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Home Gazetteer of Roads Margary's Numbering Itineraries & Sources Glossary/Biography RRRA Website

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11 Miles


N. Yorks. HER MNY16985, MNY18152, MNY24229

W. Yorks HER 3192, 8301,

Newton Kyme Fort Pastscape page

Newton Kyme Vicus Pastscape page

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-pass for northward bound traffic, forming the western side of what is almost an equilateral triangle between  the main roads leading in to York from the south and south west (RR28e) and from the north and north west (RR8a). In it’s short course over very easy ground, with a range in height above sea level of less than 40m, it manages to change alignment no fewer than eight times, often for no immediately obvious reason, and on one occasion at the foot of a hill, which is something Roman roads as a rule just do not do. Most of its course is known with certainty, so there can be little doubt that this is correct.  In the third section, “Planning and Layout”, it will be shown that any notion of it being a bit of an afterthought is far from being the case.

Boutwood, Yvonne (1996); Roman Fort and Vicus, Newton Kyme, North Yorkshire in Britannia, Vol 27. Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, pp. 340-344

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Ordnance Survey (1976?); Rudgate Roman Road unpublished file held in Historic England Archive, Swindon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 - 11

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 - compare for scale with the width of the modern A64 dual carriageway, at it’s southern end. This was clearly not a minor road.

Click Images to enlarge

Fig. 4 Lidar image overlain on Bing aerial photo, showing the approaches to Newton Kyme Roman fort.

RRRA Forum for RR280

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-like mass were sometimes separated by “leaves” of clay (Ramm, 1976, p.8). As can be seen on the aerial photos, the road was flanked by ditches some 18m apart, and the 1960 excavations showed that the eastern ditch was cut into the bedrock, 4ft (1.2m) wide and 2.5 ft (0.8m) deep. Further excavations  in 1962 by Hermann Ramm and Wetherby Historical Society (SE459422) failed to find the road however did locate the eastern ditch, along with a second larger ditch which was interpreted as having been a later defensive work facing east, utilising the road as its bank (ibid).

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-determined alignment. The chance that such an alignment would happen to pass right through the most suitable site for a fort on that part of the R. Wharfe is just too slim. More likely that the fort site was selected first, possibly influenced by the proximity of  the Bronze Age Henge adjacent to the fort site and then the surveyors, having no clear sighting points, laid out a north-south alignment from the fort projecting it in both directions knowing that this would keep to the west of the wettest land along the R. Nidd near what is now Kirk Hammerton. If so, then the first fort and the road were initially planned as part of the same scheme, at some point after both the Lincoln to York road (RR28c) and the York to Aldborough road (RR8a) were constructed.

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-permanent mark at the end points (and one mid-point) perhaps using cairns. This may have been because the road was considered low priority, partly because the primary function of the fort was to control the river rather than any road, and because the bulk of traffic heading north from Lincoln was at that time crossing the Humber on RR2d & RR2e and heading through York then north along RR8a, what we now call Dere Street.

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-determined as it is where the initial end to end alignment crosses an even earlier long distance alignment than the one from Castleford, one which appears to have originated at Roall Hall fort on the R. Aire, determining the crossing point of RR28 at Tadcaster, and then forming part of the eventual planning of Dere Street (RR8b) just north of Aldborough (Poulter 2010, pp.45 & 48). The road then followed that alignment south south east for a mile, until at a point just south of York Road it was on the low gentle ridge between Bickerton and Bilton in Ainsty, from which point there is for the first time a reasonable view towards Newton Kyme, although the fort itself cannot quite be seen. Turning to just west of south, the road follows a new line for three miles until it turns, somewhere near the south eastern edge of what is now Thorpe Arch Trading Estate, to cross the R. Wharfe and then to meet RR72b most probably just west of its junction with the southern part of RR280.

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.

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The Route

Planning and Layout

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Historic Counties:

Roman Sites on Route:

Historic Environment Records, HE Pastscape and other records

Margary's Roman Roads in Britain, road 280

Entry Prepared by Mike Haken, last updated, 2 June 2017