Hidden Histories

Walton Castle, Roman Shore Fort

Walton Castle is one of many Saxon Shore Forts built by the late Roman Empire around 276-285 A.D. In the second half of the 3rd Century, East Anglia and the South-East became associated with defence, and housed the first in a series of Saxon Shore Forts, largely constructed in response to coastal raiding. These shore forts were connected by signal stations and beacons along the East and South-East coast at the time of the 4th Century and during the reconstructions under Theodosius 347-395 A.D. where walls of up to 3.5 metres thick no doubt needed much repair [1]. Walton Castle ‘might’ be one of the Roman Shore Forts listed in the Notitia Dignitatum, the ‘Register of Dignitaries’ recorded as Portus Adurni which appears in the document that details the administrative organization of the Eastern and Western Empires in the 420’s A.D.

Walton Castle, creeping above the waves. © Craig Cook.
Roman vase (samian ware) with relief of a hunting scene and plant ornaments, found in Felixstowe, Walton Castle. © Creative Commons.

Walton Castle is of particular added interest because it is one of the possible locations for Dommoc, named by the historian Bede in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People in 731 A.D. as the site of the first East Anglian minster [2]. St. Felix was appointed the first bishop of the region by King Sigeberht (ruled c.630-635) with his see established at Dommoc. Minster sites, a word that is a corruption of the Latin monasterium were where the founders of late antique early medieval churches sited their sacred sites, something described as akin to geomancy, with the sites acting as axis mundi, or centres of a symbolic cosmos [3]. Whilst no Roman temples have been identified at Felixstowe, a number of exceptional religious items have been discovered relating to Hercules, Mercury, Atys (decoration on a steelyard), an eagle, a goat a leaf and others [4].

Dr Sam Newton argues that Dommoc was established at Walton Castle, and not the often-cited Dunwich [5]. Old Saxon Shore Forts like Walton, left behind by the Romans, seem to have attracted the first Christians. Similar examples occur at neighbouring fortresses on the Saxon Shore defence line at Burgh Castle, Suffolk and guarding the estuary of the Yare, Norfolk. Historic England records 11 Saxon and in neighbouring counties appear at Brancaster, Caister-on-Sea and Burgh Castle, all in Norfolk and Bradwell-on-sea in Essex. Walton was one of the earlier Forts to have been constructed with their creation continuing into the 5th Century.

Walton Castle stood at the gateway to the Wuffing kingdom of South-East Suffolk, something which all of the Forts were designed to achieve, being located on strategic estuaries and sits at the end of the Roman Road from Ipswich to Felixstowe.

Walton Castle, drawn in 1623. © Creative Commons.
Burgh Castle, the well-preserved southern walls. Built at the same time as Walton it was one of nine Roman Saxon Shore Forts constructed in the 3rd Century A.D. © Creative Commons.
Burgh Castle’s well preserved South wall. © Creative Commons.

It is possible that a Roman road was constructed that lead directly to Walton Castle, marked by a short stretch of Quinton’s Lane [6]. A church appears to have been dedicated to St. Felix within the walls of the Walton Castle in the 12th Century. Felix is found used as a dedication at only 6 churches, 2 occurring in North Yorkshire, 1 in Norfolk with the other 3 in Suffolk, at Hallowtree and Rumburgh. This rare dedication combined with some interesting field names strengthens the case for Dommoc being at Walton Castle [7]. Later, in 1154 Pope Adrian confirmed the grant of the Chapel of Walton Castle to the Priory and when the Fort was reused by the Normans it stood 30 metres above sea level.

It was lost to the sea in the 18th Century, and very rarely, at low tide, its walls creep just above the North sea waves.

© Craig Cook.


1.  Johnson, S. (1977) Roman Fortifications on the ‘Saxon Shore’. HMSO, London and Wilmott, T., Flatman, J. & Herring, P. (eds) (2018) Historic England 2018 Saxon Shore Forts: Introductions to Heritage Assets. Swindon. Historic England.

2. Colgrave, Bertram, and Mynors, R.A.B (ed. and tr.) (1969) Bede’s Ecclesiastical history of the English people, Oxford Medieval Texts. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

3. Blair, J. (2005) The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society. Oxford University Press.

4. Fairclough, J. (2011) “Felixstowe Roman fort”. Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History XLII.3, pp. 253–276.

5. Fairclough, J. (2011) Ibid.

6. Newton, S. (2000) Walton Castle, Felixstowe, possible site of St Felix’s Minster of Dommoc. http://www.wuffings.co.uk/WuffSites/Walton.html

7. Pestell, T. (2004) Landscapes of Monastic Foundation: The Establishment of Religious Houses in East Anglia, c. 650-1200. Anglo-Saxon Studies, 5.

Additional sources: Hoggett, R. (2007) Changing Beliefs. The Archaeology of the East Anglian Conversion. PhD Thesis School of History, University of East Anglia.