The Roman road leading north out Wigan has been the subject of our investigations since the earliest days of the Society, the first report being produced as early as 1983. This highlighted two fields in front of Brimelow Farm as having great potential for further archaeological investigation. A study of the old maps revealed these fields had managed to avoided all of the urban development and industrial activity which had blighted the landscape around Wigan over the last 200 years. At the time of our investigations much of the mining activity in the area was still in evidence however – a dismantled railway surrounded the fields on three sides and just beyond this on the north side, where still the remains of Gidlow colliery and in particularly the Washery. Beyond the Washery to the north lay a sprawling spoil heap which hugged the west side the disused railway line running north into Standish. Our research had indicated that this railway embankment seemed likely to have been built over the line the the Roman road (which may even have survive under it – the embankment however was too large for our resources to tackle even if we could get permission).
To the south, the encircling railway cutting enclosed a residential development of a old folks flats (i.e. sheltered accommodation). Beyond that lay the wide spreading Tupperware factory (this former ROF site is now Milliken Industries making carpets).Our first foray into the field began in 1985 with attempts to get photographic evidence of possible crop marks (in the north field, a line of weeds could could sometimes be detected crossing the field on the right alignment). Height was essential for this and we used a 15 meter monopole and even kite borrowed from Manchester University. Later in the year we were also able to borrow an early type of resistivity meter and carried out a number of scans in the north fields. These were single line scans which did showed some potential so the following year we attempted an area scan over the most promising linear scan. Our 4 x 22 meter scan produced quite a good result but more scans in the south field the following years were quite disappointing. You can see details of our 1985-87 investigations here
The results from our resistivity work gave us a target for excavation and in 1988 we carried out our first Society dig. It proved to be a great success with the road being detected lying just below the surface. It consisted of a mixture of broken river cobbles and angular flat stones interspersed with rammed gravel and clay. We even detected a ditch on the west side but the cobbles just seemed to peter out on east side. Without a definitive edge on the east side it was difficult to determine width but we estimated it to be about 8.5 metres. You can see details of our 1988 investigations here.
Although we were quite pleased with our success, it wasn’t totally unexpected as our research had shown a track crossing the field here on the first edition 6 inch OS map of 1849 (this track however was not shown on the 24 inch map of 1893). If we could show however that the road extended into the south field, it would give great confidence that this was in deed the line of the Roman road. The following year therefore we opened up 3 trenches (test pits) in the south field on the suspected alignment. The results however were disappointing – there was nothing at all in our first test pit (Trench 1) and Trench 3 revealed just a field drain covered by large capping stones . The best result came from Trench 2 where we discovered a shallow ditch but the sparse scatter of stones was unconvincing.
It would be another decade before we returned to Brimelow. By this time we had built our own resistivity meter (Newsletter No.34) and we had a great success with it in the north field (Newsletter No.35). However once again, try as we might, evidence for the road in the south field proved elusive. Even when we acquired our own professional built meter in 2002 (Newsletter No.54), this field refused to give up its secrets. It was only when we got the opportunity to excavate in 2004 that we were able get our first definitive evidence of the road in the south field. Even then we had a shaky start with our first trenches at the north end producing nothing. Roy Brandon, the farmer, however had indicated that the top soil seemed deeper towards the south end of the field. It was here then that we were able to uncover a substantial section of the road. It was made up of river cobbles and it stretched for 9 metres east/west across the field but very little if any evidence of ditches on either side. By finding this evidence in the south field, our suspected the alignment indicated on the early 1 inch OS map, was confirmed. You can see details of our 2004 investigations here.
Our struggles with resistivity equipment in trying to detect the road in the south field had reduced our confidence in its use for this type of investigation (from other reports, it seemed to be a general problem with underlying clay subsoils) . However in 2016 we got access to GPR (Ground Penetrating Radar) equipment and, to see if this method could be more successful, we returned to Brimelow where we knew road existed. The result was very positive, proving the system was effective for searching Roman roads in our region. As well as the road, we were also able to detect other features in the field to the west the road alignment where the farmer Roy Brandon had detected crop marks. You can see details of our 2016 investigations here .
We followed up our GPR work a couple of years later with a season of excavations once again in the south field at Brimelow which we included as part of GM’s Festival of Archaeology. We started with a dig in the field to the west of the alignment but this turned out to be disappointing as it only revealed modern disturbance and a back-filled boundary ditch. Excavations on the road however were very successful with the cobbled surface showing up in all of our test pits revealing the road to be 10 metres wide although once again no roadside ditches could be detected. We were also able to confirm that an anomaly shown on the GPR result, which we thought may be a building, was in fact yet another a field drain. This particular year saw one of the driest summers on record and we had been invite by Steve Baldwin of Bluestone Archaeology to do a resistivity survey on a suspected Roman site at Burscough. The survey was a great success proving our meter wasn’t to bad after all and was perhaps it was weather dependent. A survey of an area to the east of alignment on high ground, where we suspected there could be something, once again proved inconclusive. You can see details of our 2018 investigations here