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© Mike Haken & RRRA, 2018
The precise route of this important road has, in the past, been rather vaguely described by using the courses of modern roads. Codrington, for example, merely describes it as following the course of Mook Street, the rather sinuous road which does follow a very straight general course from Buttercrambe NNE towards Malton (Codrington 1903, pp161-
Margary’s numbering has, unfortunately, become extremely confusing, as we now know with certainty that this road actually started at Stamford Bridge, in what are now open fields SE of the R. Derwent, where it branched off the York to Bridlington road (RR810). The stretch from Grimston to Gate Helmsley should therefore be considered part of RR810, and not RR81a. Aerial photograpy (fig.1) revealed part of the Roman settlement of Derventio, clustering around the point where the road to Malton (RR81a) branches off the road to Bridlington (RR810). This placed the Roman bridging point a mile downstream of the traditional stone ford (ie Stamford), which means that the idea of the A166 overlying a Roman road can be discounted.
Projecting the alignment of RR81a north east from the junction, two short lengths of probable agger have now been identified on lidar, heading to the area where Dolegate crosses the Barlam Beck (Fig. 2). Dolegate had been suspected for some time to represent the Roman road, and a note was added to the Ordnance Survey linear file to this effect in 1985. Hugh Toller demonstrated with lidar analysis that this was in fact correct, extrapolating the line of Dolegate NNE to as far as Swallowpits Beck, where it changes alignment slightly (Toller, 2012).
From the Swallowpits Beck northwards the course is indicated by Lowfield Lane, which becomes Mook Street, as recorded by Codrington. Where Mook Street meanders, the Roman line remains predictably straight cutting across the bends of the modern road. It is just visible on aerial photographs from Street Closes (SE7571 6271) to where it crosses Mook Street at SE 7654 6422, and again from Four Lane Ends (SE 7707 6521) to Kennels Farm (SE 7771 6642) (Toller, 2012). There is a raised linear feature in the field south of the farm visible on current Bing aerial imagery, about 8m wide, which may well be surviving agger, or possibly a later trackway overlying the Roman road (Fig. 3).
Lidar comes to our aid again (fig. 4), revealing several short lengths of the remains of agger either side of Mook Street, but maintaining the predicted alignment, as far as the Limestone quarry at approx. SE 790 691 (Toller 2012). From this point northwards, the line as recorded by Ordnance Survey appears to be slightly too far to the east. An aerial photograph is stated to show cropmarks of the ditches of the road but inspection of the copy of the photograph held by the North Yorkshire c.R.O. failed to show the claimed features. A more likely course is represented by the lidar feature, just west of a modern hedgebank, from SE 7923 7005 to SE 7926 7027 and then continuing straight at least as far as Brooklyn House (SE 7935 7095), where excavation in 2016-
At some point between Norton and the quarry, RR29 to Brough should meet it, but the junction has not yet been located. Given what we now know about the alignment appropaching Norton, a record in the O.S. file that RR81a was located at about SE 7938 7084 in 1933, may actually have been a misidentification of RR29, in which case the junction will be just south of the Brooklyn House excavation, probably under the gardens of adjacent houses. At some point a little further north, the combined roads should meet RR813 from Wetwang before heading for the bridge over the Derwent. The precise location of the bridge is not known, but it was most probably about 150m upstream from the current bridge at approximately SE 7925 7149 (Bidwell & Hodgson 2009, p.166). The river has probably drifted south since the Roman period so it is possible that the northern bridge abutment may still survive, buried near the bottom of Sheepfoot Hill.
There is, however, a slight complication to our understanding of this road, as illustrated on the lidar image Fig. 4. There is a further road, known as Welham Trod, now surviving as a public footpath on top of a straight raised bank running across fields, the Malton & Norton Golf Course and extending along Menethorpe Lane. The O.S. file records that this was investigated by D Smith and P.D.H. Holman in 1951 on the assumption that it was actually the road from Stamford Bridge, but no further details can be located. North Yorkshire HER avoids a Roman origin and describes a later one as “more acceptable” (NY SMR No: MNY2335), which given its straightness and its age (apparently recorded in 1750 as an old coach road) a later origin is also somewhat problematic. It appears to be heading to the probable Roman bridging point, rather than the medieval one, which makes it of serious interest.
If this feature does represent a Roman road, there is no obvious destination other than a direct line to York (presumably crossing the Derwent near Kirkham Priory), or possibly an earlier Roman route to Stamford Bridge, later abandoned for the much easier course described above. Alterations by the Romans of the course of Roman roads are not unknown, although ones over such a long distance are rare. Even less easy to explain is the agger-
A further length of road has been identified on aerial photographs running in a straight line from the point where RR81a crosses the Barlam Beck, north of Stamford Bridge, just east of south along the boundary between Full Sutton and Stamford Bridge Parishes, and stopping close to the probable true course of RR810 heading east (see route map). The line of 81a coming NE from Stamford Bridge appears to butt up to it, indicating that this length came first, and therefore may also be part of the original line of RR81a.
Fig. 1 Aerial photo of cropmarks looking east along RR810 showing the roadside settlement of Derventio (Stamford Bridge). RR81a can be seen branching off north eastwards.
© Historic England 2017
Fig. 2 Lidar image showing remains of RR81a surviving in places north of Stamford Bridge
Click Images to enlarge
Fig. 3 Possible surviving agger at Kennel Farm, SE 777664
Fig.4. Lidar image showing RR81a and other possible road features south west of Norton
Fig.6. Photograph of concrete substructure to RR81a revealed at Brooklyn House, Norton in 2017. The trench is 1m wide.
Bidwell, P., Hodgson, N, 2009; The Roman Army in Northern England
Buglass, J. , Phillips, J, Wilson P.R. , Report on the Excavations at Brooklyn, Norton., forthcoming
Codrington, Thomas, 1903; Roman Roads in Britain, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London
Margary, Ivan D., 1973; Roman Roads in Britain, John Baker, London
Pastscape Mon no. 59554, http://pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=59554 accessed 31/5/17
Toller, H. S., (2013); Current Research into Roman Roads in Yorkshire Based on Lidar Evidence, Forum Vol 2 pp 141-
Compiled by Mike Haken, last updated, 2 December 2017
Roman Sites on Route:
Historic Environment Records, HE Pastscape and other records
East Riding of Yorkshire, North Riding of Yorkshire
Derventio (Stamford Bridge)
Delgovicia (Norton on Derwent) Roman settlement
Malton Roman Fort)