The History of Wall
Wall Before Rome
Wall lies on the frontier between two Iron Age tribes, the Cornovii and the Corieltauvi, and whilst neither tribe lived at Wall itself there is evidence of a road connecting the two tribes with a track branching off which may have led directly to the village. No evidence has been found of an Iron Age settlement though there is evidence to suggest that the area was used as farmland and a number of hillforts have been found suggesting Wall was well populated prior to the Roman occupation. Moreover, some of the stones used in the Mansio indicate the location of an early Romano-British religious shrine which likely had an Iron Age predecessor. Even the Roman name for Wall, Letocetum, came from the Iron Age name for a grey wood. This name may be referring to a sacred grove at Wall, as Iron Age religious sites were often found on the borders between tribes which attracted periodic markets and fairs. This is likely to be the origins of Wall.
The Arrival of Rome
A few years after the Romans first landed in Britain, a detachment of troops arrived at Wall and set up a temporary fort as part of there advancement through Britain. They were the first Romans to live at Wall. A few years later more permanent forts were established by troops advancing north and west from Londinium as they brought supplies for their campaign on Wales. Soon enough the road connecting Letocetum to Londinium became a major route which would later become known as Watling Street. In the early 50’s (AD) a major fort was laid out which was built to accommodate part of the Legio XIV Gemina, a legion that came from Mainz Germany and campaigned in the West Midlands before moving up to Wroxeter. By the early 60’s a second major roman route known as Ryknild Street had been established which connected Wall to forts at Birmingham in the south and Derby in the north. By this point the fort at Wall had been cleared when the camp was abandoned at the end of the 50’s as the Romans had advanced into north Wales. The Roman advance was then interrupted by Boudicca’s revolt in the south east so a new fort was established at Wall in response to the rebellion. It was located on a new site away from the road suggesting Wall was now dominated by civilian use. This new camp lay on the hilltop where the St John’s Church stands today. Once the revolt was defeated the fort was demolished. There is evidence for two subsequent forts on the site, each smaller than the last, suggesting further military involvement in the area after the Boudicca revolt. This was likely when the Brigantes were conquered in the 70’s and during the campaigns of Agricola from 78-84 AD.
On all military sites at Wall, occupation was soon followed by civilian buildings and industrial activity. A number of timber buildings have been discovered at Wall along with hearths and evidence of metal-working, glass-working and glass blowing. The most important buildings at Wall in the early civilian years were the bath house and mansio (guest house), both of which are visible today. Guest houses were built to accommodate official travelers and postal couriers, allowing them to change horses and even stay overnight making them very important to communities, and as Wall was located on two major Roman roads it would have seen many visitors in its time. The mansio consisted of bedrooms, offices, an overseer’s suite, a dining room and kitchen on the ground floor, with what was most likely further accommodation on the first floor. Visitors could have also used the bath house situated next door if they wanted to freshen up before continuing on their journey. The bath house consisted of cold and heated rooms, a bathroom, a furnace room and an exercise hall. However the bath house was not exclusive to the mansio as it was likely used predominantly by local townspeople, perhaps with times set aside for visitors of the Mansio. Both the bath house and mansio were rebuilt several times in their life and their layout also changed with each rebuild. Eventually the mansio fell out of use whilst the bath house remained open, though many rooms were no longer used. Even the bath house eventually fell out of use though the building continued to be maintained for several more years, likely as a dwelling. The rise of Christianity, the fall of Rome and the erection of a cathedral in Lichfield, built to house the bones of St Chad, meant that people and most importantly pilgrims flocked to Lichfield and Wall fell out of importance though a settlement remained.
Wall in Later Times
The manor at Wall was formed between 1135 and 1166 out of the manor of Lichfield and there are subsequent references to the lords of Wall during the medieval period. The present Wall house may sit on the location of the original manor. The oldest buildings still standing at Wall date back to the seventeenth century when the local house owners were recorded in the tax assessment of 1666. The first evidence of Roman remains at Wall was discovered in 1686 when coins and pavement were recorded. The antiquarian William Stukeley saw ruined Roman walls being pulled down to make way for new houses in the eighteenth century which may be the walls that gave modern Wall its name; the name may also have come from the Saxon word for spring. Today Wall is still centered around Watling street just like Roman Wall was, with the road name still unchanged after 2000 years, serving as a reminder of the importance of roads in society.