The Lost Roman Fort of Hincaster (Background: Hincaster)

Canal tunnel at Tunnel Hill, Hincaster

Was there a Roman Fort at Hincaster?  The place-name element ‘caster’ usually means the Anglo-Saxons recognised a site as Roman – but there is now no trace of a fort there.

Hincaster is recorded in Domesday as Hennecastre – so the name goes back to Anglo-Saxon times. Where the Anglo-Saxons recognised Roman origins for a place, they often incorporated the element ‘chester’ into the place-name they gave to it, derived from the Latin ‘castrum’ meaning an encampment or fort. In areas which came to be dominated by Norse speakers, (who did not have the ‘ch’ sound) this came to be pronounced ‘caster’.  And so we have, to the south, Chester, Manchester and Ribchester -  but a little further north we have Lancaster, Muncaster – and Hincaster. So it is likely the Early English settlers at Hincaster saw some building(s) or ruins which they recognised as Roman – but no trace remains of them today.

It seems most unlikely that there would have been two forts only 6kms apart  – but it is possible that a small fort or fortlet was first established at Hincaster, then moved to the better site at Watercrook.  Possibly something remained at the abandoned fort site – perhaps a mansio (an official stopping-place on the Roman road) – or (unlikely) a villa.

No trace of buildings has ever been found here – but when the M6 was being built, a collection of Roman pottery was spotted in a dump of topsoil taken from somewhere in the vicinity of Tunnel Hill.  The pottery was second-century Samian ware, and was thought to have come from a military context, rather than from a Romano-British site. More Samian was found in a cutting for the motorway on the far side of Tunnel Hill, so if there were Roman buildings, that would seem to have been their most likely location – but neither masonry nor earthworks have ever been spotted.

The line of the Roman road from Lancaster to Watercrook, unfortunately, has not been established for certain. It is generally assumed to have run up through Beetham-Milnthorpe-Heversham-Leasgill-Levens Bridge, the line later followed by the old A6 (before the by-passes).  But what if the original line ran up through Ackenthwaite and Woodhouse to Hincaster, Sedgwick, Natland and Watercrook?  Moreover the 19th century antiquary Richard Ferguson thought that ‘above Hincaster the [Roman] road can be traced along various narrow lanes through part of the township of Stainton’ – which is even further over to the east. 

Today, the road from Hincaster to Sedgwick is called Well Heads Lane – and if any sign of that Roman fort is ever to be found, it would seem most likely to be in the low ground between Tunnel Hill and Sellet Hill, in the vicinity of that lane. 


Text by Bill Shannon

Photo of the canal tunnel at Tunnel Hill, Hincaster, by Bill Shannon. 

T W Potter, ‘A Roman Site at Hincaster, Westmorland’, TrCWAAS, vol75, 1975, pp.376-77

Richard S Ferguson, A History of Westmorland, London, (1894), p.35.

For details of the Roman roads, see


To find out more about the history of the Township of Hincaster, click here.