'Pompeii of the North' threatened by land sale

A major Roman archaeological site in northern England could be threatened by development, as the Church of England plans to sell off the land it sits on.

Pompeii of the North

The Binchester Roman Fort in County Durham has been billed the ‘Pompeii of the North’ after a five-year archaeological dig uncovered some of the most well preserved remnants of the Roman Empire dating back some 1800 years ago, including one of the earliest pieces of evidence for Christianity in Roman Britain in the shape of a silver ring.

The archaeologists also discovered a bath house with seven-foot high walls, which were once covered with brightly covered painted designs, as well as an altar dedicated to the Roman Goddess of Fortune.

However the land where the 1800-year old Roman settlement is located being sold off as part of 10 plots around Bishop Auckland. The sale is being carried out by the Church Commissioners, which manages properties for the Church of England.

The announcement has prompted fears that the potential new owners could restrict public access to the site, limit archaeological digs, or even build close a house or hotel close to the site.

The Auckland Castle Trust has made a £2 million bid for the two plots of land that the Binchester Roman Fort sits on, and is leading the calls for the site to be protected. Trust Chairman Jonathan Ruffer told media that “Binchester must 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 Trust has even launched an online petition that has already garnered over 630 supporters. Click here to see the online petition.

Silver ring with Christian symbols discovered at the Binchester Roman Fort. Photo courtesy Durham University
Silver ring with Christian symbols discovered at the Binchester Roman Fort. Photo courtesy Durham University
The Church Commissioners are disputing the concerns raised by the Auckland Castle Trust. Their spokesman told the Northern Echo: “We are disappointed that such an excellent body as the Auckland Castle Trust do not recognise the statutory protections in operation for Binchester Roman Fort. The statement issued by the trust seems to be creating a scare story in order to further its own objectives to become a preferential purchaser in the sale of land. The process for the sale is transparent and leaves no room for undue influence by any interested party. All offers will be considered without prejudice or preference.”

“Throughout the marketing of this estate the commissioners have been consistent in their dealings with all parties not least existing tenants. We have informed parties that offers should be submitted by September 18 and that no offers prior to that date would be considered. It is disappointing that through their actions Auckland Castle Trust seem to be seeking to manipulate an open and transparent process through the launch of campaign which would result in them being the only potential purchasers of the site.”

Dr David Petts, lecturer in archaeology at Durham University and the leader of the archaeological project at the Binchester Roman Fort, has said that “the most unique feature of these remains is the sheer scale of their preservation. It is possible to walk through a series of Roman rooms with walls all above head height; this is pretty exceptional for Roman Britain.”

You can read his report of the 2012 excavation here.

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