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33 Miles


Ribchester (Bremetennacum) Museum

Elslack (Burwen Castle)  Pastscape

Ilkley Pastscape,  Roman Britain.org

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. 113-168

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.  

RRRA Forum for RR72a

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 - Tostevin 1992). The road now turns to follow an east-north-easterly alignment for the next two miles, although it makes a temporary deviation to the north through a substantial cutting in order to negotiate the deep and steep valley of Dinckley Brook, and does not go straight on as is marked by the Ordnance Survey.  

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-Gisburn Road, and then it crosses the fields by Great Todber, until Brogden Lane joins it near Brogden Hall and follows the Roman line until SD 8602 4725. The true course from here for the next half mile is clearly shown on lidar to be some way north of the line indicated on Ordnance Survey maps, as much as 70m north at Lidget Flat. The road is rejoined by Brogden lane to the north of Barnoldswick at about SD 8711 4759, its last stretch in Lancashire. The lane is then presumed to follow the general course of the Roman road until it joins Skipton Road, which becomes Church Road. Where Church road swings south to skirt around Church Hill at Thornton-in-Craven there are slight hints on lidar that the Roman road went straight on over the top of the low hill, before briefly rejoining its alignment as it drops through the village, crosses the modern road and descends to a crossing of the Thornton Beck at about SD 9133 4874.

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

Margary's Roman Roads in Britain, road 72a

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-shoe bends extend further downstream over time the possible position of the river in Roman times can be inferred. The bridge site would have been where the three roads (from Manchester, from Elslack and from Ribchester itself) all met.

The Roman Bridge at Ribchester

Ribchester to Elslack

Elslack to Ilkley

The Roman names of Ilkley and Elslack

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Historic Counties:

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-north-east, heading over Wellber Hill and then crossing Church Lane, where Eller Gill Lane then takes up the line for under half a mile. The road can be traced on lidar past Low Ground and then to the north of the old railway line as far as SD 9577 5082. It is at the furthest it ever reaches from its guiding alignment, about 590m, and when it disappears from the lidar image it is starting to head more easterly, which would take it along a line close to Broughton Road and then Newmarket Street in Skipton, traditionally thought to be the line of the Roman road.

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-zag to ease the steepest gradient in excess of of 1 in 4. It then turns to just north of east and follows the contours around the hill before descending gently down from Draughton Height along Crossbank Road towards Addingham. Where Crossbank Road bears more easterly, close to Addingham, the Roman line is supposed to head straight on past Street Farm and Bramley Barn, its line taken up briefly by Cocking Lane. The route described is also the route of the first Skipton to Addingham turnpike road, opened in 1755, which was later re-routed in 1820 to a much easier course which is now part of the modern A 65. It has always been assumed that the turnpike road was built on top of the Roman, but the Roman road has never actually been found.

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-passes the village and the old road. From Draughton eastwards, the course is hard to trace for about 1.7 miles until lidar coverage starts just south east of Chelker Reservoir. From that point the road appears clearly (fig. 14) running alongside the northern edge of the A65. As the A65 bears south, the Roman line continues straight on across Bracken Ghyll Gold Club, until it disappears beneath modern housing at Addingham.

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.


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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 - the  course of RR72a at Addingham

Fig. 12  The Skipton - Addingham turnpike - NOT Roman.

  © John Illingworth 2005, cc-by-sa/2.0 geograph.org.uk/p/47357

Fig. 13  Aerial photo showing RR72a east of Skipton

©  RRRA, 2018