Building Secrets: Mamucium

No I'm not talking about the new restaurant in Hotel Indigo (although their Beef Wellington is certainly impressive) - I'm talking about that big Roman thing in Castlefield...

By Ben Brown | Last updated 30 March 2020

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For anyone with absolutely zero knowledge of Roman history – here’s a brief insight into how a group of sexy butch Italians ended up conquering our green and pleasant lands and ultimately built a fort in what later became Castlefield.

The Roman conquest of Britain began in AD 43 under Emperor Claudius, a man who constantly battled against potential usurpers throughout his entire reign.

Even though he probably looked nothing like Derek Jacobi, his life was one rife with back stabbing, in-fighting and general all-round bitchy-ness – something he attempted to fix by expanding the Roman Empire and thus cementing his grip on power back in Rome.

Thus he recruited a bunch of Italians, Spanish and French soldiers to cross the Channel and take Britannia, bringing with them civilization, straight roads, aqueducts and of course – the little fringe.

They fought against Celtic tribes, Queen Boudica and a whole host of other barbarians for 40 years and by AD 84 they pretty much had control of most of England and Wales and pockets of Scotland. A job well done guys.

The total dominance of the Roman Army came not just through their technological might or numbers but also the use of straight roads, many of which were fortified and garrisoned against rebellions with strong stone castles or forts.

This is where Mamucium comes in – built on a major junction between roads leading to Chester (Deva Victrix) and York (Eboracum) – it was in the perfect position for defending the roads and the cities they lead to.

Construction began in AD 79, about the same time that Mount Vesuvius was burying the city of Pompeii with ash, and the then Emperor, Vespasian, was dying of fever from diarrhoea, with his last words being “I think I’m turning into a god.” Idiot.

As an important fort and defensible position, Mamucium was manned by a garrison of soldiers, which in turn created a sizable settlement nearby where their families could live and work, alongside merchants and whoever else was knocking about trying to flog stuff.

You could say that this was the beginnings of Manchester as a city, and the first time any real population decided to settle here for any period of time. And you’d probably be right.

With the Roman withdrawal from Britain around AD 410, the settlement near the fort was seemingly abandoned, with most of the remainers heading towards a temple (to Mithras – an underground cult-like figure who was born from a rock) in what is now Hulme

From here the fort fell into serious disrepair, pretty much becoming an ignored folly on the outskirts of the new settlement. It was mentioned a few times in literature throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries, mostly describing the general state the building was in – which wasn’t good.

Unfortunately for historians, as soon as the Industrial Revolution arrived in the city the fort was razed to the ground, making way for the clatter of progress and the canals and railways of the future.

As a result of the Industrial boom, the fort once again became part of the city, with Castlefield and its ruins acting as a major thoroughfare again to other major cities of the UK.

The first large-scale archaeological dig of the site came in 1906 as a bloke called Francis Bruton excavated small sections of the site, with subsequent digs taking place right up until 1967.

In this time the fort was claimed to be “the least interesting Roman remains in Britain” which isn’t very useful for me writing this but considering how much I’ve struggled to provide you with entertainment – a perfectly understandable description.

It wasn’t until 1982 that the fort became the UK’s first ever Urban Heritage Park with further excavations following in the early noughties by the University of Manchester Archaeological Unit.

What they found down there I’m not too sure, but there have to date been over 10,000 artefacts uncovered from the fort and its surrounding areas – most of which you can see down at the Manchester Museum near the University.

Perhaps it’s time to buy yourself a metal detector and get out there yourself under cover of darkness? Those coins await…