1886 beside the Cong Burn about five hundred yards west of  the
confluence of the Cong Burn and the River Wear. The altar was dedicated to Deo Marti Condati and has been dated
to about 200AD. It is now housed in The Hancock Museum at Newcastle.
               

Deo Marti
                
Condati V(alerius)
               
[P]rob[i]anus [pr]o
               
se et suis v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito)
As Chester-le-Street Fort was strategically placed to guard the Cong Burn Crossing so too was Picktree Fort
strategically placed so as to receive supplies from overseas, as Picktree was at the furthest reach of the tidal River
Wear. Its position would have been purposefully chosen for this precise reason. I propose that the earlier Roman Fort
at Picktree would have been built before the strategically placed fort at Chester-le-Street, as a supply depot for the
building of Concangis. There is evidence of two Roman Forts at Picktree: approaching from Picktree Roundabout the
smaller trapezoid earlier fort is on the left in the field just before the houses, and the larger, later rectangular fort is on
the right behind the farm house.
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Copyright Audrey Fletcher

2012

Updated 2016