7.2 Contemporary Values of the Antonine Wall

The Antonine Wall runs through some of the most densely populated areas of central Scotland, where it represents a valuable green sward in the heart of an often heavily industrialised landscape. It crosses five local authority areas which are home to some of the most deprived communities in Scotland, according to the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, with a concentration in the Glasgow areas of Drumchapel and Lambhill and isolated pockets in Kirkintilloch and Camelon.

Visitors at Callendar Park © Rediscovering the Antonine Wall Project

An Economic Study commissioned in 2015 by the Antonine Wall Management Plan Steering Group (Brookdale Consulting 2015), reported that along the line of the Antonine Wall there are:

  • 80,000 people in 34,000 households;
  • 5% of these households live within the 10% most deprived communities in Scotland;
  • 13% of people are income deprived;
  • 12% of working people are employment deprived;
  • 3,300 businesses employing 32,500 people;
  • 3,100 jobs based in tourism;
  • 22 limited companies using the name ‘Antonine’ in branding.

The Economic Study concluded that the economic baseline impact of the Antonine Wall is significant, generating annual benefits of around £3m. The study noted the potential to derive significant social and economic benefits for local communities and businesses along the Wall as a result of improving access, promotion and the general visitor experience.

To unlock some of this potential, funding was sought from the National Lottery Heritage Fund for the Project ‘Rediscovering the Antonine Wall’ (2019–2021) to focus on community engagement and local regeneration. In the lead up to the project commencing, well over 1,200 people engaged with the consultation process and their views served to inform the design of project strands and specific activity ideas. The project team delivered 12 drop-in events in communities along the Wall, offered an online survey completed by over 750 people, organised on-street events to engage members of the community, and worked with classes in five primary schools throughout the project area to inform the design of the playparks (Weeks 2020). This represents a significant local engagement, and the project overall follows the principles of co-design and co-curation; collaborating with community members and target audiences to design projects with the greatest relevance to them.

An adience from behind, sitting in a movie theatre with a production being projected on the big screen.
The premiere of The Antonine Wall: A 37 Landmark at the Bo’ness Hippodrome in 2022 © HES

The project objectives highlight key areas of social value as evidenced by the Antonine Wall: to reach out to non-users, particularly those in disadvantaged or deprived communities; to seek to use the events and activities as a catalyst for community change and regeneration; to develop a culture of engagement and collaboration within and between communities along the line of the Wall; to deliberately and proactively target some very specific audiences to engage with in order to grow and diversify the range of individuals and communities involved with the Wall; to raise awareness of the Antonine Wall across central Scotland; to develop wider public understanding of the Wall and its significance; to use stories embedded in the Wall to inspire creative and educational opportunities; to use the Antonine Wall as a central hook to explore associated and ancillary built, natural, cultural and community heritage; to provide resources and stimulus to embed the Antonine Wall into programmes and activities delivered by others providing a legacy beyond the funded project.

A distant view of a child's park, with many children playing on the climbing frame, slides and swings. The park is surrounded by a green metal fence and the play equipment is all light brown woo, resembling the Antonine Wall and its forts.
The Roman themed play park at Callendar Park, Falkirk © HES
An open air park sits behind a wooden frame, made of three large planks of wood with roman artefacts carved into them, such as jugs, swords and spears.
The Roman themed play park at Goldenhill Park, near the site of Duntocher Fort © HES

The project will also, critically, bring together communities from along the line of the Wall. As a linear monument crossing five different local authorities and communities of varying social and economic backgrounds, the Wall can provide significant national opportunities for unifying quite disparate communities. Furthermore, as part of its international designation (as part of a transnational WH property and cluster), the Antonine Wall can connect communities across Europe. Now, as in the Roman period, the Wall represents the stories of many nationalities and many individuals. Comparisons with, and connections to, the other sites along the frontier provide a number of opportunities for learning, interpretation and engagement. As part of the ‘Rediscovering the Antonine Wall’ Project, specific engagement programmes will run with refugee groups and asylum seekers along the length of the Antonine Wall. Understanding the lives of Syrian refugees in the present in contrast to the Syrian troops stationed on the Roman frontier will offer fresh interpretations of meaning and identity in relation to the Antonine Wall. There are opportunities to learn from the Roman galleries at Tullie House Museum in Carlisle.

A group of people gather around a large head sculpture with a roman helmet and ear guards, which is black and at least twice as tall as the people.
The Aurelius sculpture at Lambhill Stables, Glasgow © HES

Education, skills development and participation are strong factors in the social value of the Wall. Many local history groups already include the Wall in their work, and schools are increasingly using local Antonine Wall themed resources to teach the Roman topic rather than generic material. The increasing adoption of digital media to engage audiences (such as the Antonine Wall mobile app and the Go Roman game) offers new opportunities for learning and engagement, in particular with younger audiences (16–24 year olds) locally as well as internationally.

A museum room with people looking at the roman exhibits and chatting to one another. The room is bright with a strip of windows to the left of the image.
Visitors at the Antonine Wall touring exhibition at Dalmuir Library, Clydebank © HES

The Antonine Wall is also an important tourism destination and a contributor to the Scottish tourism market. In 2010, ‘on the ground’ audience research by “Progressive” revealed that there was only a “reasonable awareness” of the Wall in Scotland and little awareness in the north of England (Progressive 2015). Respondents claimed to have a fair knowledge of Scottish history, yet perceptions of the Wall were that it would be “dull, stuffy or restrictive”. Research into the types of audience that engage with the Antonine Wall and associated themes and materials found that its core market is typically people from social class groups ABC1. At present, visitors tend to focus on high profile sites including Bar Hill, Rough Castle, Bearsden Bath House, Kinneil Fortlet and Callendar House. Figures available from Historic Environment Scotland for existing sites estimate annual visitor numbers of 2,000 for Bearsden Bath House, Bar Hill and Kinneil Fort, and 1,000 for Rough Castle. To give a clearer, more precise, indication of visitor numbers, visitor counters were installed at Bar Hill and Rough Castle in 2018. Further visitor research is required into the audience demographic for the Antonine Wall, to better segment existing and future markets for both project development and outreach purposes. Understanding both national and international markets will be key to developing the ‘offer’ along the Antonine Wall and also the most effective methods of engagement with Destination Management Organisations.

A family of four face away from the camera in the midground, standing on a large mound ahead of a deep ditch, with a dense forest in the beckground.
A family visiting Rough Castle © HES

Managing the Antonine Wall as a tourism destination brings its own challenges, most notably of balancing conservation of a largely fragile earthwork monument with access. Carrying capacity studies, methodologies for monitoring and tracking visitors on unmanned sites, environmental research, climate change impacts and sustainability are all areas that would benefit from research and development (see Methodological Issues: Climate science and environmental analysis).

To deliver stronger community and visitor experiences along the Wall, academic research into public perceptions and experience of the Wall is required. The wider context and setting of the Wall (both physically and chronologically), its relationship with individuals and communities past and present, online and offline, and its local, national and international dimensions, all need to be better and more systematically explored. Critically, a two-way flow is required where archaeological and historical enquiry can feed directly into live and ongoing heritage research and management, and vice versa. To this end, it will be key to undertake coordinated studies of the intangible heritage values of the Wall, defined as the specific cultural, social and political meanings that different people assign to the Wall while they interact with it as part of their everyday lives. There is especially limited knowledge of the ways in which individuals with different social backgrounds, motivations and interests experience and interpret the Wall both offline and, crucially, online. Yet, people do engage with the monument via a plethora of social media and other websites, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, to name just a few examples. Through these websites, they create or extend communities of interest in the monument; assemble collections of relevant images and other data, integrating them with their own comments and reflections; and serendipitously express their knowledge and perceptions of the Antonine Wall. Web-based engagements with the Wall also happen independently from the digital outreach programmes set up by Historic Environment Scotland, but we have little knowledge of what they are and the significance they hold for those who pursue them.

A coppor coloured head sculpure with a large helmet and fan-shaped embelleshment on top of the head. The face is angular and made with separate pieces of metal. The sky behind is dark blue, grey and black.
Sculpture of Silvanus at Croy Hill © Rediscovering the Antonine Wall

Utilising digital heritage theory and methods to map this heritage value-making landscape is a priority, especially at a time when people are increasingly using online spaces to explore cultural resources and historic environments at a distance. The Covid-19 lockdowns and social distancing measures impacted on tourists’ abilities to travel to sites as well as on local communities’ opportunities to visit heritage places in groups. Understanding the variability and plurality of online heritage values would allow us to produce a fuller picture of the contemporary lives of the Wall and its significance to individuals globally, whether they encounter the WH property while ‘virtually’ walking parts of it, through a newspaper article or a wall on Pinterest. The ‘Ancient Identities in Modern Britain’ project and its outputs could provide a framework and methodology for undertaking focused work on this topic in future (see particularly: Bonacchi et al 2018 for an application; Bonacchi and Kryzanska 2019 on methodological aspects; Ancient Identities 2020).

Research issues

  • Conduct further qualitative and quantitative visitor research on site and at associated museums.
  • Improve awareness of audience segmentation across the sites and associated museums, and gain a better understanding of local, national and international markets.
  • Undertake qualitative and quantitative work to understand better the benefits of the WH property to local communities in terms of healthy living, regeneration and skills development opportunities.
  • Develop stronger methodologies for inclusive community engagement.
  • Develop targeted monitoring indicators for community engagement with heritage.
  • Improve understanding of volunteering opportunities and their impact along the Wall.
  • Encourage community engagement to develop local studies, such as of estate maps.
  • Carry out further, more detailed, economic studies.
  • Improve understanding of carrying capacity /climate change impact/environmental impacts on sites.
  • Undertake assessment of the Wall’s Climate Vulnerability Index and build the results into the new Management Plan (this is an established methodology, through the ICOMOS Climate Change and Heritage Working Group, to assess the vulnerability of a site’s Outstanding Universal Value and its associated community to the impacts of Climate Change (see Day et al 2019)).
  • Understand how WH status has/has not changed understanding and enjoyment of the Wall.
  • Seek to better understand the values and actions of stakeholders in the Wall.
  • Better understand public perceptions, ideas and expressions of belief and identity along the Wall.
  • Use digital heritage research approaches to capture and assess the intangible heritage values that people assign to the Wall while engaging with it online.
  • Understand the relationalities between the values that people assign to the Wall online with those expressed by people engaging with it offline.
  • Ensure that the values that have been captured and assessed inform conservation, management and interpretation research and practice.
  • Explore the multiple identities of the Wall – cultural, social, personal, local, regional, national and international – both now and in the past.
  • Explore adaptation and change – the value of the site at various times throughout history, including survival and destruction of individual elements of the composite whole.
  • Understand memory and landscape – how the site has changed and how people’s perceptions of the site have changed over time.
  • Explore the representation of the Wall in media such as visual art, music, folklore, literature, oral traditions.
  • Support greater application of emerging digital technologies in educational and interpretive approaches.
  • Explore ways to build on Glasgow University’s Emotive and Hadrian’s Wall WallCap projects.



Leave a Reply