I think this report is a bit fuller that the one previously blogged. I was particularly interested in excitement over Roman shoes.
The ancient Romans who began to colonise Britain in AD 43 made their most notable mark on Cumbria 79 years later with the building of Hadrian’s Wall, begun in AD 122.
But the 73-mile long wall sealing off the Roman world from the northern barbarians is only one part of their legacy to us.
Now, in both Carlisle and Maryport, plans are being drawn up to exploit this legacy as fully as possible. Tourism has become the lifeblood of Cumbria’s economy, and it is hoped the Romans can help boost it further – 2,000 years after they first came here themselves.
Cumbria Tourism certainly believes they can. Its spokesperson said: “Cumbria’s Roman heritage sites provide huge appeal for visitors.
“Around 72 per cent of our cultural visitors state they are interested in history and 91 per cent are specifically interested in visiting historical and heritage attractions.”
At Tullie House in Carlisle, a “Roman gateway” is to be developed, telling the story of the Romans in this area. It will use interactive technology to create a “virtual walk” through Roman Carlisle, and will also have space for many of the Roman artefacts unearthed in the city by archaeologists.
Tullie House actually stands on the site of an ancient Roman fort, while there was another fort in what is now the Stanwix area, and Tullie House’s museum and arts manager Hilary Wade said that with the growing interest in Roman history, Carlisle’s strong Roman connections were well worth promoting.
“They have been a bit undersold in a way, but we have a lot we could be shouting about,” she said. “We are fortunate in that we’ve got a really good collection of Roman materials.”
Some of the new interest in the Romans began in February, when the huge bronze head of the Emperor Hadrian came to Tullie House from the exhibition at the British Museum. Its popularity, she said, proved there was a healthy appetite for Roman history.
“It really attracted a lot of interest,” she said. “Roman exhibitions are very well supported, not only locally but regionally and with visitors from overseas.
“We really have to try to promote Carlisle as a ‘must-see’ destination for visitors.”
During 2000, archaeological digs under Tullie House unearthed many everyday Roman objects which have not been put on display so far, and Mrs Wade said the new development would allow them to be exhibited for the first time.
“We’ve got a leather shoe, a leather tent, pieces of Roman armour and part of a leather saddle, for instance,” she said.
“It is amazing to look at that shoe and know that it once had a Roman foot in it.”
It is these everyday items from two millennia ago that make the Romans so interesting to us, she believes.
“Roman history is very tangible. You can find out about their clothes, their uniforms, the food they ate, the letters they wrote, their daily lives.
“These are our ancestors. They walked about the streets of Carlisle shopping, 2,000 years ago.”
The Roman Gateway will cost around £570,000 and is being financed by the North-West Regional Development Agency. It will be open by 2011 and Mrs Wade hopes it will more than double the number of visitors from outside the region coming to Tullie House every year – from nine per cent of the total to 20 per cent.
She also predicted that these extra visitors would boost not just Tullie House but Carlisle’s cathedral and castle as well. “It will feed into the whole cultural quarter of the city,” she said.
The west of the county is not to be outdone. At Camp Farm on the outskirts of Maryport, Hadrian’s Wall Heritage Ltd plans to build an £11.5 million museum and visitors’ centre, also due to open in 2011.
The site is empty now but for a few quietly grazing sheep – but it was once the site of a bustling Roman settlement.
The developers hope that, in three years’ time, the site could be bustling again – this time with up to 50,000 visitors.
As the organisation’s heritage and access director Dr Nigel Mills points out: “The wall is just one part of the story.
“What we want to do is broaden the picture out, and look at the whole history of the frontier over 400 years.”
The Romans called the Camp Farm site Alauna. It comprised a military base and a vicus, the Latin name for a village that grew up around it. Archaeologists believe it could turn out to be one of the most important sites in the north of England.
Yet it is also one of the least well excavated so far, and they hope it could reveal a lot of new information about how life was lived here 2,000 years ago.
Dr Mills said: “There could be all kinds of things there. Roman Maryport is brilliantly preserved.
“We can see the street pattern and the different sorts of buildings. The archaeology may be able to give us an indication of how many people lived in the vicus.”
The visitors’ centre will be divided into three sections. The first would outline the overall story of the Roman Empire, to place the site in context. The next would explain the importance of the frontier of the empire, including the wall and the coastal defences against barbarians.
The third would exhibit some of the archaeological remains already discovered near Maryport, such as the 22 altars to the Roman god Jupiter currently on show at the town’s Senhouse Museum, and any new finds unearthed while the site is being excavated.
Quite apart from the educational benefits, Hadrian’s Wall Heritage feel it is bound to benefit Maryport’s economy.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity to develop Maryport as an example of heritage-based regeneration,” said Martin Walker, its sustainable development director. “An influx of 50,000 visitors will be a great boost to the economy of Maryport.
“It’s fundamental to our vision that the benefits will be felt by the whole community.”
The defenders of immigration often argue that incomers bring economic and cultural benefits to the place they move to.
As we enter a recession, it may be that the immigrants of 2,000 years ago could bring economic and cultural benefits to us to see us through an uncertain future.