Roman Roads in Lancashire - Page 2

Lancs Roman Roads

The Inland North-South Road (Margary 7)

Manchester to Ribchester (26.5 miles)

This section is readily traceable and survives as highway along much of its route. A road issued from the north gate of the fort but this was more likely a connecting road to the main road which probably underlies Deansgate. The road from the fort made a shallow angle with Deansgate, the two coinciding around half way along, about where Lloyd Street is today. Deansgate was labeled "Roman Road" on the 1896 OS 25-inch map.

At the north end of Deansgate, in the Cathedral area, the road swung around the River Irwell. The remaining route was remarkably direct. It used to be thought it had been set out in 3 alignments based on inter visible high-points: the first from (possibly) the top of Hope Hill, Heaton Norris to Affetside (273 metres high) - see contour map , the second from Affetside to (the side of) Rushton's Height (314 metres) and the third from the latter to Jeffrey Hill (c. 272 metres). However, GIS technology has revealed that Top of Ramsgreave was also a setting out point as a subtle change of direction took place there - see contour map.

The change of direction at Affetside was also subtle and it is possible the changes at Affetside (2 degrees) and Ramsgreave (1 degree) are simply the limitation of Roman setting out precision. However, the Ramsgreave change does mean the route avoided the Stydd Brook valley at Ribchester so perhaps they knew precisely the best route. Either way, it is clear from the GIS analysis that Affetside, Rushton Height, Top of Ramsgreave and Jeffrey Hill were the main setting out points.

First clue on the A56 at Broughton - Roman Road Terrace. Note the intriguing "Site of CAMP" just south of it. Click on map for larger view.

On the first alignment parts of the modern highway (A56) represents the course and Roman Road Terrace provides the first clue! However, close analysis shows that this alignment to Affetside was not perfectly straight but changed slightly at Kersall and Whitefield so perhaps this was to regain the alignment set out from Hope Hill (see above). Paradoxically Bury New Road in places follows some of the the route. This seems to be the case of a turnpike road being built, at least in part, on Roman foundations (Bury Old Road is further to the east near Heaton Park and despite its name is not really therefore the older route).

The Irwell at Radcliffe was the major obstacle on this stretch and it is likely it would have angled down to cross the river although the OS First Edition map indicates it carried straight on. This seems very unlikely and a dogleg via Goat's Gate is much more logical and typical. The OS surveyors got crossing routes wrong on this road at the Hodder, Whiteray Beck and the Greta! Further on at Starling, it was was named Blackburn Street but the modern estate road here, "Watling Street", preserves the name but not the course being a little too far to the east.

On the second alignment from Affetside to Rushton's Heights there were several diversions off the nominal alignment in order to negotiate deep valleys. For the first section, Lidar shows the agger to Pelton Fold very clearly. In the 1950s, Chris Aspin led a group from the Helmshore LHS which excavated a section of the Manchester to Ribchester road to a field at Knotts Brow, near Edgworth. This is the stretch heading to Pelton Fold in the lidar image referred to above. Chris has kindly supplied copies of a cross section drawing and an annotated photograph.

The road must then have passed close to the Barlow Institute and probably continued via Horrocks Fold and slightly east of Horrock's Road north of this, before rejoining the main road.

Lidar has revealed the course across Edgworth. Note the OS are correct in two places, wrong in one. Click for larger image.

Modern OS maps show a short piece at the rear (west) of Crooked Walls. Lidar has confirmed this as correct and extended it in both directions. The route at Edgworth can now be confirmed with high confidence (see map above). The OS maps seems to be wrong beyond Wayoh Bridge as Lidar indicates the line is further west in the fields by Round Barn Farm.

The third alignment begins at Rushton's Heights and on a clear day the route of the road to Jeffrey Hill can be made out.

The alignment change at Ramsgreave is exaggerated in this telephoto shot - the actual angle change is only 1 degree.

The Roman alignment leaves the modern Blackburn Road at Hoddlesden Road (see above). In July 2005, Darwen Archaeological Society excavated to find the road at Brocklehead Farm but were unlucky. Lidar indicates the road is in the recorded position but has been much disturbed and removed in several places.

View from Top of Ramsgreave, looking North
Descent down to the River Ribble from Top of Ramsgreave. Note the alignment is not on Ribchester Fort but Jeffrey Hill.

Traces of the final alignment are easily recognised from Top of Ramsgreave aerial - both looking north (see above) and south.

The site of the River Ribble Bridge has been the subject of much debate over the years but with Lidar now revealing the course of the road via Salesbury (see later on Page 3) then a reasonable guess can now be made providing the course of the river in Roman times can be worked out. Fortunately Lidar also shows old river courses too and as horse-shoe bends extend further downstream over time the possible position of the river in Roman times can be inferred. The bridge site would have been where the 3 roads (from Manchester, from Elslack and from Ribchester itself) all met.

Ribble Bridge

The final approach to Ribchester was shared with the road from Elslack.

Lidar beech House
Lidar image showing the road into Ribchester from the bridge site. Click for larger view.

The agger leading to the bridge site is evident on the ground east of Beech House. Where it would have turned onto the bridge approach there is a spread of stones. There were no stones elsewhere.

Agger at Beech House
Lidar image showing the road into Ribchester from the bridge site. Click for larger view.

We can now with reasonable confidence the road plan for Ribchester.

Ribchester road map
The Ribchester road layout. This is an updated map based on the latest lidar data. The roads to Manchester and York head for the site of the Roman river bridge. Click for larger view.

Ribchester to Over Burrow (29 miles)

The line of this road was thought to be known and secure in its entirety. However, this has turned out to be not quite the case - at least for the stretch from the Hindburn Valley to the River Greta. But let's start at the beginning.

Water Street
From the fort, Water Street marks the course passing the White Bull and its supposedly Roman columns.

Leaving Ribchester, via Water Street and Ribblesdale Road, it soon re-joins the original straight alignment from Manchester after the dogleg beyond Cherry Yate (formerly Chester Gate). Note there is no sign of a road bypassing Ribchester on this main alignment.

Ribchester 3D

It then continues up to the crest of Longridge Fell, near Jeffrey Hill Map. The panorama from Jeffrey Hill is one of the best views in Lancashire with the Bowland Fells centre stage. Even the Roman engineers baulked at going straight ahead and with a choice of North-West or North-East chose the latter. So the alignment swings 54 degrees to the NE and can be seen angling across the steep slope just below, and parallel to, the present road - aerial-photo. This section was aligned on Browsholme Heights although it is often claimed it is aligned on the the summit of Penygent, visible in the far distance on very clear days. Our photo indicates not on Penygent but it demonstrates how Roman engineers did use high points (Browsholme Heights) to set out their roads (contour map).

view from Jeffrey Hill
The alignment from Jeffrey Hill looking north-east.

The major obstacle on this alignment was the (first) crossing of the Hodder - this was the old Lancashire-Yorkshire boundary until 1974. Following the construction of a pipeline, the zigzag descents to the river has been worked out by Peter Iles. This demonstrates clever engineering to get down to the best fording point.

Hodder crossing
The brilliant engineering solution adopted to get down to the best crossing point of the river. Note this has been confirmed by Lidar imagery.

Further on a minor road continues the line but at Cow Ark and Marl Hill it deviates leaving a trace visible on aerial-photos. At Browsholme Heights it swung more northerly aimed at Low Fell (contour map). This change of direction near Marl Hill has been questioned by Ben Edwards - the modern road route he thought more logical. But, the recently scanned 1947 aerials appears to confirm that it did indeed change here 1947aerial just as the old surveyors recorded. This recent photo by Peter Iles and now Lidar imagery confirms OS route.

Where the road crosses the Hodder for the second time an interesting fort like feature is visible on the 1947 aerial photo. However, subsequent site visits have revealed no visible trace of a possible fort. Lidar shows the road but no fort (see below). Nevertheless a fort or fortlet must surely have existed somewhere on this stretch.

Lidar view of the second Hodder Crossing. Note there are 2 pipelines crossing this image - unfortunately not other Roman roads!
Click for larger view.

The route the engineers chose through the Bowland Fells was via Croasdale Fell and part of the track is now known as Hornby Road (or Broken Bank Head). The most logical explanation of the route selected is that it made use of a pre-Roman crossing of the fells - the Romans simply adopted and upgraded it.

It must have been a daunting journey in bad weather. The ascent to the pass shows clearly on the aerial-photo. Across the fell the route was adapted to the contours - (contour map). For more details and many images of the spectacular Croasdale section of the Road north from Ribchester click here.

NEW - Video - Crossing the Croasdale Fells in winter.

The ascent to Croasdale over the Bowland Fells. Possibly based on a pre-Roman route through the fells.

Its descent from the fells into the Hindburn valley is also very clear on the aerial-photo see contour map. It then ran down the east side of the beautiful Hindburn valley heading through Ivah and Lowgill (aerial-photo). It was excavated here by Ben Edwards.

Recent Ordnance Survey maps have shown the road leaving the Hindburn valley and then taking a dogleg to the north-west under Robert Hall and following a course on or near to the county boundary between the River Wenning and River Greta. I had long been suspicious of this and it was one of the first routes I checked with Lidar. What Lidar showed is that there is nothing visible on the OS Robert Hall route but there is very clear evidence for the alignment from the Hindburn valley continuing straight on almost to the River Wenning. Interestingly the first edition 6" OS maps had the road carrying straight on but on a different course (further west) - right in principle but not in detail.

NEW -3D Lidar video of the "new" section

The route of the road is shown below and compared to that currently shown on Ordnance Survey maps. Unfortunately this means part the road is now in Yorkshire!

wenning to greta

The "new" stretch of road is first visible on the ground where it descends to Mewith Lane and it seems strange the OS surveyors missed this stretch. It has to curve slightly to drop down to the Wenning (SD642693) - thanks to Hugh Toller for finding the beautifully engineered descent. On the other side of the Wenning, across modern playing fields, there is an equally well engineered climb from the river bottom (SD643695).

There is a faint Lidar trace of a possible earlier crossing of the River Wenning only visible when the illumination angle is adjusted so perhaps the road had to be re-positioned here during its (Roman) lifetime - see here. This would perhaps explain the slightly odd final route here.


Lidar imagery then confirms this route (see below) heading for the River Greta. The road across the middle of the image below is Ravens Close Brow from Wennington. Interestingly there is no sign of a road to Bainbridge!

Ravens Close Brow
Lidar shows up the route remarkably clearly. This stretch is in North Yorkshire.

Having crossed the river (back in Lancashire), the road ascends Windy Bank (SD632720) in a north-westerly direction before turning back north onto the accepted line.

R. Greta
The crossing of the River Greta. The crossing point has been well chosen and the agger ascending the north bank shows clearly in this aerial photo.

This new route from the Hindburn Valley to north of the River Greta can therefore be plotted with some confidence:

Hindburn to Greta
Click for larger view

Further north, nearing Burrow Fort, the road has some very prominent stretches such as the approach to (Cant Beck).

A link road to Burrow fort would have been required and Lidar has revealed its probable course (see page 3 - Lancaster to Burrow for the Lidar evidence). This would almost certainly imply that the road from Ribchester was here earlier than the road from Lancaster.

Burrow Link
The link road (and fork) which is located well clear of the Leck Beck flooding area.



Continue to Page 3


Last update: January 2018

© David Ratledge