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 antiquarians Rev. Edmund Sibson and W. Thompson Watkin. Both were keen advocates for Wigan to be Coccium, the Roman station which appears in a 3rd century Roman document called the Antonine Itinerary.
In the Itinerary’s 10th Iter, Coccium is said to lay somewhere between Bremetennacum and Mamucium. An engraved stone found in Ribchester in the 19th century confirms Bremetennacum as Ribchester and, for entomological reasons, Manchester has also been assumed to be Mamucium.
Location of Coccium
Wigan, as can be seen on the 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 a spot just north of Ainsworth near Bury was suggested, being mark on Robert Morden’s map of Lancashire 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 in the 18th century by Whitaker who claimed the A6 as the Roman Road out of Manchester. His projected route, however, was leading to Lancaster not Ribchester. The 24″ OS map of 1893 has Coccium marked in the town centre but 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 Wadelove reporting in Britannia 2001. 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 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 other ‘professionals’) have carried out many investigations on these routes leading into Wigan and we have recorded these activities over the years in 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
2000 Brimlow Farm – Resistivity Survey
2002 Small Brook – Resistivity Survey
2002 Brimlow Farm – Resistivity Survey
2003 Hatton Fold – Excavation
2003 Walmsley Park – Excavation
2004 Brimlow Farm – Excavation
2005 Ellesmere Park – Resistivity Survey
2005 Ellesmere Park – Excavation
2007 St William’s School – Resisitivity Survey
2007 Leaway – Excavation
2008 St William’s School – Excavation
2008 Ince C of E Primary School – Excavation
2008 Heber Street – Excavation
2010 Standish Wood Lane – Resistivity Survey
2011 Cleworth Hall Farm – Resistivity Survey
2016 Brimlow Farm – GPR Survey
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).
You can see details of our Society’s recent researches for the Wigan to Ribchester road here.
Fort in the Wood
A new Roman site is emerging on the South West Lancashire plain near Burcough. In 2018 Steve Baldwin invited our Society to undergo a large resistivity survey of the site which produced quite spectacular results. Reporting restrictions are in place at the moment for obvious reasons but we can confirmed it to be a Roman auxiliary fort of about 4.3 acres including a later phase forlet similar to Castleshaw. Unfortunately only half the fort is available for investigation but east and south walls and ditches are well represented with the roads leading out from the centre of these can quite clearly be seen. Intervallum roads are also visible and even buildings such as barrack blocks and a possible gatehouse on the east side. Steve Baldwin is planning a programme of excavations there of the coming year so it will be exciting to see what is revealed.
In the meantime of course we need now to find the Roman road linking the fort particularly the one to Wigan and suggestions have already been made. Favoured by David Ratledge is Ormskirk Road leading out of Wigan. It would have passed through Up Holland zig-zagging its way up the hill then along Ashurst Beacon ridge before dropping down onto Green Lane, though Lathom Park and on towards Burscough. Another possibly easier option would be a road branching off from the main road north 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. A more direct route of course would be through the Douglas valley up to Newburgh, possibly along Dalton Lees but this is anything but straight. There is also a chance it may have gone on the north side of the river below Parbold Hill. All these options I’m sure will be investigated by the Society in the coming months and years.