Except where stated otherwise (e.g. when the copyright of photographs is retained), you are free to reproduce any of this work for non-
© Mike Haken & RRRA, 2018
West Riding of Yorkshire
RR280 is without doubt one of the most fascinating of Yorkshire’s Roman roads. It is usually known as Rudgate, the name for the medieval road that follows most of its course. At first sight it appears to be in effect a York by-
Boutwood, Yvonne (1996); Roman Fort and Vicus, Newton Kyme, North Yorkshire in Britannia, Vol 27. Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, pp. 340-
Brett, Alex & Clay, Chris (2002) Archaeological Excavation Report: Ermine Street / Tillbridge Lane Junction, Lincolnshire; PCAS Lincoln
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.
Margary, Ivan D. (1973); Roman Roads in Britain, John Baker, London
Ordnance Survey (1849); Yorkshire, Sheet 189 (6 inches to the mile); Ordnance Map Office, Southampton
Ordnance Survey (1849); Yorkshire, Sheet 204 (6 inches to the mile); Ordnance Map Office, Southampton
Ordnance Survey (1976?); Rudgate Roman Road unpublished file held in Historic England Archive, Swindon
Poulter, J., (2010); The Planning of Roman Roads and Walls in Northern Britain; Amberley Publishing, Stroud
Ramm, H (Ed.) (1963); Yorkshire Archaeological Register 1962 in Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, Part 161 Vol 41, Leeds
Ramm, H. (1976); The roman roads west of Tadcaster; in York Historian vol. 1, Yorkshire Architectural & York Archaeological Society, York pp. 3 -
Sherlock, S (2005); An Archaeological Watching Brief at Crossgates Farm, Cattal Moor Lane, Tockwith, N Yorks ;Report: Stephen Sherlock Services.
Warburton, J (1720); A New and Correct Map of the County of York in All its Divisions, London.
Fig. 3 Similar Google Earth aerial photograph to fig.2, from 2006 showing the cropmarks of the ditches of RR280, with about 18m between them -
Click Images to enlarge
Fig. 4 Lidar image overlain on Bing aerial photo, showing the approaches to Newton Kyme Roman fort.
Fig. 5 Roman roads west of York, showing the alignments representing the changing plans for the main road north that eventually became RR280, Rudgate.
Fig. 1 Part of the first edition OS 6 inch to the mile map, 1849 (Sheet 189), showing both RR280 (Rudgate) and RR729 marked as surviving earthworks, sadly now mostly ploughed away.
Fig. 2 Google Earth aerial photograph from 2007 showing the cropmarks of both RR280, Rudgate, and RR729 crossing it.
Ivan Margary (Margary, 1973, p.417), described the road as leaving RR72b at Toulston Lodge, possibly an error made due his lack of familiarity with the area. In fact, it has been well recorded for since the early 18th century as leaving RR28b (the Roman Ridge, the road leading to York from Castleford and the south at Headley Bar), being marked on John Warburton’s Map of Yorkshire (Warburton 1720) as the “Road Gate” and is marked on the first edition Ordnance Survey six inch map (fig. 1., Ordnance Survey, 1849). The agger of the road, marked clearly on the early OS map, survived into modern times (Ramm, 1976, p.3) but is now pretty much ploughed out, although its spread remains can still be seen on lidar at its southern end and still show well on aerial photographs (fig. 2). Excavations in 1960 by D.P.Dymond (SE45914197) showed that the road was 25ft wide (7.6m), and had was apparently built directly onto the underlying limestone bedrock. About 30cm depth of road construction survived, comprising layers of limestone chips which had solidified into a hard concrete-
RR729 crosses RR280 at about SE 4594 4218, and the fact that RR729 has slightly different alignments either side of shows that it was probably built after RR280. RR280 keeps reasonably well to a straight alignment for almost exactly one mile, as far as Robshaw hole, near Smaw’s Quarry, which is the point when the valley of the R. Wharfe opens up and allows greater visibility along its course north. It then changes alignment and runs straight for just over half a mile until Croft lane meets Rudgate, and then the Roman line is traditionally presumed to turn slightly more north westerly to head to the medieval crossing point of the R. Wharf, St. Helen’s Ford. Whether or not this was genuinely a Roman crossing point is not known, but it is certainly true that Rudgate seems to have been laid out along short straight alignments, so it seems likely, although there would surely have been a bridge, not a ford. Aerial photography has shown that a road headed from a point a little north of the end of Croft Lane straight to the south gate of the original fort (which is on a slightly different alignment to the later and largerb one visible on lidar (fig. 4)), and that a substantial extra mural settlement or ‘vicus’ developed along it, stretching for nearly a mile. (Boutwood 1996). Whether this was the original course of the road is not known for certain but this seems highly likely. There is no sign of a road in the fields immediately opposite the fort on the north of the bank of the R, Wharfe and it seems most probable that the original road never crossed the river, possibly because it was leading to a river port. The ‘traditional’ route slightly to the west almost certainly came later, skirting around the site so as not to interfere with activity on the river.
In its eventual form, after keeping west of the fort, it probably changed alignment just north of the river and emerges from beneath the Thorpe Arch Trading Estate at about SE4531 4693. It continued along this straight alignment for a total of three miles, reasonably well represented by the modern road, to a point just south of York road, where it changes alignment again now heading NNW for about a mile. When the modern road bends slightly to the right, so does the Roman line, as far as the crossroads with Tockwith road where Rudgate bears slightly more northerly but the Roman line keeps straight, under what is now Crossgate Farm where the agger survives just north of the stables (Sherlock, 2005). It keeps to this alignment for three miles, crossing the R. Nidd at Cattall where Rudgate joins it and follows its line precisely until the foot of Whixley Bank is reached, where the modern A59 now crosses. The modern Rudgate almost certainly represents it from here all the way to its junction with RR8a north east of Whixley.
Whilst it does seem to follow a series of short straight alignments, at first glance there does not appear to any guiding principle to the layout of RR280, or any underlying planning. Project a straight line between its end points, and not one single part of Rudgate falls upon the line. Iit just seems to meander across the land in the right general direction. In this case, initial appearances conspire to deceive. The original first century fort and the road approaching through the vicus (the cropmarks of which can only be seen on a few aerial photographs), are, in fact, precisely aligned on that straight line between the end points of the road, points that are over ten miles apart (fig. 5). It would seem impossible that this is coincidence, but also unlikely that the fort and its access road would be built upon a pre-
Why, then, was the road not constructed along the alignment? There is no obvious topographic reason not to. The simplest explanation is that the alignment wasn’t fully marked out, being given some sort of semi-
The fact that the probable line of RR72b from Ilkley, and the probable road approaching from Tadcaster appear to both meet the road through the vicus to the fort at its southern end, and at almost exactly the same angle (fig. 4), suggests that they could have been laid out at the same time creating a grand approach to the site for reasons that aren’t altogether clear today, an approach that was initially only from Ilkley and York. If so, the clear implication is that RR280 further south did not yet exist, which does seem to be the case. From Headley Bar, RR280 appears to have built along a line of sight towards the high ground just south east of Robshaw Hole and follows that alignment until it is just over the brow until the point at which Newton Kyme can be seen. Only then does it change alignment and head straight for the point where the access road to the fort and the two parts of RR72 meet. Using John Poulters ‘best field of view’ test (Poulter, 2010 p.27), it must have been laid out from south to north, and therefore it’s target point, the end of the road through the vicus, must have been determined before the southern part of RR280 was laid out.
As for the northern part of the road, that also appears to have been laid out towards Newton Kyme (ie north to south), but there is a bit more to it. From its predetermined start point, a similar approach appears to have been adopted, heading for the nearest high point to give the best view, in this case the top of Whixley Bank. Similarly, the line goes over the brow of the hill before changing alignment, indicating north to south planning. The difference this time is that the new alignment had already been laid out from south to north, all the way from Castleford. Unlikely as it might at first appear, the line of RR280 down Whixley Bank as far as the foot of the hill (where the A59 now crosses), is precisely on the alignment of RR28b from Castleford to Aberford. The clear suggestion is that this alignment had been well marked out some time previously, possibly as part of the survey for a main road north that was never constructed beyond Nut Hill, north of Aberford, perhaps because plans changed when York was determined as the new home for the Ninth legion. That such alignments were marked out in such way as to be visible years, possibly decades later, is soon to be evidenced again.
At the foot of Whixley Bank, the alignment changes slightly again to head through Cattal to the next node, near Tockwith airfield. That point also appears to have been pre-
The planning of a road along not only its own alignment, but utilising those from two previous schemes is to the best of our knowledge without parallel in Yorkshire. The multiple alignment schemes, marked as 1, 2 & 3 on Fig.5, probably result from the rapidly shifting plans and priorities of the Roman army in the early years of conquest from c. AD71 onwards. Of course, it is impossible to entirely rule out the possibility that the use of alignments from Castleford and Roall is not real but a chance coincidence, although the fact that RR280 changes course at precisely the point where its own alignment and the one from Roall meet would seem just too unlikely to be down to pure chance. That such long distance alignments were laid out has been recognised for a long time, the most famous being from London to Chichester along which the northern part of Stane Street was built: there seems little reason to doubt their existence in this case.
Finally, there is circumstantial evidence that might point to the northern part of RR280 being finished quite late, possibly as late as AD120. We know that RR2d, Ermine Street north of Scampton, Lincolnshire, which had been the main route for traffic heading north from Lincoln and the south, went out of use for a period (Brett & Clay, 2002, p.19) probably, but not certainly, before AD150. It seems conceivable that the opening of a road that shortened the journey for military traffic from south of York, when so much of it was heading up to Hadrian’s Wall in the period around AD120, might just have had such an impact. Without firm dating evidence, this is of course just a hypothesis.
Roman Sites on Route:
Historic Environment Records, HE Pastscape and other records
Entry Prepared by Mike Haken, last updated, 2 June 2017