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Roman Sites on Route:
Historic Environment Records, HE Pastscape and other online records
50 Miles from York to the R. Tees
8a, 8b, 8c (part)
Healam Bridge Pastscape
City of York, West Riding of Yorkshire, North Riding of Yorkshire
RR8 is generally regarded as the principal road north from the legionary fortress at York and which stretches as far as Cramond on the Firth of Forth outskirts of modern Edinburgh. Today, it is usually referred to by the medieval name Dere Street, although until the 1950s that name was only in general use north of Corbridge, meaning as it does the road to Deira, the southern half of the kingdom of Northumbria, approximating to modern Yorkshire. South of Corbridge, like so many other Roman roads in England, it was generally known as Watling Street -
The text has been divided according to Ivan Margary’s numbering system.
Ambrey C., Cooper, O. (2009); Pool Lane, Green Hammerton: Archaeological Excavation; Northern Archaeological Associates Report no. 09/09
Anderson, J.D. (1992); Roman Military Supply in North-
Bidwell, P., & Hodgson N., (2009); The Roman Army in Northern England; The Arbeia Society, Newcastle-
Bishop, M. C. (2007); From Trackway to Road: Corbridge, Roecliffe, and the case for a Proto-
Codrington, Thomas (1903); Roman Roads in Britain, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London
Ferraby, R. & Millett, M. (2016); Exploring the Roman Town of Isurium Brigantum; Current Archaeology issue 312, pp.20-
Fitzpatrick A.P, and Scott P.R (1999); The Roman Bridge at Piercebridge in Britannia Vol. 30 (1999) pp.111 -
Haken, M. S. (Forthcoming); Roman road surveying in the Vales of York and Mowbray
Hall, N. (2010); Piercebridge, County Durham: Archaeological Evaluation and Assessment of Results; Wessex Archaeology report, available at http://www.wessexarch.co.uk/system/files/53531900-
Hargreaves, G. H. (1996); Roman Surveying on Continuous Linear Constructions ; PhD Thesis, University College London, Institute of Archaeology
Hutchinson, W. (1823); History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham, Vol.3;Durham
Jones, A. K. G. (2014); Report on a lecture delivered to the Yorkshire Philosophical society, 13 May 2014 by Richard Fraser:: The Roman Roadside settlement at Healam Bridge, North Yorkshire
Newton, Sir Charles (1847); Map of British and Roman Yorkshire, Archaeological Institute of Great Britan and Ireland, London
MacLauchlan, Henry (1852); Map of the Watling Street: the Chief Line of Roman Communication across the counties of Durham and Northumberland, from the River Swale to the Scotch border……; London
Macrae, C. (2013a); City of York Historic Characterisation Project, Character Area 23: Blossom Street/Nunnery Lane; English Heritage and City of York Council. Available at https://www.york.gov.uk/downloads/file/3537/area_23_blossom_street_and_nunnery_lanepdf accessed 10/1/2018
Macrae, C. (2013b); City of York Historic Characterisation Project, Character Area 30: Holgate; English Heritage and City of York Council. Available at https://www.york.gov.uk/downloads/file/3562/area_30_holgatepdf accessed 10/1/2018
Margary, Ivan D. (1973); Roman Roads in Britain, John Baker, London
Poulter, J. (2010); The Planning of Roman Roads and Walls in Northern Britain; Amberley Publishing, Stroud
Ramm, H. G. (1984);The Duel Cross Milestone and Roman Roads West of York in Addyman, P. V. & Black, V. E. (Eds.) (1984); Archaeological Papers from York presented to M. W. Barley; York Archaeological Trust, York pp. 43-
Selkirk, R. (1988) A bridge 2 far in Tyne and Tweed 43, pp. 42-
Selkirk, R. (1995); On The Trail of the Legions; Anglia Publishing, Ipswich
Wenham, L. P. (1965); Blossom Street Excavations, York, 1953-
Wilson, P. (1999); Catterick ; Current Archaeology vol. 166 pp. 379 -
Fig. 4 Aerial photo looking along RR8a towards Green Hammerton, with the road showing clearly as a parchmark. Image courtesy of YAAMAPPING © A M Hunt 2016
Click Images to enlarge
Fig. 7 Detail of the Gradiometer survey around the R. Ure at Aldborough,
Fig. 1 Lidar image of RR8a through Green Hammerton.
The main road leading out of York’s Colonia was RR28, to Tadcaster and the south, and ran parallel to modern Blossom Street, just behind the buildings on the north west side. The road to Aldborough, RR8a, was found in 1953-
Margary had “no reasonable doubt” that the modern A59 represented it, from a point near Poppleton Lakes west all the way to Green Hammerton (Margary 1973, p.428). Unfortunately, he wasn’t quite correct, as we now know that the modern road with all its straightish lengths keeps mainly to the north of the Roman line, presumably having developed that parallel line after the original Roman route became worn out. This was observed during works to extend Carpvale Fisheries in 2006, where the remains of a small timber bridge were also discovered comprising the remains of 19 posts, of which 8 larger ones formed a regular grid shape (N.Yorks HER no. 36049). The line was confirmed further west during the laying of a pipeline in the summer of 2008. The straight alignment is maintained as far Skip Bridge, where it seems likely that the Roman bridge may have been on approximately the same site as the medieval bridge, although no remains of it have been located, nor or likely to be, as the river has moved substantially since the Roman period. Until relatively recently, the road’s course west of Skip Bridge and through Green Hammerton was unknown. Its true course was partly identified by Gerald Hargreaves in 1996, correctly identifying a length of agger at Red Lane, Green Hammerton, although he had the crossing of the River Nidd in slightly the wrong place (Hargreaves, 1996, pp. 196-
After curving slightly to both sides of the alignment from York, it changes direction just west of Green Hammerton to head just west of North, the B6265 approximating to the Roman line. This new alignment is followed for one and three quarter miles, with Rudgate (RR280) joining in from Whixley before it turns slightly more westerly at SE44565983, near Moor Farm. This is slightly peculiar, as it would have been more direct to follow this new alignment from a point in Green Hammerton near Green Hill (fig.3) unless the surveyors decided to skirt around the Gaskill Beck. The road follows the new alignment for three miles, marked by the B6265. SE 4271 6327, it passes the site of a former mound known as Duel Cross (ie Devil’s Cross) which is possibly a barrow and where a Roman milestone was found in 1778. The milestone, dedicated to Decius (AD249-
The line of the Roman road is soon taken up by Dunsforth Road, which marks it all the way to the east gate of the Roman town of Isurium Brigantum (Aldborough) the Civitas Capital of the Brigantes. Since 2009, a major programme of geophysical survey has been carried out by the University of Cambridge, led by Prof. Martin Millett and Rose Ferraby, which has radically changed our understanding of this important walled town. The survey has not only given us detail of the internal layout of the town, but has also given us a unique insight into the landscape outside the walls. The work has confirmed that Dunsforth Road marks precisely the Roman line form York (fig. 5), and that the Roman road passed through a substantial suburb for half a mile, with allotments and enclosures spreading out from the road on either side, along with at least two substantial mausolea set back from the road. The north east corner of the walled town has an unusual ‘cut off’ corner and it had been thought that this might reflect the original course of the road before the town was built in the mid 2nd century. However, the survey has demonstrated that the York road turned due west to pass through the east gate, with no evidence for an earlier course north-
The survey has also revealed evidence for the reordering of the landscape around the town and whilst this falls short of centuriation, it is clear that this was not haphazard and organic growth as the town, or its possible military precursor, developed. Rather, it was a landscape planned around the town and the roads leading to it. This is the first time such planning has been recorded in Britain, outside the coloniae (ibid. p.25).
Fig. 2 Section through agger of RR8a showing structure of road. Image courtesy of and © NAA Heritage
Fig. 3 Illustration of the hard to explain deviations from the surveyed alignments at Green Hammerton
Fig. 5 Gradiometer survey showing the approach of RR8a to the east gate of Isurium.
Fig. 6 Gradiometer survey showing RR8b leaving the north gate of Isurium to the bridge over the R. Ure, with roads heading northwest (RR8b) and possibly to Malton. Image courtesy of Prof. Martin Millett, © University of Cambridge, 2018
It has generally been considered that the road from York simply went straight through the town and emerged from the west gate. Ivan Margary went as far as to say that the north westward alignment passed straight through (Margary, 1973, p.428) which, given that the town is not even close to being aligned with the road, is clearly impossible. The probable alignment of RR720b approaching the town from the west strongly suggested to the current author that a bridge north of the town was highly likely, with roads leading from it both north (Dere Street) and northeast, possibly to Malton. In 2015, the University of Cambridge survey proved that this is indeed the case, showing that Dere Street emerges from the north gate, not the west, passing through another large suburb to a bridge over the R. Ure (fig. 6). Before it passed through the north gate, there may have been a milestone, as the top portion of one was found during excavations in 1924, 50m south of the north gate. This may not be anywhere near its orginal position, and the lower part of the inscription is lost so there is no distance recorded.
On the northern bank of the R.Ure, the flanking ditches of Dere Street can be seen clearly on the geophysical survey heading north west through Milby, along with another road heading north east (fig. 7). It is hard to see any relationship between Dere Street, as built, and the early fort at Roecliffe, a mile to the west along the R. Ure, leading to the suggestion made by Mike Bishop that there may have been an early precursor to Dere Street to the west, possibly an Iron Age route or a hastily built lightly metalled Roman structure, usually coined proto-
RR8b, Dere Street, proceeded through what is now Milby, with Church Street preserving its course through the village at least as far as the junction with the old Boroughbridge and Durham Turnpike road, east of Kirkby. It had been previously assumed that Leeming Lane from Boroughbridge was on the Roman line, although now we know that the Roman bridge was elsewhere. There is now some question as to where Leeming Lane actually does start to follow the Roman line. The most likely course is the roman road maintained its line from the bridge as far as about SE 3804 6991, and then turned to a north-
This new alignment may be crucial in understanding the early planning of Dere Street. Work by John Poulter has identified the possible long distance alignments underpinning the layout of Dere Street from this point northwards. What seems certain is that this alignment was laid out from a point much further south, not from Tadcaster as he originally thought (Poulter, 2010, pp. 44-
The alignment marked by Leeming Lane, the old A1, was maintained as far as a point just north of the old Sinderby Services, where a new alignment was set out directed at Scotch Corner (Poulter, 2010, p.43). Leeming Lane continues to mark the course as far as Leeming Bar, having passed through the substantial Roman settlement at Healam Bridge, midway between the towns of Isurium and Cataractonium. The settlement is known to cover 18ha, and was extensively investigated during A1 widening works (results as yet unpublished). Excavated evidence suggests a probable Hadrianic foundation in the early 2nd century, and it has been suggested that the site may have been established as a trading centre supplying horses for transport (Jones, 2014).
The road makes a dogleg turn as at crosses the Bedale Beck at Leeming Bridge, perhaps the result of two teams working in opposite directions with the one from the north on slightly the wrong line caused by a surveying error (Poulter, 2010, pp. 43-
Dere Street ran just east of the fort which was sited on a high bluff above the R. Swale, beneath what is now Thornbrough Farm, and ran through the heart of the Roman town at Cataractonium, which developed around the fort and the bridge, mainly to the south of the river. The fort appears to have been abandoned in around AD120, as did so many military sites in the north when their units were re-
Fig. 9 Dere Street under excavation at Catterick. Image courtesy of NAA Heritage.
On the southern bank of the R.Swale at Cataractonium, the road took up a new alignment straight to Scotch Corner designed to return it to the original main alignment it had deviated from at Leeming Bar (figs 8 & 10). These two alignments meet at precisely the point (at Scotch Corner) where John Poulter’s analysis of the planning of Dere Street suggests that an alignment to Esh, west of Durham, was laid out (Poulter, 2010, pp. 41-
The road as built made a peculiar kink to the east immediately north of this conjunction of alignments at Scotch Corner. This most likely points to a substantial period of time elapsing between the layout out of the initial long distance alignments and the actual construction of Dere Street, measured in decades rather than years, by which time a substantial but short lived Roman settlement, focussed around the junction of RR8 (Dere Street) and RR82, the Stainmore road. The precise reason for the settlement impacting on the route of the road can only be speculated upon at this point. Hopefully this will become clear as the results of the archaeological work at Scotch Corner as part fo the A1 widening scheme are better understood.
A late Iron Age to Roman period settlement had been identified in 2006-
Given the unexpectedly early date, the settlement may well have begun as a trading post, whilst the Brigantes were still a client kingdom of Rome, positioned to give access to the substantial oppidum at Stanwick as well as the trade routes to the west and north. With this in mind, it is worth noting that the long alignment from Sinderby Services to Scotch Corner, if extended further north, passes directly through the the Tofts, at the heart of Stanwick (fig.8). This could be no more than coincidence; on the other hand it could point to the original Roman survey being designed to establish a line of communication between Rome and the ruling elite of the Brigantes whilst they were a Client Kingdom, especially as the system ignores York and appears to commence somewhere in the midlands, possibly at Leicester (Haken, forthcoming).
The course of Dere Street north from Scotch Corner as far as the R. Coquet, in Northumberland, was surveyed in detail by Henry MacLauchlan in 1850-
Fig. 10 Plan of the fort and town at Catterick. ©Historic England, published in Current Archaeology vol. 166, 1999
The destruction wasn’t actually as severe as Hutchinson thought, as some of the timber foundation structure, in the form of groups of timber piles driven into the river bed, was revealed during a drought in 1933 (Richardson 1934-
To the north of the river, the road passes straight through the vicus of Piercebridge Roman fort, the layout of which is extremely clear on a Google Earth image from 2006 (fig. 12). Pottery from the vicus suggests that it was established in either the late 1st century AD (Hall, 2010, p.18) or early 2nd. A street branches off Dere Street leading west heading to the fort, which is now largely overlain by the village, making large parts of the fort archaeologically inaccessible. The limited pottery and coin evidence and the design of the fort all point to a third century date, although whether that is early or late in the 3rd century is not yet clear (Bidwell & Hodgson, 2009, p. 148). No sign of an earlier fort has yet been found, and yet it seems inconceivable that there wasn’t a Flavian period fort here, given the importance of the road and the bridgehead. There is evidence for late 1st and early 2nd centuries from Tofts field immediately east of the 3rd century fort, including a pottery kiln of Trajanic date (98 -
At some point in either the late 2nd or early 3rd century, it seems that Dere Street was diverted to the east to skirt around the vicus. Excavation in 1971 revealed the existence of a small roadside settlement dated to the early 3rd century along the diverted course of Dere Street, south of the R. Tees. The following year the remains of a bridge were found. A massive structure was revealed leading north from the bridge abutment, comprising a pavement of large interlocking stone slabs with indications of five masonry piers built upon it (fig. 14), which have been left exposed and are open for the public to visit. No remains of the northern abutment of this second bridge have yet been found, although slabs which may have been part of the pavement were identified near to the north bank in 1973. The relatively slight construction of the abutment, compared for example with the surviving abutment at Chesters, suggests that this one may not have been designed to withstand the full force of the river and that the bridge extended some distance across the flood plain in a similar fashion to so many medieval bridges, thus reducing pressure on the centre of the bridge when the river was in flood. Indeed it may have had as many as 12 piers and been some 200m long. Whether the central piers were built upon the pavement or rested on timber piles is not known. Similar pavements at Chesters and Willowford do not appear to have continued across the rivers North Tyne and Irthing respectively (Fitzpatrick and Scott 1999, p.126).
Slots in the masonry of the abutment, along with slots in some of the stones from piers 3 & 4 suggest that there was a timber superstructure on top of the stone piers, a style of construction known from many examples elsewhere. A suggested reconstruction of the possible structure is shown in the drawing by Frank Gardiner (courtesy of English Heritage), although the abutment was probably slightly different and the water level would not have been quite so high when the river was at its normal levels. At some later date, possibly even after the Roman period, a causeway replaced the bridging between the abutment and the second pier.
It is not possible to proceed without commenting on Raymond Selkirk’s interpretation of what was found, as presented in “the Piercebridge Formula” published in 1983. Selkirk claimed that these were not the remains of a bridge at all, but of a dam and weir, part of an elaborate system to allow navigation of the Tees downstream of Piercebridge. His ideas attracted a massive amount of attention at the time and are still often quoted as fact. Whilst it is certainly true that Selkirk’s observation about the relative levels of the platform and the river bed have some merit, the evidence still points irrefutably towards the structure being the remains of a bridge, which may have been destroyed in a cataclysmic flood. Full and detailed rebuttals of his ideas have been published many times, for example Anderson 1992.
There is considerable doubt as to whether the second bridge replaced the earlier timber bridge, or merely supplemented it. A substantial quantity of Roman material, ranging in date from the first to fourth centuries, has been recovered from the river bed in the vicinity of the timber bridge, but not substantially downstream from it, suggesting that the timber bridge remained usable in later years, at least to foot traffic (Selkirk 1995 pp.282-
…the timbers, piles or framings of the foundation were visible till the great flood of November 1771 when they were torn up and washed away.
Hutchinson 1823 p259.
Fig. 11 Map of the Roman road layout and the underlying alignments at Scotch Corner
Fig. 8 Map showing the original alignments underlying Dere Street, and the deviation necessary to accommodate the fort at Catterick
Fig. 12 Google Earth Image from 2006, looking east, showing the layout of streets of the vicus at Piercebridge
Fig. 16 Diagram of the alignments underlying the planning of Dere Street, from
Fig. 17 Location of the possible first bridge, west of the line of Dere Street
The timber bridge on the line of Dere Street may not, however, be the first bridge. 115m upstream, two parallel rows of vertical timbers were discovered by divers Bob Middlemass and Rolfe Mitchinson. A sample from one of them was successfully carbon dated to within a range of 40-
Just as there was on Ermine Street from Lincoln to the Humber, there seems to have been a deliberate avoidance of founding settlements along the road in the medieval period. In the 37 miles stretch between Kirkby Hill, nr Boroughbridge, and Baldersby south of Bishop Auckland, there is in effect a medieval village free zone stretching at least two miles either side of the road with only Burneston daring to get closer, about half a mile from the highway. Given that, for at least 1900 years, both Dere Street and Ermine Street were amongst the most important roads in northern Britain this phenomenon is hard to explain. Whether this was by decree, because proximity to the roads was considered unsafe, or for some other reason, is not known.
At the time of writing (2017), work has begun compiling the entries for Dere Street north from the historic Yorkshire boundary as far as Corbridge, and will be incorporated into this entry in 2018/19.
Fig. 13 The original route of Dere Street, and the later diverted course further downstream.
Fig. 14 The remains of the platform upon which the piers of the third bridge were built.
Entry by Mike Haken, last updated, 23 March 2018