Except where stated otherwise (e.g. when the copyright of photographs is retained), you are free to reproduce any of this work for non-
Ribchester (Bremetennacum) Museum
Elslack (Burwen Castle) Pastscape
Lancashire, West Riding of Yorkshire
RR72b linked the fort at Ribchester (Bremetennacum Veteranorum) to via Elslack to Ilkley, then by RR72b to York. Almost all its course shows clearly on Lidar imagery, which has revealed the true course of the road from the Roman bridge over the R. Ribble as far as Salesbury, and between Skipton and Addingham. For ease of reference, our account is presented in four sections:
Codrington, Thomas (1903); Roman Roads in Britain, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London
Codrington, T. (1919); Roman Roads in Britain ( 3rd Edition); Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London & The Macmillan Company, New York
Margary, Ivan D. (1973); Roman Roads in Britain, John Baker, London
May, T. (1911); The Roman Forts at Elslack; Yorkshire Archaeological Journal Vol. 21 pp. 113-
Tostevin, P. (1992); Marles Wood Car Park, Salesbury: An Archaeological Assessment; Lancaster University Archaeological Unit [assessment & evaluation reports].
Fig. 10 The superb section from Downham to Rimington.
Click Images to enlarge
Fig.6 The course of RR72a looking towards the east.
Fig. 7 Lidar image showing RR72a making a slight dogleg to negotiate the crossing of the R. Calder.
The direct line from the Ribble crossing to the fort at Elslack and thence to Ilkley is blocked by Pendle Hill so a route skirting around it was devised. Lidar has revealed its route out of the valley bottom near Salesbury Hall (fig. 6). On the east bank of the river towards Salesbury, the actual line is revealed by Lidar to be 200m further south than the route marked by Ordnance Survey close to the R. Ribble, the two lines converging at Salesbury Hall. East of Salesbury Hall, Lidar shows the agger to be slightly further north than the OS line and fits well with where the road was found when a car park was constructed (SD 6764 3560 -
The road then returns to its alignment which ends just beyond Hacking Hall (SD 7107 3679), just before the crossing of the R. Calder, near Whalley, where a new alignment was set out heading northwest for six miles to the high ground west of Downham. At the Calder, the OS line is again not quite correct as there is a slight dogleg to the north of the new alignment. The agger leading to the crossing has survived surprisingly well and shows clearly on the Lidar imagery (fig. 7).
The new alignment is just south of Clitheroe and is well marked by a long line of field boundaries and shows up well in aerial photographs (fig.8). There can be no doubt about the line of this new alignment however for reasons which are far from clear the road when built diverged from it to the south east. It reaches a maximum 120m from the alignment just south of Clitheroe, and then gradually converges again rejoining it at the very end, just south of Chatburn Road, Downham. Instances such as this where roads deviate from their alignments for no obvious reason are surprisingly common. It is not understood why this sometimes happened, as it did here, whereas on other roads such as RR2d north from Lincoln the alignments were followed with precision.
The next alignment from Downham past Rimington swings around to the north of Pendle Hill and now aims just north of east, past Elslack. The section between Downham and Rimington is one of the finest in Lancashire. North of Downham the road forms part of a local walk (fig. 9), the Downham Circular which is highly recommended. The road only follows the new alignment briefly, for less than a mile before deviating southwards to follow a superbly engineered route which angles down to cross the valley of Ings Beck (fig. 10), where it rejoins the alignment. From here to beyond Skipton, the road is testament to the skill of the Roman engineers, working its way through some awkward and undulating terrain whilst maintaining its generally straight course along the alignment. In fact, it only lies upon the alignment on another two occasions, for less than a mile in total, rejoining it at the alignment’s end, east of Skipton.
There are traces of the road along Howgill Lane, west of where it crosses the A682, Barrowford-
From Thornton Beck, the road shows well on lidar and now heads directly to the fort at Elslack, known as Burwen Castle. The earliest timber fort, which bears a close resemblance to Ribchester in layout, was investigated by limited excavation in the early 20th century (May, 1911) and has been dated to the Flavian period. It was superceded by a larger stone walled fort, dating from c.A.D. 210, which shows clearly on lidar, bisected by the modern railway line (fig. 11). Lidar also reveals a later enclosure, possibly a fortlet, in the north east corner. Initially identified by Hugh Toller, the fortlet is unusual in that it seems to have an entrance in the south east corner, leading to speculation that it may not actually be Roman.
As it passes the fort, the Road seems to pass between the ditches of the 3rd century fort., yet there is no obvious sign of the road ever being diverted, a very peculiar arrangement.
Fig.2 Lidar image showing the road into Ribchester from the bridge site.
Fig.3 The agger leading to the bridge site is evident on the ground east of Beech House. Where it would have turned onto the bridge approach there is a spread of stones. There were no stones elsewhere.
Fig.1 The final approach to Ribchester was shared with the road from Elslack..
Compiled by David Ratledge and Mike Haken, Last updated 3rd February 2018
Fig.4 The Ribchester road layout based on the latest lidar data. The site of the Roman bridge over the R. Bibble is just off the image to the east.
The site of the Roman bridge over the River Ribble at Ribchester has been the subject of much debate over the years but with LiDAR now revealing the course of the road via Salesbury (see later on Page 3) then a reasonable estimate can now be made, providing the course of the river in Roman times can be worked out. Fortunately LiDAR also shows old river courses too and as horse-
Roman Sites on Route:
Historic Environment Records, HE Pastscape and other records
Fig.5 3D video interpretation of LiDAR data from Dinckley westwards to Ribchester.
Fig. 8 The course of the road passing Clitheroe Golf Course, looking east. Not the best quality image but the hedgerows marking the line show up well.
Fig. 9 Roman Agger above Downham looking east towards Elslack. The agger is disturbed but still very prominent.
Fig. 11 Lidar image of the Roman fort at Elslack.
From Elslack, RR72a continues to head east-
That traditional view then has the Roman road making a sudden change of alignment at the end of Newmarket Street, to head south east up Shortbank Road (Codrington, 1919, p.102) climbing very steeply to SE 0034 5120, where it makes a zig-
Somewhat ironically, a combination of LiDAR and aerial photography have shown that the true course of the Roman road also took a route similar to that of the 1820 turnpike road. Rather than run south east up Shortbank Road in Skipton, it went straight on, its course being followed today by a field boundary and public footpath. On older aerial photographs, the course can be seen very clearly (fig. 13), although in the vicinity of Currer Laithe, it has now been largely removed, the farmer being unaware of its presence. Its course can be traced to Draughton, where there is a short length of possible extant agger at SE 0352 5234, between the modern A 65 which by-
It reappears on the other side of Addingham, again very clearly visible on lidar (figs 14 & 15) where it passes 300m north of Street Farm, easily close enough for the farm’s name to arise from it. Whilst hard to make out on the ground, it descends through a substantial engineered cutting to the crossing of Lumb Ghyll (fig. 16). The remains of the bridge ramps on both sides of the Ghyll can just about be made out, although no dressed masonry is to be seen, presumably all robbed out.
The road then negotiates the crossing of another ghyll at SE 0870 4859, before heading off south of Cocking Lane, briefly running along the north side of the course of the old railway before heading off towards Ilkley (fig. 15). It is presumed to enter modern Ilkley to the south of the fort on a line approximating to the Grove, but this is not known with certainty.
As has been shown, the general course of this road is now known fairly well throughout its course, largely thanks to good lidar coverage. It is notable that the stretch with the most uncertainty is between Draughton and Chelker Reservoir, one of the few areas where there is no lidar coverage at all. When the Environment Agency completes its new lidar survey in 2020, that remaining question should be answered. The only other outstanding issue is the question of the bridge at Ribchester. Whilst David Ratledge has demonstrated where it is likely to be, it is to be hoped that future geophysical survey by RRRA will be able to establish both the course of the road to Ribchester, and the location of the northern bridge abutment.
Although not strictly relevant to an account of the road, it is still worth taking a quick look at the Roman name for Ikley. Traditionally, this was thought to be the Olicana of Ptolemy’s Geography (Olenaca in Ravenna, Olerica in the Notitia) because of the obvious similarity of name, as evidence by the Olicana Historical Society, based in Ilkley. However, the inscription on a Roman altar from Ilkley (RIB 635) dedicated to Verbeia, almost certainly the goddess of the R. Wharfe, prompted Prof. Rivet to suggest that Ilkley probably took its name from the river and was therefore Verbeia (Rivet & Smith, 1979, p.493). It is certainly true that many Roman sites were named after the river next to which they stood or incorporated the river name in their name but there are just as many which do not. For example, whilst Stamford Bridge on the River Derwent was Derventio, Ribchester sited on the R.Ribble, was Bremetennacum. Unfortunately, Rivet’s suggestion has now largely been accepted as fact and the name of Olenacum/Olecanum now applied to the fort at Elslack, for which there is no evidence other than Ptolemy’s placement of the name in the general vicinity of this part of the Pennines. The reality is that we cannot be sure about the name of either site, and must even consider the possibility that Olenacum could be somewhere else altogether.
Fig. 16 Roman cutting descending to the crossing of the Lumb Ghyll near Addingham, looking east
Fig. 15 Lidar image showing the true course of RR72a between Addingham and Ilkley
Fig. 14 Lidar image -
Fig. 12 The Skipton -
© John Illingworth 2005, cc-
Fig. 13 Aerial photo showing RR72a east of Skipton
© RRRA, 2018