Keys to the Past


Starting with V - 19 Glossary entries found.

In this section of the website you can find out more about specialist and technical terms archaeologists sometimes use. There is also lots more information about famous people and historic events in the north-east.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W Z 1-9


This term strictly refers to the whole of Roman frontier works, such as Hadrian's Wall. However, it is usually used to describe a wide, steep-sided and flat-bottomed ditch, flanked by two regularly shaped mounds of the material excavated. The ditch was about eight metres wide at its top and 2.5m at the bottom. Its depth was originally near two metres. The Vallum is unparalleled on the other Roman frontiers of the Empire. The precise function of the Vallum is unknown - though both administrative/logistical and defensive theories have been put forward. Indeed it could have been multi-purpose - though there has been a revival in the defensive arguments - but this cannot be the only reason, for their positions where it easily overlooked.

The Vallum was clearly of importance. It has been traced for most of Hadrian's Wall - though it didn't run down some steep slopes, such as Poltross Burn, Northumberland, and ended between Benwell and Newcastle forts. It was dug where the northern ditch was left, at Limestone corner. The ditch was crossed by causeways at the forts, whilst the mounds were cut through. Such causeways called 'crossings' would be guarded as gateways, as at Benwell, Tyne and Wear. The Vallum was a late addition to the Hadrian's Wall scheme - being dug from the central sector outwards it needed to veer sharply around Rudchester fort, Northumberland- even when that fort was itself an addition - and was built over by the later Carrawburgh fort, Northumberland and vicus, (see vicus), along Hadrian's Wall.
Vallum The vallum near Downhill, Whittington. Photo by Northumberland County Council


See Vanburgh, John

Vanburgh, John; Vanbrugh, John

Best known today as an architect, Vanburgh had a varied career. He was born in Cheshire at with Dutch ancestry from one grandfather - sometimes his name is spelt Vanbrugh. He was sent to France in 1683AD for architectural training - but later became an officer in the Earl of Huntingdon's regiment. There he rose to become a captain. In 1690AD he was seized at Calais, (France), as a spy and held for a time in the famous Paris Bastille prison till 1692AD. He resumed his military service - but was inspired to take up writing plays, such as Aesop (1696AD) and The Provoked Wife (1697AD).

He then changed direction to architecture - he built the famous Castle Howard (Yorkshire) and Blenheim Palace (Oxfordshire) houses in the 1700s, though these took many years to complete. The style of his buildings was Baroque. In between designing these houses in collaboration with Nicholas Hawksmoor and Floors Castle, Kelso, and Seaton Delaval, Northumberland (1718-1728AD), Vanburgh was appointed a herald by Queen Anne and built a theatre, he owned the lease, acting as manager and stage writer. His architectural work, and financial losses, in this last venture meant he sold it in 1708AD. Vanburgh died at his Whitehall home in March 1726 and was buried at Saint Stephen's, Walbrook, London.

Vault; Vaulted

A ceiling of stones in an arch shape. Such a vaulted room may have stone arches, called ribs, supporting the main weight of the stonework above.


Unlike coal which is found in horizontal seams, metal minerals such as for Lead (Pb) and Copper (Cu) ore are found in long, vertical deposits known as veins. They may be short or up to several miles in length. At the surface they may be only a few feet wide. In further contrast to coal the thickness of a vein may vary substantially from centimetres to metres. This is due to them forming in between existing rocks. The presence of many veins is usually referred to as an orefield.


Unlike coal which is usually found in horizontal seams, minerals such as lead and copper ore are found in long vertical deposits known as veins. They may only be one or two hundred metres long or up to several miles in length. At the surface they may only be a few feet wide.


The prepared skin used from cattle calves used for manuscripts, such as the Lindisfarne Gospels.


Vennel is a local world for a small street or passageway.


Room(s) where a vicar prepares for a religious service in a church.


Bridge designed to carry railways and waggonways over valleys at a single level.


In the Church of England if a parish is not wealthy enough to provide its own priest, then one is provided and paid for by the bishop. This priest is known as a vicar.

Vicar's Pele

This is a fortified tower house built next to a church to protect the priest from attacks by the reivers and other raiders in the late Medieval period.


A vicarage is the house where a vicar lives. Medieval vicars sometimes lived in pele towers. Examples of such peles are at Corbridge, Elsdon and Ponteland, (Northumberland) - but these did not save the vicar of Rookhope, Weardale, (see the Reivers).


This phrase is used to describe the period of the rule of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), the longest reign of any British king or queen. During this period the British Empire expanded and Britain became in increasingly powerful nation.


A district, suburb or quarter of a town or village adjacent to a Roman fort, with the lowest legal status accorded to a built up area.


The Vikings were a people from Scandinavia (Denmark, Sweden and Norway) who first raided and then settled in Britain and Ireland in the 8th-10th centuries AD.

In the north-east they began by raiding the wealthy monasteries, such as Lindisfarne, but eventually settled permanently, particularly in the area between the Tees and the Tyne. Many placenames today in this area are of Viking origin and their stone carvings can be seen in many parish churches. More details about the Vikings in this region can be found in our overview of the early medieval period.


A small settlement.


1. The Roman word villa strictly means a farm. However, it is taken to mean the equivalent of a country house with decorative and specialised technological aspects. These might include hypocausts and mosaics and so on. Some argue that these had a military connection - either in building them, or the villa supplying the military. They are rarely found in the Roman north of England - but exceptions are Old Durham, (County Durham) and Dalton-on-Tees and Holme House, nearby in North Yorkshire.

2. A large 18th-19th century Post-Medieval specially designed house and gardens built on the edges of a town. Similar to the Roman example, in these often had important artistic or architectural points.


A glass house used to cultivate grapes.
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W Z 1-9