Binchester Roman Fort: Save ‘the Pompeii of the North’, campaigners urge

Worries that Roman fort site may fall into developers’ hands after Church puts it up for sale

ARTS CORRESPONDENT

A Roman settlement known as the “Pompeii of the North” because of the number of archaeological treasures unearthed there could be put at risk if the land falls into the hands of developers, local campaigners have warned.

Binchester Roman Fort in County Durham has been put up for sale by the Church Commissioners, which manages the Church of England’s investments. Auckland Castle Trust, a local heritage trust, has lodged a bid to buy the land, and said that research at the dig site may be hindered if it ends up in private hands.

Although the Roman settlement could not be developed, an old hall also located on the land up for sale could be, affecting access to the site. Selling the plots off separately could also hamper archaeologists’ work, it is feared.

But the Church of England denied the Roman settlement would be affected, saying the trust “seem to be seeking to manipulate an open and transparent” sale process.

The “hugely significant” finds at the site in July included a bath house with 7ft painted and plaster-covered walls.

The Roman settlement dubbed the 'Pompeii of the North' The Roman settlement dubbed the 'Pompeii of the North' (PA)
David Petts, an archaeology lecturer at Durham University, said at the time that the excavations “uncovered parts of one of the best preserved Roman buildings in Britain”.

An earlier discovery of a third-century silver ring with two fish and an anchor could also signify the earliest Christian life in Roman Britain. Chris Ferguson, head curator at Auckland Castle, said: “It’s remarkable. The bath house is something you’d expect to find in the Mediterranean not Roman Britain. Beyond this very little is excavated, we know from surveys that the site is enormous. Further research and public access could be at risk.”

The trust has put in a £2m offer, and chairman Jonathan Ruffer said it should be secured by “someone who has a heart for Bishop Auckland and a deep understanding of the site’s importance in a national and international context”.

The Commissioners released a statement saying they were “disappointed” that the Trust “do not recognise the statutory protections in operation for Binchester Fort”.

The Fort is a scheduled ancient monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act from 1979. The Church said there were protections against work that would demolish or damage the site without Government permission.

Durham County Council retains a deed of guardianship for the site, which ensures public access, the statement added. “Consequently any suggestion about the fort falling into the hands of developers is very wide of the mark.”

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