Roman Catterick and the Great North Road
Roman Catterick, or Cataractonium, was a fort and settlement which was established just south of the crossing point of the River Swale. Until other military centres were secured further north it was an important and strategic location. It became a commercial centre specialising in tanning and leather working.
The Roman town was located close to current day Catterick Bridge – 1.5 miles north of modern Catterick and 3 miles north-east of Catterick Garrison.
If you have travelled along the A1 since November 1959 you have literally driven right through the Roman town.
The route of the north road has remained fairly consistent and as a consequence each re-building of the road has either displaced or overlain what went before. Improvements to the A1 in the late 1950s, early 1970s and mid 2010s have all provided windows on the past in the form of extensive archaeological excavations.
About Roman Catterick
The earliest structure was a fort built in the AD70s by Julius Agricola. There is evidence of earlier Iron Age and Bronze Age settlement and ceremonial sites nearby though not specifically at this location.
During the first century a large bank was created north of the river with an associated gate across Dere Street to control access to the crossing-point. There are also signs of early gravel extraction north of the river, potentially for road construction.
Cataractonium is listed in three of the Antonine Itineraries and in Ptolemy’s survey of Britain. The initial fort appears to have gone out of use by about AD 120 but there were further forts at the site during the next 300 years.
Towards the end of the second century an ancillary town or vicus expanded with shops and houses lining what came to be known as Dere Street, both close to the fort and to the north of the Swale. Recent excavations found evidence of early road-side catering. Several large ovens were associated with open fronted stone and timber structures in the northern suburb.
One of the largest buildings was the Mansio – a guest house or inn for officials. In the late second century it was re-built in stone. Surrounding a central courtyard it covered about 4,000 sq m with one side occupied by a bath house, which eventually had 11 rooms.
In the early 4th century a defensive wall was erected, encompassing an area of c 6.3 hectares. [A small portion of the eastern section of the wall is visible at Catterick racecourse.]
There are signs of tanneries operating on a large scale at Roman Catterick. Interestingly, one of the Vindolanda tablets (343) refers to this helping to conjure an image of carts carrying supplies north on Dere Street to the army along Hadrian’s Wall. The writer, Octavius (perhaps a merchant) writes to his brother Candidus: