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“A thousand roads lead men forever to Rome”; Alain de Lille, 1175

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Whilst it is beyond the scope of this brief synopsis to give a detailed account of Ricknild Street in Yorkshire, it is still worthwhile providing an overview. The first known reference to this road, which is known in some parts of the Midlands as Icknield Street, was made by Ranulf Higden (Higden 1344) where he listed Rikenildstrete as one of the four Great Ways of Britain. Higden described it as going from St. Davids in South Wales through Hereford, Birmingham, Lichfield, Derby, Chesterfield, York to the Tyne estuary. The antiquarian Roger Gale attempted to give a more precise route but from Derby northwards he was forced to concede “the tract of it I can trace no further this way” (Gale c.1710 p131) . In 1720 however, the cartographer John Warburton included a Roman way he marked as “Rickeneild Street Way” running through Chesterfield, Rotherham, Woodlesford, and on to Boroughbridge as part of his Map of Yorkshire (Warburton 1720). Whilst Warburton’s mapping of Roman roads was much criticised in the mid 20th century, in recent years it is becoming more apparent that where it is known that he visited roads himself, they are more often than not genuine, as evidenced by the recent re-discovery by Bryn Gethin & Hugh Toller of the road northwards from Bainbridge towards Bowes (Toller forthcoming), and the recognition of a length of road running south from Rossington Bridge (Roberts, et al., 2010, p. 19). Other antiquarians followed Warburton’s lead, such as Stukeley (Stukeley, 1724) and Drake (Drake, 1736), although their illustrated routes did vary slightly from Warburton’s. By the time Codrington wrote the Ricknild Street entry in his , Roman Roads in Britain (Codrington, 1903, p. 272) the road’s existence north of Templeborough was regarded as certain.

Excavations in 1930 by C E Whiting and F Villey (Whiting & Villy, 1931) appeared to confirm that there was indeed a Roman road leading north from the Roman fort at Templeborough, Rotherham, and later work by Greene & Wakelin certainly appeared to prove that the link between Chesterfield and Templeborough was genuine, although there remain major issues with the route. Dorothy Greene went on to postulate that there may even have been two routes, one Roman, one late Iron Age (Greene, 1949?).  And yet, when , Ivan Margary produced his epic Roman Roads in Britain, he only saw fit to include a two and a half mile length of road (RR728) north of Templeborough, near Temple Newsam, Leeds (Margary, 1957, pp. 139-140). Subsequent excavation of RR728 near Bullerthorpe Lane demonstrated that the feature claimed as a piece of surviving agger was in fact part of the rampart of the linear earthwork Grim’s Ditch (Wilmott 1993), at which point the idea of Ricknild Street north of Templeborough started to seem no more than a myth. And yet, at the very northern end of the supposed line (according to Warburton), excavations following the discovery of Roecliffe Roman fort near Boroughbridge strongly suggested an early Roman or even pre-Roman (potentially neolithic) crossing of the Ure over a mile west of the later bridging Roman point of what we now know as Dere Street (Bishop, 1996 & 2005). Just to complicate things even further, a length of Roman road has recently been discovered which might represent a road north from Templeborough along a line apparently heading to the fortlet at Thorpe Audlin (Roberts, et al., 2010, p. 18). The tentative interpretation of a Romano-British settlement at Nostell Priory as a possible vicus (ie a civilian settlement associated with a military site) outside an as yet undiscovered Roman fort (Pinnock, 2013) on the junction of Warburton’s supposed line of Ricknild Street and another possible Roman road (RRX134, Barnsdale Bar to Morley) make it clear that our knowledge is incomplete at best, and probably very confused. The various claimed routes for Ricknild Street, along with the known Roman network, are shown on the adjacent map  - click on it to enlarge.


It is clear from the above account, and the accompanying map, that we simply cannot say what the medieval route through southern Yorkshire known as Ricknild Street actually was, or if indeed it ever was a single Roman road. It may be that what Higden described was simply the use of a chain of various Roman roads as the easiest way for getting from the South West to York and then further north. If that is the case, then his route may well have been along the recently discovered road from Templeborough to Thorpe Audlin, and then along what was usually referred to as Erming Street through Castleford and Tadcaster to York, then up Margary 80a (Cade’s road) to Newcastle. On the other hand, all the many miles of claims and counterclaims (albeit without, as yet, much substantiation) surely merit further investigation, if only to ascertain the weight of any supportive evidence. We must even consider the possibility, albeit a highly unlikely one, that there may have been a road from Thorpe Audlin direct to York, an almost direct continuation of the alignment from Templeborough . Given all the uncertainty, Ricknild Street stood out as a possible pilot for the Yorkshire Roman Roads Project.

Ricknild Street; Fact or Fable, will be the prototype on which other discreet schemes within the overal Yorkshire Roman Roads Project will be based. It represents the study of the possible Roman route or routes north along a fairly narrow 68 mile corridor from Chesterfield to Boroughbridge, through the counties of Derbyshire, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and North Yorkshire. The study will also have to assess the origins of any long distance N-S routeway that may have existed. Whilst we are starting from the premise that Higden’s Great Way was Roman, that is based on the assumption that no substantial engineered roads were built during the Medieval period; we cannot discount the possibility that this assumption is false. Similarly, we cannot discount the possibility that Ricknild Street may have had pre-Roman origins, even if the Romans constructed a road along it. A few proven examples of this phenomenon are known, including at least a small part of the Roman road from Ilkley to Tadcaster near Adel, Leeds (Jefferson & Roberts 2006) . With this in mind, we will also examine the distribution patterns of different periods of settlement within the study area, which may reveal potential routeways of different periods. The proposed study area is highlighted on the map, although it is important to stress that whilst the boundaries should be far enough apart to encompass any likely route, this is based on limited evidence and therefore they are to be regarded as rather fluid.  There will be two distinct phases. The initial phase is essentially a detailed analysis of existing available evidence with a view to identifying potential sites where further fieldwork would advance our understanding. Phase I will not only investigate Ricknild Street, but the Roman infrastructure in general within the study area, and will be conducted primarily by RRRA members. Phase II will then investigate further any features or sites that are identified by Phase 1., and crucially we will formulate a co-ordinated series of community based projects to achieve this. Phase II will investigate not only possible early roads, but will also aim to investigate any possible early settlement or military sites which may be revealed by the research, not necessarily just Roman.  


It is diffcult to be precise at this early stage, as the length of time taken to complete Phase II will be entirely dependent both on the number of potential targets identified in Phase I, and the success or otherwise in gaining any necessary funding (from sources such as the Heritage Lottery Fund). Having said that, at the time of writing (January 2015), preliminary work such as the construction of the database and GIS is already well under way, and it is hoped that Phase I can commence in the Spring of 2017, with a very tentative target for completion of early Spring 2018. Given that we we will already have a good idea of potential targets before Phase I is complete, we would therefore hope to commence Phase II fairly quickly, during the summer of 2018.


Broadly, our objectives can be summarised as follows:

Research Objectives

Community Objectives


Phase I. Analysis and Identification

All data generated will be entered into a GIS (Geographic Information System) supported by a Geodatabase specially developed to host the data generated by the project. The methodology we will employ is discussed fully on the Methodology page of the Yorkshire Roman Roads Project.  It is loosely based upon that developed by Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust during their analysis of Roman roads in Clwyd and Powys (Sylvester & Owen 2003, pp.6-7). We can summarise briefly as follows.

All data relating to actual and potential Roman period sites within the study area will be extracted from the Derbyshire, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, York and North Yorkshire HERs (where possible in digital form), and that data input into our own geodatabase. The data on Ordnance Survey strip maps of Roman roads in the study area will also be extracted (if necessary using the English Heritage archive in Swindon), as will excavation reports or details from unpublished excavation and surveys, and entered into the geodatabase.  We will examine all available remote sensing imagery, ie LiDAR and aerial photography, extracting any relevant data. Findspots of Roman artefacts recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme, along with any other known Roman finds recorded elsewhere will be added to the geodatabase.

Further to the CPAT methodology, we will also collate all known historic or antiquarian material relating to Ricknild Street, and then prepare an edited summary of the information contained. Any features or specific sites referred to will be added to the database, although clearly it will be difficult to achieve any degree of accuracy as regards geolocation. A study of field-names and place-names will be made within the study area (where mapping is available), at least along the various suspected routes, utilising tithe, enclosure, and estate maps, extracting any names suggestive of an ancient road or way such as “street” or “causey”, and details entered into the geodatabase

When all that has been done, we can then make ground observations where necessary, re-assessing the features noted on the HER and OS files (many will have been destroyed over the last half century), examine features revealed by LiDAR and aerial photos on the ground, and follow up any routes suggested by the historic and antiquarian accounts and with field-name analysis.

Finally, we should then be able to highlight areas which are worthy of further investigation.

Phase II. Site Specific Investigation

It would be premature at this early stage to highlight any potential areas of interest, as the purpose of Phase I. is to identify a comprehensive list, and of course no fieldwork can take place without first gaining the consent of the landowner. The form of investigation utilised will largely be determined by the type of feature, and whether it is standing or buried.

As has already been made clear, it is intended that Phase II is run as a series of coordinated community based schemes, and it is therefore important that communities will have considerable input into the structure and delivery of the research themes and stratagems, with support from the professional heritage sector. Where local Archaeological or Historical societies exist, we would hope that they will take a lead role, and seventeen such groups have already been identified within the communities close to the possible routes.

It is quite possible, even likely, that potential sites we identify will be quite diverse, ranging from possible upstanding remains of a Roman agger to the buried remains of settlement sites. Consequently, the opportunities to learn and develop a range of skills will be varied, but will probably include


Once Phase II, and subsequent analysis of the data is complete, it is to be hoped that there is then a much clearer ;picture of the early north south routeways in the study area, and that we have a good indication of the route of the road Higden called Ricknild Street. But what then? Legacy is a rather overused word these days, and applied to Community Archaeology can attract a certain amount of derision (often very well justified). However, we feel that it is essential that we continue to satisfy our community objectives after the pilot project has finished. Most importantly, we need to encourage an awareness amongst the general public of Ricknild Street and other ancient routes and the impact they have had on the development of settlement pattern over at least two millennia.

How do we achieve that goal? Clearly, we need to ensure that the information acquired during the investigation is disseminated to the widest possible audience. Simply publishing results in a glossy book is nowhere near enough, but then neither is utilising the Internet or other new media, although these will all play their part. In order to illustrate the effect that features in the landscape have had on our heritage and the world in which we live today, then we have to find a way to demonstrate that effect in some permanent or semi-permanent way within the landscape itself. Display boards at key points, and short reconstructed lengths of “Roman” road have already been considered, however we are always open to other ideas.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Click on the author to return to the paragraph you were just reading

Bishop, M. C., 1996. From Trackway to Road; “Corbridge, Roecliffe, and the case for a Proto-Dere Street” available online at Accessed 7/1/15

Bishop, M. C., 2005. “A New Flavian Military Site at Roecliffe, North Yorkshire” in Britannia vol 36 pp. 135 - 223

Codrington, T., 1903. Roman Roads in Britain. first ed. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

Defoe, Daniel; 1724 - 1727. “A Tour thro’ the Whole Island of Britain”, Letter 8

Drake, F., 1736. Eboracum; or the History and Antiquities of the City of York from its Origin to this Time.

Gale, Roger, c.1710 “An Essay Towards the Recovery of the Four Great Roman Ways” in Hearne, Thomas 1754 (2nd edition); The Itinerary of John Leland the Antiquary,  Vol 6.  

Greene, Dorothy., 1949?The Roman Roads in the Don Valley: The Ricknild Street-a suggested route.” In Transactions of the Hunter Archaeological Society, Vol 6 p.168., Available online at: accessed 7/1/15.

Higden, R., 1344. Polychronicon . . In Babington, Churchill ; “Polychronicon, Ranulphi Higden Monachii Cistrensis, together with the English Translation of John  Trevisa and an unknown writer of the fifteenth century” Vol II London 1889 , p46.

Jefferson, P & Roberts, I 2006. Adel Roman Road, Adel, West Yorkshire; Archaeological Evaluation. ASWYAS Report No. 1468, unpublished

Margary, I. D., 1957. Roads in Roman Britian Vol II. 1st ed. London: Phoenix House.

Pinnock, D., 2013. The Romans at Nostell Priory: Excavations at the New Visitor Carpark in 2009. York: On-Site Archaeology.

Roberts, I., Berg, D. & Deegan, A., 2010. Cropmark Landscapes of the Magnesian Limestone Chapter 8. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 9 December 2014].

Roskams, S. & Whyman, M. 2007. Yorkshire Archaeological Research Framework: Research Agenda. Unpublished report prepared for the Yorkshire Archaeological Research Framework and English Heritage. Available online at

Stukeley, W., 1724. Map of Roman Roads through Britain. London:

Sylvester, R. & Owen, W., 2003. CPAT Report 527; Roman Roads in Mid and North East Wales, Welshpool: CPAT.

Toller, H., The Roman Road from Bainbridge to Stang Top; Forthcoming

Warburton, J., 1720. A New and Correct Map of the County of York in All its Divisions, London.

Whiting, C. E. & Villy, F., 1931. Yorkshire Archaeological Journal Vol. 30, pp. 258-259.

Wilmott, T. 1993. “Excavation and survey on the line of Grim's Ditch, West Yorkshire 1977-83”. Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, vol. 65, pp.55-76.

The Excavations at Roecliffe. Click to link to Mike Bishop’s short paper on the possibility of a Proto-Dere Street

Page 125

Map of the known Roman road network and the proposed study area showing the various claimed routes for Ricknild Street

Plot of Geophysical survey prior to the construction of the Hemsworth Bypass, showing the side ditches of a Roman road apparently aligned between the forts at Templeborough and Thorpe Audlin. ©ASWYAS 2014

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