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© Mike Haken & RRRA, 2018
Roman Sites on Route:
28b & 28c
N. Yorks. HER MNY2359
HE Pastscape Mon.1390710
Doncaster Fort Pastscape
Burghwallis Fort Pastscape
Thorpe Audlin Fortlet HE List entry
Purston Roman settlement Pastscape
Castleford Fort & Settlement Wakefield PDF
West Riding of Yorkshire, North Riding of Yorkshire
Sadly, a visitor would struggle to even find it near Barnsdale Bar today. If you park in the layby on Doncaster Road, west of the A1 and just north of Wrangbrook Lane, then take your life in your hands and walk back towards the A1 on the roadside, the Roman road is just visible as a low embankment in the rapidly thickening woodland south of Wrangbrook Lane. Unlike Defoe, I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to make the visit!
Moving north, the road continues to be laid out along a series of short straight sections, changing alignment after just a mile on the ridge of high ground where Coal Pit Lane meets the modern main road (SE 4969 1499). Despite what may be marked on the Ordnance Survey map, the modern road is not always above the Roman, as can be seen in Fig. 5 approaching the crossing of the R. Went near Thorpe Audlin, where the Roman and modern are beside each other. This is a common phenomenon, caused when the Roman road has become unusable at some time in the distant past, and travellers have diverted to the side. Eventually, the diversion becomes a made road in its own right. Excavations by the Pontefract Archaeological Society in 1982 not only revealed the agger of the original road, but also some details which are rarely seen. Beneath the road structure itself, clear marks made by an ard (the precurser of the plough) were revealed, made during preparation of the ground before the road structure was placed above it. A footprint, presumably that of a Roman soldier, was also preserved beneath the structure (fig. 7a). Perhaps the most important feature however, was a clay ‘shoulder’ to the side of the agger, which retained the impressions of hoofprints, showing that it had been used by horses (fig. 7b). Roman horses were not shod with nailed horseshoes as they are today, although so-
Thorpe Audlin is also the site of a Roman fort, to the west of the road, which seems to have been of very late foundation, perhaps late 3rd or early fourth century, making it very unusual in this region. RR18f(x) from Templeborough probably joins the Roman Ridge here, which might suggest that for some reason military traffic along that road increased in the late 3rd century, creating a need for the establishment of a fort. Alternatively, there may have been an earlier military site that hasn’t yet been identified.
Northwest of the R. Went the road changes alignment slightly and then keeps pretty much to this new line for four and a half miles, still followed for the first mile and a half by the A639 until East Hardwick, the Roman line being again often just to the side of the modern road. The line is then taken up by Sandy Gate Lane for a short distance and then, as the lane bears west, the Roman line carries on across the fields, but without many obvious signs of any agger visible on the ground. That the road went this way, however, is not in doubt as evidenced by excavation by Pontefract Archaeological Society, and the discovery in 2002 of a fragment of a milestone (fig. 8), bearing the inscription IMPC | MANNI | OFL[..] | [...], interpreted as, Imp[eratori] C[aesari] | M[arco] Anni|o Fl[or|iano |p(io) f(elici) Aug(usto)]. 'For the Emperor Caesar Marcus Annius Florianus [Pius Felix Augustus]. (Tomlin & Hassall, 2003, p.371). Florianus only ruled for three months, and yet still managed to have milestones erected bearing his name in the furthest reaches of the Empire.
From this point, the line has recently been regarded by some archaeologists as conjectural but it shows clearly on lidar (fig.9) which reveals extant traces of the agger and the robber trenches referred to by Codrington, along the line still marked by the Ordnance survey and followed by parish boundaries and a few field boundaries. It can be traced easily as far as Green Acres, on Park Lane, Featherstone, where it was also recorded in 1975 by Eric Houlder and Michael Leach (pilot) from the air (fig 10), showing clear evidence of widening, similar to that identified at Thorpe Audlin (Houlder, 2017). Houlder and Leach’s aerial observations also revealed not only the ditches of the road, but a substantial roadside settlement (Houlder & Leach, 1979) just south west of Pontefract. Surface finds of pottery recovered from the site suggest occupation in the late 1st and early second centuries but the site has never been investigated further.
North of Green Acres, the evidence from lidar is not conclusive, but certainly suggestive that the road probably changes alignment to a more northerly course to head to the Roman town of Lagentium (Castleford). The valley of the R. Aire does open quite suddenly here, giving a good view of Castleford for the first time, so an alignment correction to the road’s next objective makes sense. The road enters modern Castleford just to the west of where the Asda store now stands and makes one final course correction to head along the approximate line of Beancroft Road, passing along the western edge of the 1st century fort before heading to the crossing of R. Aire just downstream from its confluence with the R. Calder. The modern name of the town, Castleford, arose from this being a medieval fording point of the R. Aire, and not a Roman one. The Roman army would not have left the ability to cross a river as large as the Aire, on a road as important as this, to the vagaries of the British climate. Nineteenth century claims of a Roman paved ford having been seen when the river was very low, may possibly have sighted the platform of a bridge, similar to the one that can be visited at Piercebridge.
Castleford has yielded a further two milestones which, when one considers that only 117 are known in all of Britain, probably indicates the importance of this road. The first, found just west of RR28b south of Castleford c. 1861 (now in the Yorkshire Museum), is a second inscription to the hapless Florianius, assassinated by his troops in AD276 after just three months (RIB 2275), and was apparently found in Carlton Street. The other was found in Beancroft Road, on the line of RR28a and now in Leeds museum, in about 1880 and bears two inscriptions, having been turned upside down and re-
Northwards from Castleford, the Roman Ridge is usually claimed to be straight all the way to Aberford but actually it is very marginally reverse ‘S’ shaped, although clearly laid out on a single alignment. This phenomenon of deviation from the alignment one way and then the other is extremely common, and one possible explanation is that the construction teams lost sight of the selected sighting points as they moved forwards, having to make corrections when the sighting points came into view again. Despite the slightly curved nature of the road, the planned alignment can be plotted fairly easily, and seems to be laid out from the spur of high ground north of Parkfield farm, N. Featherstone, to the high point on the top of Hook Moor, which is the furthest possible sighting point. The road was excavated at Hook Moor during the construction of the M1-
It seems, therefore, that in the early stages of the Roman push northwards in around AD71, plans were in a constant state of flux. The road as it was eventually built had to divert from the original planned line to the new Legionary fortress at York, located on a small elevated area, almost an island, above the flood plain of the R.Ouse. Access by land to York from the south west could only be made safely along a narrow ridge of land that runs past what is now Copmanthorpe so a new alignment was laid out from Hazlewood, targeted on a notable bend in the ridge between Copmanthorpe and Dringhouses (fig. 12). The turn eastwards at Hazlewood was made in two stages, giving the appearance of a chopped off corner. This length of the Roman Ridge is actually a Scheduled Ancient Monument although such ‘protection’ has not prevented major destruction caused by ploughing over the last fifty years. It doesn’t much resemble the drawing in Drake’s Eboracum these days (fig. 13). It was excavated in 1959 just south west of Nut Hill Farm where, for reasons that aren’t clear, the excavators concluded that the ridge was all of one build, despite the evidence of stratified road surfaces. This would suggest that it had grown upwards and outwards in phases, just as we have seen on this road and others elsewhere (see fig. 14, the excavator’s own drawing). What is not in doubt, however, is the use of a central ‘spine’ to mark the line of the road when it was being built (Thackrah, 1967). An intriguing discovery was made during this excavation of a horse’s skull (lower jaw missing) placed within this central feature and carefully aligned with it, presumably a ritual offering of some kind.
From Hazlewood, the road could not simply follow the new alignment because of low-
ADS (Archaeology Data Service), (2017); The Brewer’s Arms, 6, Tanner Row; http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archsearch/record?titleId=1859562 accessed 27/11/17
Codrington, Thomas (1903); Roman Roads in Britain, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London
Defoe, Daniel (1724 -
Drake, Francis (1736); Eboracum: or the History and Antiquities of the City of York, London.
Esmonde Cleary, A. S. (1998); Roman Britain in 1997, Hadrian’s Wall, Northern Counties; Britannia Vol. 29, pp 381 -
Fleming, G. (1869); Horse shoes and horse shoeing: their origin, history, uses, and abuses; Chapman & Hall, London available online at https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Horse_shoes_and_horse_shoeing:_their_origin,_history,_uses,_and_abuses/Chapter_VII accessed 25/11/17
Houlder, E. & Leach, M. E. (1979); A Romano-
Houlder, E. (2003); The Ackworth Milestone & The Castleford Milestones, Pont Arc no. 42 Spring 2003 pp. 1 -
Houlder, E. (Nov. 2017); pers comms.
Margary, Ivan D. (1973); Roman Roads in Britain, John Baker, London
Poulter, J., (2010); The Planning of Roman Roads and Walls in Northern Britain; Amberley Publishing, Stroud
Thackrah, M. (1967); Excavation of the Roman Ridge, Nut Hill, Hazelwood, near Aberford; Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, Vol 42 (Part 165), pp. 10-
Tinsley, A. & Pollington, M. (2010); Roman Ridge Roman Road, Doncaster, South Yorkshire: Archaeological Evaluation. ;Grey Literature Report: ASWYAS.
Tomlin, R. S. O. & Hassall, M. W. C., (2003); Roman Britain in 2002, Inscriptions; Britannia Vol. 34.; Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, London pp. 361-
Wenham, P. (1957); Two Discoveries of the Roman Road between York and Tadcaster; Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, Vol 39 (Part 154), pp. 276 -
Fig. 13 Plate from Eboracum, by Francis Drake, (Drake, 1736 p.18,) illustrating how the Roman Ridge on Bramham Moor was still usable
Fig. 8 Milestone commemorating the emperor Florianus, from A.D. 276, found at Hundhill, Ackworth. © Eric Houlder LRPS, 2017
Click Images to enlarge
Fig. 1 The line of RR28b just north of Doncaster and past Adwick le Street is far from straight, picking a pragmatic route across the landscape just west of the wetlands of the Humberhead levels
Fig. 2a & 2b The Roman Ridge in the 1950s and today. Fig 2a is taken from Margary’s Roman Roads in Britain, and clearly shows the ridge surviving well as a footpath in open fields. Today (fig. 2b), it provides access to many houses and has become a tarmac cycleway, although still an elevated ridge.
Fig. 3a & 3b The Roman Ridge near Adwick Le Street. 3a shows the height of the ridge today, with George for scale. 3b is a view along the cycleway -
Fig. 4 The Roman Fort near Burghwallis showing as cropmarks, revealling several phases of construction.
Fig. 5 Photo from the 1980s as RR28a approaches the R. Went, looking north. The agger is very clearly visible, running alongside the modern road, not beneath it..
© Eric Houlder LRPS, 2017
Fig. 6 RR28a under excavation near Thorpe Audlin.
© Eric Houlder LRPS, 2017
Fig. 7a Footprint found during excavation near Thorpe Audlin. © Eric Houlder LRPS, 2017
Fig. 7b Hooftprints found in a clay shoulder to the side of the road during excavation near Thorpe Audlin in 1982. © Eric Houlder LRPS, 2017
Fig. 9 Lidar image shows clearly the course of RR28a as far as green Acres, where it probably turns northwards to Castleford. The lidar suggests theline, but isn’t conclusive.
Fig. 10 The course of RR28a running across the image, south of Park Lane, N. Featherstone, showing evidence of possible widening and/or later rebuilding. © Eric Houlder LRPS, 2017
Fig. 11 The old A1 (RR28b) approaching Aberford with Priory Park off to one side -
Extract from ‘Roman Roads in Britain’
Another example may be seen between Doncaster and Pontefract, where for several miles there is an embankment four, six, and eight feet high, and six yards wide….in some places the Roman road has been removed for the sake of the materials, so that instead of a ridge, a wide shallow trench remains. In other places the paved foundation is found a foot or more below the level of the ground without a trace of the road on the surface. This has arisen from the removal of the upper part in the interests of cultivation, the portion beyond the reach of the plough having been left; deeper ploughing has caused this process to be repeated in recent years
(Codrington 1903 p.11)
Extract from A Tour thro’ the Whole Island of Britain, Letter 8
From Wakefield we went to see the ancient town of Pontefract; but rode five or six miles out of our way over Barnsdale in order to see the great Roman causeway which runs across the moor from Doncaster to Castleford.
Daniel Defoe, 1724-
Margary split the road between Lincoln and York into three parts, dividing it at Doncaster and Tadcaster. Unfortunately, the arbitrary Tadcaster division makes it extremely difficult to explain the setting out of this road from Castleford northwards so we will evaluate RR28b and RR28c in the same entry, ie from Doncaster to York. This thirty nine mile stretch of Roman road, known as the Roman Ridge for much of its length, was once one of the most famous survivals of Roman occupation in the country, one that just had to be seen by anyone writing about the area. Such a writer was Daniel Defoe in the early 18th century. Consequently, most of the route is known extremely well, even though large tracts of it do not survive as they once did. To illustrate the gradual disappearance of extant roads, it is worth quoting part of the Introduction to Thomas Codrington’s Roman Roads in Britain 1903:
Sadly, this process is one that can be demonstrated amply on Yorkshire’s Roman roads, one that continued unabated during the 20th and 21st centuries and if anything has accelerated.
RR28b&c appears to be a diversion from an original abortive scheme to build a road straight across the Humberhead levels, of which only RR281, the so called Cantley Spur was actually constructed. The route of the road from Doncaster to Castleford may originally have been marked out by a single long distance alignment, but that is far from certain. It is true that the fort at Doncaster appears to be aligned on Castleford some sixteen miles distant, and that the midway fort at Burghwallis lies upon that line but as none of the road was built upon it there is insufficient evidence to be sure that this is not just coincidence. The road itself appears to have set out along a series of shorter alignments along the gentle hills to the west of the wet ground of the Humberhead levels.
It leaves Doncaster along the line of York road and where the modern dual carriageway bears a little right, just after the junction with Barnsley road, its line is followed by an alley through the houses at Sunnyfields (fig.1). It continues as a modern tarmaced bridleway and byway for three and a half miles, crossing Stanley Road and continuing as a slightly elevated lane, still on the same two mile long alignment. It then changes alignment and, crossing Green Lane, rises onto a high causeway, the Roman Ridge (figs 2a & 2b), which seems to pick a wavering route, although actually very pragmatic, across undulating land west of Adwick le Street (fig. 1). The height of the Roman Ridge is remarkable (fig. 3a), although in common with most other high aggers, it only achieved its height through successive resurfacing, much of it post-
Where the Roman Ridge crosses Ridge Balk Lane (SE 5272 0802), the alignment changes to head almost due north, and about a mile further on at Red House, the road disappears beneath the modern A1. Near Manor Farm, west of Burghwallis, the A1 does a slight kink to the east, where it is likely the Roman line carried straight on. To the east is the Roman fort near Burghwallis (fig.4). Aerial photography shows that the fort was rebuilt several times, possibly on the site of one or more earlier temporary camps. Crucially, none of the various builds show a relationship to the road, strongly suggesting that the original fort (at least) was built before the road, possibly supporting the idea, referred to previously, of a single original alignment from Doncaster to Castleford. At Barnsdale Bar, the road changes alignment to head north west, where the modern A639, still known as Roman Ridge, approximates to it. That the road here was once a ‘must see’ attraction for the educated elite is evidenced by Daniel Defoe’s words from the 1720s.
From Street Houses, the road is followed for a short distance by the dual carriageway, and then reappears the other side marked by a footpath and then approximately by Hallcroft lane, until the end of the alignment from Hazlewood at roughly SE580482, south west of Dringhouses. The road then turns east north east, and is marked approximately by the A1036 Tadcaster Road, although excavation has shown that the Roman line is actually as much as 40 -
In conclusion, the course of the road is extremely well understood, with the only exception being the approach to Castleford from the south. However, the reasons for its planning and route are less certain, and fundamentally linked to the Roman military push forwards in around AD71. More work on the alignments that underlie this early planning is needed. The road also presents a potential opportunity to examine in detail the construction of such high aggers and, with new dating technologies such as OSL, understand better whether they were constructed at one time, or simply became high as a result of repeated resurfacing and rebuilding, as currently seems most likely.
Fig. 12 Diagram showing the changes in planning for the main Roman road from the south, and RR28b/c as it was built.
Fig. 14 Sectional drawing of the Roman Ridge at Nut Hill, ©Yorkshire Archaeological and Historical Society
Fig. 15 The old Street, east of Tadcaster -
Historic Environment Records, HE Pastscape and other records
Entry compiled by Mike Haken. Last updated, 2 January 2018