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© Mike Haken & RRRA, 2018
It is still generally thought that the Roman route out of York to Stamford Bridge ran along a low ridge on the same course as the modern A166 and it is marked as such on the current Ordnance Survey map of Roman Britain (Ordnance Survey, 2011). In fact, it seems probable that the southern ridgeway route was a later alternative route, avoiding low ground prone to flooding; the original line of the direct road to Bridlington being further north.
That a road left the north east gate of the York’s legionary fortress and crossed the R. Foss close to the current Monk Bridge is beyond doubt (RCHME 1962). The Royal Commission on Historic Monuments labelled this Road 4 of their eleven roads approaching York (RCHME 1962), the supposed direct route to Malton through Stockton on the Forest, which Margary numbered RR800. Heworth Green (A1036) probably follows its course for nearly half a mile. Where the modern Malton road bears north, a Roman line probably carried straight on approximating to Stockton Lane. At some point, the road is assumed to have forked, RR800 supposedly carrying on to Malton (road 4), and RR810 bearing towards Gate Helmsley and Stamford Bridge (road 3).
One point to ponder is whether the entire road from the NE gate of York may be better considered as part of RR810, especially as the existence of the “direct” road to Malton is far from certain and RR810 was clearly important, judging from its width. In 1959, during excavations on Apple Tree Farm, Heworth in 1959 (Wright 1960), a road some 9m wide was discovered (later widened twice to over 15m), which the RCHME labelled Road 3, and the Ordnance Survey RRX29. Unfortunately Ivan Margary, in his account of RR810 (Margary, 1973, p.421), appears to have been unaware of it and, as a result, popular perception remained that the road to Bridlington branched from RR81a (York to Malton) half a mile north east of Gate Helmsley. The road past the Apple Tree Farm excavations can just be made out on a Google Earth image from 2005, showing as a fairly indistinct linear cropmark (possibly less clear because of the widening and recutting of ditches), though the straight line of the southern ditch is quite well marked either side of the A64 (fig. 1).
Maule Cole remarked that the road from Stamford Bridge to Bridlington had “greater claims to antiquity than any other of similar length in the East Riding for it forms the boundary between adjacent parishes throughout its course” (Maule Cole 1899). This statement is correct, as far as it goes, but does not of course mean that the entire road is Roman. In fact, the discovery in the 1970s at Catton, south of Stamford Bridge, of the road from York (fig. 3) heading almost due east, suggests strongly that the A166 almost certainly isn’t Roman in origin, despite being still marked as such on Ordnance Survey maps. It seems much more likely that the Roman route ran near Full Sutton and Youlthorpe, although there is no known evidence from Lidar or aerial photos, and was replaced by a medieval road (now the A166) as far as the bottom of Garrowby Hill. From Stamford Bridge to this point, the modern road is far from straight in any sense, and has only been identified as Roman from the presence of Street Farm, “street” being formerly taken to indicate a Roman road, whereas we now know that it could be used for any major medieval route in northern England.
Whichever route was taken by the Roman road, it is no coincidence that the alignment of the main road at Derventio (fig. 3) aims precisely at Garrowby Hill. The characteristic short steep winding valleys of the Wolds mean that there were a very limited number of potential routes open to the Roman surveyors planning a road east from Stamford Bridge and, in fact, Garrowby Street is on a shortlist of one! Fig 4, the 1954 1:25,000 OS map illustrates the effect of the terrain perfectly and shows how the probable Roman route picked its way around the heads of valleys, whilst still following a generally straight course. The word “probable” is used advisedly. From the alignment at Stamford Bridge, there can be no doubt that a Roman road came this way but there is no firm evidence of Roman construction at any point. It is highly likely that there was a road or track along this route before the Romans arrived, so it is entirely plausible that they simply adapted it to their own purpose. On the thin chalk soils of the Wolds, a very light construction would have sufficed but unfortunately will have left little traces for us to be able to trace.
It seems most likely that the A166, Garrowby Street, is close to the Roman line whilst ascending Garrowby Hill and possibly as far as Cot Nab. Here is the one place where aerial photos appear to show the ploughed out remains of a Roman road, heading south east to meet RR29 at the point where a footpath leaves it eastwards, approx. SE82595632. The line is then roughly marked by the footpath and then York Lane, cutting across to Wold House Farm to the head of Holm Dale, where the course is taken up by Green Lane. Green Lane cuts obliquely across the A166 between Fridaythorpe and Wetwang where it has been ploughed out for half a mile, although still marked by a parish boundary.
It can be followed again from just north of Green Lane Farm, where recent geophysical survey suggests that the Roman line may be a little north of the lane (Lyall, 2017). The likelihood of RR810 being a Romanised track has recently been supported by results of excavations at a late Iron Age settlement adjacent to Green Lane by the Fridaythorpe, Fimber & Wetwang Archaeology Project (FFWAP), in partnership with RRRA.
Fig. 2 Google Earth aerial photo from 2005, showing indistinct cropmarks of RR810 east of York.
Fig. 3 Aerial photo of cropmarks looking east along RR810 showing the roadside settlement of Derventio (Stamford Bridge). RR81a can be seen branching off north eastwards.
Fig. 1 Diagram of the Roman roads approaching York, from the RCHME’s inventory of the historical monuments in York, 1962. Our knowledge has received a little fine tuning since then, but the gist of it is essentially the same. RR810 is Road 3.
Fig. 4 1954 OS map showing Garrowby Street ascending onto the Wolds, and the probable course of RR810.
Codrington, Thomas (1903); Roman Roads in Britain, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London
Greene, D. (Ed.) (1953); Roman Yorkshire; Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, Vol. 38 Part 150
Jeffery, Thomas (1771); The County of York engraved by Thomas Jeffery, geographer to his Majesty, Plate IX
Lyall, J. (2017); Pers. Comms.
Newton, Sir Charles (1847); Map of British and Roman Yorkshire, Archaeological Institute of Great Britan and Ireland, London
Macmahon, K.A. (1964), Roads and Turnpike Trusts in Eastern Yorkshire, East Yorkshire Local History Society, York
Available online at http://www.eylhs.org.uk/dl/128/roads-
Margary, Ivan D. (1973); Roman Roads in Britain, John Baker, London
Maule Cole, Rev. E (1891); British and Roman Roads in the East Riding of Yorkshire; the Antiquary, vol. 26, 1891, pp. 206-
Maule Cole, Rev. E (1899); On Roman Roads in the East Riding in Transactions of the East Riding Antiquarian Society, Vol. 7. Available online at https://archive.org/details/transactions21socigoog accessed 20/7/17
Ordnance Survey (2011); Map of Roman Britain, 6th Edition; Ordnance Survey, Southampton
RCHME (1962); Roman York: Approach Roads, in An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in City of York, Volume 1, Eburacum, Roman York ;London, pp. 1-
Robinson, R. (2017); Bridlington: A Quay, Harbour of Refuge and Bay of Shelter for the Sea Cole Trade; article on the East Yorkshire Coast website http://www.eastyorkshirecoast.com/14-
Wright, R. P. (Ed.) (1960); Roman Britain in 1959: I. Sites Explored; Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 50, pp. 210-
After passing Sir Tatton Sykes’s Monument, on Garton Hill at Sledmere, Green Lane becomes known as York Road. It descends to Garton Bottom and then ascends the other side on a very straight alignment until it reaches a point just below the brow of the hill, south of Cottam, where it turns almost due east and remains straight for well over two miles. Its character becomes increasingly Roman, laid out in a series of straight lengths, although it must be noted that 19th century enclosures either side of the lane may indicate some straightening of this ancient route. It proceeds eastwards to Kilham, after which it continues as a ridgeway known as the Woldgate which meanders slightly along a very straight alignment for over four miles, deviating by a maximum of 45m from the straight line over the entire course. On dipping down to Fond Brig, Woldgate then swings around to the east to descend gently to Bridlington, although whether or not the Roman line did the same is not clear. It is possible that at this point the Roman line didn’t turn, but went straight on to cross the Gypsey Race and meet RR812/811 from Malton.
Even with little archaeological evidence along its route, the destination of Bridlington (or possibly Sewerby) can be in little doubt. The rocky coastline north of Flamborough Head has always been a treacherous place for shipping, with as many as 50,000 vessels being wrecked off Yorkshire since A.D. 1500 (Robinson, 2017). Bridlington Bay has always provided a safe haven, Bridlington Quay being the first haven in Yorkshire to be officially granted the status of a harbour of refuge by Parliament in 1697. There are frequent 19th century reports of as many as 300 vessels being anchored in the bay for weeks at a time, sheltering from the north easterly gales (ibid.). There is no reason to think that in the Roman period things were any different and it is probable that the Γαβραντουικων Ευλιμενος κολπος (Gabrantovicum Sinus) listed by Ptolemy, which probably means the Bay of the Gabrantovici suitable for a harbour (Rivet & Smith, 1979, p.364), is Bridlington Bay. It would have been an extremely important place for the Roman administration, although the Roman port, probably the Praetorio of the first Iter of the Antonine itinerary, has almost certainly been lost to the sea.
This road is extremely unusual in that, despite there being no real evidence for it east of Stamford Bridge, there can be very little doubt of its existence. Even if it was a Romanised pre-
Roman Sites on Route:
Historic Environment Records, HE Pastscape and other records
City of York, East Riding of Yorkshire
Stamford Bridge Pastscape
Entry prepared by Mike Haken. Last updated, 26 January 2018