Geoff Bailey's long-awaited book on the Antonine Wall chronicles history of Roman occupation

The arrival of Geoff Bailey from Wigan in 1984 ago was a key moment for the study of Falkirk’s local history.

By Ian Scott
Thursday, 6th May 2021, 4:30 pm
Geoff Bailey recorded nearly 40 years of excavations in this area.
Geoff Bailey recorded nearly 40 years of excavations in this area.

His appointment as Keeper of Archaeology and Local History with Falkirk Museums was the beginning of a love affair with the great Antonine Wall which has been at the heart of his work and study ever since.

The existence of 15 miles of the great Roman barrier in Falkirk district meant that for well over a century scholars had been busy with their trusty spades and there were a number of Victorian excavations with many small and important finds.

From the mid 20th century it became the norm for the Burgh Council and its successors to appoint a full time archaeologist to oversee the collections and ensure that excavations were conducted according to proper standards.

Geoff Bailey pictured at the excavation of the Falkirk Fort in 1991

Geoff was the latest in this line and by some distance the longest serving and most productive.

Many of his digs and findings have been published over the decades as scholarly papers but now Geoff has put together a massive account of all his work in the district from Carriden to Castlecary and this week it has been published by Falkirk Local History Society.

Massive is a good word. At over 600 A4 pages with nearly 600 photographs, tables and maps in hardback format and in colour it is the most significant publication on the Roman Wall in our area ever produced.

In the first part of the book Geoff describes the structure of the wall with all its component parts – rampart, ditching, military way etc – as well as the forts and fortlets along its length.

This is illustrated with many examples from our area like Kinneil, Mumrills in Laurieston, Watling Lodge in Camelon, Rough Castle, Callendar Park and, of course, Falkirk where Geoff was able to confirm the location of the fort in the Pleasance during his 1991 excavation.

The presence of a fort here had been suspected for a century or more because of the known line of the wall through the town and the regularity of the placing of forts by the Roman wall designers.

Occasional finds had also suggested that a dig to the north of St Modan’s Church might prove conclusive and so it did.

The second section is given over to a comprehensive record of excavations undertaken over the years across the length of the wall in our area.

Some were prompted by developments that endangered hidden archaeology and others by random finds that suggested an investigation would be worthwhile.

Many digs took place in people’s gardens and most were delighted that interesting discoveries lay beneath their lawns and flower beds.

In all this he was aided by an intrepid band of volunteers.

The final section of the book lists the many finds recovered during the excavations including many coins and brooches as well as a huge amount of pottery much of which had come to Scotland from various parts of Europe under Roman occupation.

One especially prized discovery was a small figure of a bound captive tribesman discovered in Laurieston in 2019.

It appears on the front cover of the book which will be available in Waterstone’s store and from the local history society.

Contact me on [email protected] for further information.