Edwardian excavations: Corbridge, Northumberland

This newly colourised image, based on an black-and-white photograph taken over a century ago, shows Edwardian labourers excavating the granaries at Roman Corbridge, an ancient town and supply base that began life as a military fort 2.5 miles south of Hadrian’s Wall. Recent research by English Heritage has led to the identification of 11 of the local brickmakers, gardeners, miners, and quarrymen who unearthed some 22ha of the town between 1906 and 1914, but – although hundreds of photographs were taken at the time – the names of many others involved in the excavations have since been forgotten. Dr Frances McIntosh, curator at English Heritage, said: ‘The back-breaking work at the heart of these excavations really was phenomenal, especially considering how deep many of the remains were buried. Even more extraordinary is that it was mainly undertaken by local labourers with no prior experience of archaeology. Brickmakers, miners, and gardeners – these men took on the job at Coria simply to pay the bills. But over nine seasons they were taught how to excavate and, in the process, discovered objects and buildings of international importance. They were immensely proud of their work, their site, and its place within the story of the Tyne valley, but many of their own names have since been lost to history.’

Dozens of photographs from the excavations, including many more newly colourised images, are now on display amid the ruins of the town as part of Extraordinary Exploration: the Edwardian discovery of Coria. ‘We want to discover more about the unnamed workers who toiled to uncover Roman Corbridge,’ Frances said. ‘If you spot a familiar face from your own family research, please get in touch.’

For more information about Roman Corbridge, visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/corbridge-roman-town-hadrians-wall/.

Text: H Blair
Image: © English Heritage
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