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© Mike Haken & RRRA, 2018
Codrington, Thomas (1903); Roman Roads in Britain, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London
Drake, Francis (1736); Eboracum: or the History and Antiquities of the City of York, London.
Macmahon, K.A. (1964), Roads and Turnpike Trusts in Eastern Yorkshire, East Yorkshire Local History Society, York
Margary, Ivan D. (1973); Roman Roads in Britain, John Baker, London
So is High Street Roman? Between Sledmere and Octon it does follow a generally direct route, but is a curved rather than a straight one (fig. 1). Indeed, the road itself is quite sinuous and it’s layout exhibits no evidence of possible Roman surveying. On balance, it would appear that the only evidence ever found for a Roman road between Fridaythorpe and Octon is the mysterious mid-
At Octon, however, the character of High Street changes quite markedly. The first mile of the road east from TA 0364 6941, coincidentally almost exactly a Roman mile, is extremely straight. The modern road does then deviate from the line. However, if the alignment is projected to Rudston, the alignment would pass through the Rudston Monolith, a large standing stone in the churchyard, which is also a few yards from where the the road changes direction to head to Bridlington. This is a classic Roman road layout, utilising a well visible sighting point, and even though similar characteristics are exhibited by many 18th century turnpike roads, High Street was never turnpiked (Macmahon 1964, p40).
Furthermore, lidar imagery (coverage starts at Rudston and continues eastwards), shows a length of straight earthwork only a few yards off the line, which could well be part of the Roman road (fig. 2). Another straight feature is heading up to meet it, clearly beneath the medieval rig and furrow, and can be traced down to the Gypsey Race where it changes alignment to head south, possibly being a link road joining RR812/811 with RR810 (Woldgate). Finally, a third straight raised feature, also beneath the rig and furrow, comes up to meet this possible link road, coming from an area close to the site of the Rudston Roman villa and is quite possibly the access road coming from it. If this interpretation is correct then, logically, it must be heading to a Roman road. For clarity, none of these features are part of the four neolithic cursus focused on Rudston.
Heading east from Rudston along High Street (B1253) the road does appear slightly sinuous for about a mile, but actually deviates no more than 20m from a line projected from the Rudston Monolith. From TA 1151 6776, High Street bends slightly north wards, then follows the contours of the valley of the Gypsey Race. At the foot of Bins Dale (TA 1277 6781), where the road then bends sharply north east, an old road continues straight on before turning to resume the alignment from the Monolith for 300m. This old road is marked on the 1854 Ordnance Survey 6 inch map just as “Course of Old Road”, although by 1912 it had become “Supposed Roman Road” (fig. 3). Lidar shows a few possible hints of agger, but nothing conclusive, and the adherence to the possible alignment from the Rudston Monolith is not close enough to state that this length of road is definitely Roman, but it is certainly possible. The raised earthwork running alongside the Supposed Roman Road, marked on the 1912 map south of Dicky Wood, is still apparent and may represent a surviving length of Roman agger.
Further east the possible course is unclear, although there is one further feature showing on lidar which merits further investigation, and could represent two lengths of agger either side of a substantial cutting between TA 1581 6801 to TA 1665 6812. The feature runs straight for half a mile (fig. 4), heading very close to the site of a supposed Roman camp at Sewerby, now probably lost to the sea and agriculture. The location of a major Roman site at or near Bridlington has never been confirmed, although it has always been considered likely.
Summing up, no evidence appears to exist for a Roman road through Fridaythorpe to Sledmere, and has been discounted on our mapping. The claimed find of a Roman road on the Sledmere estate cannot be totally dismissed, although without even a description of what was purportedly found, we cannot count it as evidence of a road of any period. Given the lack of any Roman characteristics on High Street, or indeed any evidence that there may have been a Roman road between Sledmere and Octon, this line is not classified as Roman on our mapping. This leaves the supposed length of road from Octon to Bridlington.
Whilst there is, as yet, no archaeological proof that the Octon to Bridlington section of this road has a Roman origin, it does display characteristics consistent with a Roman origin, along with at least three instances of possible surviving agger. A Roman origin seems highly likely. In which case, where is the road coming from?
The first Iter of the British section of the Antonine Itinerary, an early third century document which describes a series of routes across the Roman Empire, describes a route from York, Derventio, Delgovicia and finally a further 25 miles to Praetorio. Delgovicia is almost certainly Malton, and there are three candidates for Praetorio -
East Riding of Yorkshire
Fig. 2 Lidar image showing the probable Roman roads or access roads in Rudston, E. Riding.
Fig. 1 Ordnance Survey 6 inch map, 1912, showing High Street, east of Sledmere, marked as a Roman road. It was not so marked by previous OS surveyors.
Click Images to enlarge
Fig. 4 Lidar Image showing the earthwork next to the Supposed Roman road ,marked on the 1912 OS map, and further linear features near Bridlington
The Roman road from York to Bridlington (previously wrongly regarded as Stamford Bridge to Bridlington) has long been supposed to fork just under a mile south west of Fridaythorpe with the southerly fork (RR810) continuing to Bridlington via Kilham and the northerly one (RR811) also going to Bridlington via Sledmere and Rudston. The course and even the very existence of the northerly route has recently been called into question, and it is no longer on the Ordnance Survey map of Roman Britain. In a sense this turns the clock back, as the mid 19th century OS surveyors were not convinced either, the road not appearing on the first edition 6 inch map of 1854, although it does appear on the 1912 edition. Given that these two routes at their furthest separation are only 3 miles apart, a Roman military origin for both would seem highly unlikely.
Codrington described the western part of the route as follows:
“the other road, branching near Fridaythorpe, appears to be represented by the present road to Fimber, perhaps continued on by the bit of ridge to be seen north of Fimber station to what is marked “Intrenchment” on the Ordnance map, through Badger Wood. The Roman road was found further on in Sledmere Park at the end of the eighteenth century, and there seem to be some traces of the ridge along the road, called High Street (now B1253), beyond Sledmere”
Thomas Codrington 1903 p.169
Roman Sites on Route:
Historic Environment Records, HE Pastscape and other records
In other words, Codrington was saying that he knew of no evidence west of Sledmere. Precisely what was found in Sledmere Park is a bit of a mystery, and no contemporary record of it can be located. Codrington determined that High Street, however, left the Roman line at about SE 9504 6587 which continued parallel to High street for over 5 miles along a linear earthwork which can still be traced, though discontinuous, to a point north of Octon crossroads at about TA 0085 6975. Whilst the earthwork is in places about the right width for a Roman agger, it is more akin to the many other linear earthworks that used to be common in the Wolds (now largely ploughed out). A misinterpretation as a Roman road was an easy mistake for Codrington to make, and there is no evidence that it was an earlier feature utilised by the Romans as a road.
Margary, in his description of the road, recognised this and returned the supposed route to the course of High Street (Margary, 1973, p.422). Margary, in common with most historians and archaeologists of his day, thought of the use of a “street” name element as always referring to a Roman road. Many researchers these days, however, are starting to think that, in northern Britain, the word was often applied to other important roads in the late medieval period as well as metalled Roman roads.
Fig. 3 Ordnance Survey, 6 inch map, 1912, showing Supposed Roman Road in Boynton, and earthworks
23.5 miles if terminating at Sewerby
Fig. 5 Map from Eboracum, by Francis Drake, 1734
Clearly, the key to resolving both RR812 and RR811 is to investigate the probable missing link between Settrington and Octon. Unfortunately, lidar coverage is currently very poor in that area, however since this entry was first compiled, the Environment Agency has announced its intention to conduct a new and complete lidar survey of all of England and Wales, before the end of 2020. The new data could potentially provide the evidence we need, although there is always the possibility that modern agricultural activity has removed any trace of the road above the ground.
A series of geophysical surveys starting at Settrington and Rudston and working eastwards and westwards respectively should at least establish the presence and direction of any Roman road beyond what is currently known, and may potentially provide sufficient information to be able to determine whether or not RR812 and the eastern portion of RR811 are in fact the same road.
Entry compiled by Mike Haken, last updated 2/1/18