Monday 29th April
Jack Smith, a fellow Roman road hunter, wasn’t able to make the Open Day, so I invited him to visit the site today. The weather was much better and although the excavations had officially finished I was able to blag my way our way on site saying that we needed just a few more photos. Jack was most impressed with the sections exposed but what really took me by surprise was what was clearly visible in the south section of the most northerly machine cut section. It seems that the full section of the road had been preserved at this point including the original surface together with a clay base supporting large angular stone blocks on top of which were smaller stones and finished of with rammed gravel. The reason for the survival here and not in other places could well be a result of subsidence caused by intensive mining over the years.
Saturday 27th April – Excavations Open Day
Early 10.00am start for the Open Day and despite the wet weather, visitors soon began to arrive on the adjacent track a few metres away (being a working building site, this was the closest the general public were allowed). However viewing of the exposed sections was quite possible from that distance. Members of our Society were allowed on site as they were covered by our insurance etc., (and of course wearing their requisite PPE). The archaeologists from Salford University were also on site, as this was there last day, and there was still much to do photographing and drawing sections. They had been on site, on and off, weather permitting, for the last 5 weeks and had managed to uncover two large sections of the road over a 50 metre stretch in the north area of the site. Unfortunately, as reported last month, the upper metalling has been removed by ploughing. This has left just the foundation layer, which survives in the form of large irregular blocks of red and yellow sandstone (apparently red sandstone, known as the Sherwood Group, was quarried in Ashton in the 19th century in a place called Skitters Wood). The road seems to be about 7 metres wide, although roadside ditches, which generally delineate the width, were not visible . Plotting the road’s position on the map showed that the alignment also to be slightly different than the projected line shown on the OS maps. The plot shows it veering more to the right by a few degrees as it heads towards Wigan. In this final week, sections through the road have been dug across the line of the road at various locations, to see how deep the road had survived and if any roadside ditches could be identified. The results show there is very little depth to it and not much sign of roadside ditches either. However, in traditional Time Team fashion, on next to the last day, a well defined ditch feature was identified.This was discovered on the east side of a section halfway up the embankment (the ridge separates the north area from the south). Even more exciting was the news of pottery finds. At first glance this seemed to Roman but, after careful washing, turned out to be Medieval. Even so, this was quite a rare find (there are far more Roman finds in the Wigan area than Medieval, despite it being qute a prominent town in the Middle Ages). In fact the style of the sherds gives them a possible 12th to 13th century date (the ‘pie crust’ rims were similar to a piece we recovered from the Rectory site a few years ago). The bottom of the ditch was also full of charcoal flakes but rather than a result of burning, these were probable the result of tree roots which had rotted over time. Similar black material had been found lying under the stones of the road probably representing the material of the original ground surface (samples where taken to see if carbon dating could reveal its age).
The Open Day was a great success with a good number of visitors throughout the day. There was also some emotion for one or two of the locals on seeing the road for the first time, knowing of its existence over the years – and, reminiscent of scenes from the Life of Brian, souvenirs stones from the site were going like hot cakes (‘two large ones a small one for the grandchild’ someone was heard to cry). We also had eminent Roman road hunters on site, such as Bob Hayes from Lowton and David Ratledge who runs the Roman Roads in Lancashire website. Both were impressed with the sections on show.
With great regret, in the next few weeks the road will disappear under the new housing scheme. However the archaeologists will be back when the field on the opposite side of the track is prepared for development (if no more Roman, then the latest finds might suggest at least a Medieval potential).
After many years of speculation, the Roman road at Bryn has at last been exposed. Excavations are still in progress but the team of archaeologists from Salford University are hoping to uncover a full fifty metre stretch of it. Last year evaluation trenches had revealed that the road was lying just below the plough soil and as such, had not survived very well. This was confirmed by these excavations, which show that ploughing over the years has removed most of the upper metalling of the road. Where the metalling has survived it is represented by a layer of fine compacted pebbles. The road’s foundation layer, however, has survived and is in the form of large blocks of red and yellow sandstone, showing the road to have been about seven metres wide. This is smaller than expected but matches the section of the road discovered in 1993 on the other side of Bryn Road. The archaeologists intend to cut sections through the road to hopefully expose the side ditches which will confirm its width. The section uncovered so far lies just north of the natural ridge, running across the site which splits the site in two. The southern section is higher than the north by quite a few metres and has a very thin layer of plough soil. Consequently it appears that very little, if any of the road has survived in this area. It also seems that large drainage work at the base of the ridge, probably in Victorian times, has destroyed any evidence of the road here too. It cannot, therefore, be determined how the Romans elevated the road onto the higher ground. However a revetment wall has been discovered supporting the current track as it ramps up the ridge (this track runs parallel to the Roman road just a few metres to the east). The wall consists of large sandstone blocks and it is tempting to imagine that these same blocks could have been used by the Romans to get their road up onto the ridge too. The archaeologists will be continuing for another week or so, to excavate and record the site before the developer moves in.
Last year, indications of the road had been detected in a trial pit carried out by the developer on the suspect line of the road. Trenches commissioned by GMAAS are now showing that the road survives lying less than half a metre below the surface, up to 7 metres wide with a prominent camber on the east side. It consists of layers of gravel overlaying larger fragments of sandstone. This is great news and Norman Redhead has called for a full excavation of the site prior to development work starting and has invited our members to be involved. Excavations are intended to start on Monday 12th March
Last year, we visited Sparrow Field at Bryn where a huge housing and retail development had been planned. Since then plans have drastically changed and only about a third of the area is currently scheduled for development by Bellway Homes. In view of this, a number of trial pits have been machine-cut in the presence of an archaeologist – and in Trial Pit 17 evidence for the Roman road was found. Described as a made ground of sandstone cobbles set in brown clay, it was found lying between 40 and 60 cm down not far from the more recent farm track. This is great news and Norman Read from GMAAS has been in touch to say that the area will be fully excavated and, even better, is making provisions for us to get involved.
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.