Sunday 23th October 2016
It was a bright sunny morning and it was just the four of us (Bill, Neil, Andy and Eric) who collected outside the shops at Bryn Cross to undertake a field walk along the line of the supposed Roman road running from Warrington to Wigan. The route is well known in this area as it is shown on all OS maps – crossing the land between Bryn Road and Landgate Lane (known locally as Sparrow Fields).
Many years ago (mid 1980’s) the Society carried out a resistivity survey in the field south of Land Gate Farm but with success. However, excavations on the south side of Bryn Road (on the other side of the railway) in the 1993 by the GMAU, did identified the road on this alignment. Three trenches were dug in advance of the new housing estate. They found evidence of the road buried by 1.6 metres of clayey rubble deposited in the 20th century. The surface appeared to have a gently cambered profile and the road had a minimum width of 5 metres. It was constructed of irregular sandstone blocks on sand and gravel. A complete section across the road was not possible because of disturbance from a 19th century ditch about 2-4 metres wide.
It’s over two years now since the property developers, Greenbank, were given outline planning permission to build 465 homes, a supermarket and by-pass on the 24 acre site. Since then serious objections from local residents, spearheaded by BAD (Bryn Against Development), have been raised and it appears the whole scheme is stuck in a period of consultation, while detail planning is in progress. From our point of view, the concern is that the application, which was subject to conditions, would take into account the potential for unrecorded heritage assets on the site; in other words the Roman road. The potential was specifically identified in a DBA (desk-based assessment) commissioned by the Council and carried out by Wardell Armstrong Archaeology in August 2013. Their researches also identified other potential archaeological features, such as ancient settlements seen on Yate’s map of 1786 (see below – red outline is the development area). These centre on Sougher’s Lane and Park Lane/Land Gate, where clusters of properties and a chapel can be see. Land Gate Farm, now demolished, was also identified as potentially having earlier origins.Our particular interest is, however, the Roman road and Andy Wilcock has recently been looking at LiDAR images of the area identifying a possible ridge with ditches on either side roughly on the line of the road. This gave us incentive to have another look at map overlays, to see exactly where the road is supposed to have run and if anything could be seen on the latest aerial photos. Along most of the line nothing can be detected on either Google Earth or Bing Maps. However on the section crossing the playing field on the south side of the site, a distinct brown patch was spotted on the projected line. This would be the target of our visit, along with the features identified on the LiDAR image. Having made our way across the playing field we could not detected any visible evidence for the road. We then entered the fields overlooking the Land Gate valley. Drainage ditches were evident on either side of the suspected line (the left hand one ending abruptly on the crest of the hill), but a bank or ‘agger’ could not be detected. Most of the ground is uneven due to ploughing and deemed difficult to do a GPR survey on. On our return however we noticed the playing field was perfectly flat presenting an ideal subject for a geophysics survey. Hopefully in the near future we will be able arrange something here to confirm the line of the Roman road. Although this would not stop any planned development, it would at least add more weight for excavations to be carried out and the evidence recorded before it is lost forever.