Roman road unearthed in Lancashire

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Part of the Roman road between Wigan and Walton-le-Dale was recently rediscovered. Its precise location had been the subject of debate for over a century. (PHOTO: University of Salford; TEXT: Oliver Cook)

A section of the Roman road that runs between Wigan and Walton-le-Dale has recently been uncovered – a noteworthy discovery, as its precise location has been debated for more than a century. The route was identified by a team from Salford Archaeology (University of Salford), led by Oliver Cook, who were working on behalf of Lancashire County Council and Maple Grove Development Ltd ahead of major development in Cuerden, Lancashire.

Although the approximate path of the road was known, it was previously thought to be buried beneath either the A5083 or A49. Initial trial-trenching unearthed several enigmatic, undated features, but, when larger areas were opened up, the bigger picture began to emerge. It now appears that the Roman road diverts from the route of its modern successor, cutting a course through green countryside – its path is fossilised in later hedgerows and ditches.

During their excavation, the team found a pristine cambered surface of rammed cobbles and gravel (presumably hauled from the River Lostock) which was sealed below later layers and unscathed by ploughing. This road surface was 11.4m wide, and survived to a length of 18m. Tantalising signs of contemporary roadside activity in the form of a ring-gully, a post-built structure, and a sunken, metalled feature were also found nearby.

The excavation also revealed both Late Medieval Reduced Greenwares and this Midlands Purple pottery – a previously unheard of co-occurrence. (PHOTO: University of Salford)

Further excavations to investigate the alignment of the road 1km to the north revealed an extensive medieval agricultural landscape. The greatest concentration of activity – a group of ditches, gullies, furrows, and a post-built building – were excavated in the centre of Cuerden. There is slight evidence to suggest that the Roman road persisted as an important feature in this area for centuries, forming a corridor along which the medieval hamlet developed.

Significant quantities of medieval pottery spanning the late 11th to 16th centuries were also recovered during the dig, contributing to our understanding of the region’s industry. What was particularly interesting was the co-occurrence of Late Medieval Reduced Greenwares and Midlands Purple, which is virtually unprecedented in the North-West. The distribution of these wares was previously seen as respecting rigid landscape features, such as the River Ribble – a physical boundary inhibiting north/south interaction. The validity of this notion and the extent of trade is now being brought into question.

Ongoing post-excavation analysis is concentrating on the ceramic assemblage and radiocarbon dating to further refine the phasing of the site.

This article appeared in CA 349.

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