It is generally accepted that there were three Roman Roads leading into Wigan. These were identified and traced by two nineteenth century antiquarians, the Reverend Edmund Sibson (minister of Aston-in-Makerfield) and W. Thompson Watkin. Both were keen advocates of Wigan being the Roman settlement of Coccium. This is a station which appears in a 3rd century Roman document known as the Antonine Itinerary. The 10th Iter of the Itinerary places Coccium 20 Roman miles from Ribchester and 17 from Manchester. However Wigan is not on the direct route from Ribchester to Manchester so, not surprisingly, other candidates for Coccium have been claimed (and still are). These include Edgeworth, Belmont, Blackrod (assuming the A6 is a Roman road) and even Standish has been mooted.
Chance finds over last 150 years have always suggested that Wigan had Roman origins, but it wasn’t until the early 1980’s that excavations in the Wiend in the town centre, provided for the first time, real evidence for Roman occupation. This was followed in 2005, with the discovery of a large Roman bathhouse in the Millgate area, proving once and for all that Wigan was a very significant settlement in the early 2nd century AD. It is now generally accepted by academics and the general public that Wigan stands on the Roman settlement of Coccium.
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 map alignments in this direction have been looked at over the years, in particular David Ratledge of Lancashire County Council and also Jack Smith formally of Chorley Archaeological Society, however up to now there have been no investigations on the ground.
Very little has been seen in recent years of the roads the antiquarians detected in the 19th century. However Wigan Archaeological Society have carried out many investigations on the three accepted routes leading into Wigan. You can see details of the investigations on the road leading north out of Wigan here.