The future of a key site on Hadrian’s Wall has been safeguarded after a deal to take over its ownership was secured.
Alauna Roman fort and an adjacent disused 19th Century model farm at Maryport in Cumbria has been acquired by the Newcastle-based North of England Civic Trust (NECT) from the Hadrian’s Wall Trust, which ceased trading in July last year and will now be wound up.
The Camp Farm site at Maryport is at the western point of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire world heritage site, which stretches for over 3,000 miles from Cumbria across Europe to the Middle East, through Syria, and along the north coast of Africa.
The Maryport site has produced the largest batch of Roman altars to be found in Britain and is the focus of a series of annual digs by Newcastle University, which have also revealed colossal and hitherto unsuspected timber buildings from the twilight of the Roman empire.
Hadrian’s Wall Trust had drawn up plans for a £7m visitor centre on the site, which also includes a museum run separately by the Senhouse Trust.
NECT will now begin public consultations on whether the visitor centre scheme should go ahead or what other uses the local community and other bodies suggest for the site.
Linda Tuttiett, chief executive of Hadrian’s Wall Trust, said: “Our trust has been extremely proud with the progress made since acquiring Camp Farm, which contains the internationally significant Roman Fort Alauna.
“We have worked with the Senhouse Museum Trust, Newcastle University and Oxford Archaeology over the last three years to reveal finds important to improving understanding of the role Maryport played in our Roman history, as well as developing plans for a future visitor centre on the site.
“Following a drastic reduction in public funding, the Hadrian’s Wall Trust – which has led the development of the Hadrian’s Wall corridor, including Maryport, for the last eight years – last summer took the difficult decision to close its operations.
“However we have been delighted to work over the last six months on transferring this valuable asset to the North of England Civic Trust – a body with much experience in transforming historic buildings and creating sustainable futures for them.
“We are confident that the North of England Civic Trust will find new opportunities, working with partners, to fulfil the immense potential of the site.”
The acquisition - NECT’s first in Cumbria - comes in what is the 50th anniversary of the organisation, whose achievements range from rescuing Belford Hall in Northumberland to the former Exchange Buildings town hall in Sunderland.
Graham Bell, director of NECT, said: “I probably spend more time treading carefully through derelict buildings than finished ones, so what I see here is not abandoned buildings and buried stones but something that if handled carefully can be brought back to life.
“Everyone has heard of Hadrian’s Wall but Alauna is still largely Maryport’s secret.
“Our first question is how to share that secret so everyone gains, especially the residents and schoolchildren on its doorstep, and West Cumbria, and the wider world.
“Our first step will be to listen to people to build a picture of what will work best. We’ve begun with our neighbours, the Senhouse Museum, and think we can do great things together.”
Law firm Sintons, based in Newcastle, acted for NECT. Paul Liddle, partner in Sintons’ real estate department and client partner for NECT, said: “This particular acquisition had to be completed against a tight deadline and was not without its complexities but those having been overcome we wish NECT every success with its plans for developing the potential of the site for the public benefit.”