National recognition for Roman archaeology project that inspired hundreds

Community: Volunteers came from across Cumbria to take part in a series of digs at the Carlisle Cricket Club site.
Community: Volunteers came from across Cumbria to take part in a series of digs at the Carlisle Cricket Club site.

A LONG-RUNNING community archaeology project which has inspired hundreds of people and unearthed the fascinating and once hidden history of Roman Carlisle has won a prestigious national award.

Ever since the chance discovery in 2017 of a Roman bath house on land owned by Carlisle Cricket Club, the site has generated huge excitement.

Investigations led by archaeology firm Wardell Armstrong at the site have yielded hundreds of Roman artefacts – and evidence of at least three bath houses.

The finds include jewellery, Roman weaponry, and imperial-branded tiles, as well as other historic gems which point to the possibility that Carlisle – once the Roman Empire's most important military base on Hadrian’s Wall – may have been visited by the Emperor Lucius Septimius Severus.

Supported by the Cricket Club and Carlisle City Council and Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery the project, which run in August and September of last year 2021 , saw hundreds of volunteers take part in dig events.

More than 700 finds were unearthed.

Such was the passion it inspired for Roman archaeology that judges in a prestigious national awards contest, run jointly by The Council for British Archaeology and the Marsh Charitable Trust, have now named the Uncovering Roman Carlisle project as their winner of the Community Project of the Year Award.

Wardell Armstrong archaeologist Kevin Mounsey was also runner-up in the contest’s Community Archaeologist of the Year category.

“Everybody who has been involved is delighted with this recognition,” said Frank Giecco, Wardell Armstrong’s Technical Director in Carlisle, who joined colleagues at the awards event in Newcastle at the weekend.

“We’ve found some incredible archaeology at the Carlisle Cricket Club site. I’ve so far given 15 presentations of the findings we’ve made but the project has been important on so many levels.

"And it still has a lot more to give."

Wardell Armstrong’s regional director Chloe Brownlee-Chapman said staff at the firm were “absolutely delighted” to have been given such a prestigious national accolade, recognising both their work and the community effort.

“There was an audible gasp when the winner was announced,” she said.

“The other projects on the shortlist were also fabulous. The community dig saw 500 people involved in this project and there was very much a sense from them of the excitement of having their hands on Roman history.”

Experts estimate that only 20 per cent of the Roman archaeology at the cricket club site has so far been excavated. The project will be a permanent feature of the cricket club’s pavilion redevelopment in the next few years.

Plans for the building incorporate a permanent exhibition room, telling the site’s fascinating Roman story with video story telling and exhibits.

Club chairman Mike Rayson said of the archaeological dig project: “Everybody involved should be proud. It really did capture people’s imagination.” The 18-month exhibition project has benefitted from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Some of the impressive finds uncovered in the dig are currently on display in an exhibition which is touring Cumbria at various community venues.

The Roman history at Carlisle Cricket Club first came to light after the club commissioned Wardell Armstrong to carry out an archaeological survey as part of plans for a new pavilion. Nobody had expected the survey to reveal the 'Premier League' archaeology that quickly began to emerge.

There are hopes that further digs will lead to yet more discoveries. The highlights have included the gravestone of a soldier from the nearby Ala Petriana Roman cavalry Fort which was based at Stanwix; and a carved tribute thought to be in praise of Julia Domna, the wife of Septimus Severus.

* Read more about the history uncovered at the site in this article: Archaeologists ponder whether Roman emperor visited Carlisle

* And this article: Frontier town - Dig uncovers secrets from the edge of the Empire.

* For more information about Carlisle Cricket Club's plans for the site, read this article: Carlisle Cricket Club releases plans for new exhibition and education centre