Lancs Roman Roads

The Roman Road from Lancaster to Watercrook

Margary Number: 70e (unofficial)

Distance: 20 miles

Although the existence of this road in not really in doubt, solid evidence has proved very elusive. Cumbria HER (Ref 2532) includes a possible Roman road at Deerslet, south of Burton-in-Kendal but describes it as having only "circumstantial evidence". In Lancashire, the last known course for the road is thought to be in Lancaster via Penny Street heading north to a suggested Lune bridge. The route shown on the map is therefore very speculative. Evidence for it is based on Leland's journey c.1540, which south of Lancaster was based on the Roman road. The route he took from Lancaster to Kendal passed through Warton and Beetham (see later). The A6 north of Beetham does also have Roman characteristics supporting this line..

 

 

Historic County: Lancashire & Westmorland

Current County: Lancashire & Cumbria

HER: Lancashire & Cumbria

 

route map
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map


Leland's Itinerary c.1540

Leland's journey through Lancashire seems to have been based on following the remains of the Roman road system - it certainly turned out to be the case south of Lancaster.

His route was clearly Lancaster-Warton-Beetham ("Bytham")-Kendal. In addition, the Gough Map of c. 1360 only shows Beetham between Lancaster and Kendal. A good case can therefore be made out for the ancient route being via Beetham. It would be around 100 years after Leland (Ogilby 1675) that the route had switched to be via Burton-in-Kendal so the Deerslet/Burton-in-Kendal suggestion seems unlikely.

All things considered we should looking for evidence of the Roman road going via Warton and Beetham.

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leland

Route map and Lidar Image - Lancaster to Carnforth

Heading north from Lancaster, the only real Lidar evidence is for a short stretch near Bolton-le-Sands - see the excavation below. Apart from this it is really joining the dots.

South of the river the Roman line was on Penny Street and as this more or less aligns with the A6 Slyne Road it would seem logical to assume that this represents the Roman road. Quite where it turned off the A6 to get to the Bolton-le-Sands excavated site (see below) is somewhat vague with a couple of options.

Beyond the Bolton-le-Sands length then a course through Carnforth making for Warton Bridge seems very likely. Warton Bridge fits with Leland's description of crossing the River Keer where it was still tidal.

 

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routemap

Excavation at Bolton-le-Sands, 3rd & 4th November 2015

Visible in the Lidar data is a short length of what could be our Roman road near Bolton-le-Sands. There are 3 alignments with a pronounced dogleg. This is typical of Roman alignments where a hill or bank has to be climbed. The only way to prove it was by excavation!

The location of trench 1 was selected in consultation with the farmer. The ridge/agger across field 1 was where he reported encountering stones whilst ploughing. The actual site selected, at the southern edge of field 1, he always left as un-ploughed. This was therefore believed to be the location having suffered the least plough disturbance.

Across field 1: the ridge/agger is clear and is probably too large to be purely Roman and could represent an agger exploiting a natural ridge

Between fields 1 and 2 and also between fields 2 and 3, in the hedge bottom on the line of the ridge/agger, is a large cache of stones c. 300-400mm in size. Away from the ridge/agger line there were no or very few stones in the these hedges. This is common where Roman aggers have been ploughed out and the larger stones thrown into the nearest hedge.

Field 3: agger/ridge is now not quite as large but very clear. Progressing further northwards towards Ancliffe Lane then the ridge/agger fades out.

The excavation team (in alphabetical order) was :Paul Ashman (Wyre AS), Chris Clayton (Wyre AS), John Entwistle, Robert Entwistle, Mike Haken, Dave Hampson (Wyre AS), David Ratledge, Brian Rigby (Wyre AS). Peter Iles, Lancashire's Specialist Advisor on Archaeology was in attendance for the first morning.

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bls siteplan

Trench 1 (SD48488/66987)

The location of trench 1 was selected in consultation with the farmer where there were too many stones to plough. We were to learn the hard way why this was the case!

The position chosen coincided with an unknown demolished farm building of some antiquity. This meant considerable time was lost getting down to the possible road layer. In the picture Mike Haken is cleaning out what was taken to be the possible east ditch of a road. The clay floor of the building can be seen as a horizontal layer much higher in the trench. Without the full extent of the feature/road being excavated no definite conclusion could be reached but taken with the other evidence then it was felt, on balance, it probably was the Roman road..

 

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excavation

Agger/ridge Field 3

The agger/ridge is still clear in Field 3 looking back towards the excavation site.

Progressing further northwards towards Ancliffe Lane then the ridge/agger fades out.

Conclusion The ridge/agger feature is commensurate with it being the course of a Roman road without proving that it is.

 

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field 3

Possible Route(s) - Warton to Beetham

Approaching Warton, Leland crossed the Keer river, where it was still tidal. I would assume therefore at or near Warton Bridge. He obviously visited the main street in Warton and his route to Beetham is described as "very hilly". There are two options - one via the Yealands - the second via the grounds of Leighton Hall. They would share a common route from Thrang End Bridge to Beetham passing Deepdale Wood. This road does have long straight stretches.

The "very hilly" description would probably fit the Leighton Hall route better as there is a climb over the back of Warton Crag. The road towards Leighton is straight but perhaps a touch narrow to be convincingly Roman.

The original Leighton Hall dates from 1642 (Wiki) so in Leland's time it did not exist. It is common for country estates to divert roads away from their grounds and the road from Warton now does a right angle bend to avoid the grounds. A field boundary actually preserves the straight-on line at the bend. The current hall dates from 1759.

Note the A6 route crosses Hale Moss. Without modern drainage this would almost certainly have been impassable in Roman times. Note also parallel to the A6, but just east of it, is a gas pipeline which initially fooled a couple of Roman road researchers, who shall remain anonymous.

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routemap

Lidar Image - Possible Route Carnforth to Beetham (via Leighton)

This is the suggested more likely route to Beetham matching Leland's "very hilly" and it is more direct than that via the Yealands.

Building a country house (Leighton Hall in this case) on top of a Roman road is not uncommon. Alston Hall, near Longridge was built directly on top of the Roman road to Kirkham. It's a free solid foundation.

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lidar

Peter Lane, Leighton - looking south

This is near the top of the road from Warton over the back of Warton Crag heading for the Leighton Estate.

It is a very straight road - an alignment you would expect if Roman but perhaps a bit too narrow to be certain.

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peter lane

3D Lidar Image Warton - looking towards Beetham

If Leland was following the Roman road from Warton to Beetham then there is only one practical course for dry land between Leighton Moss and White & Hale Moss. That is by Thrang End Bridge (see later).

Highlighted is the "very hilly" route option via Leighton Hall but, as pointed out above, in Leland's time there was no hall there. That would be 100 years later. The route is typical of Roman engineering - initially angling across the slope from Warton, then following a very straight course through a natural valley to Leighton.

Unfortunately there is no Lidar data for the Yealands option - yet.

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3D warton

Hyning Road, Warton - looking south

This is the other road from Warton, heading towards the Yealands. It is much much wider than the Leighton road. It does not have many straight stretches that could indicate a Roman origin though and is not as direct.

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hyning road

Lidar Image - Thrang End Bridge

Before White Moss and Hale Moss were drained there was only one practical course keeping to dry land to get to Beetham and that was via Thrang End Bridge.

 

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thrang end

Leland's Itinerary - Beetham to Kendal

Leland's route now becomes a puzzle! His description of a "preaty river" fits extremely well with the road from Beetham to Milnthorpe (see next picture). The River Bela (Beetha) is a very prominent feature of that stretch and no one would dispute the pretty description.

The puzzle is Staunton Beck, presumably Stainton Beck but he doesn't mention Staunton/Stainton itself. He would cross this beck at Rowell Bridge if he turned east at Milnthorpe crossroads for Crooklands. At Rowell Bridge the "great beck" description would fit. This is perhaps heading for another Roman road coming in from Yorkshire and approximated by the A65 today. Why he crossed over to that road he does not give us a clue. It would seem highly likely therefore that he left "our" Roman road at Milnthorpe.

 

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leland-kendal

River Bela between Beetham and Milnthorpe

Anyone who has made the short journey from Beetham and Milnthorpe is familiar with this view of the River Bela. You can easily understand why Leland commented on this "preaty" (pretty) river.

 

 

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river view

Ordnance Survey First Edition - Beetham to Levens Bridge

So if Leland turned right at Milnthorpe what evidence is there for a direct route to Kendal?

Lidar has so far revealed no obvious agger north of Carnforth. Often, when there is no trace, it can mean that the Roman road is covered by modern roads. Do any modern roads have Roman characteristics? Well certainly the A6 via Beetham-Milnthorpe-Haversham-Leasgill-Levens Bridge does look reasonably convincing. It is a logical direct route and does have the benefit of keeping a close coastal connection.

The modern A6 now bypasses Heversham and Leasgill.

This line would indicate that the road onwards to Watercrook could be on the west bank of the River Kent possibly masked by the old A6 again. The Roman road from Watercrook to Ambleside, the continuation of this road, is also on the west side of Kendal so possibly could align with the road from Lancaster - a common occurrence at Roman forts.

Note: near the top of this map, in big letters, is Hincaster - a Roman sounding name if ever there was one. Roman remains were found in the excavated material when the A590 was constructed (Potter CWAAS 1975). These were believed to have come from Tower Hill but the power of modern earth moving machinery has removed any trace.

 

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beetham-levens

Milnthorpe A6 - looking South

Near the top of the straight climb out Milnthorpe looking back.

 

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milnthorpe

Old Road Leasgill - looking South

The original A6 and the main road north before Heversham and Leasgill were bypassed.

 

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leasgill

3D Lidar Image Watercrook Roman Fort, Kendal

The fort at Watercrook shows up well in the 3D lidar image. Unfortunately any connecting roads do not but perhaps that is because the road from Lancaster is on the west side of the river. According to local tradition the river is easily fordable here.

For David Shotter's article in Contrebis 2000 on Watercrook - see link

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watercrook

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Last update: April 2018

© David Ratledge