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Margary Number:

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22 Miles


N. Yorks. HER MNY2359

HE Pastscape Mon.1029911

HE Pastscape Mon. 79650  

Malton / Norton

Staxton Roman site Pastscape  HER

Filey Signal Tower

East Riding of Yorkshire, North Riding of Yorkshire

In the early 18th century, Francis Drake recorded a road direct from Malton to Filey Bay, with another road crossing it at Spital heading north through Seamer to Dunsley Bay with a short branch to Scarborough (fig. 1). The route of this road is presumed to approximate to the modern A64 through Rillington, West Heslerton, East Heslerton, Sherburn (where the road to Scarborough was formerly assumed to branch off) and Willerby, and is then represented by the A1039 through Flixton to Muston and Filey.

In 1862, work to install new drains along Commercial Street, Norton, revealed an old road about 25m west of the site of Norton manor house at a depth of about two feet (0.6m). The neck of a Roman jar was also found, although whether it was on, in or under the road was not recorded. In 1865, further drainage work near the Wesleyan chapel and close to the manor house again revealed the road, which was this time described as formed of blocks of limestone “run together with cement” (Robinson 1978 p.34 note 239). Given that the use of cement or concrete in road construction is not known prior to the eighteenth century except by the Romans, it is fair to assume that the road discovered was a Roman road heading east. Furthermore, other Roman concrete road structures are known in Norton and Malton, such as the recently excavated site at Brooklyn, on the road to Stamford Bridge (Buglass et al forthcoming).

Prior to the establishment of the York to Scarborough Turnpike Trust in 1752, the old road from Norton to Scarborough proceeded along Commercial Street and Parliament Street in Norton and then by what used to be called the Norton Outgang (see fig. 2), ie the “way out of Norton” (Robinson 1978 p.40 note 389). Given the straightness of the track which is partly followed by the Norton/Settrington parish boundary and that this line follows smoothly on from Commercial Street with only a slight change of alignment, it is generally held to be the line of the Roman road to Filey and Scarborough.

If projected eastwards it meets the straight length of the A64 west of Rillington which is also highly suggestive of a Roman line but there is no firm evidence for this being the line of the Roman road. Indeed, there is actually no conclusive evidence for this road at any point between Norton Outgang and Filey, and Mary Kitson Clark quoted Haverfield as telling her that "I never could find any trace of a Roman road in Filey" (Kitson Clark, 1935, p. 43). There are, however, a few hints here and there including a possible single straight alignment of about ten miles between East Knapton and Flixton, which is only followed by the modern road briefly at East Heslerton and again at Staxton. A little further east of Rillington, there is evidence on aerial photographs (fig. 3) that prior to the construction of the lake for Scampston Hall by Capability Brown in 1782 (Scampston Estate, 2016), after which the main road was compelled to kink southwards, the road went straight on, a line continued today by a short length of “old road” and then a public footpath continuing the straight alignment into Knapton Park. The line of the modern road, the A64, keeps to the undulating land at the foot of the slope of the southern edge of the Vale of Pickering, whilst avoiding the marshland just to the north. Its general course, dictated by topography, is essentially straight for the next ten miles although its actual route is sinuous. This could potentially be an indication of the aforementioned straight alignment Knapton and Flixton.  What we can say with confidence is that the road will have passed close to the Roman site at Staxton Spital, where the road to Scarborough (RR817) probably branched off.

A little further east at West Flotmanby, a cambered ridge 17'6" wide, with small side ditches, was formerly visible running parallel to the north of Flotmanby Lane between about TA 06657946 and TA07847979.  (Pastscape mon. 79650). There is no evidence that this was a Roman road, and could just as easily have been a former course of Flotmanby Lane. The feature is not visible today but further investigation such as geophysical survey may reveal it.  

Buglass, J. , Phillips, J., Wilson P.R. , Report on the Excavations at Brooklyn, Norton., forthcoming

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

Kitson Clark, M (1935); A Gazetteer of Roman Remains in East Yorkshire; Roman Malton & District Report No. 5

Kitson Clark, M (1939); Roman Yorkshire, 1937;   Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, Vol. 34 pp. 89-103, Leeds

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

N. Yorkshire HER MNY 12662 (2017); Post Medieval (?) Road at Filey http://www.heritagegateway.org.uk/Gateway/Results_Single.aspx?uid=MNY12662&resourceID=1009 Accessed 15/11/2017

Robinson, J. F. (1978); The Archaeology of Malton and Norton; The Yorkshire Archaeology Society, Leeds

Scampston Estate (2016); Scampston; https://www.scampston.co.uk/ ; accessed 15 November 2017

Fig. 1 1854 Ordnance Survey Map showing RR812 and RR816 heading east from Norton, with the evidence from Commercial Street

Click Images to enlarge

RRRA Forum for RR816

Fig. 3  Aerial photo from Google showing faint cropmarks, and a line of restricted growth in woodland at Scampston, that probably indicate the course of the main road prior to 1782.


Fig. 1 Part of Francis Drake’s map of Roman Yorkshire from Eboracum,  1734, showing his plotting of some of the Roman roads in eastern Yorkshire

There have been three claimed discoveries of “Roman” road made in Filey, plus a further one to the north west of the town in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Kitson Clark 1939,pp. 99-100). The accounts of each are vague, and they may not be Roman roads at all but are worth discussing nonetheless. In 1898, work to lay a water main in front of the Church Schools revealed a cobbled road, the cobbles being set in cement, at a depth of 3ft. The use of cement or concrete is certainly suggestive of Roman work, but not conclusive and, in any case, the road as described was aligned along West Parade (the grid reference in the HER record is almost certainly incorrect), which is almost impossible to tie in with either a road from Norton or a possible road to Scarborough. The second find, made under Station Road in 1935 whilst laying electricity cables, was a road made of larger cobbles, at about three feet deep. Its alignment and dimensions are not known, and the use of large cobbles for a surface is not indicative of Roman work. The third road was found in 1937, where Muston Road crosses the railway. A projected line from West Flotmanby certainly could enter Filey near this point although, unfortunately, little detail is known except that it was at 4ft beneath the then road level and this depth could be misleading as the modern road was raised when the railway was built (N. Yorkshire HER MNY 12662). The old road could therefore be the post-medieval road between Filey and Muston.

Summing up, most of the evidence for a Roman road from Norton to Filey is at the Norton end, and whilst far from certain, does seem to potentially indicate a Roman road leaving Norton in the direction of Filey, along the southern edge of the Vale of Pickering. If it existed, it is usually assumed that it served the known Signal tower at Filey. This is problematic, since it is a fourth century structure, and there is no evidence of any earlier Roman military site at or close to Filey. The likelihood of the Roman army of the 4th century building a road simply to serve a signal tower seems very slim. It would have been an unjustifiable use of scarce resources and so, if the road existed, it seems reasonable to conclude that there was an earlier Roman site at Filey of which we currently have no knowledge. Given that Filey is not a good natural harbour, and that there are other sites nearby on the coast which are, it also seems likely that this missing site was not a port.  The 1st century site at Staxton Spital, located at one of only three possible crossing points of the Vale of Pickering, appears to suggest the probable necessity for a road, or at least an important route, otherwise the road to Scarborough could just have skirted the northern edge of the Vale, and known evidence suggests that it did not.  On balance then, whilst it seems likely that the road did exist, further work is needed to confirm it, and to explain why it was there in the first place. As a final note, a fourth claimed stretch of Roman road was found in Filey, discovered during cable laying in 1935, beneath the Filey to Gristhorpe and Scarborough road and, if Roman, could represent part of a possible coastal road, as mapped by Francis Drake (fig.1).

Historic Counties:

Roman Sites on Route:

Historic Environment Records, HE Pastscape and other records

Margary's Roman Roads in Britain, road 816

Entry prepared by Mike Haken.  Last updated, 26 January 2018