Thursday, April 12, 2007

Garstang's Roman Roads

Now then...some of you reading this might already be aware that we also write (or attempt to write) a monthly column for Garstang's free newspaper. Unfortunately, what with heavy workloads recently, and books that need completing and stuff, we might not be writing these articles for much longer (that and the fact that there's only so much we can say about Garstang's history before we have to start inventing stuff...but that's beside the point). Anyhow, recently, the editor passed on to us a request (well it was bound to happen eventually) for an article concerning ‘Garstang’s Lost Roman Roads’. (Actually, they’re not entirely ‘lost’ but the customer is always right.)
Not ones to disappoint (not intentionally anyhow) here's our response. Let’s kick off with the Walton-le-Dale to Lancaster highway. (For the more parochial amongst our readers, Walton-le-Dale is on the other side of the River Ribble, whereas Lancaster is that grey old town with the castle and the big, marble dalek in it straddling the River Lune.) Unsurprisingly, our Roman highway journeys more or less north/south. We say ‘more or less’ because, unlike most of Britain’s Roman roads, around the Wyre they weren’t constructed in straight lines; certain fells and marshes being inconsiderate enough to get in their way.
As you’d expect this ancient road disappears beneath the jumble of modern day Garstang.
It crops up again, however, close to the end of Wyre Lane, where it crosses the Wyre via a ford. If you’re a dog owner, or a child owner come to that, or possibly even just a member of the Rambler’s Association, you’ve no doubt looked down at the crossing from the narrow footbridge on your travels without realising its great antiquity. Nonetheless, the Roman cuttings are still clearly visible, shored up in patches over the centuries but more or less intact, as seen in the photograph below.

Once it’s emerged on the western bank the road continues towards Forton where a cylindrical stone column rears its haggard head. This, or so many local historians believe, was originally a Roman milestone. There’s no inscription on it nowadays, but that’s not surprising as most were simply painted on.
Once again, you’ve probably seen this ancient milestone without realising what it was; as, it appears, was the case with the people who hammered a metal hoop into it a couple of years ago for whatever reasons people who go round hammering metal hoops into Roman milestones have.
Because we’re that way inclined, we’ve included a photograph of said milestone (along with its accompanying keeill cross base) below.

Our second Roman highway branches from the first at Wyre Lane and, by a circuitous route, heads west for Nateby, where, in 1995, several sections were excavated by John Salisbury and Neil Thompson of the Pilling Historical Society. The agger (that’s the posh word for ‘road’) turned out to be eighteen feet wide, cambered and surfaced with cobblestones laid on a bed of red marl. True to the construction of Roman roads everywhere it had a ditch running along either side.
In October 2003, two denarii, a silver ‘Tiberius’ and a bronze ‘Claudius’, were discovered lying on the pebbled surface of this track, confirming it as having been in use during the Roman occupation. This doesn’t mean, of course, that it was of Roman construction. In fact, the evidence of the surrounding earthworks suggests that the Romans simply improved the existing Celtic highway.
Now, we were going tell you that the road ran on towards Hambleton, crossed the Wyre and headed for Bourne where, in 2005, Wyre Archaeology uncovered an Iron Age settlement which some believe (meaning the authors of this article) to be the legendary Romano/Celtic port of Setantiorum.
Unfortunately we can’t, because we’ve run out of space. So it might be best if we leave that subject for another time and, who knows, we might even throw in some stuff about Garstang’s Celtic road system whilst we’re about it.

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