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© Mike Haken & RRRA, 2018
Roman Sites on Route:
Historic Environment Records, HE Pastscape and other online records
Lancashire, West Riding of Yorkshire
Where he got his information is not known, but when his Map of Yorkshire was published in 1720, a note is given as the road leaves Yorkshire on Blackstone Edge "this Roman way extends from Manchester in Lancashire unto Aldborough near Burrowbridge, is all paved with stone and near 8 yards broad". (Fig. 1). The road does of course incorporate perhaps the most famous length of supposed “Roman Road” in Britain, and a considerable section of this entry has been devoted to discussing it. For convenience, therefore, the road can be best examined in five sections,
Baines, F.; (1868) History of the County Palatine and Duchy of Lancaster. A new edition edited by J Croston
Ballard, E. (1967); A Chronicle of Crompton; Crompton Urban District Council, Shaw.
Brigg, J. J. (1907); Local Archaeology. Fragments of Roman Road on Harden Moor. Interesting Researches. Yorkshire Notes and Queries, March 1907
Codrington, T. (1903), Roman Roads in Britain
Collins, H.C. (1979) "Riddle of a "Roman" road Blackstone Edge, Lancashire" in Country Life, November 22nd 1979
Davies, Hugh (2002); Roads in Roman Britain; Tempus Publishing Ltd., Stroud
Defoe, D (1778); A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain, 4th Edition, Vol.III, London
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Fiennes, Celia (1888); Through England on a Side Saddle in the Time of William and Mary, being the Diary of Celia Fiennes; The Leadenhall Press, London
Frere, S. S. (Ed.) (1983); Roman Britain in 1982, I Sites Explored; Britannia Vol. 14 pp. 279-
Frere, S. S. (Ed.) (1984); Roman Britain in 1983, I Sites Explored; Britannia Vol. 15 pp. 265-
Frere, S. S. (Ed.) (1985); Roman Britain in 1984, I Sites Explored; Britannia Vol. 16 pp. 251-
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Frere, S. S. (Ed.)(1991); Roman Britain in 1990, I Sites Explored; Britannia Vol. 22 pp. 221-
Grew, F. O.(Ed.) (1981); Roman Britain in 1980, Britannia Vol. 12, Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, London
Haigh, D. (1993), Roman Road: Manchester-
Haigh, D. (2013); Pers. Comms
Haigh, D. (Undated); OS 1:25000 annotated Strip map in RR720a file, West Yorkshire HER.
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Kendall, H. P. (1911); Roman Ford at Longbottom; Transactions of the Halifax Antiquarian Society, Vol. 8 pp. 165-
Leyland, F. A. (1864); On the Roman Roads Intersecting the Parish of Halifax, Journal of the British Archaeological Association, Vol. 20 Issue 3 pp. 205-
Maxim, James L. (1965); A Lancashire Lion; J.L. Maxim Trustees, Leeds
Moorhouse, S. (Ed.) (1972); The Yorkshire Archaeological register: 1971 Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, YAS, Leeds
Norton Dickons, J. (1900); The Roman Road from Manchester to Aldborough in Bradford Antiquary 3 NS 1 1900 pp. 239-
Ordnance Survey (1852); Yorkshire, Sheet 215, 6 inches to a mile, surveyed 1847 -
Ordnance Survey (c.1984); RR720a Linear File, Historic England Archive, Swindon
Pearson, B, Price, J., Tanner, V. and Walker, J. (1985); The Rochdale Borough Survey in the Greater Manchester Archaeological Journal, Vol. 1. Chapter 13. Manchester; available online at http://www.gmau.manchester.ac.uk/pdfs/gmac13.pdf accessed 27/10/17
Pollington, Mitchell. (2012) ; Blackstone Edge Road, West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester. Archaeological Services WYAS Report no. 2377
Richmond, I. A. (1925); Huddersfield in Roman Times; Tolson Memorial Museum Publications, Huddersfield
Stukeley, W. (1776); Itinerarium Curiosum
Taylor, J. (1639) News from Hell, Hull and Halifax
Toller, H. S. (2014); Blackstone Edge -
Tupling, G. H. (1952). The Turnpike Trusts of Lancashire. 94. Manchester: Memoirs and Proceedings of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, session 1952-
Turnbull, P. (Ed.) (1982); Yorkshire Archaeological Register, 1981; Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, Vol. 54 pp. 169-
Rosevear, Alan (2011); Turnpike Roads in England and Wales; http://www.turnpikes.org.uk/English%20turnpike%20table.htm; accessed 27/10/17
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Villy, F, (1940); The Roads over Blackstone Edge from Lancashire into Yorkshire in The Bradford Antiquary 8 p386
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Whitaker, Rev. John; History of Manchester," (1773), Bk. 1, p. 119)
Wikipedia (2017); Blackstone Edge; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackstone_Edge, accessed 27/10/17
Fig. 1 Portion of Warburton’s Map of Yorkshire, 1720, showing the road from Manchester entering Yorkshire near Littleborough. Note that it is marked with solid lines, ie. certain
Click Images to enlarge
Fig. 3 The pavement of the famous causeway up Blackstone Edge, from the Lancashire Side, taken c. 1990 when still clear of vegetation. Note how the causeway is actually slightly raised above, or in places just level with the modern ground level © Robert Estall/CORBIS published under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license
The location mentioned near Rochdale is unknown, although the distance would suggest it must be somewhere between Wellfield and Lower Place (on Oldham Road), assuming Whitaker was measuring from the edge of the 18th century town. If this is the case, then the Roman road could have headed to Littleborough close to the line of the modern A58, but it is also possible that it changed alignment in order to keep south of the River Roch. Watkin noted in 1883 that, "The most singular fact connected with this road is, that no one has ever seen or heard of the portion of it between Manchester and Blackstone Edge from Whitaker's time to the present day." (Watkin 1883, p56). That remains largely true, except that Donald Haigh did identify and excavate a length of road which had been later cut through by a hollow-
Apart from a lack of firm evidence, another issue is that the Street Bridge to which Whitaker refers (Chadderton, nr Oldham SD 902 069) is substantially east of the projected line from Manchester through Street Fold at Moston (between 600m and 1500m, depending on the actual route), yet there is no logical reason for the Roman surveyors to have made such a deviation. It is certainly true that there is a cutting (of unknown date) at Streetbridge to the north of the R.Irk easing a long disused descent to the R.Irk, but this merely shows that this is an old crossing point, not that it is necessarily Roman. The location of a fourth "Street" on Buckstones Road, nr. Shaw (SD 9513 0946), has been used by some later writers to suggest a branch road through Street Bridge to the fort at Castleshaw, on the main Manchester to York road (Collins 1979, Ballard 1967, p.57), but again there is no known evidence for this.
And there is the problem. Whilst the existence of the road on the Yorkshire side is well attested, the only "evidence" for such a road between Manchester and Littleborough comes from Warburton's statements, three "street" place names, a straight length of township boundary from Blackley Golf Course to the junction of Mills Hill Rd. and Bay Tree Lane, Chadderton (SD8778 0363 to SD 8886 0550) and Donald Haigh’s excavation near Clegg Hall. Inspite of all the alterations and industrial disturbance of the landscape in the 18th and 19th centuries, one might have expected some vestigial remains of such a road to have still been extant in the early 18th century, but it seems there were none. Modern technologies such as lidar have not revealed anything here either. The association between "street" place-
This now takes us to the road North East of Littleborough, and starting, of course, with the famous causeway over Blackstone Edge.
Fig. 5 Taken in 2017, this image shows the condition of the causeway, and how there does not appear to be any older road beneath it.
None of the writers who commented on Blackstone Edge prior to Warburton, such as Defoe and Fiennes, made reference to either a Roman road or the paved causeway. However, this absence of record would also have happened if the Roman road was buried and not visible, and this in turn has been used in an attempt to prop up the notion of the paved causeway being Roman (Pollington, 2012, p.31). However, Warburton did presumably see the Roman road at some point, as did the renowned John Horsley at about the same time, indeed Horsley used it as an example of how deeply Roman roads can be buried beneath the modern surface (Horsley, 1732, p. 391). Horsley's description is at odds with what we know about the paved causeway, as on the Lancashire side it is for the most part roughly level with the current surface, and therefore could not have been deeply buried. Even on the Yorkshire side within the cuttings, where the paving survives, there is no evidence that the surface has ever been more than lightly covered. It's also worth noting that Jefferys' map of 1775 shows the causeway still existing well to the east of the county boundary (fig. 9) (Jefferys, 1775) so it must have been visible in the late 18th century and therefore in Warburton, Horsley and Stukeley's time, had it existed then. It only stops on Jefferys’ map where it enters the deeper cuttings, merely indicating that it was out of use beyond this point, possibly due to erosion or deliberate slighting. It is simply not credible that antiquarians such as Warburton, Horsley, Stukeley, Baines, and Whittaker, all of whom were familiar with how Roman roads were usually constructed, should all write about the Roman road and not mention the setted causeway, with its unique central channel. The only possible conclusion is that the Roman road is a different road entirely.
Just supposing for a while that the stone causeway is Roman, then what was the route of the 1734 turnpike? It has been suggested that the 1734 turnpike followed the route of the pre-
The resources and engineering knowledge necessary to construct the paved causeway across Blackstone Edge were available only from the early 18th century onwards, and in the Roman period. It's really that simple. The road can only be one or the other. However, were the surfacing of the causeway on Blackstone edge to be Roman, it would not only be unparalleled in Britain, but unparalleled anywhere in the Roman empire. Paved roads are rare anywhere in the northern Roman empire, and there are only a handful of supposedly paved Roman roads in Britain, and those that have been proven to be Roman (many have turned out to be much more recent) seem to be within settlements such as the one at Tilston in Cheshire (Grew, 1981, p.333). The Roman army's priority was to create roads quickly, using locally available materials and in general the running surface was of gravel or pebbles rammed into a raised and cambered substructure (agger) to make a smooth surface. Dressing stone to make a surface was an un-
Fig. 6 Aerial photograph from a drone looking west along Rag Sapling Clough showing a terraced road within the artifically widened and deepened channel, being heavily eroded by the clough
Fig. 2 Map of the various main roads crossing Blackstone Edge, as far as is known.
Fig. 4 photo taken from a drone showing the causeway, now covered in vegetation, climbing up the Lancashire side with the Loop road to the north forming a triangle on the left of the image.
Sequence of roads over Blackstone Edge (after Collins, 1979)
Documentary Evidence and Historical Accounts
John Warburton in 1718 is the first known writer to record a Roman road over Blackstone Edge (Warburton, 1718). His Roman road mapping is notoriously schematic, yet it has previously been claimed that there is no need to doubt the broad accuracy of his features (Pennington 2012, p.32), specifically the fact that Warburton has the early 18th century road to the north of the Roman line (fig 8). Unfortunately, there is every reason to doubt the accuracy, as anyone familiar with Warburton's mapping of Roman roads would be able to testify.
By way of example, fig. 8 is a snippet of his Map of Yorkshire, in the area near Scotch Corner, the junction of RR8 (Dere Street) and RR82 towards Carlisle. The 18th century roads are shown to deviate considerably from the Roman line whereas, in fact, they largely overlaid the Roman road, as indeed they still do today. All his map tells us with respect to Blackstone Edge therefore is that there was an 18th century road and a Roman road in the general vicinity. Even though Warburton's line of the 18th century road looks a little similar to the accurately drawn line on Jeffery's 1775 map (fig. 9), they are not the same. It cannot therefore be claimed that in the 1720s the main road was to the north of the Roman line.
Fig. 7 Warburton’s map, 1720, showing Blackstone Edge
Material written about the causeway on Blackstone Edge, a couple of miles east of Littleborough, near Rochdale, Lancashire, could fill a bookcase. For over a century there has been debate as to whether it is Roman, or actually the first turnpike road over Blackstone edge, built in 1734-
The first known written record of any road or track over Blackstone Edge is in 1285, when Richard Wood complained to the Sowerby Constables about the state of the road over "Blackesteynegge". Six years later, the Patent Rolls of Edward I gave on July 12th 1291:
"Grant to Hugh de Elaund and Richard de Radeclive for two years, of a custom on goods for sale taken across the causeway of Blacksteynege, to be applied to its repair." (HMSO, 1893).
Neither account, unfortunately, tells us if this causeway was a road fit for wheeled traffic, or just a packhorse track. A packhorse road certainly existed, and is still visible in places. By the 17th and 18th centuries, the road was in a parlous state, as evidenced by John Taylor in 1639 who wrote
"I rode over such ways as are past comparison and amending, for when I went down the lofty mountain called Blackstone Edge I thought myself, with my boy and horses, had been in the land of Break-
Celia Fiennes, travelling in 1698, and Daniel Defoe, in 1724, give similar dramatic and uncomplimentary accounts (Fiennes, 1770, pp.186,187 & Defoe 1724, p136). By 1734, the state of the road had become so bad that the Rochdale to Halifax and Elland Turnpike Trust was established and collected tolls from 1st June 1735. The Act gave powers "to widen the existing road over the craggy mountain of Blackstone Edge", because the existing road "is narrow, deep, ruinous, and impassable for wagons, carts and other of the many heavy carriages frequently passing that way". The Act claims that the alterations would be "extraordinary," and by "methods contrary to the normal custom of the law" (Pearson et al 1985, p. 128).
A further act was passed in 1754 giving permission to construct a new length of road to relieve the gradient (Collins, 1979) and another one in 1765 granting powers to sell the existing road if a new road would solve the problem of the gradient. Just a year later in 1766 a further Act of Parliament granted permission to build “a new circuitous road at a different lower place” (Pearson et al 1985, p. 128). The final Turnpike Act came in 1799, which is essentially the modern road, the A58 (ibid). This was a nationally important transport artery, ranking in the top 50 roads in the country for income from Tolls in 1820 (Rosevear, 2011), and remained so until eventually superceded by the modern motorway, the M62.
The first mention of a Roman road over Blackstone Edge seems to be from John Warburton (Warburton c.1718), whose map of Yorkshire (fig. 1) was published in 1720 (Warburton, 1720). Whilst John Warburton's map clearly indicates that the Roman road is to the south of the 18th century coach road not too much weight should be given to this as he drew Roman roads schematically with long straight lines which frequently appear on the wrong side of roads and settlements, even when the route was well known in his day. Warburton’s account was followed by a comment by the antiquarian John Horsley, who uses the Blackstone Edge road as his example to illustrate how deeply buried Roman roads can become below the modern surface:
“I confess it is sometimes very difficult to discover or trace out a military way, which is frequently sunk several feet below the surface, either in mossy grounds, or where the fields have long been in tillage. When I passed Blackstone Edge in Yorkshire, I could not be but surprised to see how much the causeway there was below the surface” (Horsley 1732, p.391).
References from Stukeley (Stukeley 1776), Whitaker (Whitaker 1773) and Baines (Baines 1835) followed with Whitaker repeating the observation about the depth of the road beneath the surface.
The famous stone causeway over Blackstone Edge (fig 3.) is without question an impressive piece of engineering. It runs in a straight line up a steep slope (before curving away to the east towards the summit) on the moors above Littleborough, Lancashire, climbing 175m in just over a kilometre with a maximum gradient of 1:4. It consists of a causeway some 5m wide, constructed of large stone sets, with kerbs, and a curious central channel cut into large stone blocks over 600mm wide and up to 650mm long. The causeway appears to have started at about SD 9625 1680, at about 275m above sea level. Its lower section is now completely robbed out of stone, and it is possible that it started further west at around SD 9575 1661. At a height of approximately 330m (SD 9662 1691) a zig zag relief road (usually referred to as the Loop road) leaves the main road line (fig. 4) with two straight sections of road set at a right angle re-
It was Henry Colley-
The first serious attempt to debunk the notion of the causeway having Roman origins came from James Maxim (Maxim, 1965) who claimed that the packhorse road passed beneath the causeway, and therefore must by older than it, and that is indeed what appears to happen where the old track meets the causeway on the climb up the Lancashire side, though this junction has not been excavated for absolute proof. An article by Herbert Collins in 1979 seemed to demolish further the argument for the pavement being of Roman construction (Collins, 1979) and since then it has been increasingly accepted that the causeway is probably part of 1734 Turnpike, as evidenced by Wikipedia (Wikipedia 2017). Despite this, or perhaps because of it, argument, disagreement and debate persists. In 2012, a thorough and highly detailed survey of the Blackstone Edge Road was conducted by Archaeological Sevices WYAS (Pollington,2012). The subsequent report paid particular attention to the stratigraphic relationship between the road and its environment, with particular reference to the formation of some of the deep gullies close to the road, and to the packhorse road, and concluded somewhat inconclusively, that the causeway
“is likely to pre-
Fig. 8 Warburton 1720 showing Roman and 18th century roads north of Scotch Corner
Fig. 9 Jefferys’ map (1775) showing the 1766 turnpike road and the Blackstone Edge Causeway
Much time is spent in the 2012 ASWYAS report discussing the formation of the network of gullies that run westward down the hillside (Pollington, 2012, pp34-
Of course, all this does not tell us when the road was built, as the gullies might have formed at any time over the last few millennia. The aerial photo on which fig. 11 is based, however, appears to show that the main gully formed along the line of the packhorse road, with a later alternative but steeper route being created. There is considerable braiding, where the two main paths have become unusable. Therefore, unless the original packhorse road were late Iron Age or earlier, which is unlikely but not impossible, the gullies are probably medieval and post medieval in date. Taking all the above into account, a mid-
The central channel in the road is thought to be unique to any period, although the use of a central row of flagstones flanked by cobbles or setts is actually quite common in post medieval roads of the South Pennines, albeit usually half the width. Collins mentions two examples not far from the Blackstone edge causeway, at Reddystone Scout Gate and Gorpley (Collins, 1979 ). The function of the channel is unclear, but most likely it is related to whatever mechanism was devised to haul wagons up the hill, hence the Loop road, shown by Richmond to post-
On the Yorkshire side, from the Aiggin Stone eastwards, the road is almost entirely contained in cuttings where the peat has been removed to make a solid foundation for the road. The main cutting is substantial , being 2m deep, up to 40m wide, and nearly 750m long, much wider than normal Roman cuttings which are between 5m and 9m wide (Toller 2014), although similar scale Roman works do exist at Craik Moor, Eskdalemuir. The paving of the road survives in places, still with a row of large central stones. The techniques of Roman engineering within cuttings are very poorly understood, so it is not possible to make a judgement as to their origin from their construction alone. There is a packhorse way constructed within the cutting, sometimes on a raised causeway, and towards the Aiggin Stone a single row of causey stones (large thick blocks of gritstone) survive. However, it would be a mistake to assume that a packhorse road must be earlier than any Turnpike road. Hugh Toller noted 18th century roads in upland Wales with later packhorse trails cut into them (Toller 2014) and packhorse roads were still in use in some parts of the country right up to the early 1900s. It seems quite logical, indeed likely, that when the 1734 turnpike went out of use in 1766, parts of it may have returned to use as a packhorse road, possibly rebuilt in places, as the most direct route for non-
Further east, the road runs on a terrace along the north west side of the valley of the Rag Sapling Clough. Here there is no noticable distinction between the road, and the packhorse track, the feature being marked on the first edition Ordnance Survey map (1854) as both Old Packhorse Road and the Dhoul's Pavement, i.e. Devil's Pavement. It is certainly true that the appellation of Devil's Causeway was commonly used in relation to Roman roads, as is the fact that the placename Dowelloyhed in this vicinity is recorded in 1492. As with the cutting though, the fact that the road was later utilised as a packhorse road and given a probably medieval name does not automatically tell us that the road must medieval or earlier. This fails to consider the possibility that the Dhoul's Pavement is indeed referring to the medieval packhorse road, and that if the cutting were for the 1734 Turnpike along a roughly similar route, as is implied by the Act, the name already in common usage would have simply transferred to the new Turnpike road. The name would then have been retained as the road returned to use as a packhorse road and subsequent bridleway.
Taking all the above into account, it becomes extremely difficult not to conclude that the causeway is the 1734 turnpike road. Given that there is no evidence whatsoever for a Roman road over this route, where exactly did the Roman road really go?
Fig. 10 The Aiggin Stone, probably a medieval way marker or possibly boundary marker
Fig. 11 Bing aerial photo of the causeway climbing Blackstone Edge, showing the relationship between the Loop Road, packhorse road, and the main gullies. Note the smooth curve of the causeway to the east, most un-
Where is the Roman road on Blackstone Edge?
The earliest mapping of Roman roads in Yorkshire, Warburton's, is really only intended to be a schematic representation rather than an accurate map. He tended to draw long straight lines in the general vicinity of a Roman road, so his Roman lines must be viewed with extreme caution and do not really help us. In the early twentieth century however, Dr Francis Villy observed that Swaindrod Lane, which runs a short distance ENE from the Moorcock Inn on the modern A58, continued the line of the modern road. He also realised that when Swaindrod Lane turned north, the original line was followed by a public footpath still visible on the moor, virtually straight, cutting out the huge modern bend and rejoining the A58 near White House Inn at the top of the hill. What's more, the second Turnpike (1766, Blackstone Edge Old Road) appeared to cut slightly across and on top of this straight road, suggesting that Villy's line was earlier. Villy excavated the path and discovered that:
Fig. 11 Possible true line of RR720a up Blackstone Edge, a continuation of Swaindrod Lane
There are two options from Blackstone Edge to get to the R. Calder near Luddenden Foot. The first is the traditional route utilising the general course followed by the 1766 and 1799 turnpikes (A58) as far as Baitings and then along Blue Ball Road to Sowerby, crossing the R. Calder somewhere south of Luddenden Foot. This is the traditional route recounted in all publications since Warburton. Alternatively, it took a more direct and arguably easier line passing to the north west of Great Manshead Hill, and then on a course close to Water Stalls Road, before dropping down to cross the Calder near Luddenden Foot. The latter course is a mile shorter, avoiding some steep and awkward valleys and cloughs but it stays for much longer on the high moor. It only works if the ascent up Blackstone Edge is from Staindrod Lane.
Taking the “traditional” route first, which is possible for all possible ascents of Blackstone Edge from the west, the Ordnance Survey’s file (Ordnance Survey, c.1984) marks a short length of terraceway to the south of the A587 as the Dhoul’s Pavement approaches from the south west. Whether this is part of the 1743 turnpike, the packhorse road, or something else entirely is not clear. From there, the supposed Roman line follows the A58 for a short distance, before branching off along Blue Ball Road, which is forced kink north as it traverses Clay Clough, and then proceeds on a fairly straightish course along Blue Ball Road and Lane Head Road for a mile and a half, before turning northwards to head down Foxen Lane, where a section of “pavement” was apparently still visible in the 19th century (Norton Dickons 1900).
The route now heads NNE along Foxen Lane, through Mill Bank, and then along Birks Lane and Bowood lane as far as about SE 0384 2229. Here the traditional route just sticks to Bowood Lane and bears more north easterly before running along Dean Lane into Sowerby, however the Ordnance Survey’s Field Investigator, R. W. Emsley observed in 1960 that there is “no topographical reason for non-
The alternative and arguably more logical and “Roman” route is one speculated upon by both Villy and Haigh, and takes the road on a fairly straight course passing beneath the Blackstone Edge Reservoir keeping to the north of Great Manshead Hill. It then falls in with the line of field boundaries from about SE 0030 2080. From here, it could be marked by Water Stalls Road and then current lanes past Steep Lane (Steep Lane isn’t actually too bad, about 1:7.5), Boulder Clough, to Styes, and then descending to the R. Calder the same way as the traditional route. An old road certainly existed north of Great Manshead Hill, and was excavated by Donald Haigh in 1989 (Frere, 1990, p328), revealing a road 5.5m wide and up to 0.35m thick, with heavy bottoming of gritstone boulders, although whether or not it had any Roman characteristics is unclear from the brief reports.
Fig. 12 Portion of John Warburton’s map of 1720 showing the Roman road west and north of Halifax
Fig. 13 Lidar image superimposed on an aerial photo, showing surviving remains of agger near Hunter Hill, north of Halifax
Fig. 14 Lidar image superimposed on an aerial photo, showing surviving remains of agger north east of Ogden Reservoir, Halifax
Whichever route is the correct one, the road must have crossed the R. Calder, south of Luddenden Foot. A Roman ford across the R. Calder was supposedly identified near Longbottom Mills in 1915 (Kendall, 1911), although excavation in 1984 could find no trace of it (Frere, 1985, p.280). There is a general acceptance, despite a lack of evidence, that the road must have climbed from here From this general vicinity, the road must have then climbed rapidly around the hill to a point near Norton Tower, on a route roughly corresponding to Warley Wood Lane, and then Butts Green Road and Butts Green Lane, then turning close to the old track of South Clough Head , crossing Roils Head Road to the site of a possible barrow.
You would be forgiven for thinking that there has so far been precious little firm evidence of a Roman road at any point, other than two inconclusive excavations by Donald Haigh. This is the point where things begin to change. The possible barrow was thought by Donald Haigh to have been used as sighting point, and he successfully traced the course of an old road from here past Mount Tabor as far as Hunter Hill, which shows classic signs of Roman layout, being laid out using a straight alignment which it soon leaves to skirt around Mount Tabor, rejoining it briefly before deviating westwards again at Lower Balkran Edge before eventually returning to the alignment at its end (Haigh, undated). This in itself is not proof, and the road here has never been excavated, however it takes us north to Hunter Hill, which is the first point where the road is known with absolute certainty, turning through about 45 degrees to head north east. This section appears to have been laid out along a line of sight alignment between here and Cockhill, a hillock north east of Ogden reservoir. The road was marked on the first edition Ordnance Survey map (Ordnance Survey, 1852), and crucially is still visible today on lidar and on aerial photos. The OS map recorded five short lengths of Roman Road, allowing us to plot its line with reasonable accuracy. The middle three lengths are now on Halifax Golf Course, although the eastern stretch still survives in part and is also visible on lidar (fig. 14), to the east of Ogden Reservoir. This was excavated in 1963 at approximately SE 0635 3130 , and again just a little further along in 1971 by Percival Whitley College Archaeological Society (Moorhouse, 1972, p.219) both excavations uncovering a substantial road 6m wide with rock-
The road then skirts the edge of Cockhill and keeps on the same line until it meets the modern A629 near Sun Side, at which point the alignment changes to head almost due north. The route does, it has to be said, seem a little peculiar, John James writing in 1846 stating that this was not a change in direction, but rather a junction. If James was right, the new alignment actually represents a road heading north through Halifax, presumably from Slack. Codrington recorded such a road, but all attempts since to find any trace of it have all failed. Following the enclosures of much of this area in the early 19th century, it seems that much of the road was dug up, partly to clear the way for ploughing,partly as an easy quarry for walling stone. John James (James, 1849, pp. 26-
The route then presumably takes it across fields to a point just east of West Manywells Farm, where the road is marked on OS maps, although fieldwalking by Tony Wright, Jane Houghton and the author in 2014 revealed a possible alternative line through a cutting about 45m east of the marked line. This alternative lines up well with the known course of the road north of Ellar Carr, and when taken along with lidar evidence would suggest that that the marked line on OS maps has somehow become misplaced 30m -
From Long Lee, the Roman engineers faced a major problem in working out how best to descend the extremely steep slopes into Airedale. There are two possibilities, both detailed by Villy. His first thought was a descent from Long Lee by a series of zigzags down Thwaites Brow (Villy 1910), and then crossing the R. Aire near East Riddlesden. He later changed his opinion and determined that a crossing at Marley was a more likely option (Villy, 1919), again involving a series of zigzags. Moorhouse identified a series of at least four holloways at Marley and determined at the very least that this was an important medieval route (West Yorkshire HER mon. 5089). Whilst he suggested that this was the likely route of RR720a, he provided no evidence. These are really the only two options, and it is clear from the high degree of braiding on both routes that they have both been used over many centuries to descend into Airedale from Harden Moor. Unfortunately, as the route up the other side of Airedale is not known either, that can’t assist in locating the route on the southern side, or the probable crossing point. For a route to Ilkley however, the Thwaites Brow route is certainly slightly more direct, and Donald Haigh did identify a possible short length of agger at SE 077408 (Turnbull, 1982, p.177), although it is hard to fit this into a coherent route. Lidar shows an old road that clearly pre-
Attempting to determine the route of the road onthe lower slopes on the northern side of Airedale is really just guesswork. Lidar coverage is good almost to about the 220m contour, including the suggestively named Street Lane that leads northwest up the slope through East Morton, presumably meaning “the lane leading to the main road”. Two pipelines and the remains of an old railway line show very well, but there is no trace of a Roman road so it must be assumed that the digging up of the road described by Brigg on Harden Moor was even more total on these slopes, although no contemporary descriptions are known. It is generally thought that the road, wherever it crossed the R. Aire, headed up onto Morton Moor and Rombalds Moor somewhere east of Ilkley Road and made its way up to Whetstone Gate where the modern radio masts stand.
Villy claimed to have located the road where it crosses the Bradup Beck, northeast of Upwood Hall Farm, at about SE09454388, however in 1964, the Ordnance Survey’s highly experienced Field Investigator, F. Emsley could find “No trace of bridge abutment or of any other crossing” (Ordnance Survey c.1984). It can only be concluded that he was looking in the wrong place, as there is a very obvious cutting on the southern bank of the Beck, 42m long, 9m wide at its greatest extent, and over 2.5m deep. It is very narrow at its base, although the original width is impossible to determine without excavation due to severe erosion. At the equivalent point on the northern side there is a very obvious bridge ramp, which Emsley simply could not have missed had he seen it. Like the cutting to the south, the roadway is narrow, just 2.75m, although this does widen as the trackway leads into a hollow-
Further up the slope a well laid out road can just be traced through the heather, although multiple tracks have developed over the millenia which can be very confusing on the ground. As Donald Haigh pointed out (ibid.) the original course is not as sinuous as other writers have suggested, and comprises discontinuous lengths of straight agger which range between 4.8m and 6.5m in width, along three, possibly four alignments. Haigh sectioned the road at the summit, immediately south of Whetstone Gate, revealing a cambered road some 5.3m wide, constructed of rammed gravel some 0.3m thick, topped in places by the “remains of a metal like skin less than 1cm thick” (ibid.).
The route down to Ilkley is much easier to determine. Heading north from Whetstone gate, the Roman line keeps just to the eastern side of Keighley Road (which is now just a track), a short length of which can still be seen at about SE 10204535. Where Keighley Road swings away slightly north, the Roman line keeps straight on cutting the corner, Keighley Road cutting across it again at about SE 1063 4619. The Roman line is then destroyed by centuries of braiding, although when Keighley road turns slightly west of north, the Roman line is again just visible on some aerial photos. Keighley Road swings back to cut across it yet again, at about the point where the drive to Silver Well Cottage heads west. Lidar coverage finally resumes here, and the Roman road is clearly visible for the next 260m, until it vanishes beneath the modern housing of Ilkley.
Fig. 15 Photograph of the 1963 excavation near Ogden Reservoir, photographer unknown. Thanks to John Gilks for providing us with a copy.
From Manchester another military way seems to have passed by Blakeley village and Middleton to Littleborough on Blackstone Edge, where may be seen the area of a Fort or station, so by Ripendon and Thornton vill over Rumbles moor to Ilkley, anciently Olicana, where Roman alters and other monuments of Roman grandure are found. Having passed over the River Wharf it crosses the heathy moors, where it is often lost to Blewborough Houses and by Ripley to Aldborough.
The first known mention of a Roman road from Manchester to Ilkley and then Aldborough was made by John Warburton
In 1773 the Rev John Whitaker gave an indication of its route, but with a high degree of uncertainty;
Branching probably from the way to Cambodunum [ie the road from Manchester to York] about Ancoats-
Whitaker, 1773, pp. 119-
Fig. 16 Lidar image showing a route down Thwaites Brow that pre-
Fig. 17 Aerial photograph of the Bradup Beck, showing clearly the cuttings and bridge ramp identified by Villy but somehow missed by Emsley.
RR720a from Manchester to lkley is without doubt the most difficult Roman road in Yorkshire, with so many questions remaining unanswered. It is deserving of much more attention than it actually receives. To go in to detail about work that needs to be done would probably take another entry as large as this one! Perhaps the easiest way to conclude is simply to list those general questions:
If only a few of these questions can ever be answered, our understanding of how Roman roads were planned and built when traversing hill areas such as this, would be greatly enhanced.
"The older road is seventeen feet wide and made of gravelly stone. The edges are sharply defined, and show the beginning of a camber; the centre, however, is in very poor condition and only a few inches thick. So far as it remains this accords with the usual Roman road as seen in the hills, and with the Manchester Ilkley Roman road further north." (Francis Villy, 1940 p.386)
This line was excavated more recently in 2008 & 2011 by the Littleborough Historical & Archaeological Society who uncovered a road in three trenches. It was found to be 5.4 metres wide, cambered, and constructed of hard packed small stones, sand and gravel, with smooth river washed pebbles forming the running surface. Side ditches were set an average 3.6m from the edge of the road, which is certainly indicative of a Roman road. Two phases of construction and use were identified.
The road was not deeply enough buried to be the one witnessed by Horsley, but it is always possible that Horsley saw it further up on the moor, where it may well be deep. The Littleborough society have also investigated a possible fortlet site adjacent to this road near Cloise Farm, although their investigations are inconclusive. There certainly ought to be a fort or fortlet in this vicinity or a little south west, given the distance from Manchester (14 miles), and Warburton’s description does mention one near Littleborough, although inexplicably he drew it on his map near Ripponden -
Entry prepared by Mike Haken. Last updated, 29 January 2018