What has been described as “the birthplace of modern Manchester” can be found at Castlefield Basin, where the Rochdale Canal connects the Bridgewater Canal with the Calder & Hebble Navigation. It is here that you can find the remains of a Roman fort that once protected two Roman roads in the area. That fort, known as Mamucium – which means breast-shaped hill – was badly damaged by the construction of the canal but has since been partially reconstructed, allowing visitors to get a sense of Manchester’s Roman origins within touching distance of the canal.
The archeological site lies within the Castlefield Urban Heritage Park: a unique conglomeration of Roman ruins, parks, canals and warehouses. In Manchester Museum in the city centre, items found at Mamucium are on display, including a word square featuring an anagram of “pater noster”, which is one of the earliest pieces of evidence of Christianity in Britain.
The fort of Mamucium was constructed in three phases between AD 79 and 200 and is believed to have been occupied until the early 4th century AD. The fort was constructed on a hill close to a crossing point across the River Medlock. It housed a Roman garrison and also a vicus: an unofficial civilian settlement that would have serviced the fort. It’s estimated around 2,000 people lived here, and a variety of buildings have been discovered as well as more than 10,000 artefacts.
By the 18th century, little remained and what was left was destroyed by the Industrial Revolution. In 1760, the bathhouse was destroyed during the construction of the Bridgewater Canal and the rest was lost with the arrival of the Rochdale Union Canal – one of the earliest and most important canals in the UK, running 32 miles across the Pennines – and Great North Railway.
Mamucium was not properly excavated until the early 20th century. Other Roman buildings found in the vicinity include a Roman hotel and a temple, possibly dedicated to the cult of Mithras. In 1984, a partial reconstruction of the fort walls was constructed as one of the main features of the Castlefield Urban Heritage Park. This reconstructed northern gateway includes some Roman stonework at the base, and also inscriptions based on those found at the site. The site is open to the public and free to visit while artefacts from the fort and its surroundings can be seen at the nearby Manchester Museum.