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© Mike Haken & RRRA, 2018
31.5 miles milesMiles
Roman Sites on Route:
Historic Environment Records, HE Pastscape and other records
Ermine Street, probably built soon after the Roman conquest of southern and lowland Britain, was a principal supply route conveying troops and provisions northwards in the mid 1st century AD. It was carefully planned to head to a ferry crossing of the Humber estuary and thence on to York, although that section may have come later by following the eastern edge of the limestone ridge that runs north from Lincoln to the Humber, avoiding the lowest and the highest ground. Leaving Lincoln, it presents today as a large agger about 16 metres wide and up to 2m high for the first eight miles, an impressive and massive structure. Ivan Margary wrote “this section of Ermine Street must be one of the most magnificent in the whole of Britain, rivalled only by Ackling Dyke (4c) in Dorset” (Margary 1973, p.236). Unlike most other Roman roads that are still in use today, the modern road only rarely deviates from the Roman line, following a single absolutely straight alignment from the Roman fortress at Lincoln northwards along the A15, and then the B1207, all the way to a slight change of alignment north of Broughton, some 24 miles. It then proceeds rigidly straight again for nearly seven miles until it eventually makes a series of slight turns eastwards as it enters its destination, the Roman port at Old Winteringham. Indeed, from what is known from excavation, the Roman road builders stuck to the surveyed alignment far better than in most other examples.
It certainly has an impressive start, leaving Lincoln through the Newport Arch (fig. 1), the only Roman archway in Britain still spanning a public thoroughfare (strictly speaking it isn’t genuinely Roman construction as it had to be rebuilt in the early ‘70s after being struck by a lorry, and rebuilt yet again in 2014!). In typical Roman fashion, each carriageway originally had its own gate, with separate smaller gates to the side for pedestrians, and although only the eastern half of the structure survives, the springers for the western main arch are still visible.
A branch road headed NNW almost immediately (RR28aa, fig. 2) to meet RR28 just south of Scampton. Ermine Street continues northwards, and after about four miles the entrance and access road to the Lincolnshire Showground marks the line of RR28a (Fig. 3), an alternative route to York avoiding the Humber ferry. A mile north of the roundabout, the modern A15 swings half a mile to the east to accommodate the runway of RAF Scampton, which cuts across the line of Ermine Street. This is one of only two short stretches where the Roman line is not followed by a modern road of some sort. After returning to the alignment north of the runway, the modern road continues arrow straight, clinging to the Roman line, until eventually after another 5.3 miles the modern road bows slightly to the east, before resuming the alignment. This bow exactly corresponds with the Roman roadside settlement at Owmby and has in the past been used to indicate that the Roman road was avoiding pre-
Where the modern road leaves the line for a mile or so near Scawby, the Roman line is marked, still straight, by a trackway and agger, and the modern road resumes the alignment north of the roundabout on the A18, north of Junction 4 of the M18. A mile further on comes a 400m stretch, just west of Broughton, which is the second of the two parts of the entire road where the Roman line is not approximately followed by a modern road or track. The original Roman line, however, has been seen on aerial photographs as a pair of ditches (Deegan 2005). The alignment is taken up again by the B1207, which now starts to descend from the higher ground. As it does so, there is a very slight change of alignment at about SE 9544 1147, the road now heading just west of north, in order to remain on the edge of the limestone ridge: remaining straightn would have forced the road across some very lowlying and marshy ground. The new alignment is again extremely straight, with the modern road just deviating marginally from the Roman line in one or two places.
The northern end of Ermine Street as it reaches the Humber had been somewhat of a puzzle until the early 1970s when work by D. N. Riley, building on excavations by Ian Stead in the early 1960s, seems to have settled the issue (Riley, 1974). Riley’s analysis of his own aerial photographs established that Ermine Street continued along the straight alignment until the modern road meets the A1077 and then turned slightly north-
The same lidar image shows what appears to be a branch road meeting Ermine Street from the south west. Unfortunately, lidar coverage here is poor and the line is lost on the north east edge of Winterton. This is probably an access road for a settlement or perhaps a villa, such as the one west of Winterton (SE 9094 1796), although it is not on the alignment. It is possible that it is coming from the RB settlement near Dragonby some four miles to the south west, although the direct alignment would take it just west of Roxby.
Brett, Alex & Clay, Chris (2002) Archaeological Excavation Report: Ermine Street / Tillbridge Lane Junction, Lincolnshire; PCAS Lincoln
Deegan, A. (2005); Air Photo Mapping and Interpretation at the land at Forest Pines Golf Course, Broughton, North Lincs.. April 2005. Bound A4 report. Fig 3, Appendix 2 site no. 5.
Dudley, Harold (1949); Early Days in North-
Frere, S. S. (Ed.) (1989); Roman Britain in 1988; I Sites Explored in Britannia Vol. 20 pp 257-
Green, c. & Rahtz, P. A. (1959); Excavations of Ermine Street in Lincolnshire in Antiquaries Journal, Vol 39, pp.75-
Loughlin, Neil & Miller, Keith (1979); A survey of archaeological sites in Humberside; Humberside Joint Archaeological Committee; Humberside Libraries & Amenities, Hull
Margary, Ivan D. (1973); Roman Roads in Britain, John Baker, London
Parker, N., Savage, R.D., & Johnson, M., (2012); Proposed Potato Store, Eastfield Farm, Winteringham, North Lincolnshire Pre Construct Archaeology
Parker, N, (2012); Land at Eastfield Farm, Composition Lane, Winteringham. May 2012. Pre Construct Archaeology.
Riley, D. N. (1974); The End of Ermine Street at the South Shore of the Humber.; in Britannia, Vol. 5, pp. 375-
Rivet, A.L.F. & Smith, Colin. (1979); The Place Names of Roman Britain, B.T.Batsford, London
Roffe, D. (1993); Domesday Settlement in Bennet, S. And Bennett, N. (Eds) An Historical Atlas of Lincolnshire ; The University of Hull Press, Hull
Smith, Roger (1981); Hibaldstow; in Current Archaeology, vol77, pp.168-
Stead, I. M. (1976); Excavations at Winterton Roman Villa and other Roman Sites in North Lincolnshire 1958-
Stukeley, William (1776) Itinerarium Curiosum 2nd Edition “with large additions”; Baker & Leigh; London
Surtees Society (1870); The Diary of Abraham de la Pryme. The Publications of the Surtees Society, Vol. 54
Whitwell, B.; (1995); Some Roman small towns in north Lincolnshire and south Humberside in A. E. Brown (ed.) Roman Small Towns in Eastern England and Beyond. Oxbow Monograph No.52.
Click Images to enlarge
Fig. 3 The junction of two roads still in use today, RR2d (Ermine Street) and RR28a at Lincolnshire Showground
Fig. 1. The Newport Arch, eastern half of the Roman gateway through which Ermine Street, RR2d passes heading north, and the only Roman gate in Britain that is still in use (sort of!). We are grateful to Leslie Taylor for allowing us to use this photo.
Fig. 2 Lidar image overlying Bing aerial photo, showing both Ermine Street heading north from Lincoln, a branch road heading up to join RR28 to Littleborough, Doncaster & York.
Fig. 5 Section through the A15 during the construction of a roundabout in 2001-
There are three known Roman period settlements along Ermine Street north of Lincoln, and they are quite evenly spaced. The Owmby site is reached after nine miles, Hibaldstow after another ten and a half, and Old Winteringham near the terminus on the Humber is a further eleven. This fairly even spacing indicates a degree of planning and is suggestive of the settlements being based around posting stations, or even earlier forts, although there is currently no archaeological evidence for either suggestion. Whether their locations were planned or not, both Owmby and Hibaldstow were certainly convenient stopping off points on the road, each stage being a comfortable day’s march.
The morphology of the settlement at Owmby Cliff with slightly curvilinear elements to the enclosures with ditches of variable width, is as typically Iron Age as it is Roman. Furthermore, the fact that Corieltauvian coinage and Iron Age pottery has been found on the site (Whitwell, 1995, pp. 96-
The settlement at Winteringham on the south bank of the Humber estuary is at the northern end of Ermine Street and was almost certainly the port where the ferry to Brough (Petuaria) on the northern bank embarked. It is probably the “Old Winteringham” described by Stukeley: “The city was ploughed up six years ago and great numbers of antiquities found, now lost; great pavements, chimney stones etc., often breaking their ploughs; in several places they found streets made of sea-
Geophysical survey and subsequent excavation in 2008 at around SE 942 218 revealed enclosures and two trackways of either Late Iron Age or Roman date, and produced late Iron Age and mid 1st century pottery (Parker, 2012). Finds during excavation of pre-
With regard to post Roman settlement, it is noteworthy that a 31.5 mile long road that has remained an important thoroughfare for nearly two thousand years, has not a single medieval settlement along it. Just two villages, Broughton and Appleby, developed close to it but not along it and even today Ermine Street runs along the edges of the two settlements rather than through them. A string of villages did develop on either side of the road, set back from it by between one and two miles all along its length although the earlier ones, as mentioned in the Domesday Book, are predominantly to the eastern side (Roffe, 1993 p.34). This phenomenon, suggestive of a deliberate avoidance of medieval settlement along the road, is shared with the Roman road we now know as Dere Street in Yorkshire, and has never been satisfactorily explained.
Margary and others had assumed that Ermine Street was originally built to such an impressive height, possibly to impress the local population (Margary 1973, p.237); however that has never been firmly established at any point, excavation suggesting that the original Roman height and width was more modest and the huge agger built up by successive layers of rebuilding over two millennia (Brett & Clay 2002).
The construction of a new roundabout in 2002, at the junction of Tillbridge Lane (A1500) and Ermine Street (A15) gave a valuable and rare opportunity to examine a full section across the entire road structure. What was revealed were a number of successive road surfaces, each made up from limestone chippings bonded with limestone sand of local origin (Brett & Clay 2002, p.1). Of the huge structure that Margary found so impressive, it was confirmed that the original Roman agger was just 6.5m wide, less than half the total, constructed of a low agger made of roughly laid limestone bonded with reddish brown sand laid onto bedrock. Above this foundation the original surface of the agger had been small limestone fragments set in coarse sand, 60 to 80 mm thick and covering the central 4.4m (14ft 5ins.) of the agger which originally stood no more than 0.5m high (fig. 5). Much wear and rutting was identified, and three successive Roman road surfaces were identified, each one raising the agger, but not widening it. At some point it seems the road may have gone out of use and was no longer maintained, as a layer of windblown sand (context 132, see fig. 5) appears to have crossed the entire road (ibid, p.19). This must have been after the construction of RR28a, indeed it is conceivable that the new road made Ermine Street redundant, if only for a while. Alternatively, the temporary break could have been caused by military movements heading north towards the wall being instructed to travel via Newton Kyme amd Rudgate (RR280), a journey that is two miles shorter in total, and doesn’t pass through the city of York or have to negotiate the Humber crossing. At some point later, the road was surfaced again, although none of the surfacing survived when excavated. A new layer of windblown sand began to build up on the eastern side (context 120, see fig. 5), which could suggest a lack of maintenance that got so bad that traffic was forced off the road entirely, creating two ruts (1.6m apart) through the sand to the bedrock which itself showed significant wear. This sand contained a large sherd of mid 2nd century Dressel 20 type amphora, and while this does not give a terminus ante quem for the ruts (as was unfortunately claimed in the report), it does provide a terminus post quem for all the material above, in other words the subsequent layers cannot be earlier than mid second century. The road appears to have received only minor resurfacing after that, before one final and major remodelling during the Roman period widening the agger to at least 9m, and about 1.3m high (contexts 127 & 015, fig.5). It seems likely, therefore, that the road’s Roman heyday was quite early, possibly pre-
Fig. 4 Lidar image showing RR2d towards a terminus in the Roman port at Old Winteringham on the south bank of the River Humber. The lidar confirms earlier interpretation by Riley, with the addition of a probable branch road joining RR2d at Eastfield Farm coming from the south west
Fig. 7 Lidar image overlaying Bing aerial photograph clearly showing RR724 heading towards its junction with Ermine Street at the Owmby settlement
Fig. 6 Simplified section of Green & Rahtz excavation at Scampton in 1958, showing marked similarity to 2002 work at the end of Tillbridge Lane, but with different interpretation, (after Green & Rahtz 1959)
This description seems at first to be completely at odds with the excavations by Green & Rahtz carried out four decades earlier at RAF Scampton, a mile and a half to the north, where an agger measuring 41ft (12.5m) wide and 0.75m thick was exposed during the extension of the runway (Green & Rahtz, 1959, pp81-
The Roman use of local materials is demonstrated very clearly as the road moves northwards toward the Humber, and gradually leaves the limestone ridge. As it does so, the use of limestone in the construction of the agger decreases, and is replaced with gravel obtained by the road side. For example In Roxby parish (SE94531757) a section of the road was exposed in 1970, and found to be 0.6-
Entry Compiled by Mike Haken, last updated, 2 October 2017