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Gourdie, Steeds Stalls

Temporary Camp (Roman)

Site Name Gourdie, Steeds Stalls

Classification Temporary Camp (Roman)

Canmore ID 28932

Site Number NO14SW 15

NGR NO 1151 4271

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


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Administrative Areas

  • Council Perth And Kinross
  • Parish Caputh
  • Former Region Tayside
  • Former District Perth And Kinross
  • Former County Perthshire

Archaeology Notes

NO14SW 15 1151 4271.

(NO 1151 4271) Steeds Stalls (NAT) Roman Fort (R) (Site of)

OS 6" map (1959)

Steeds Stalls is recognised by Richmond and St Joseph as the probable site of a Roman fort.

The site comprises a series of contiguous excavations on the ridge of a hill. Seven circular chambers separated by partitions c. 12' thick are cut in the side of a steep bank. Floors are sunk c. 20' and each chamber is 15' in diameter. A long passage c. 4' wide formed the original entrance.

D Wilson 1851

In 1941, crop marks suggestive of a Roman fort were seen from the air by Flt-Lt Bradley, indicating a single line of ditch apparently surrounding a rectangular enclosure estimated at 410' by 390' with rounded angles and an approach road on the E side.

I A Richmond 1943; J K St Joseph 1951

The site has not been excavated, but two pieces of amphora were ploughed up in the enclosure area. They are in Dundee Museum: amphora handle (Accession no:1959.556.1), and part of neck (Accession no:1959.556.2)

J Barwick 1959; H Coutts 1971

Steeds Stalls (name verified) are as described by Wilson. Their size and plan suggest kiln-like structures, but to what use is conjectural. Some fragmentary burnt brick, not of Roman origin, is visible in the ploughed-up surround but the amount does not imply the manufacture of them.

The Roman fort, occupying a cultivated ridge, contains Steeds Stalls within its NW perimeter and undoubtedly pre-dates it. There is no trace of the former on the ground and no finds were made. Air photograph inspection indicates that it was rectangular in plan with rounded corners and measured approximately 125.0m NE-SW by 90.0m between ditch centres. No entrance (or tutuli) can be seen and the alleged approach road in the NE is doubtful.

Steeds Stalls revised at 1:2500.

Roman fort surveyed approximately at 1:2500.

Visited by OS (JM) 7 November 1975

Gourdie is a temporary camp.

Information from a letter from J K St Joseph 7 December 1976

About 2.7km NNW of the legionary fortress of Inchtuthil (NO13NW 5), on the gently sloping E shoulder of Hill of Gourdie, there is a small Roman temporary camp. Although long associated in popular tradition (reflected in the Old Statistical Account) with the operations of the Roman army under Agricola, Steeds Stalls was first confirmed as the site of a Roman military work by Eric Bradley in the summer of 1941, as the result of observation made in the course of RAF flight-training. More recent photography of the cropmarks which alone betray its outline has shown that the camp measured about 145m square. A gap near the middle of the NE side may mark the position of an original entrance, but the marks interpreted by Bradley as a contemporary road approaching the camp from the E have never been subsequently recorded.

The interior has been divided into two roughly equal parts by the linear ditch that springs from the NE side immediately S of the presumed entrance; the dividing-ditch itself is interrupted at its mid-point to give passage between the two compartments. The northernmost portion of the interior is occupied by the seven elongated hollows whose resemblance to the stalls of a stable gave the site its name; cropmarks not only indicate that there were originally at least five more such features, disposed in an arc to the SE of the already known examples. but also more clearly demonstrate their character. All appear to have been keyhole-shaped, with a round head about 4.5m in diameter and up to 6m deep being approached along a level passage 4m in average width. The purpose of the 'stalls' has neven been convincingly explained. It is possible that they were individual quarries contemporary with the camp and worked by a labour-force providing material for the builders of the nearby legionary fortress, but the multiplicity of working-faces requires explanation. Alternatively, the kiln-like appearance of the surviving traces may suggest they were used for the production of lime or the firing of bricks and tiles. However, no physical evidence for either kind of use has so far come to light.

Information from RCAHMS (GSM) 11 January 1993.

Statistical Account (OSA); I A Richmond 1943; O G S Crawford 1949; G S Maxwell 1980.


Field Visit (6 August 1942)

This site was recorded as part of the RCAHMS Emergency Survey, undertaken by Angus Graham and Vere Gordon Childe during World War 2. The project archive has been catalogued during 2013-2014 and the material, which includes notebooks, manuscripts, typescripts, plans and photographs, is now available online.

Information from RCAHMS (GF Geddes) 4 December 2014.

Publication Account (17 December 2011)

The site of Steeds Stalls has long been associated with the Romans, owing to the upstanding remains of some ‘stalls’ in its interior, with these interpreted as the advance guard of the Caledonian army, sent to watch the Romans in nearby Inchtuthil (Sinclair 1793: ix, 258–9; NSA 1845: x, 1025). Elsewhere, they are recorded as relating to the Picts (Wilson 1851: 86–7). The presence of a camp surrounding the stalls was first recorded by Flight Lieutenant Bradley from the air in 1941 (Richmond 1943: 47–9, fig 9; Crawford 1949: 76; St Joseph 1951a: 64).

The camp is situated on the eastern part of the Hill of Gourdie, some 3km NNW of the fortress and camps at Inchtuthil. A Roman quarry has been recorded some 700m to the south-west (Pitts and St Joseph 1985: 61), and parts of a Roman road, possibly running from Inchtuthil to the quarry and Steeds Stalls, have also been identified (Maxwell and Wilson 1987: 27). The camp is almost square, measuring about 149m from NNW to SSE by 142m transversely, enclosing just over 2ha (5.1 acres). An internal ditch is visible separating the NNW and SSE parts of the camp, halfway through the camp, some 74m from the NNW side; an entrance gap is visible in the centre of this dividing ditch and in the centre of the SSE side.

Most of the site is under the plough, except for six or seven upstanding stalls. These are accompanied by a further five or six stalls visible as cropmarks. They have a tadpole-like appearance, with a round head some 4.5m in diameter and a tail some 6m in length leading out towards the camp perimeter. Similar ‘tails’ are also visible as cropmarks at the back of the upstanding stalls, and with nine such tails visible, this suggests some fourteen stalls in total. The cropmarks are slightly confused where the inner ditch meets the eastern side of the camp, but there appears to be a further stall here, taking the total to potentially fifteen such features. These features have been proposed as possible lime-kilns relating to the construction of the nearby fortress (RCAHMS 1994: 83). An alternative explanation that they formed a base for stone vaulting for a victory monument (Woolliscroft and Hoffmann 2006, 71–2) seems unlikely (see above, section 7f).

R H Jones.


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