Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Smorgasbord of Roman Artefacts: Part One

I read somewhere recently, in some local history book or other -- possibly on the Internet…I’ve got a lousy memory when it comes to retaining utter rubbish -- that there was no evidence for the Romans ever having been near the Fylde and Wyre -- ever!
Now, occasionally, I must admit, I have some difficulty convincing people about certain aspects of our local history that might be considered a bit off the beaten track. However, even my most ardent sparring partners would be hard pushed to agree with the statement above, even if it was in a book, in black and white, with footnotes and authoritarian italics and everything. In fact I’d go so far as to say that I’ve never heard such an erroneous pile of sputum since Elton John admitted to the press back in the 1970s that he was attracted to curvaceous women.
With that in mind, here’s some of the evidence that, apparently, doesn’t exist.
Let’s start with this.

Now that is a Roman altar dedicated (as far as we can tell) to three mother goddesses, currently kept at St. John’s Church in Lund. It was found on the surface of the Ribchester to Dowbridge road, the first of our local Roman roads that don’t exist. (We’ve got quite a few more.) All altar of this sort clearly indicates that a Roman shrine/temple was in the area.
Speaking of Dowbridge, how does a Roman fort grab you? It’s been excavated and everything, although nowadays there’s a housing estate on top of it. Fortunately, Frank Smith (Wyre Archaeology Committee Member for Aerial Reconnaissance) happens to live in one of the houses, so here’s a
photograph of a non-existent amphorae handle emerging from his flowerbed.

Just in case you’re thinking ‘That looks more like the handle of a pair of old garden shears to me’, here’s another photograph of the fragment once it had been excavated and cleaned. The image below it is that of a section of Roman mortarum also dug up in Frank’s back garden.

To be honest, Frank’s got loads of this stuff – far too much for one article in fact -- so we’d better move on. Before we do, however, a quick summary of the various stages of construction involved in Dowbridge Fort might be in order.
So, 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. (We strongly suspect that Dowbridge fort was part of the much larger system of defences stretching right around the coast to Fleetwood, and then on towards Lancaster, to be honest, but we’re dealing with facts here rather than speculation, so forget we mentioned that.)
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.
Right, we mentioned a few moments ago that the Lund altar was discovered on the surface of the Roman road from Ribchester to Dowbridge. There are, of course, other Roman roads in the district. There are two running more or less north south along the Pennines, for example, both more than amply recorded in Philip Graystone’s ‘Walking Roman Roads in the Fylde and Ribble Valley’. (If you don’t already own a copy, go and buy one. It’s an excellent book.)
At Forton Hall we can even find our own Roman milestone…unless, of course, the following photograph just shows my thumb looking a bit grey and weathered in front of the camera lens.

These are the best documented of our local Roman roads, of course. There’s also the Danes’ Pad, much disputed despite the large number of Roman artefacts unearthed over the centuries along its route. However, if it’s authentically excavated Roman roads (even if they are a bit more obscure) that you’re after, how about the Romano-British route from Nateby to Bourne, via Wardleys Creek and Stanah, as partially dug by the Pilling Historic Society in 1995 and confirmed in October 2003 when two Roman denarii were discovered lying on its surface.
That was Romano-British, as we’ve just mentioned, but there’s another Roman road proper following Highgate Lane in Stalmine from Stainall towards Preesall, where Wyre Archaeology excavated a section in 2008. (And if you’re going to argue with the good folks at Wyre Archaeology then you’d better buy some expensive boxing gloves.)

Yes, okay, I know you can’t see much of the road itself in the photograph, but if you want the full details you’ll just have to buy a copy of our 2008 excavation reports, won’t you? (Check out the link in the column on the right hand side of this board. Or if you’re one of our American readers, try Amazon Com. It’s amazing where our books turn up nowadays.)
Another Roman road appears to have run from 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. In 1893 the Manchester Guardian reported the discovery by workmen laying a new drain near St. Anne’s Road West, of the remains of this road lying some twelve and a half feet below the present one. It measured thirteen feet across and consisted of split stones laid in cement, eighteen inches thick.
Other Roman roads (or at least sections of them) have been variously discovered at Street, Preesall, Fleetwood, Tootle Hall, Hambleton, Skippool, Whinney Heys, Garstang, along the top of Hayshaw Fell (the photograph below shows that last one) and numerous other places around the Fylde and Wyre. By all accounts it was a busy old place back in the Roman times.

Don’t tell me you can’t see it. It is there, beneath the heather, leaving its imprint on the landscape if you stick your archaeology glasses on and look at it properly.
So, there’s no evidence for the Roman occupation in the Fylde and Wyre, is there? Well, I reckon that lot’s not bad for a start, and, to be honest, we’ve only just scratched the surface. But we’ve also run out of space, so the rest will have to wait until next time.


John said...

Funny that, eh?

You should find out who made that statement, so we can all point and laugh. I mean, even I know the Romans were in the Wyre, and I'm American!

I know cause of that song from Brigadoon... "When a Roman goes a roamin', and strolling through the Wyre..."

Franks a lucky stiff. Don't think I didn't realise this article was posted to show me up, after my last post! I'll show you! I'll dig up my entire backyard until I find something!

Great post, and welcome back!

JOHN :0)

Andrew said...

I would wonder why the Romans would not have been near Fylde and Wyre, unless an advanced sentry was put off by a pie bought on the Promenade.

John said...

Oh yeah, weren't you in the papers pointing to some Roman Columns at a nearby hotel, as well?

Inquisitive J :0)

Jayne said...

Gawd, those Romans roamed everywhere, great aunt Maud, so rumour has it, found one under the bed on her wedding day ;)

Anonymous said...

The picture under the amphora handle is of a mortarium, not the querne.

Brian Hughes said...

Cheers everyone. Frank...I'll correct that as soon as I get the chance.