As summer approaches, we’re taking a closer look at an important item related to an Ambleside landmark – this model of the Ambleside Roman Fort.

The remains of the Roman fort are in Borrans Parks at Waterhead, the northern tip of Windermere, which is around 20 minutes’ walk from the museum. The first version of the fort was built from timber in the late first century, during the governorship of Julius Agricola, from 80–85 CE. Since it was built from wood, very little remains and is known about this first fort.

The second, larger fort was built in the second century, mainly from stone with timber barracks. It was occupied until around 365 CE and housed around 500 auxiliary infantryman. These remains are still visible, although they were depleted in the centuries following the Romans’ departure from Cumbria. For example, the Braithwaite family owned the site in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and they often used the fort as a quarry and repurposed the stones.

In 1911, WF Rawnsley (brother of Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley) and Gordon Graham Wordsworth (grandson of William Wordsworth) stopped a local builder from breaking ground to construct boarding houses over the fort. An Ambleside committee formed to purchase the site, supported by John Ruskin’s former secretary, WG Collingwood.

By 1913, the committee had successfully bought the site and gifted it to the National Trust. Later that year, the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society (CWAAS) formed a research committee and began excavating the site, supervised by the archaeologist RG Collingwood (son of WG Collingwood). It is possible that RG Collingwood constructed or commissioned these clay models of both versions of the fort as part of the excavation.

When excavations began, it was agreed that recovered artefacts would be donated to the newly formed Armitt Trust. The archaeological findings are now a key part of our collection, with the model and objects from the site currently on display in our library. We are proud to exhibit our Roman history here at The Armitt, and to be part of ongoing research.

Further excavations were carried out in the 1960s as a new road was built down to Waterhead, when a gravestone was recovered from the area. This gravestone detailed the deaths of two soldiers, one of whom died inside the fort. Research about this episode in Ambleside’s history is ongoing, so keep an eye on our website and social media profiles for any exciting updates.


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