top of page

Lower Nene Valley Pottery on the Northern Frontiers of Roman Britain

Dr Paul Bidwell  FSA

Sites in northern Britain associated with the Roman frontier works and their supply systems provide vital evidence for the chronology and development of the Lower Nene Valley pottery industry.

There are rare occurrences in the North of mortaria from this source in the earlier second century at sites that formed part of the Hadrian’s Wall system. From South Shields on the east coast, the main port for the supply of the Wall, there is a fragment from a rare stamp on a mortarium of the potter Cunoarda. The complete version reads CVNOARDA/VICODUROBRI, which can be expanded as ‘Cunoarda at the vicus of Durobrivae’.


Fig. 1.  Mortarium stamp of Cunoarda found in the Victorian excavations at South Shields.

Durobrivae is Water Newton, the centre of pottery production in the Lower Nene Valley, and its status as a vicus means that it was a minor town subordinate to the tribal authorities, in this case the Catuvellauni.


Fig. 2.  Distribution of Nene Valley Mortaria (after  P. Tyres base map)

Lower Nene Valley colour-coated wares are not known from the Antonine Wall in Scotland, which probably means that their production, at least for export, dates to no earlier than the AD 160s when this frontier was finally abandoned and the army returned to Hadrian’s Wall. Unfortunately, there are few closely-dated groups of pottery in the North dating to the second half of the second century. The earliest contexts for the colour-coated wares from the Lower Nene Valley are deposits from between about 207/8 and 225 at the fort and supply-base at South Shields, which have produced a few beakers, a lid and a flagon. Parchment-ware jars, which are generally much scarcer in the North, first appear in deposits dating to the second quarter of the third century.


The colour-coated wares became common in the North around the middle of the third century. At about the same time mortaria from the Lower Nene Valley also began to arrive in large numbers. They are found mainly at forts in the eastern and central sectors of Hadrian’s Wall which earlier in the third century had the mortarium industry at Mancetter-Hartshill in Warwickshire as their main supplier. 

Importation of the colour-coated wares, particularly in coarse-ware forms such as bowls and dishes, continued throughout the fourth century, and they occur in the latest deposits at Carlisle, Birdoswald and South Shields. These late forms also reached rural settlements, apparently in larger quantities than the earlier colour-coated types.

Fig. 5. Late Lower Nene Valley colour-coated ware from Birdoswald (26), Catterick (27), South Shields (28), Catterick (29), Newcastle (30) and South Shields (31).

Further Reading


Bidwell, P. and Croom, A. 2010 ‘The supply and use of pottery on Hadrian’s Wall in the 4th century AD’, in Collins, R. and Allason-Jones, L.,

Finds from the Frontier. Material Culture in the 4th and 5th Centuries, CBA Res. Rept 162, 20-36


Bidwell, P. 2017 ‘Rural settlement and the Roman army in the north: external supply and regional self-sufficiency’, in Allen, M., Lodwick, L., Brindle, T., Fulford, M. and Smith, A., The Rural Economy of Roman Britain, New Visions of the Countryside of Roman Britain, Vol. 2, Britannia Monograph Series No. 30, 290–305


Profile of Dr. Bidwell


Main interests and experience are in the archaeology of Roman Britain, particularly the archaeology of the Roman army. From 1987 to 2013 he led a series of projects which involved the excavation and interpretation of the Roman fort-sites at South Shields (Arbeia) and Wallsend (Segedunum). At both sites the projects also included the reconstruction of a series of Roman buildings: at South Shields, the West Gate, the commanding officer's house, and a barrack block, and at Wallsend, a length of Hadrian's Wall and a large bath-house. There are few other Roman sites in Britain with reconstructed buildings, and none is as extensive as those at South Shields and Wallsend.


His publications include the excavation of sites in Exeter and Devon, on Hadrian's Wall and elsewhere in North-East England (the Roman forts at Bainbridge and Hardknott), and numerous studies of Roman pottery. General works include 'Roman Forts in Britain' (2007) and, with Nick Hodgson, 'The Roman Army in Northern England' (2009).

Fig. 3.  Distribution of Mancetter -Hartshill Mortaria (after  P. Tyres base map)

Fig. 4. Graph showing the varying amounts of mortaria from Mancetter-Hartshill and the Lower Nene Valley in later Roman levels at major sites in northern Britain.

The distribution of the Lower Nene Valley mortaria conforms to that of imports from south-east England in the third century (e.g. BB2) and from northern Gaul. The mortaria will have travelled north via the east-coast sea routes, taking advantage of the cheap transport costs of a major artery in the system of military supply. The colour-coated wares have a much wider distribution throughout the North and presumably reached sites in the North-West by road; the higher costs of transport by road presumably made the export of the bulky mortaria less profitable. 


Published by Nene Valley Archaeological Trust,  January 2019

All rights reserved

bottom of page