Brougham Castle

Brougham Castle is a medieval-era ruin built over a Roman-era fort located at the intersection of three Roman roads and the confluence of two rivers. This place was known to Romans as Brocavum or Brovoniacum according to a book from 1600.

“…but the Roman military way passes directly through Whinfield, a large park, thick set with trees, to Brovoniacum, twenty Italian miles, but seventeen English, from Verter, as Antominos has fixed it; he calls it also Brocovum, as the Notitia Broconiacum, from which we understand the company of Defensores had their abode here. Though age has consumed both its buildings and splendour, the name is preserved almost entire in the present one of BROUGHAM; the antiquity whereof has been further confirmed of late years, by the discovery of Roman coins, altars, and other testimonies.”

Camden, Brittania, edit 1600, p.689
The old Roman earthworks, sod covered embankments rising above the river, are visible in this photo of Brougham Castle, the medieval era ruin built over them.

Eventually, people got around to testing such assertions by mapping an ancient Roman text called the Itinerary of Antoninus onto actual territory and puzzling through place names. The ancient latin itinerary named places in the empire including Britain and the distances between them including BROVONACIS.

The first syllable of the ancient name of this town, preserved in the modern one, is so conformable with many other instances in this work, that it seems not only a proof of the identity of the place, but that the plan also, here adopted in adjusting the order of the towns from the wall, is agreeable to the truth… The proof of any town from its name is by itself of no consequence, but supported by distance, it becomes of some weight, and still greater, if the discovery of antiquities is added in confirmation.

Reynolds, Thomas. Iter Britanniarum; Or, that Part of the Itinerary of Antoninus which Relates to Britain, with a New Comment. United Kingdom, J. Burges, 1799.

This 1799 author is saying that multiple sources of evidence all point the same way, that identifying Brougham the actual place from the ancient text, was a slam dunk.

From The Historical Atlas by William R. Shepherd, 1926..

“Brocarium” is noted in the upper left quadrant of this 1926 map of Roman Britian, one stop south of Hadrian’s Wall. 

The official English Heritage list entry for the Roman fort provides a helpful description and historical summary.

Brougham Roman fort (Brocavum) was constructed on the south bank of the River Eamont near its confluence with the River Lowther at the junction of main north-south and east-west Roman roads which intersected and crossed the River Eamont at this point. The occupation of the fort seems to have lasted from the governorship of Agricola AD 78-84 to the end of the C4. It measured about 3.4 acres (1.37ha).

Altar to Belatocadrus from Kirkbride, Cumbria. It is inscribed DEO BELATO/CADROPEISI/US·M[ile]·SOLU/IT VOTU/M·L[ibens] M[erito].

A small number of altars found locally are dedicated to Belatucadrus, a local deity who seems to have been a native equivalent of the Roman god Mars. An inscription records the presence of a part-mounted cohort, the cohors III Bracaraugustanorum, a unit originally raised in Portugal in the first century AD, while an altar dedicated to Mars by a soldier of the Stratonician cavalry indicates that this unit originally raised in Asia Minor was stationed at Brougham fort in the third century AD. During the C3 a substantial vicus or civilian settlement developed around the fort. 

From Historic England official list entry.

It is tempting to think that our ancestors lived in the area back when the fort was built, members of the Carvetti, a Celtic tribe who resisted the Roman invasion, or later in the 3rd c. AD when cavalry from Asia Minor were garrisoned here and prayed to a syncretic deity.

I can imagine Edith Alice’s very great grandmother living outside the walls in the first village of Brougham, taking riding lessons from a Roman soldier stationed here far away from his home on Black Sea or a moment a bit later in 122 AD when Emperor Hadrian passed by on his way to see his wall. 

All that’s left is sod covered ditches! Despite that I can still imagine Edith Alice’s neolithic great grandparents worshiping at the neighborhood henges: Mayburgh Henge and one that came to be known as King Arthur’s Round Table.

King Arthur’s Round Table. Image Source:

King Arthur’s Round Table is a henge consisting of a huge, circular earth bank, with associated ditches and causeways, and is between three and four thousand years old. Early records indicate that there were once some standing stones in and around the monument, but it is unlikely there was ever a stone circle here.

From Brougham and Eamont Bridge walking guide. Eden Rivers Trust. 2006. p.11.

Or maybe instead our ancestors were invading Normans. Or all of the above. No way to know for sure about any of that, but it is fun to imagine. I have sympathy for cousin William the 2nd Lord Brougham and his obsession with the place literally building up an imagined past, making up stories to frighten children and reassure royalty.