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

Margary Number:

Other Numbering System:



c. 31 Miles


HE Pastscape Mon.1029995

North Yorks HER, Thornton-le-Street to Thirsk

Stamford Bridge


City of York, North Riding of Yorkshire

Archaeological Services, University of Durham (ASUD) (2002); C150 Deighton to Appleton Wiske Archaeological Watching Brief; ASUD Report 898

Brinklow, David (1986); Main Roads Serving Roman York in Brinklow, D, Hall, R. A., Magilton, J. R., Donaghey, Sara ; Coney Street, Aldwark and Clementhorpe, Minor Sites, and Roman Roads; CBA, York

Brown, J. (2014); Personal Communications

Cade, John (1785); Conjectures concerning some undescribed Roman Roads, and other Antiquities in the County of Durham in Archaeologia: or Miscellaneous Tracts Relating to Antiquity, Vol.7, 1785, pp.74-81 Society of Antiquaries of London. Available online at https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=ul8VAAAAQAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false accessed 14/12/2017

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.Kitson-Clark, Mary (1935); Roman Roads in East Yorkshire in Roman Malton & District Report No. 5

Lukis, W. C. (Ed.) (1887) The family memoirs of the rev William Stukeley and the Antiquarian and other correspondence vol 3 The Publications of the Surtees Society, vol. 80 for 1885; Andrews & Co., Durham & London; Whittaker & Co, Edinburgh. Available online at https://archive.org/stream/familymemoirsofr03stuk#page/n7/mode/2up accessed 30/11/17

Lyall, J. (2017), Report on a fluxgate gradiometer survey conducted at Bullamoor, North Yorkshire; Geophiz.biz report no. 048

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 at http://www.eylhs.org.uk/dl/128/roads-and-turnpike-trusts-in-east-yorkshire accessed 19/7/17

Margary, Ivan D. (1973); Roman Roads in Britain, John Baker, London

Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cade%27s_Road

Fig. 1 Map from Eboracum, by Francis Drake, 1736

Click Images to enlarge

Fig. 2 Supposed course of RR80a north from the R. Derwent, marked by boundaries and lanes along a straight corridor as far as Claxton. These may be the features that gave rise to the idea of a Roman road here

RRRA Forum for RR80a

Fig. 3  Find spots of Roman coins to the northeast of York, showing how the supposed course of RR80a matches the south eastern edge of a belt of finds


….and do further conceive, that it passes likewise by Chesterfield, and was continued along the road styled Strata Rom. A Derby in Drake’s Map, to Chesterfield bridge, Tadcaster, and York, from which latter place, (according to the conjectures I have formed of its progress) it went to Thornton le Street, where it separated from a road leading to Catterick Bridge and stretching in a direct line northwards, cross the Tees at Sockburn, entering the central parts of the county of Durham.

Cade, 1785 p.76

After talking about Rycknild Street, and his route across the Tees, he used Drake’s map as a source (Fig. 1) and went on to explain, rather farcically, that the Fosse Way, traditionally regarded as ending at Lincoln, must extend northwards from there to the Humber and then from Brough along Humber Street to Stamford Bridge, Thornton le Street and Catterick (Cade, 1785, p.80). Unfortunately, the rather meandering way in which the letter is written has caused the two roads that Cade talked about to become conflated, an error that occurred some time before Margary was writing in the 1950s. Since then, it would appear that no-one has bothered to check what Cade actually wrote (until now!). The false notion that he described a single road from Brough to Newcastle appears in just about every reference to Cade’s Road (e.g. Wikipedia, 2017).

Of course, despite this oft repeated mistake, there may still be a Roman road between Stamford Bridge and Easingwold, as Roger Gale first suggested, part of the road Margary numbered RR80a, but there may also be a road from York to Easingwold, as Cade actually suggested. Each possibility will now be discussed in turn.

I have observed a military way to range along the road from Thirsk to Easingwold, but where it should come from or lead to am yett at a losse………….. but look upon it to have been the direct road from Cataractonium to Eburacum, without going by Isurium, and seems to be more entire, and of a newer form than the others I have observed in the north, as if it had been erected nearer the declension of the empire.

Letter from John Warburton to Roger Gale, August 14th, 1717, (Lukis, 1887, p.75)

That there is a Roman road heading northwards just east of Northallerton towards Chester le Street is beyond doubt and is usually known as Cade’s road, after the Durham antiquary. On all modern mapping, the road is shown as starting south of Stamford Bridge and was numbered by Margary RR80a. Cade actually had the road starting in York and as will be shown, Cade may have been correct. Our evaluation is presented in the following sections.

Introduction and background

Stamford Bridge to Easingwold (RR80a)

York to the River Tees


Roger Gale added the following note to the letter, concerning the origins and destination of Warburton’s road, although we have no indication of his sources:  

It comes from Cataractonium, and leads through Thirsk, Easingwold, Aldby (Derventio), and Wighton (Delgovitia), to Brough, over against Winteringham upon the Humber

When Warburton published his map of Yorkshire in 1720, he had abandoned his initial idea that he had found a road going to York and marked the road just as Gale’s note described, although Warburton did mark the Easingwold to Stamford Bridge section as dotted, ie uncertain. Francis Drake in his Eburacum marked the same road but also added a road from York northwards, crossing Warburton & Gale’s road at Thornton le Street, and heading up to the mouth of the R. Tees, both marked extremely schematically.

In 1782, the Durham antiquarian John Cade expanded on Drake’s idea of a road from York to the R. Tees, and in a letter to the Rev. Kaye, he proposed the notion of a road from York to Newcastle which he thought was part of Ranulph Higden’s Rycknild street from Wales to Newcastle:

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In order to understand how some of the confusion and muddled thinking about this road arose, we need first to look at where the descriptions of its potential course came from and, as is so often the case in Yorkshire, the starting point is the antiquarian John Warburton.

After Warburton published his map in 1720, the idea of a Roman road from Stamford Bridge to Easingwold has been accepted without question. It was described by Codrington (Codrington, 1903, p.172), Margary (Margary, 1973, p.431) and still appears marked on the Ordnance Survey’s Map of Roman Britain. However, from the point south of Stamford Bridge where this road supposedly crosses the probable line of RR810 to Bridlington, no trace of a Roman road has ever been found from here all the way to Easingwold. There are not even hints of an agger, nor were any recorded in the past, a fact Margary explains away by simply saying that it “seems to have been of relatively light construction, showing no trace of embankments” (Margary, 1973, p.431). Of course, just because we can’t prove that the road existed does not mean that it necessarily didn’t exist, but the total lack of archaeological evidence does force one to wonder why no-one has questioned this supposed road before.

Margary describes RR80a as leaving the main road to York from Brough at Barmby Moor. We now known that the road from Brough does not head directly to York from Barmby Moor, as Margary thought, but heads to a crossing of the R. Derwent south of Stamford Bridge, so that the southern part of his RR80a should actually be the northern end of RR2e, just one of many problems we find with Margary’s numbering system. It is certainly true that the Roman road from Brough approaching Stamford Bridge appears to be in line with a long and direct chain of field boundaries, paths, lanes and parish boundaries leading north from the Derwent for nearly eight miles.  The approximate ‘route’ heads up the western boundary of Buttercrambe Moor Wood, and is represented by modern lanes through Sand Hutton and Claxton as far as the A64 (se fig. 2), and it is easy to see how this could be perceived as a single straight alignment. The alignment is then supposed to change to a more north westerly course across fields to Flaxton, and along Flaxton’s Back Lane, then across fields again on the same alignment until Rice Lane falls in with it west of the railway line. Another change of alignment near Lilling Hall leaves the supposed road represenrted very approximately by New Road and Goose Track Lane as far as West Lilling.  From West Lilling the supposed course cannot be traced for three miles, Margary assuming that it could be picked up again with Main Street in Stillington, and then High Street and West Lane to Easingwold.

Of course, a chain of coincidental boundaries and tracks does not necessarily mean that these fossilise the course of a Roman road, although it can sometimes be indicative, as it certainly is for RR80a north of Northallerton. In this case, it would be extremely tempting to disregard this supposed road as far as Easingwold in its entirety, were it not for one other observation.

A map showing the distribution of the findspots of Roman coins north east of York, presumably representing a pattern of settlement, shows clearly how the supposed road runs very precisely along the south western edge of a broad belt of finds from Stamford Bridge to Easingwold. By itself, this cannot be taken as evidence for a road, as the distribution of the findspots and the concidental string of lines on a map could both be entirely influenced by the topography at the foot of the Howardian Hills. It is certainly sufficient to justify fieldwork such as geophysical survey and possible exploratory excavation between Stamford Bridge and Flaxton, something which to date has never been conducted. Should such fieldwork prove entirely negative, then perhaps Roger Gale’s road as far as Easingwold could safely be disregarded.

Fig. 4  Lidar image showing the remains of RR80a heading north from Bullamoor, past Close Farm. The road makes a slight zig-zag descent to negotiate a steep sided stream valley near Hill House, dropping down to Hallikeld.

RR80a is traditionally said to take a route from Easingwold approximately marked by the modern A19, through Thirsk leaving northwards on Long Street, and then through Thornton-le-Street, where a short length of causeway has been long claimed to be part of it, despite excavations by Morris in the 1950s suggesting otherwise. The supposed route, still marked on modern OS maps, follows a very un-Roman course via Pilrig Lane changing direction un-necessarily on many occasions, as far as the high point of Bullamoor. A degree of certainty, along with actual evidence, starts at Bullamoor with a long straight alignment, along which the road can be seen on lidar (fig. 4) past Close Farm and Hill House. It then crosses fields to Hallikeld where Long Lane (fig. 5) marks the start of a seven and a half mile long unbroken line of lanes, tracks and boundaries that fossilise the course of the road along just two straight alignments almost to the River Tees, east of Girsby. The actual crossing point of the Tees is not known, although Cade thought that it was at Sockburn. O.G.S. Crawford in the 1920s suggested a different crossing opposite Middleton St.George, still marked on Ordnance Survey maps. Neither seem very likely. The discovery by John Brown of a large Roman temporary camp just west of Newsham Grange, north of the Tees (Brown, 2014), could suggest that RR80a crossed the R. Tees further east than previously thought; his work is on-going.

Moving down to the where Cade claimed his road originated, in York, it has been known for some considerable time that a Roman road left York at the north west gate of the fortress, and is represented today by Bootham and Clifton (see RR801). Unfortunately, that road is only known for less than a mile, and whilst it is possible that it could be Cade’s road, its destination is unknown but with Aldborough or Catterick being the most cited candidates. Many attempts to track the road northwards along the course of the A19 have been made over the years and none have found any evidence.

This left a huge gap with no substantive evidence all the way from York or Stamford Bridge (take your pick) as far as Bullamoor, near Northallerton. The supposed route through Thornton-le Street made no sense, and has only been forced to go that way because the “street” element of the place name  had been wrongly assumed to indicate a Roman road. In 2014, the author observed a long straight soilmark at Bullamoor on Bing aerial photography, heading clearly on a line east of the “traditional” route (fig. 6). A pipeline was quickly ruled out and there is no road marked along its line on the 1st edition 6 inch Ordnance Survey map (1857), making a post medieval road unlikely, all suggesting strongly that this was the true course of the Roman road. If projected northwards, the alignment runs along a low but very clear ridge which is visible through the adjacent paddock and then a lawn, and would meet the long road alignment heading north to the Tees just south of the crossroads at the Fox & Hounds, Bullamoor. If projected southwards, a very slight change in alignment along its course could take it directly along Stockton Road into Thirsk, which is the traditional course of the Roman road (Margary, 1973, p.431). Perhaps, at last, the true course of the road had been revealed.

However, further work by the author with LiDAR has revealed an unexpected straight feature, well to the east of Thirsk and not where the road was expected to be. It bears all the signs of a denuded and ploughed out Roman road, with remains of agger apparent in at least three places, and possible remains of cuttings that eased rapid changes in gradient on this undulating terrain. Unfortunately, it cannot be traced any further north, and lidar coverage ceases southwards. The crucial discovery however, is not the probable road itself, but the alignment along which it was built. It sits perfectly along a 29 mile long line between Bootham Bar, the northeast gate of the Roman fortress at York, and the point on Bullamoor just south of the crossroads described earlier, where the alignment past Close Farm to the R. Tees begins.  It is not easy to see this road, and the one represented by the soilmark on Bullamoor, as part of the same road.

In an attempt to explain what might be happening, a geophysical survey was conducted in autumn 2017 by James Lyall on behalf of RRRA (thanks due to Andrew Brass for granting permission) with the aim of identifying the ditches of the road in the paddock, and with the optimistic hope of seeing some evidence of the alignment direct from York. Unfortunately, the line of the road extrapolated from the soilmark exhibited considerable disturbance probably caused by the removal of a hedgebank a few years ago, and no ditches showed (Lyall, 2017). Along the alignment from Bootham, however, two probable ditches 7.5m apart are clearly visible (fig. 7), and it is hard not to interpret these as the ditches of a Roman road. They cannot be part of the same road represented by the soilmark, so there appear to be either two roads, or at the very least two phases of road.

Whilst we are still a very long way from determining the line, or lines, of RR80a, one thing can now be said with confidence; it does not go through Thornton-Le-Street. John Warburton’s original idea of a road through or near Thornton-le-Street to Catterick remains a possibility, although it has to be pointed out that it has never been located at any point, and no-one in the 300 years since Warburton described it has seen any trace of it.

Fig. 5  Long Lane, Hallikeld, at the start of a seven mile line of lanes and boundaries that fossilise the line of the Roman road RR80a all the way to the R.Tees.

Fig. 6 Bing aerial photograph of Bullamoor south of the crossroads showing a clear soilmark, almost certainly on the line of the Roman road. Note how the traditional route of the road changes direction several times for no apparent reason - Roman roads don't do that.

With regard to the route of RR80a between Thirsk and Bullamoor, there remain two crucial unanswered questions:

1. If all these features are actually one road, how can we reconcile the fact that the long straight soilmark at Bullamoor is not on the alignment from York?

2. If the soilmark is the Roman road, which seems almost certain, how can we explain the pair of anomalies revealed by the geophysics, probably road ditches, suggesting a second road running almost parallel to it some 20m to the east?

There are three possible explanations which fit the current evidence:

1. The road was originally built along the long straight alignment from Bootham, and the pair of anomalies on the survey are part of it. The road was then re-routed, to avoid a very wet low-lying area either side of the Cod Beck.

2. The Roman road when originally built deviated to the west of its long alignment, perhaps in the area west of Borrowby Grange, to avoid the worst of what is a very wet low lying area either side of the Cod Beck. At a later point in the Roman period, the road at Bullamoor was rebuilt creating the false impression of two roads.

3. There are actually two roads. The first is coming direct from York, and is indicated by the pair of anomalies on the survey, and the second is heading up through Thirsk from a different origin, possibly from the Roman town at Aldborough, near Boroughbridge, to meet the first road at Bullamoor.

Whichever is correct, it is now almost certain that there was a major road north leaving York at Bootham Bar (but not necessarily RR801), passing across Bullamoor, and eventually heading to Chester-le-Street and Newcastle. The fact that a long alignment was used is a strong indicator both that it was probably planned at an early stage, when the main programme of surveying was being carried out, and that this was considered an important military artery - in effect, it was the Roman A19. What can also be said with certainty is that the conventionally accepted line of RR80a south through Thornton-le-Street is incorrect. A slight note of caution needs to be sounded, in that there are rare examples of a long alignment not being utilised, and then being used by a later road. Rudgate (RR289) exhibits this phenomenon twice. In other words, the use of an alignment from Bootham Bar by a road coming from Stamford Bridge cannot yet be totally ruled out, unlikely as it may seem.

More fieldwork will be needed to establish with certainty the presence of two roads at Bullamoor and how they relate to each other further south. Similarly, further geophysical survey may be able to locate the course of the road south of Easingwold.

Fig. 7 Lidar image showing the probable line of Roman road to the east of Thirsk, on a direct alignment between Bootham Bar and Bullamoor

Fig. 8 Gradiometer survey results at Ardmore Farm, Bullamoor, showing probable line of second Roman road.

Fig. 9 First edition Ordnance Survey map (6 inches to the mile), from 1857. Red dotted lines show the known Roman road features, purple is the projected line of the Roman road, and blue dotted line is the alignment from the Roman fortress in York that runs through the mile long road-like feature identified east of Thirsk.

Historic Counties:

Roman Sites on Route:

Historic Environment Records, HE Pastscape and other records

Margary's Roman Roads in Britain, road 80a Margary's Roman Roads in Britain, road 801

Compiled by Mike Haken, last updated, 2 December 2017