Friday, September 14, 2007

The Fylde’s Original Promenade: Part Four

Okay…over the last three weeks we’ve established that a Roman road most probably left Dowbridge fort by its western exit, ran through St. Anne’s, turned north under what is nowadays the beach, headed past the site of the South Shore coin horde, past the Roman salt cotes at the Fox Hall, hit a watchtower at Rossall Point, turned east to follow the peninsula down Poulton Road to Min End ford, crossed the Wyre, passed by Hackensall and eventually ended up at another suspected fort on Preesall Hill.
But why would the Romans chose a coastal route rather than just run their highway through the centre of the Fylde?
Well, the lack of evidence for military activity in the district, coupled with the close proximity of various Roman domestic sites to local Brythonic settlements, suggests that the Romans, far from waging war on the local population, were actually defending it. In fact, the coastal route, more than likely, would originally have been manned by a series of small fortlets designed to protect the Celtic population from the threat of invasion.
Worth a mention in connection with this is a building that no longer stands but is recorded in Allan Stott’s ‘History of Norbreck and Little Bispham’ in the following manner: “Behind the Lodge on the east side, stood a ward tower or gazebo, built partly of beach cobbles, with a castellated top. When, or by whom, it had been built, I do not know, but this little structure passed on its ‘castle’ effect to future generations.”
Whether the origins of this ‘ward tower’ were Roman or not it’s now impossible to say, but we’ve included the Victorian photograph showing the building below just in case.

To return to the start of the Roman occupation of the Fylde, all of the evidence we’ve uncovered so far points to the idea that our Brythonic natives were under the rule of Cartimandua.
If you’re not familiar with Iron Age history then no doubt you’re wondering who Cartimandua was. Well, Cartimandua was the queen of the Brigantes who aligned herself to the Roman Empire around A.D. 47. Regardless of the Romans being an invading force, not all British natives were hostile to their invasion. Backing the Empire meant improvements in trade, roads, construction techniques and culture.
Not all of the Brigantian Confederacy, however, agreed with Cartimandua’s ideology and in A.D. 48 a south-western section of the tribe, most likely situated between the Ribble and North Wales, rebelled against her. All matters considered, it’s hardly surprising that the Romans erected a defensive network along the Ribble and around the coast up to Lancaster to protect the Roman friendly natives from both the threat of the rebels and Irish raiders.
Further north, in the Over Wyre district, where coastal erosion hadn’t destroyed as much of the shoreline, in July 1970 a number of what, at first, appeared to be ancient graves were discovered by W. Roskell. Ben Edwards, the county archaeologist, was called in to investigate and one hundred and eighty five pits in all were recorded. Thirty were excavated and similar pits have been discovered stretching from Bank End in Cockerham, down through Pilling and into Preesall.
Nowadays it’s generally assumed that these pits were lilia. Lilia were man-made traps, each containing a sharp wooden stake designed to impale invaders. Some of those at Pilling still showed evidence of the wickerwork that originally camouflaged the holes.
Unfortunately, to the best of our knowledge, nobody took any photographs of the excavation, so we’ve borrowed the photograph below from another web site. It shows a similar set of lilia at Rough Castle on the Antonine Wall. The lay out of these pits, right down to the surrounding embankment, is exactly the same as those at Pilling. (There’s a diagram of the Pilling lilia in one of the Over Wyre Journals…but we’ve forgotten which one off hand.)

Interestingly, the Roman military presence around the Fylde and Wyre seems to have been confined to the coast. Apart from the retired veterans (most of whom wouldn’t have been Roman by birth anyway), living contentedly amongst the Setantii, there’s little if no evidence for any military occupation of the district. Even the Danes’ Pad seems to stop short at Victoria Road in Thornton before heading down to the seafront, leaving the Iron Age settlement at Bourne in peace.
The reason for this is perhaps best explained in Brian Hartley and Leon Fitt’s ‘The Brigantes’ published in 1988: “Didius Gallus (governor of Britain at the time)…was likely to avoid having troops in Brigantia itself, where their presence might well have caused considerable trouble.”And with that we’ll leave our readers (possibly reader…singular) to decide for themselves/himself/herself whether or not our evidences for the coastal route are convincing enough. In the meantime we’re off to track down another spectacular but as yet undiscovered archaeological treasure.


Ann O'Dyne said...

"we’ll leave our readers (possibly reader…singular)" ...

I'm reading, I'm reading.

I've just come from the grauniad article about ancients eating barbecued hedgehogs, and now I'm wondering if you might dig up a Roman boogie board ...

"Badvock! I've told you a thousand times not to leave your surfboards leaning against the damn hut,. They're making it sink into the earth before my very eyes"

John said...

Excellent post, overall... interesting and educational! I'm fairly convinced by your arguments: the evidence does suggest a coastal road.

I do need more than a map to keep up with everything, though, not knowing the area as you do.

You've mentioned before that the retired Roman soldiers wouldn't just sit around in rockers, but instead would have used their training and know-how to protect their homes and towns. Is it possible that they could have actually 'planned' the towns, including the coastal road and fortifications? Or were these things built at an earlier time, when the Romans first came to the area?

Just how long did it take for the Romans to build these roads, and would they have used local 'slave' labor?

Just curious, Reader #2 :0)

Brian Hughes said...


A Roman boogie board? Any surfing round these parts 'ud leave 'em smashed against the cliffs with a severe dent in their helmets (which would probably be very painful).


"Is it possible that they could have actually 'planned' the towns, including the coastal road and fortifications?"

Funny you should mention that. We've just been researching a Celtic (or pre-Roman) road along Blackpool promenade, which suggests that the Brigantes (or local pre-Roman Celts) already had a coastal road system between their settlements in place before the Romans got here. Because the locals were Roman friendly they must have reached an agreement with them to set up watchtowers and improve the coastal route/ least, that's what it looks like at the moment.

We perhaps need to delve always.