Old Oswestry Hill Fort, Shropshire, England

Old Oswestry is one of Britain’s most spectacular and impressive early Iron Age hill forts in the Welsh Marches near Oswestry. It remains one of the best preserved hill forts in the UK. Built on lower ground, it is also one of the most accessible hill forts with stunning panoramic views across North Wales, Cheshire and Shropshire. It was occupied between the eighth century BC and the Roman conquest of Britain, probably by the Cornovii or Ordivice tribe.

The Cornovii 

The territories of the Cornovii encompassed Staffordshire, Shropshire and parts of Cheshire. Their capital being a large hillfort on top of The Wrekin. (Later destroyed by the Fourteenth Legion Germanicus.)

Their name is thought to mean “people of the horn” or “people of the horned one” which is possibly a reference to their worship of the horned god Cernunnos.

A few miles from The Wrekin, the Romans built a town at present-day Wroxeter, called Viroconium Cornoviorum meaning ‘The town of Viroco of the Cornovii’. (Viroco being the Cheiftain of the Cornovii.) The town was the fourth largest in Roman Britain. Remnants of many other hillforts in the Kingdom of the Cornovii are still visible today, including Castle Ring at Cannock Wood, Titterstone Clee in Bitterly, Caynham Camp in Poughnhill and Old Oswestry in Oswestry.

Cornivii was neighboured by the Brigantes to the north-east, the Coritani to the east, the Dobunni to the south, the Demetae and Ordovices to the west and the Deceangi to the north-west.

On the southern side of the Berwyn range, there is a hillfort at Craig Rhiwarth deep in the Tanat valley at the extreme nothern tip of Powys. This fort marks the boundary between the Cornovii and their less refined neighbours the Ordovices. This extreme outpost of the Cornovii was possibly founded by a renegade prince and his retinue, who traveled westwards along a tributary of the Sabrina from their Cornovian homelands in Shropshire. 


The general aspect of the hillfort at Craig Rhiwarth fits in quite well with the description outlined by Tacitus as the last stand of Caratacus and his forces in Wales in 50 AD.


Industry within the Kingdom was composed mainly of copper from Powys, lead and silver from Shelve Hill and salt manufactured in Middlewich. The tribe’s lifestyle seems mainly pastoral, having no pottery industry to speak of and they were also remarkable in the fact that they produced no coinage of their own.

Other info: The tombstone of a thirty year old woman of the Cornovii called Vedica was found at Ilkley in Yorkshire. (Outside of known Cornovii territory.) Vedica may possibly have been the daughter of the aforementioned chieftain Viroco, who was killed in early 47AD during the western expansion commanded by Publius Ostorius Scapula.

The first of many (probably too many) of these types of post. I enjoy writing them and I figured the first one should be about the very tribe who resided in the area I come from. 


Wroxeter, Shropshire: Virconium Cornoviorum, Roman City

The site of Wroxeter in Shropshire, called Virconium Cornovium in the Roman Period, was a wholly Roman foundation settled around 48 AD by the Roman army. It lies on Watling Street, one of the great Roman roads built in Britain which stretched from Dover (Dubris) to Worxeter. Wroxeter probably began as a temporary marching camp, however in 58 AD the Emperor Nero ordered the invasion of Wales and the site became a permanent fortress.

It appears to have been occupied by the 14th legion from 58-69 AD and the 20th legion from 69-80 AD. Once the army was no longer required at the site it would have been handed over to the civil authorities and became a Coloniae, and a settlement for veterans. A similar thing happened at Colchester and Gloucester. It became a tribal centre, of the Cornovii, with a certain level of autonomy.

It had grid plan streets, a market place, law courts and a large public bath house. It really under the reign of Hadrian in the 2nd century AD that the town flourished into a city. During that time that the centre was developed and the bath house was built with a large basilica for exercising. Other fine civic buildings were added to the site making it one of the best examples of civic town planning in Roman Britain.

By the end of the 2nd century it was the 4th largest settlement in Britain, home to around 5000 citizens. It had an aqueduct and temple. However the crisis of the 3rd century took its toll and buildings began to fall derelict by the 4th century. For a while the bath house was used to store grain, the floor was taken up and used elsewhere, and mysteriously three burials took place here at the end of the Roman period.

A regional chief seems to have taken the site in the 5th century and put some work into redeveloping the buildings. However Wroxeter was abandoned between 500 and 650 AD, and pretty much vanished until it was rediscovered in 1859. It became one of the first archaeological attractions in Britain, attracting visitors like Charles Dickins.

Visiting today you can see the ruins of the monumental Hadrianic bath house. The largest part, The Old Work, was the dividing wall between the bathhouse and the basilica and is the largest piece of roman building left in Britain. Also a reconstruction of a roman town house built in with Roman techniques. Most of the city itself still lies underground.