Sunday, April 20, 2008

Going off at a Tangent

Me and Michelle have argued for some time now (with other people, that is, not between ourselves because we never argue with each other) that Highgate Lane (and probably Back Lane as well, which is basically the northern end of Highgate Lane) running from the base of Preesall Hill (at least Back Lane does, until it reaches Stalmine where it turns into Highgate Lane) down to Staynall, is a good contender for a Roman road.
Did everybody follow that? Well it’s tough if you didn’t, because I’m confused myself now and I’m not going to repeat it.
Anyhow, the Roman road theory is one that’s backed up to some degree by Reverend Bulpit’s ‘Notes on the Fylde’, which refers to a legend in Preesall that speaks of: “…a very hard road of cemented stones about eight feet below the surface, that can be found in some parts of the township, and that is denominated as a Roman road by the residents.”
We’re not the first and we won’t be the last to reach the ‘Highgate Lane’ conclusion. Here’s what Lancashire County Council’s ‘Historic Highways Department’ has to say on the matter (most likely having been written by David Ratledge): “Over Wyre has produced many Roman finds and coins. Mary Higham has suggested that High Gate Lane, west of Stalmine, could well be Roman on the basis of mediaeval references she found to a regiam viam and magnum stratum regiam called Alsergate. This is now called High Gate Lane - another clue. This would imply that it was a King's Highway of some status and therefore perhaps derived from a Roman road. High Gate Lane is much wider than other roads in the area and it has prominent ditches on both sides - it is also reasonably straight.”
Let’s have a photograph, so that everyone can see what we’re talking about.

As you can see, the verges and ditches far exceed the rather weedy little lane that runs along the top.
Whilst we’re nicking stuff from the ‘Historic Highways’ website, let’s help ourselves to a Victorian map of Highgate Lane as well, overlaid on some aerial photographs. (This lot’ll help you understand what we’re about to discuss, with a bit of luck. Just click on the thumbnail for the usual larger version.)

Right, now that you have your bearings, last year Neil Thompson and I decided to investigate Highgate Lane for ourselves, after Neil had received a tip-off that one of the farmers there had cut across the surface of another road with his tractor. The field we examined (in case you’re wondering) can be seen on the map above to the northwest of the intersection. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any evidences for a road, a sausage or even a dickey-bird.
It had always been our intention to return when the weather improved, but, of course, Neil’s untimely death brought that particular idea skidding to a halt. The fact that he took the name of the field-owning farmer to his grave with him didn’t particularly bode well for future visits either.
However, as you’ve probably gathered, unresolved investigations have a habit of coming back to haunt us.
When Chris Clayton telephoned us a few weeks ago to say that he’d been looking for our missing road in the same area that Neil and myself had previously scoured, and had found an embankment that had a very definite Roman roadish look to it, as you can probably imagine I was a bit on the sceptical side. Neil hadn’t managed to spot it, and Neil, to give him his due, could have found an ancient road under eighty-odd foot of rubble.
So I wasn’t exactly holding much luck out as Chris and I pulled up once again alongside the aforementioned field and clambered out of the car. “It’s over here,” said Chris, strolling off in the opposite direction to where I was heading. “Don’t you mean this field here?” I replied, continuing undaunted towards my own hedge. “No…this one here.”
Yep…Neil and I had got the wrong bloody field. We should have been looking in the one opposite because, clearly…well…time for another photograph, I reckon.

This is looking northeast from the gate on the right hand side of Highgate Lane just above the intersection, as shown on the map we’ve just provided you with. In fact, if you study the map you should be able to see a line pulling away from the road, into the fields.
Now take another look at the photograph above and you might notice the embankment, the ditch and what appears to be an agger running towards the farmhouse. Admittedly the section of field in the foreground is considerably flatter, but the embankment and ditch both continue for several fields, implying that, around the gate at least, whatever was once there had been robbed out.
Here’s the view from the same gate looking directly east.

There’s the ditch and embankment again, and, just beyond, some mediaeval plough marks (you can tell they’re mediaeval because of the distance between them) that all stop short of the ‘feature’. This suggests that, in the Middle Ages, whatever the embankment was, it was still in use. Land was at a premium during the mediaeval period, and a long strip of it like this wouldn’t have been wasted without good reason.
Another photograph, this time looking south from a couple of fields further down. That’s Chris’ car on the right hand side, parked up against the field that Neil and I had been exploring. How annoyingly close were we, eh?

On the left hand side of the photograph are the last vestiges of our suspected ‘Roman road’ (well, one of the ditches and about half of the agger anyway) as it realigns itself with Highgate Lane.
Ah…but is it a Roman road? Is it the original route of the mediaeval version of Highgate Lane, also known as Alsergate, and the King’s Highway? Is it both? Why do you keep asking us these questions? We’re only speculating here, you know…we’d need to stick some spades in the ground before we could determine the matter one way or the other.
Speaking of which, fortunately for us, as we were hanging over the gate gesturing wildly at each other about the possibilities of the various earthworks, a woman, a horse and a little girl approached us stealthily from behind. After a moment’s embarrassed confusion, she asked us what we were up to, because, it transpired, it was her father’s land that we had been suspiciously eyeing up. Slightly lost for words, we explained the best we could about Wyre Archaeology and stuff, trying hard not to frighten her any further. (I honestly can’t blame her for being worried… if I saw me and Chris leaning over our back wall I’d be onto the police like a shot.)
Before we departed, her aforementioned father, Mr. Sanderson, appeared on the scene, told us that he’d always wondered what the humps and bumps on his land were, and very kindly gave us permission to have a delve.
Obviously, at the time of writing, we haven’t done any delving as such, so we can’t reveal what lies inside the earthworks just yet. Me, Chris, Ivan and Steve started surveying the 'agger' this morning (Sunday) but the rain (which wasn't forecast!) ultimately got the better of us.
We will be continuing our survey shortly, so keep your eyes glued to this board for further advancements. And if you're interested in all of this (after all...we're planning a full excavation of it for Wyre Archaeology next month) then I'll be posting some more photographs and stuff over at the Fylde and Wyre Antiquarian Forum (see link in the right hand column).


Jayne said...

Sounds like a wonderful opportunity to lay the question to rest...but it'll probably raise a dozen more, as these things usually do lol.

Recently learned how medieval ploughing marked the landscape in a lasting way, what on earth were they using and was it a successful form of farming?

Brian Hughes said...


"...what on earth were they using..."

Bloody big ploughs pulled by oxen, usually.

"...was it a successful form of farming?"

The human race is still here, so it can't have been a total disaster.

Feral Beast said...

Like it Brian, better get you spades ready.

Brian Hughes said...

Spades, trowels, butty boxes and flasks all ready on standby Mr. Beast...and, I suspect, we'll need a couple of umbrellas as well.

Jayne said...

LOL I was actually meaning/ asking is it considered as successful as todays methods, better or worse?

Brian Hughes said...

Ah, well now Jayne...I suppose that depends on what you define as 'better and/or worse'. For instance, they didn't have an EC Food Mountain back in the Middle Ages, but they did have a lot of weevils.

The sheep, cattle and horses were all a lot smaller back then (not sure why), but so were the people. Crop rotation was in, much as it is nowadays. Meat was considerably more expensive (which probably had more to do with the aristocracy keeping the peasants under control than anything else) and peas were very popular. At least they were round here...especially when they came in on a shipwreck and didn't need to be harvested.

Aristocrats liked to poach a lot, I know that. Peasants only poached when necessary, because unlike the aristos they were generally hung when they were caught.

It's the age old question of 'organic' versus 'scientifically modified' I suppose. Not that it mattered much to the average mediaeval bod if his/her vegetables were chemically treated or not, seeing as one third of the population was dying in agony with massive buboes from the plague.

More successful or less successful? Like I say, it's a matter of opinion. If I said 'less', and used words such as 'starving peasants', 'dysentry', 'rickets' and stuff, I'd have the modern 'organics brigade' doing to me what the aristocrats used to do to peasant poachers before I managed reached the end of the I'd better not.

Anonymous said...

pineapples yes but i've forgotten what it was...

Brian Hughes said...

It must be Carol then...only you could be that dozy.

Ozfemme said...

A bit of delving to be done? Sounds grand.

Keep us posted, mind.

Brian Hughes said...


There's nowt so feen as a bitta delvin' onna foggy morn, especially if eets accumpnid by a bacon butty anna neece 'ot brew.

Ann O'Dyne said...

that wasn't a blog post - it was a bloody thesis.
(goes off muttering about the tolpuddle martyrs and the 3-field system)

Brian Hughes said...


A thesis? Are you sure you've spelt that right?