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About the Roman fort

The Roman fort of Binchester (Vinovia) lies to the north of Bishop Auckland and stands above the River Wear (NZ 210313). It guarded the point where Dere Street, the main Roman road running from York to Corbridge, crossed the river. The site itself lies on a glacial gravel plateau between the River Gaunless to the east and the Bell Burn to the north. The plateau drops down steeply to the south and west to the River Wear. The visible fort covered an area of 4 – 4.5 ha and was accompanied by a substantial associated civil settlement (vicus) identified through a mix of excavation, aerial photography and geophysical survey. Excavation has shown that Roman military occupation of the site began in the early Flavian period and continued, with variable intensity, throughout the Roman period. Occupation continued into the fifth and sixth centuries and burials suggest settlement nearby down to the eleventh century.
 
The interior of fort is largely unencumbered by modern buildings, though it contains the buildings of Binchester Hall and Binchester Hall Farm. The current Binchester Hall was built in 1835, replacing an earlier structure of probable 17th century date. This earlier building stood to the south of the present hall; this may imply some disturbance of the Roman stratigraphy in this area.

The majority of the site is under pasture, though the central core of the fort is publicly accessible as a modest visitor attraction and educational facility operated by Durham County Council. This includes the well-preserved remains of the commanding officer’s baths-suite protected under a cover building along with a section of Dere Street which formed the via principalis of the fort. The north edge of the fort is overlain by the standing buildings of Binchester Hall and the associated Binchester Hall Farm. Parts of the south-eastern ramparts of the fort survive as earthworks. To the south west there is steep scarp slope leading down to the River Wear, the result of a substantial landslip that has caused the loss of the south-western fort defences and part of the vicus. This erosion was noted by antiquarian recorders, and much of this damage had clearly occurred by the late 18th century, though there continued to be erosion on the scarp slope into the early-mid 20th century. However, this slope is now wooded and currently broadly stable. The gravel soil is predominantly acid, with bone preservation being relatively poor. Excavation within the fort and vicus has revealed well preserved deposits where they have not been truncated by standing structures along with crucially important late Roman/ sub-Roman stratigraphy. Geophysical survey has revealed that the vicus is extensive and covers a large area to the east the fort as well as either side of Dere Street to the north-west and south-east. The central area of the fort is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, but little of the vicus is currently afforded statutory protection.
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