It has generally been accepted over the years that there were three Roman roads leading into Wigan. They were originally identified and traced by the 19th century antiquarian Rev. Edmund Sibson and later W. Thompson Watkin. Both Sibson and Watkin were keen advocates for Wigan being Coccium, the Roman station which appears in an early 3rd century Roman document called the Antonine Itinerary.
The 10th Iter of the Itinerary states that Coccium lies between Bremetennacum (20mp) and Mamucium (17mp). An engraved stone (RIB 583) found in Ribchester in the 16th century (rediscovered in 1814) confirms Bremetennacum as Ribchester and, for entomological reasons, Manchester has always been assumed to be Mamucium.
Location of Coccium
Wigan, as can be seen on this map, is not on the direct route between these two places so not surprisingly over the years other candidates for Coccium have been claimed (and sometimes still are). Even as early as the late 17th century Cockey Moor, a spot east of Ainsworth near Bury, was suggested being mark on Robert Morden’s map of Lancashire. This is on the well established direct Roman road connecting Manchester with Ribchester.
Edgeworth was favoured by Rivet and Smith (Place Names of Roman Britain -1979) as it also lies on this direct route. However, despite extensive searches over years, both here and further south at Affetside, a substantial settlement or fort along this route has never been found.
Wayoh Bridge. A possible fortlet was identified here in the early 1980’s by aerial photography just north of Edgeworth (Pastscape No. 44354). It has been supported recently by LiDAR evidence (Ratledge – Roman Road Gazeteer) but its size suggests just a staging post.
Blackrod was preferred by the 18th century antiquarian J. Whitaker who claimed the A6 as the Roman Road out of Manchester (History of Manchester 1771 Chapter IV P.157). His projected route, however, was leading to Lancaster not Ribchester. He also insisted that the fort lay on the banks of the River Douglas north east of Blackrod. Despite this however, the 24″ OS map of 1893 has Coccium marked in the town centre (excavations at Castle Croft in the 1950’s found no evidence of Roman activity there).
Belmont has also been suggested more recently but Belmont Road is an unlikely candidate for a Roman road.
Standish was identified by E. Wadelove reporting in Britannia 2001 Vol.32. This was based on the two Roman coin hoards found in 18th and early 20th centuries (although the later was found on the Wigan border). Nothing much else has ever been found in Standish from the Roman period. However Wadelove points to the fact that the projected line of the Roman road leading north from Warrington to Preston would pass Wigan some distance to the east. A route this way was preferred by Coddrington writing in 1903 and his suggestion of Standish Wood Lane as the Roman road is a popular choice. We investigated this route in 2010 with resistivity surveys either side of Lower Standish Wood Fold but failed to detect anything suggesting the continuation of the road in this area.
Wigan. Chance finds over last 150 years have strongly suggested that Wigan had a Roman origin, but it wasn’t until the early 1980’s that excavations in the Wiend in the town centre, provided for the first time, positive evidence for Roman occupation in Wigan town centre. This was followed in 2005, by the discovery of a large Roman Bathhouse in the Millgate area, proving emphatically that Wigan was a very significant settlement in the early 2nd century AD (you can see details of the excavations here).
Further excavations in 2008 between Millgate and Library Street identified a possible military barrack block which strongly suggested the existence of a Roman fort in the area. It is now generally accepted that Wigan was the Roman settlement of Coccium. However, of the roads the antiquarians detected in the 19th century, very little has been seen in recent years. Our Society (as well as professionals and others) have carried out many investigations on these routes leading into Wigan over the years. We have recorded these activities in reports and our Newsletters – the following is a list of all the investigations carried out by the Society over the years:-
1985 Brimlow Farm – Resistivity Survey
1988 Brimlow Farm – Excavation
1989 Brimlow Farm – Excavation
Newsletter34 – 2000 Brimlow Farm – Resistivity Survey
Newsletter54 – 2002 Brimlow Farm – Resistivity Survey
Newsletter57 – 2002 Small Brook – Resistivity Survey
Newsletter63 – 2003 Hatton Fold – Excavation
Newsletter65 – 2003 Walmsley Park – Excavation
2004 Brimlow Farm – Excavation
Newsletter83 – 2005 Ellesmere Park – Resistivity Survey
Newsletter85 – 2005 Ellesmere Park – Excavation
Newsletter102 – 2007 St William’s School – Resisitivity Survey
Newsletter107 – 2007 Leaway – Excavation
Newsletter110 – 2008 St William’s School – Excavation
Newsletter113 – 2008 Ince C of E Primary School – Excavation
Newsletter116 – 2008 Heber Street – Excavation
2010 Standish Wood Lane – Resistivity Survey
Newsletter149 – 2011 Cleworth Hall Farm – Resistivity Survey
Newsletter194 – 2016 Brimlow Farm – GPR Survey
Newsletter214 – 2018 Brimlow Farm – Excavation
Historical Environment Record (HER) – or Sites and Monuments Record (SMR).
In the late 1990’s the Society was involved in creating and maintaining the SMR. The map shown below shows the data for the Roman period (as known at the time) and includes the Roman roads as indicated on early OS maps and described by the 19th century antiquarians (the numbers refer to the entries in the SMR).
Possible 4th Road (Wigan to Ribchester)
The antiquarian’s case for Wigan was base on the distances quoted in the Itinerary, which are ‘reasonably’ correct (far closer than any other claimant). There is a problem, however, with the accepted route from Wigan to Ribchester, which is via Walton-le-Dale and Preston. It is actually 26 Roman miles and is also not in a direct line. A direct route in fact would be much more accurate – in fact almost spot-on. Could it be that, by the late 3rd century, a route this way had been established? Various alignments in the direction of Ribchester have been looked at over the years, in particular David Ratledge, formally of Lancashire County Council and also Jack Smith formally of Chorley Archaeological Society. In the early 1980’s, Chorley Society thought they had found the road on Healey Nab being possibly 4 yards wide (although they only excavated one side). They uncovering kerbing travelling for some distance in the diresction of Heapy (this is where previously a hoard of Roman coins were found and a silver necklace which is now in the British Museum).
Fort in the Wood
Exciting news of a new Roman site has emerged on the South West Lancashire plain near Burcough. In 2018 Steve Baldwin invited our Society to undergo a large area resistivity survey of the site which produced quite spectacular results. Reporting restrictions are in place at the moment for security reasons but we can confirmed it to be a Roman auxiliary sized fort of about 4.3 acres including a later phase forlet positioned on the east gate (in a similar arrangement to Castleshaw). In our survey the east and south walls and ditches are well represented and the roads can quite clearly be seen leading out from the centre of these. Intervallum roads are also visible and even buildings such as barrack blocks and a possible gatehouse on the east side (below is a small section of our survey we are allowed to show).
At the moment unfortunately, only half the fort is available for further investigation. However Steve Baldwin is planning a programme of excavations on the areas that are accessible in the coming years so it will be exciting to see what is revealed (you can see more details about his plans here).
In the meantime of course there are Roman roads to found linking the fort with other sites in the area. The one leading to Wigan is the one that particularly interests us and suggestions have already been made.
High Level Routes. Ormskirk Road, leading out of Wigan on the west is favoured by David Ratledge (Roman Road Gazeteer). This passes through Pemberton and Up Holland, zig-zagging its way up the hill into the town centre. It would then pass along Ashurst Beacon ridge before dropping down onto Green (Lowes) Lane, through Lathom Park and on towards Burscough. The straightness of Green Lane looks very inviting as a Roman road but the problem is it overlies a landscape feature referred to as The Lines which is undoubtedly associated with Lathom House. This would tend to put some doubt on this route .
Hall Lane through Wrightington is another high level but possibly easier route as it could have branched off from the main Roman road north out of Wigan at Standish (Arbour Lane west of the town centre may be the clue to this route). It would have crossed over Parbold and down through Newburgh towards Burscough (in fact the short length of Roman road projecting from the east gate of the fort at Burscough, as detected by our resistivity survey, does point towards Newburgh).
Low Level Routes. A more direct route out of Wigan of course would be through the Douglas valley up towards Newburgh, possibly along Dalton Lees, but this is anything but straight. There is also a possibility it could have gone on the north side of the river below Parbold Hill, following Wood Lane say (building the canal may have destroyed much of the evidence for this route).
All these options I’m sure will be investigated by the Society in the coming months and years.