Friday, August 24, 2007

The Fylde’s Original Promenade: Part One

Anybody who’s ever been connected in even the smallest manner to the Fylde’s prehistoric legacy, has, at some point or other, discussed, debated and argued either for or against the existence of the Roman road known as the Danes’ Pad. Was it just a storm beach? Was it an invention of the Victorians’ over-active imaginations? Or did it really run from Dowbridge fort just north of the Ribble, to the Fleetwood peninsula and/or out into Morecambe Bay to a legendary port that we now know (even if the authorities don’t) once stood at Bourne?
Well, to be honest, we just couldn’t say, but it’s one of those issues that sets father against son and archaeologist against historian, that causes rifts between friends, is responsible for blood curdling screams heard distantly in learned antechambers and, on the more severe occasions, has even been responsible for bloodied noses.
Which is a pity, because, whilst this debate continues to charge around like some recently beheaded chicken, everybody appears to have overlooked the more obvious Roman military road circumnavigating the Fylde coast.
So, it’s time to either examine another, slightly more obvious perhaps, possibility; one that might bring the factions warring over the Dane’s Pad together or, possibly, be responsible for the absolute destruction of local academia.
Let’s go back to Dowbridge on the eastern outskirts of Kirkham and take a closer look...not at the Dane’s Pad (that allegedly leaves the fort by its northern gate) but at our own suspected highway emerging from the fort’s western exit. Roman forts always had four gateways, accompanied by an equal number of military roads leading in and out. At Dowbridge these, as viewed anticlockwise, lead firstly to a ford across the Ribble on the south, secondly to Ribchester on the east, thirdly the Dane’s Pad to the north and…well…fourthly, apparently nowhere to the west because nobody so far has progressed beyond the Dane’s Pad.
The existence of the Roman fort at Dowbridge has been acknowledged since Victorian times, the numerous finds emerging from both the site and the road connecting it to Ribchester even then causing endless speculation and argument. For example, at St. John’s Church in Lund can be found the Roman altar shown in the photograph below, depicting, apparently, three mother goddesses. It was reputedly found on the surface of the Ribchester to Dowbridge road.

In 1800, at Dowbridge itself, a shield boss was discovered by Mr Willacy in a small stream adjoining ‘New England Spring’. Suggestions of votive offerings to the goddess Minerva were, of course, put forward. The original boss is now housed by the British Museum and is illustrated below. (As you’ve probably noticed, we don’t have an original photograph but our illustration is accurate enough, believe me.)

The same Mr. Willacy also apparently discovered two coins of the Emperor Adrian and told William Thornber (who later recorded the information in an essay for the Lancashire and Cheshire Historical Society) of the ruins of a square fortress at Dowbridge with a red sandstone floor.
In 1840, a Mr. Loxham (Victorians had a habit of not recording Christian names) discovered, in the same area, an urn filled with large bones, pieces of skull and an amulet.
Naturally these, along with countless other finds such as the piece of decorated Samian ware illustrated below (again, no photograph, but we’re sure you can live with the drawing), strongly suggested the fort’s existence but it wasn’t until over a century and a half later (in 1994 to be exact) that any professional archaeology was conducted on the site.

The excavation was conducted by the Lancaster University Archaeological Unit, who soon discovered that the fort had existed for over one hundred years before becoming redundant. It had been remodelled at least three times.
Phase one consisted of a simple Agricolan fort, reckoned to have been constructed as part of the Roman military advancement northwards through Brigante territory around the mid first century.
Phase two saw the basic camp transformed into a fortlet or signal station. During the revamping process the defensive ditches were re-cut.
Phase three took place around the start of the second century, when a larger fort was built on the site of its earlier incarnations. By the middle of the second century, however, it had been abandoned. Some historians have suggested that it was demoted to a simple storage depot in later life.
Following the excavation a number of houses were built on the site, thus buggering up any future investigations, so let’s hope Lancaster University did the best job that they could at the time. Exactly why the cabbage field three hundred yards away couldn’t have made an alternative location for redevelopment is a matter for the authorities to debate.
Whatever…getting back to our coastal road, as we’ve already said it’s highly probable that a Roman highway ran from the western exit of Dowbridge fort, through, or at least close to, Wrea Green, towards St. Anne’s where it turned abruptly north and followed the coastline up through Blackpool.
Which is where, unfortunately, due to restricted space and the fact that we’ve gabbled too much, we’ll have to leave it for this week. In part two of this article we’ll examine some of the evidence that backs up our claims so far, so whatever you do, make sure to bookmark this site and return in seven day’s time.


The Actor said...

Dowbridge sounds like an important place for the Romans.

One question; Would the Romans know that there was a vast expanse of sea before the next landfall ? Apologies to any Manx or Irish readers.

The lighter side; Wouldn't Blackpool council have put up speeding tax collectors on the Roman road ?

Brian Hughes said...


The Romans certainly knew about the Isle of Man (or Mona as they called it) because it was the 'head office' of the druids...and the Romans didn't exactly see eye to eye with the druids...possibly because they were taller.

Of course, a lot of modern historians place Mona at Anglesey...but Ceaser describes the island as lying exactly halfway between Ireland and Britain...which doesn't really describe Anglesey terribly well, although it perfectly matches the Isle of Man, the name of which even appears to stem from the same source, but still...if southern centric historians want to get things spectacularly wrong and go down in the history books as being burks, let 'em.

And they certainly knew about Ireland...and the Irish Raiders who were a bit of a niggling problem around that time.

As for Blackpool council employing speed tax collectors, I suspect the idea would have been dropped because of the costs involved in buying thousands of tons of stone and an equal number of chisels so they could write out the tickets.

Ann O'Dyne said...

Those stone tickets wouldn't need to be taped to the windscreens to stop them blowing away.

On a blogological dig of my own I found some other Wyrveans!

Brian Hughes said...


The link is blue but doesn't appear to actually work. (Pretty much like Sedgwick's blogger board in fact.)