Dr Pegge was the first who described any discoveries made on the site of the Roman station at Brough. He visited it in 1761 when he was shown “a rude bust of Apollo, and of another deity in stone, found in the fields there. There had also been a coarse pavement composed of pieces of tiles and cement discovered, as also urns, bricks, tiles, in short every species of Roman antiquities but coins, of which we could not hear that any had been found. However, I saw a very fair gold coin (in) 1783, which had been found at Brough Mill. It was of Vespasian …”. Further references to Roman finds continued to be made, including Bateman’s comment in 1850 that “Three of the ‘sides’ (of the castrum) remain nearly perfect”. It seems highly probable that the station at Brough and the ‘Navio’ referred to in the 6th century ‘Chorography of Ravennas’ are one and the same. (1)
A three-week exploratory excavation was carried out on the site in 1903 by J Garstang, with the aim of determining areas for future excavation and to answer other ‘preliminary enquiries’. His trenches were located at various points across the defences, defining a ‘regular four-sided and walled enclosure’ approximately 336ft long and 275ft broad, the outer wall having an average thickness of six feet and the corners being rounded. Gateways were identified in approximately the middle of each wall. Little work was done in the central area, except around what appeared to be a substantial building towards the south-western part of the fort. A few other exploratory trenches showed some signs of masonry and stone floors. They concluded that the fort was of normal size for the smaller class of square fortresses in the north, more strongly built that could have been anticipated, and contained evidence of more than one period of construction. (2)
In 1938 further excavations commenced under the direction of I A Richmond. Several trenches were cut across the defences, with further trenches being excavated in the interior of the fort. The former revealed the foundations of the fort wall, five and a half feet thick, which retained a massive clay bank 25 feet thick. Eight feet in front of the wall was a large ditch, 22 feet wide and 8 feet deep, immediately followed by a double ditch, 20 ft wide in all. Twenty feet beyond these was a large outer ditch, not less than 16 ft wide. Evidence for two earlier ditches was uncovered. Excavations in the interior found that extensive stone robbing had occurred and that the floors of all the buildings revealed had been entirely removed. A second season was organised in 1939; however it was decided that excavation should cease since the stratified deposits that were hoped for proved to be very poorly preserved. (4-6)
Excavations were undertaken by J E Bartlett in 1958 and 1959. In 1959, the entrance complex discovered in 1958 on the southeast side of the fort was further explored. The finding of a bronze coin of Constantine proved the entrance complex was no earlier than the 4th century AD. A long section was also cut obliquely through the south corner of the fort. Here the main fort wall, Antonine in date and 6 feet thick, was found still standing eight courses high. The former existence of an internal turret similar to that found at the west coner of the fort was confirmed. Beneath the Antonine defences, the outer ditch of the Flavian fort was located. (7)
The fort, surveyed at 1:2500, is well preserved and well defined on all four sides by an earthen rampart averaging 1.7m in height. No trace of any other ditches can be seen other than a slight depression at the south-west corner. (8). No change. (9)
Five seasons of work were carried out from 1965 to 1969 by Manchester University . These excavations identified three main building periods as follows: Period I, an initial Flavian timber fort, lasting until c. AD 120; Period IIA, reoccupation of the fort in c. AD154-158 under Iulius Verus, when the barracks and granaries, and presumably the Principia and Praetorium, were rebuilt in timber and the orientation of the fort changed; Period IIB, Severan rebuilding in stone of at least the granaries and Principia, coupled with remodelling of the timber barracks; Period III, early 4th century reconstruction of the barracks as half timbered stone structures, with rearrangement and rebuilding of the granaries and Praetorium. The end of the Roman occupation of the site appears to have occurred shortly after AD 350. (10, 11)
Excavations at the vicus at Brough, probably at SK 183826 about 800ft south-east of the fort, took place September 1971.
"A". SK 18258263. The corner of a rectangular building; large pieces of floor comprising crushed tile and cement and wall plaster found but no stratified material for dating. Further excavation in June 1972 showed disturbance of late-Ro levels. Pottery found suggests 2nd and 3rd centuries occupation with a little 4th century. There is very little 2nd century material in the disturbed levels. Probable late 1st to early 2nd century level was sealed beneath a clay layer, two sleeper beam trenches being found. This layer probably represents its abandonment c. 125 (corresponding with the end of the period I occupation of the fort).
"B". SK 18238278. Two blocks of dressed stone found exactly opposite the east gate of the fort may possibly be related to the foundations of a bridge carrying the road from the fort towards Melandra (SMR 6102). Name 'NAVIO' accepted for fourth edition Romano-British map. (12).
Finds of lead and lead ore suggest a connection with the lead mines of Derbyshire. Stone built stables with central drain. (13). Excavation in 1980-1983 located two roads running from the fort's south-east gate, one of which was flanked by a stone and timber building, possibly a metal workshop, dated to c. 140-220 by pottery. Resistivity survey suggested the presence of strip-houses of the vicus. (14).
Summary of 20th century excavations. (17).
The earthwork and buried remains of Navio Roman fort at Brough as well as part of its associated vicus or civilian settlement have been scheduled. The fort is rectangular in plan and measures approximately 90m by 105m. The plan of the fort is easily identified: the four sides are evidenced by raised earthen banks around an earthen platform which slopes gently to the north east. These banks indicate the position of the external walls of the fort. The monument has been extensively robbed of stone to the extent that only rough foundations of turf and rubble can be seen. The central area of the fort contains several platforms, hollows and linear features with a central lynchet which may be associated with the later track which runs through the site. There have been several partial excavations and surveys of the fort and vicus during the present century. These excavations determined that there were four phases of building on the site beginning with the first fort c.AD 80. The fort was briefly abandoned c.AD 125 and re-established in AD 154-158. An inscription shows that the main headquarters buildings, the Principia, was constructed c.AD 158. The first phase of the fort was an earthen and wooden construction, but succeeding phases incorporated stone buildings, towers, gates ramparts and granaries. The fort continued in use until AD 350 but was then abandoned. The fort guarded the principal route from the north east and north west of England as well as the road which ran southwards into the lead producing areas of the Peak District. (18).
The fort was surveyed in 2001. The visible remains of the fort at the time of survey consisted of a large bank defining the edge of the fort together with internal hollows and platforms. The buried remains of the vicus have been partly investigated through excavation, although its true extent around the fort is unknown. Running from the south-east side of the fort is the agger of Batham Gate Roman road. The banks around the fort survive to a height of 1m. The northern corner has been truncated by a change in the course of the River Noe since the fort went out of use in the 4th century. The banks have been heavily robbed for stone in the past and there has been some erosion of the outer side of the bank in places. There are entrances in all four sides. (19).