cheshire map

King Street, the Roman Road from Wilderspool to Chesterton

Margary Number: 70a

Distance: 30 miles

King Street is the major Roman north-south route through the county. As such it has been suggested (ref: Professor David Shotter) that it is based on the original invasion route for North-West England. This theory has perhaps fallen out of favour in recent years with a route via Manchester and Ribchester thought to be probably the earlier. A puzzling feature of the road is how it bypasses Northwich 1.5 miles to its east.

The route of the road is well documented in the north of the county but the nearer it gets to Chesterton then the less certain its course becomes. The biggest clue to tracing it south is that the last definite road direction just south of Sandbach appears to be aligned on the high ground near Bignall Hill/Wedgwood's Monument. This represents a logical direct alignment but evidence is very intermittent. An alternative route via Lawton Heath was suggested over 100 years ago by Watkin (Roman Chester, P73). He did caution that a direct route he thought more likely.

We have therefore resorted to showing two routes approaching Chesterton - either, neither or both could be true!

Note this road is sometimes referred by its alternative name of Kind Street.



Historic Counties: Cheshire & Staffordshire

Current Counties: Cheshire & Staffordshire

HER: Cheshire & Staffordshire



cheshire map

Wilderspool - Roman Sites & Roads

The Roman settlement at Warrington/Wilderspool seem to have been quite extensive from Stockton Heath in the south to under Warrington town centre itself. It appears to have been an important road junction with not just King Street but a probable road to Chester and perhaps one to Manchester as well. There also appears to have been two river crossings. Presumably a bridge at Wilderspool on the direct road north to Wigan and a second, probably a ford, at Howley. No fort has been found (yet) so it is classed as an industrial site and port with a primary purpose of supplying the military in the north-west.

Ref: Cheshire Historic Towns Survey, Warrington

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Stockton Heath - Excavation 2007 with King Street Roman Road (SJ 61208619)

Excavations prior the building of a new school at Stockton Heath (Wilderspool) in 2007 by Earthworks Archaeology found King Street itself and various timber structures flanking the road. There was evidence for two overlying roads forming a cambered construction of 13 metres. The phase 2 later road on top had no ditches but did have kerbstones indicating a road width of 6 metres - visible in the picture right..

Ref: Excavation of a Roman roadside settlement at Stockton Heath, Warrington 2007 From : Journal of the Chester Archaeological Society 81 Publication Date: 2006 Author(s): Leigh Dodd, Fiona Grant, David Shotter, M Ward (Earthworks Archaeology).

Image reproduced courtesy of Leigh Dodd of Earthworks Archaeology to whom our thanks are due.

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newton heath road

OS First Edition & Modern Map - Excavation at Appleton by Jermy et al. 1964

Ref: Petch, D. F., Newton, C. A. and Jermy, K. E., (1965). King Street - A Roman road in central Cheshire. Journal of the Chester Archaeological Society 52. Vol 52, pp. 23-25.

The following is taken from the above paper:-

In 1964, a new housing estate was built at Appleton, between Hillcliffe Hydro and Warren Drive, straddling the line of the Roman road. During a preliminary visit to the site, a road layer was discovered; this was 6in. thick, Min. below ground level, and resting on a layer of clean orange-coloured sand. The road layer was made of pebbles up to 5in. size, topped by gravel of average size fin., which is taken to be part of the road surface. Gravel and pebbles are quite foreign to this site; the natural layers are massive, slab or disintegrated red sandstone.

On 18 February, 1964, the site agent kindly extended another section near here, already partly exposed, by mechanical excavation. This section was later measured, and is shown in Fig. 1 (below). The section was incomplete (as shown by dotted lines), but the western edge of the road structure was identified with certainty, and the indications were that the eastern end of the section was within a foot or two of the road edge. The measured section shows a road width of at least 34 feet at this point. The structure was 1 foot below ground surface, and was roughly 2ft. 6in. thick over most of its width. It was mainly composed of compacted sand and gravel, fairly well stratified at the western half of the section, with some distinct narrow layers of dark staining. The structure was placed directly on the dirty brown sand layer which overlies the natural soft red sandstone, except that at the eastern half a layer of clean sand was placed below the road structure. In both the western and eastern portions a layer of red clay, up to 6in. thick, was interspersed within the pebble layers, but these two clay layers were at different depths and did not join.

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jermy excavation

Appleton Excavation - Cross-section

The section raises several problems of interpretation. .....The presence of clay layers in the actual road structure is very unusual, particularly in Cheshire. The clay layer towards the top of the western half of the section may represent a hurried repair in Roman or post-Roman times; this, however, does not tally with the low clay layer in the eastern half, unless this was part of a widening or rebuild of some kind, as suggested above. The fairly heavy layers showing dark stain are difficult to explain. These are unlikely to represent brushwood layers, as suggested by Thompson at Stretton, since the road at Appleton is descending a hill-slope on which there is no suggestion of marshy ground to negotiate. The fact that these layers occur under the clay layers may indicate decayed vegetation covered by repairing or new road construction. Another possibility is that they are equivalent to the “pan” which has been found underneath the turf rampart of the fortress at Chester. The eastern edge of the section described was at 61468547, a point roughly 80 yards NW of the NW corner of Hillcliffe Hydro building. The suggested course of the road in this area on the O.S. 6-in. sheet is thus some 20 yards too far to the west.

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1964 excavation

Excavation by F H Thompson 1969, north of Stretton Church

Ref: Thompson, F. H., (1961). Notes on Roman roads in Cheshire. Journal of the Chester Archaeological Society 48. Vol 48, pp. 25-26.

The following is taken from the above paper:-

In March, 1960, the laying of a petrol pipe-line from the Stanlow refinery to Manchester afforded a fresh opportunity for an examination of the road structure. The pipe-trench was mechanically excavated and crossed the line of King Street, approximately at right-angles, at a point 300 yards north of Stretton Church (Nat. Grid Ref. 619831 on sheet 101). The road appeared clearly in section in the sides of the trench; it was 18 ft. wide and its western edge coincided with the hedge-line which here runs parallel with it. Beneath 9 in. of dark plough-soil a gently cambered surface of pebbles and sandstone chips rested on a layer of brown sand, 4 in. thick. This in turn rested, for rather more than half the width on the west side, on a thin black layer (? brushwood), beneath which appeared a thin layer of light grey clay, characteristic of an old ground surface on boulder clay. To the east, the under­ lying boulder-clay fell sharply away into a sand-filled ditch, presumably for drainage, though it was difficult to determine its precise dimensions in the section. On the west, there was a similar but shallower scoop; this however was filled with plough- soil and more probably represents the silted ditch associated with the hedge. The cutting of this ditch may have disturbed the west edge of the road, so that 18 ft. can only be the minimum width of the road, though it is unlikely to have been very much more.

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thompson site

King Street - Stretton Church

This is looking north to Wilderspool. The Roman line is left of the churchyard marked by a footpath.


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stretton church

King Street (Northwich Road), Lower Stretton - looking South

Beyond the M56 Motorway, King Street heads for open country. However, in the main it is overlaid by Northwich Road, A559.

Image: Google Earth

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king street

Lidar Image - King Street passing Great Budworth

The route of King Street passing Great Budworth is somewhat disputed at least by residents of the village. The suggestion has been that the road would go through the centre of the village, under or near the church. However, a look at the contours and Lidar data would indicate a route west of the village. That cutting down to cross the valley of the mere looks too convincing not to be the Roman line. It does align well with Lidar traces south of here too. Perhaps not good news for a village keen for Roman connections.

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gt budworth

Lidar Image and Route Map - King Street passing Northwich

King Street rather puzzlingly passes over 1.5 miles to the east of Northwich Fort. The fort would have been accessed by the road in from Manchester but it is still an odd arrangement. The actual junction with the Manchester road can only be inferred by projecting from the known sections but is probably pretty close to reality.

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northwich lidar map

King Street, Rudheath - looking South

Beyond Northwich, the A530 overlies the Roman Road. Here it is actually called King Street and is very straight all the way to Middlewich.

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rudheath 3D

Middlewich - Google Earth 3D View

The Roman fort in Middlewich was sited at Harbutts Field and King Street had to cross the River Dane for its approach.

For details of the Harbutts Field fort - follow link



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middlewich 3D

Middlewich - Lidar Image, OS First Edition Map and Modern Map

The dotted roads are those recorded in Cheshire County Council's Historic Town Survey for Middlewich. Not perhaps totally convincing for the site of the River Dane crossing as King Street would more likely have continued straight-on to the bridge site.

The road arrangement south of the town may seem a little odd but there would have been the need for a dog-leg to cross the valley now occupied by the Trent & Mersey Canal. The Whitchurch road would have left hereabouts but its precise course is somewhat uncertain but what is shown is probably close to the truth.

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middlewich montage

Middlewich South - Lidar Image and Route Map

Not a lot of evidence visible in the Lidar data (thanks to industrial development) but there is no reason not to assume a straight course here and it eventually merges into the A533.

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middlewich south

Elworth, Sandbach - Lidar Image and Route Map

This is the critical alignment as it probably determines which course the road takes south of Sandbach.

All the clues line up: the A553, a length of lidar agger, OS first edition map route, Abbeyfields excavation and finally another agger visible in the Lidar data. This rather confirms the direction of the road south of Sandbach will not be along the A533 as has been suggested in the past. The Roman road is taking a much more direct course to Chesterton and this straight alignment would appear to have been set-out from the vicinity of Bignall Hill/Wedgwood's Monument (see route map 2 below).

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elworth lidar

Abbeyfields Excavation (SJ 7465 6071)

This is reproduced from Cheshire HER record 436/1/17 (copyright Cheshire CC) but the evidence derives from A York's book "I once was Lost but now I'm Found", 2010. The excavation recorded a road c. 8 metres wide with large camber. The location is marked on the map above and lines in perfectly with other evidence in the locality.

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aqbbeyfields excavation

Mill Hill Lane, Sandbach

The bridge and lane at Sandbach Mill preserve the Roman line so the river crossing point here is almost 2000 years old. The modern road turns to the left beyond the mill but the Roman line turned right - see below.

Image; Neil Buckley

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Lidar Image & Route Map - crossing the A534

The climb up to and down from the A534 crossing are very clear on the Lidar data. Again this is very typical Roman engineering to get up and down gradients.


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crossing A534

3D Oblique Lidar Image - looking north-west over Sandbach and Elworth

The alignment through Elworth and Abbeyfields (see above appears to continue further south to Hassall House Farm. Unfortunately the lidar data currently (2018) runs out there so tracing it further required consulting aerial photographs.

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Aerial Photo - Bank Farm, Hassall (GoogleEarth)

The agger approaching Bank Farm at Hassall not only is evident in the Lidar data but shows up well as a lighter strip.

This section perhaps the last very definite course of the road - south of here then the clues start to dry up.

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bank farm aerial

Aerial Photo - Bank Farm, Hassall (Bing)

In this aerial the course of the road across the field south of Hassall House Farm is evident as a change in grass colour - presumably due to a change of slope at the agger. On the basis of the Lidar data and this image it would appear that the direct direction of the road is continuing.

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bank farm aerial

Sandbach Route Map

The route across Sandach can now be plotted with reasonably high confidence. All the evidence points to a pretty direct alignment apart from the normal deviations to get up and down gradients.

This alignment is pretty direct and expectations would be that it continues unchanged to Chesterton but proving this has proved difficult.

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Hassall to Lawton Heath - Lidar & Route Map (Two Routes)

Hassall is probably the last definite section of the road but confusingly two aggers are visible there. One would continue the alignment straight-on towards Wedgwood's Monument and the second indicates an alternative route probably via Lawton Heath. The latter does have a HER record flagging its possibility to be part of King Street. It is straight but is well off the direct line to Chesterton.

The HER record for Lawton Heath is based on Watkin and his comments are probably still relevant today.

"The road may still be traced as described by the Archdeacon, and is marked on the ordnance Survey Map; but its course beyond Sandbach is difficult to trace. Either it, or a branch from it, seems visible for about half a mile to the N.W. of Lawton Heath, which is used as a road still; and again at "Lawton Pavement" we have another trace of one of them, where here makes an angle to the south, and passing the county boundary proceeds towards Talk on the Hill, just beyond which there is a "Windy Harbour" on its route, keeps on through "Red Street" and about a mile further reaches Chesterton. It is probable, however, that the main line of the this road pursued a more direct track, though as yet it has not been detected, from the neighbourhood of Sandbach to Chesterton."

So Watkin thought the Lawton Heath was probably not the route to Chesterton and believed a direct route more likely. Quite a puzzle so the two options are both shown on the Lidar image and the map.

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The Hall to Wedgwood's Monument - Lidar & Route Map

The direct route is assumed to have approached Chesterton fort along the ridge of high ground around Wedgwood's Monument. The latter would have been a very logical position with excellent view ahead to set out the alignment to Middlewich - assuming it was set out south to north..

Red Street would appear to be a clue but it is somewhat indirect but would fit the Lawton Heath route option.

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the hall to monument

Alternative Routes from Sandbach to Chesterton

There is not much certain evidence on the direct route other than the logic of using the high ground at Wedgwood's Monument for setting out the alignment. Alternatives were therefore examined. Possibly the most likely would be via Lawton Heath and Red Street. It is much more indirect but the straight road at Lawton Heath and the name Red Street are perhaps clues.

Also shown is an option for the direct route changing direction and going via Merelake. Again it is indirect but would pass through Red Street. Confidence in this option is regarded as low.

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alternative route

Chesterton - Lidar Image and Route Map

The route was investigated beyond Chesterton Fort to see if its alignment would offer a clue as the route in from Middlewich. It probably does indicate that London Road and Castle Street are close to the Roman line so Audley Road could well be the line from Middlewich. Holditch appears to have been an important road-side settlement with several significant buildings.

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Route Maps

Wilderspool to Northwich - Map 1

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Wilderspool to Northwich - Map 2


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Wilderspool to Northwich - Map 3

Great Budworth

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Northwich to Middlewich - Map 4


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Northwich to Middlewich - Map 5

Kingstreet Hall


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Middlewich to Chesterton - Map 6


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Middlewich to Chesterton - Map 7


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Middlewich to Chesterton - Map 8

Alsager - the alternative routes are shown.

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Middlewich to Chesterton - Map 9

Chesterton - again the alternative routes are shown.

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Last update: August 2018

© David Ratledge & Neil Buckley