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Scheduled Monument record MDR4518 - Derventio Roman Fort (site of), Little Chester, Derby

Type and Period (4)

  • (Roman - 80 AD to 409 AD)
  • (Roman - 43 AD to 409 AD)
  • ? (Saxon - 910 AD? to 1065 AD?)
  • (Medieval - 1066 AD? to 1539 AD?)

Protected Status/Designation

Full Description

SK 35363753: Site of DERVENTIO ROMAN FORT. The Roman fort at Little Chester, Derby identified as 'DERVENTIO' - the Derbentione' of the Ravenna Cosmography (11) was surveyed and published by Stukeley in 1724 who observed a stone wall and surrounding ditch (9), although no trace now survives above ground. Limited excavation and observation in 1926, 1960, 1964-66, 1968, 1972 and 1982 indicated that the earliest features on the site belonged to an extensive Flavian - early Antonine occupation which included timber buildings of probable military and ?civilian type. The foundations of a stone gate revealed in 1968 suggested an early defensive circuit but no trace of this was established. The line of the defences surveyed by Stukeley were found to overlie the Flavian - early Antonine occupation on a different alignment. The eastern stone defences appeared to be of slightly different date from those on the west and south and may indicate some rebuilding although only extensive excavation would verify this. The eastern defences evidently consisted of an Antonine clay rampart cut back to insert the stone wall (see Stukeley's plan) in the late 3rd century, with some re-organisation of the defensive ditches. The western and southern stone defences appeared to date from, or were refurbished in the mid 2nd century but no mention of a clay rampart was made. Probable late 3rd-4th century civilian occupation was indicated, especially at the south west angle of the fort. In the 4th century a broad ditch, 6.6m wide was dug 20m out from the wall on the eastern side of the fort. (2-11) A short emergency excavation was conducted in 1966, immediately outside the eastern course of the Roman defences as planned by William Stukeley. It established that Ryknield Street had run parallel to the eastern defences, some 53 ft. outside a ditch, to a junction with the Roman predecessor of Old Chester Road, close to the likely position of the east gate. The ditch was at least 17ft wide and 6ft deep, and contained pottery within the accumulation of rubbish with a terminal date in the 4th century A.D. The ditch is suggested as belonging to an earlier phase of the fort than that found by Webster in 1960 (Authority 2). (16) A substantial mortared stone foundation was located by Mr P J Potts while gardening in the Derby Parks Department nursery at Little Chester, Derby. A section was cut across it during the autumn and winter of 1967/8 by Mr Potts, Mr K Mann and M Brassington. On top of a thin ash layer a building platform of clay, gravel and sandstone had been raised, with a large building erected on it, constructed in the time of Hadrian. The building was destroyed by fire, and the clay rampart of a large fort erected on top. (21) There are no visible remains in the area indicated. (12) Roman fort beneath modern housing development and gardens. Quantities of surface finds in Derby Museum, including coin of Kadphises (?) , carved stones and skeletons. (13) A series of investigations into Roman Derby from 1968 to 1983 are published in the 1985 volume of Derbyshire Archaeological Journal, drawing together information about Roman Derby from all available sources, and including work on Little Chester Roman fort. At Little Chester the evidence for Roman occupation derives from Stukeley's map of 1721, from major excavations, and not least from the careful recording and publication of small-scale investigations and observations over many years. (15) The rampart at the fort was examined with a view to explaining the construction methods and materials used. It was found that the rampart had been constructed from blocks of clay and from clay rubble, with layers of sand to facilitate traffic over the surface. (18) Historical and archaeological evidence suggests that the Danes only began to fortify sites in the East Midlands after the defeat of the Vikings of York at Tettenhall in 910. The battle decimated the ruling classes and appears to have thrown the Danish settlers south of the Humber back on their own initiative. The construction of fortifications was consequently ad hoc and appears to have been a specific reaction to the campaigns of reconquest of Edward the Elder and Aethelflaeda. Defences were probably slight, and use was made of existing sites wherever possible. Indeed it seems likely that it was the old Roman fort at Little Chester which was pressed into service - its walls and towers were apparently refurbished at this time (see Authority 15) - rather than a site in Derby itself. (19) The largest archaeological excavation at Little Chester was in 1926, but its results were not published at the time, and this article sets out the information that survives to give an account of the work conducted. Investigations were undertaken at the instigation of Charles Bakewell Sherwin, who had recognised as of Roman construction the building uncovered on the Derby School playing-field in 1924, and anticipated that more Roman discoveries would be made during further works planned in the vicinity of Little Chester. He was a senior assistant to the Borough Surveyor, Mr C A Clews, who seems to have been wrongly credited with much of the work. The methods of excavation used were primitive and the work was carried out by navvies, but the results were significant. Ryknield Street was traced for a quarter of a mile leading southwards towards the north-east corner of the fort, and a stone culvert 90 feet long was also uncovered, running parallel with the river and emptying into the northern defensive ditch. Trenches were dug across the wall and surrounding ditch of the fort near the presumed south gate, when a coin of Trajan was found. This was followed by a series of 42 trenches at right angles to the excavated portion of Ryknield Street, which recovered buildings of 'the humble kind and devoid of architectural features', one perhaps a bakers shop. Within the fort two long trenches uncovered the footings of stone buildings and areas of gravelling, presumably the remains of metalling for roads. Five skeletons, probably medieval, were found in the north-west quadrant of the fort. The finds (pottery, coins, bronze and iron objects, glass and bone objects, and querns are mentioned) went to Derby Museum, but many were retained by individuals. (20) Details are given of exploratory excavations conducted at a number of separate locations within Little Chester fort, and just outside it to the east, between c. 1968 and 1971. The principal finds of pottery, metal and bone are described. (27) Excavations in 1971-2 at the Roman fort and settlement at Little Chester were carried out in advance of redevelopment of the south-east corner of the known Roman defences (Site A) and adjacent extra-mural settlement (Site B) to the east (SMR18907). The first occupation on Site A consisted of three phases of timber buildings of the late-first to mid-second century AD from an extensive military and/or civil settlement, the defences or limits of which remain uncertain. This was followed in the second century by a clay rampart and ditches, fronted with stone in the late third or early fourth century to become the enceinte recorded by William Stukeley. Occupation declined in the fourth century, but in the later Anglo-Saxon period a rubble platform outside the rounded south-eastern corner of the Roman wall may have supported a strengthening of the wall or the addition of a bastion. Thereafter the ground was given over to agriculture until in the eighteenth century the fort defences were destroyed and farm buildings erected on the site, to be succeeded in the 19th century by the railway embankment, now replaced by housing. (25) An excavation was carried out during the winter of 1979-80, prior to the erection of new changing rooms on the site near the former Derwent House stables. The work was carried out by the Trent Valley Research Group directed by Miss Hazel Wheeler. In October 1980 a service trench was cut mechanically to a depth of thirteen feet, revealing two square-sectioned Roman stone-lined wells. The trench was diverted to avoid cutting them, leaving their fillings intact. A quantity of Roman, medieval and post-medieval pottery was collected, all unstratified. (22) This report describes the results of watching briefs and excavations conducted by Trent & Peak Archaeological Trust at the Roman site of Derventio, Little Chester, Derby, in the period 1986-1990. This includes sites at Pickford's Garage (SK35403750), the construction of a car park at Darley Playing Fields (SK35383765), a bowling green north-west of Derwent House (SK35243758), and a road at the Nursery Garden north of Old Chester Road (SK354375). A model is put forward for the development of Little Chester from military origins to an urban settlement, with a possible role as a regional market and administrative centre at the junction of Highland and Lowland communities. Between the fifth and the tenth centuries the focus of settlement shifted south to the modern city centre. Refurbishments to the defences in the late Saxon period may be associated with the Danish incursions of the 9th century and Little Chester could be the site of the battle of 917. In 1066 Cestre (Little Chester) remained in the King's demesne, which might signify its potential as a fortified site and formed the endowment of the seven canons of All Saints. The seven prebendal farms were sold into private hands in 1549; two are represented by the 16th-17th century houses (SMR 32345 and 32010) which occupy the western half of the area. (24) A watching-brief was carried out in 1995 on cable-trenches mechanically-excavated along the three modern roads within the Scheduled Ancient Monument area of the Roman settlement. Features were discovered along both sides of Old Chester Road, including several areas of stone structure within the bounds of the 3rd century wall first recorded by Stukeley in 1726. Other features included compacted gravel surfaces, clay flooring and a ditch, but there were few stratified finds. 150 sherds of pottery were recovered sieving the spoil from the trenches. The ground surface south of the Old Chester Road was found to have been raised artificially with ash and slag, producing the terrace which supports the Victorian housing. (23) A bronze pin was found in topsoil during the 1979-80 TVARC excavations, led by H Wheeler, of the north-western quarter of the Little Chester enclosure. It has a faceted head of rectangular section decorated with overlapping drilled ring-and-dot motifs, and is considered to be late Saxon. It is in the Derby Museum collection. (26) In advance of building new changing rooms at Darley Playing Fields, excavations were carried out by Trent Valley Archaeological Research Committee in the north-west sector of the Roman fort. This was the first large-scale examination of the interior of the fort, and produced six possible phases of Roman occupation. It is suggested that Roman occupation of the site began in the 80s AD and continued until the 4th century. There were no features of Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-Scandinavian date, and very little medieval pottery. (28) In 1968 Derbyshire Archaeological Society led by Rosemary Annable undertook a small-scale investigation of the presumed west gate of the Little Chester defences, at the west end of Old Chester Road, in advance of the building of a floodbank. Three periods of occupation were identified: occupation preceding the defences, a stone gateway, and finally a stone wall. The first two periods were 2nd century or earlier, whilst the third was probably later 3rd century. (29) This report gives details of Roman brooches from excavations in and around Derby, together with casual finds given to Derby Museum. Each is described in detail, classified and illustrated. Wheeler's excavations of the North-West sector of Little Chester fort in 1979-80 recovered 4 brooches classified as Colchester Derivatives, 2 Headstuds, 6 Trumpets, 1 Unclassified and 1 Fragment. Sparey-Green's excavations on the Defences in 1971-2 recovered 4 Colchester Derivative, 1 Trumpet, 1 Unclassified, 1 Plate and 1 Pennanular. (30)

Sources/Archives (29)

  • <1> Map: 1973. OS 1:10,000 1973.
  • <2> Article in serial: Webster, G. 1961. 'An excavation on the Roman site at Little Chester, Derby, 1960', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 81, pp 85-110.
  • <3> Article in serial: Brassington, M. 1967. 'Roman material recovered from Little Chester, Derby, 1965', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 87, pp 39-69. Plans.
  • <4> Article in serial: Brassington, M. 1969. 'Roman pottery from Little Chester', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 89, pp 107-114.
  • <5> Bibliographic reference: JRS 59 1969 211-213 Plan.
  • <6> Bibliographic reference: Britannia 1 1970 283.
  • <7> Article in serial: Britannia 4 1973 285.
  • <8> Article in serial: Britannia 12 1981 335.
  • <9> Bibliographic reference: Stukeley, W. 1724. Itinerarium Curiosum. p 50.
  • <10> Bibliographic reference: Jones, M J. 1975. Roman Fort Defences. British Archaeological Report 21. p 161.
  • <11> Bibliographic reference: Rivet, A L F and Smith, C. 1979. The Place-Names of Roman Britain. p 334.
  • <12> Personal Observation: F1 FRH 29-NOV-66.
  • <13> Index: TPAT. 2095. 2095.
  • <14> Bibliographic reference: Glover, T. 1829. History and Gazetteer of Derbyshire. Volume 1. p 293.
  • <15> Article in serial: Birss, R & Wheeler, H. 1985. 'Introduction', in 'Roman Derby: Excavations 1968-1983', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Vol. 105, pp 7-14.
  • <16> Article in serial: Todd, M. 1967. 'The Roman site at Little Chester, Derby- excavations in 1966', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 87, pp 70-85.
  • <18> Bibliographic reference: Canti, M. 1989. Soil Report Concerning the Rampart at Littlechester. AM Lab. Report 6/89.
  • <19> Article in serial: Roffe, D. 1986. 'The Origins of Derbyshire', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Vol. 106, pp 102-122.
  • <20> Article in serial: Brassington, M. 1993. 'Little Chester, Derby: The 1926 Excavations', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 113, pp 21-44.
  • <21> Article in serial: Brassington, M. 1996. 'The Roman Fort at Little Chester, Derby: The East Wall and Rampart, 1967-8', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 116, pp 77-92.
  • <22> Article in serial: Brassington, M. 1997. 'Little Chester, Derby: Changing Room Service Trench, October 1980', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 117, pp 26-7.
  • <23> Article in serial: Guilbert, G. 1998. 'Fieldwork by Trent & Peak Archaeological Trust in Derbyshire, 1995-6', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 118, pp 147-162. p 161.
  • <24> Article in serial: Langley, R & Drage, C (TPAT). 2000. 'Roman Occupation at Little Chester, Derby: Salvage Excavation and Recording by Trent & Peak Archaeological Tust 1986-1990', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 120 pp 123-287.
  • <25> Article in serial: Sparey-Green, C. 2002. 'Excavations on the South-eastern Defences and Extramural Settlement of Little Chester, Derby 1971-2', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Vol. 122.
  • <26> Article in serial: Langley, R. 1990. 'Notes on late Saxon Pins from Ticknall and Little Chester', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Vol 110, pp 56-59. p 58-9, Fig. 1.
  • <27> Article in serial: Brassington, M. 1982. 'Exploratory Excavations at Little Chester, Derby', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 102, pp 74-83.
  • <28> Article in serial: Wheeler, H. 1985. 'North-west Sector Excavations 1979-1980', in 'Roman Derby: Excavations 1968-1983', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 105, pp 38-153.
  • <29> Article in serial: Annable, R & Wheeler, H. 1985. 'The West Gate Excavations 1968', in 'Roman Derby: Excavations 1968-1983', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 105, pp 33-37.
  • <30> Article in serial: Mackreth, D. 1985. 'Brooches from Roman Derby', in 'Roman Derby: Excavations 1968-1983', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 105 pp281-299.



Grid reference Centred SK 35327 37539 (188m by 149m)

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Record last edited

Aug 23 2022 6:02PM

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