Community spirit: Hadrian’s Wall, Cumbria

This image shows the Roman temples excavation at Maryport (see p.46), facing north towards Allonby Bay, the line of the Roman frontier defences on the Cumbrian coast. The fieldwork team featured not only university students, but also a large contingent of local people. Here, Mike Collins, Inspector of Ancient Monuments for Hadrian’s Wall, considers whether we are seeing a golden age of community research on the Roman frontier:

For Historic England, Hadrian’s Wall has always been a site needing active research – many questions about the frontier remain unanswered, and only by the kind of refreshed understanding that research brings, and by addressing the interests and concerns of the public, can the frontier remain relevant.

In this, we’ve been blessed by the likes of the Vindolanda Trust and Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (TWAM), whose long-running excavations have transformed perceptions of their sites, and by discoveries from 30 years of commercial archaeology projects. Historic England has also played its part, both in research (e.g. the excavation at Birdoswald – see p.40 – and the National Mapping Programme for the Wall) and in funding the production of the Research Framework for Hadrian’s Wall, as well as helping to publish key excavations.

Over the last ten years in particular, we’ve seen a great expansion in Wall research, and a resurgence in community involvement. Our universities have played a key role, from Newcastle University’s projects at Maryport, Beckfoot, and Corbridge, to the important work by Richard Hingley (Durham) on understanding what Hadrian’s Wall means now to the communities who live and work in the area.

Added to these are the community-led excavation on the eastern end of the Wall that TWAM has undertaken through the Wallquest project; work at Maryport funded by the Senhouse Museum Trustees; and this year the beginning of Newcastle University’s WallCAP project, an ambitious research and heritage conservation initiative working with communities right along Hadrian’s Wall.

This is a really great time to be involved with the Wall, with research being done to the highest standard, a great balance between commercial and unpaid work, and with those who care about their heritage at the heart of the new discoveries.

Text: Mike Collins
Images: Historic England
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