Trade, Exchange and Interaction : Roman roads

The main outline of the Roman road network in north-western England has been subject to research for over 150 years (cf. Watkin 1883), although there remain significant gaps in detailed alignments. However, the recent move to make LiDAR open access has contributed significantly to new archaeological research across the NW. The technique captures the slight remains of surviving earthworks of road alignments which may not appear as cropmarks or shadow marks on aerial photographs. Examination of datasets is confirming the presence of previously uncertain alignments or in some cases, revealing them in unexpected locations. Significant new information on a number of routes has been recovered by David Ratledge. They include the long-sought route of the Roman road from Ribchester to Lancaster along a previously unsuspected alignment. The road ran from Ribchester to Catterall near Garstang, where it was seen to join the northern route towards Lancaster (Wilson 2016, 311-315).

Other routes which have seen minor adjustment or confirmation of accepted alignments or infilling of gaps include Ribchester to Kirkham (Margary 703), Ribchester to Elslack (Margary 72), Ribchester to Burrow-with-Burrow (Margary 7c), and Lancaster to Burrow-with-Burrow (Margary 705), the latter providing a confirmed context for the milestone found in 1803 at Artle Beck, Caton (http://www.romanroads.org/gazetteer/roman1.htm; Wilson 2015, 303-307). Revised or new alignments provide a context for previous discoveries such as the probable funerary statues from Burrow Heights near Lancaster. In Cumbria, Toller has used LiDAR data to confirm the course of a road from the Roman fort at Low Borrowbridge, near Penrith, to Kirkby Thore. This is a missing part of a well known road called the Maiden Way that continues towards Whitley Castle and Carvoran Roman Fort, Northumbria, (near Hadrian’s Wall). LIDAR also provides evidence for a new section of this road past Kirkland (http://www.romanroads.org/gazetteer/cumbria/M84.htm).

Several sections have been excavated across Roman road alignments, with the largest site being the Wigan to Manchester Roman road at Wentworth School, Salford (GM) (Murphy 2013) where about 25m length of a gravel metalling was exposed, sealing a layer of burnt heather. Investigations of the Roman road between Wigan and Walton-le-Dale north of Wigan have been undertaken. The route from Wigan to Manchester has also been examined at Ellesmere Park in 2005 and Amberswood in 2003 (Miller and Aldridge 2011, 20-21).

Wentworth High School Roman road excavation, Salford, Greater Manchester (courtesy of Salford Archaeology)

Minor roads have been discovered in large area excavations, as at Saighton Camp near Chester where the crossroads of two trackways were revealed (Wilson 2015, 309-310), while a minor trackway was identified at Dutton’s Farm, Lathom (L) (Cowell 2005).

Another minor road was partially excavated in Kentmere (C), revealing different construction techniques, employed due to the nature of the terrain. The excavation confirmed the presence of a metalled surface, which corresponds to surviving earthworks in the immediate area. However other features were also revealed, associated with the prevention of flooding or possibly to stop the encroachment of peat onto the road. Although the ditches identified are common in the construction of Roman roads, the banks may be unique to this site, possibly necessitated by the difficult terrain (Greenlane Archaeology 2006).


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