Brimelow Farm 1989

(This report was first published in the Society’s annual Journal of 1990 – it has been re-edited for this blog.)

This years excavation was again arranged and conducted rather hurriedly to fit in with crop development, holidays etc. As many people as possible were contacted and although some were unavailable we were able to muster the necessary manpower for the task in hand. I would, therefore, like to thank all those who took part. The Gt. Manchester Archaeological Unit again came to our rescue with the loan of their equipment for the weekend from their site at Lostock Hall, near Bolton.
To prove the existence of a road in the field opposite Brimelow Farm. After the previous years successful discoveries in the north field at Brimelow, we needed to establish the line of the road, which, if Roman, would extend in a straight line towards the town centre of Wigan.
Previous years resistivity surveys in the south field had not yielded significant results neither were there any crop or field markings to go by. We had to open three separate trenches ten metres apart (Fig. 1) to ensure that we would come across the road (if it was there! ). Trench 1 was measured 50 metres east of our base line and 30 metres south of the road leading to Gidlow Cemetery. Subsequent trenches were measured to the west of this.
With the sods and topsoil removed down to a depth of 30cm, all three of the 1 metre square trenches looked identical. There was nothing like the excitement of the previous year when at this early stage, when large stones of all shapes and sizes began to appear. The colour of this first layer was light yellow-orange. We later established this level as being the plough soil which had been undisturbed for a good number of years. With nothing in particular to go on, we decided to extend the second two trenches by 1 metre to the east, Still no sign of anything, so all three trenches were taken down to the next layer which appeared 5 to 10cm further down (Fig. 2). This layer was a darker clay with sandstone flecks and medium to small cobble stones were distributed randomly over the surface. Could this be the road? At this stage, a number of finds were collected dating around 19th/20th century, including pipe stems, large lumps of marl and some cannel coal. Harry Tomlinson, a local resident who has provided us with a lot of information, informed us of the existence of a cannel pit in the next field south called Potters Hey. Trench 1 was still looking fairly barren, just a couple of isolated stones. In fact, layer two did not appear, and at a depth of 40cm, a whitish soft clay with sandstone flecks was revealed. This was called layer three and was later deemed to be the undisturbed subsoil. It was decided to abandon Trench 1 and concentrate on Trenches 2 and 3.
Examination of the surfaces of Trenches 2 and 3 revealed the scatter of stones in both to be more concentrated on the east side. (Fig, 3) A ditch feature appeared in Trench 2 (Fig. 4) and showed up as a band of darker clay running north/south across the centre of the trench. This was confusing us as, although a ditch is expected on the edge of a Roman road, the cobble surface should have appeared on the other side to correspond with the stones in Trench 3.

Fig 3 – Trench 2 looking south

Both trenches, therefore, were extended by another metre westward and taken down to layer two. To add to the confusion in Trench 2, the scatter of stone cobbles started to reappear on the west side of the ditch feature. In Trench 3 the surface towards the west was clear of stones, except for a curious line running north/south. Layer 2 seemed to end at this point with layer 3, the whitish soft clay, appearing again at about 40cms.
At this stage, we were not sure what, if anything, we had found. If it was the road, it had been spread quite widely and the cobble surface was still only rather shallow. Extending Trench 3 by another metre toward Trench 2 might provide the answer. Suddenly there was great excitement as large sandstone blocks began to appear in the second layer, apparently aligned north/south and fitting closely together. They looked man-made and of some age because they were sealed under layer one, the plough soil (Fig. 6) Was it a wail, building foundations or curbing ?

Fig 6 – Trench 3

With renewed enthusiasm, Trench 3 was extended northward by 2. metre to determine the extent of the feature. The line of stones came to an abrupt end in this section, but it was enough to prompt us to contact professional help from the Gt. Manchester Archaeological unit to inspect our efforts. We were given the contact of the Sites and Monuments Record Officer, Norman Redhead, who came the following week, by which time we had cleaned, planned, sectioned and photographed as much of the site as we could. We had also removed one of the stone slabs which revealed the feature to be a small culvert or drain, lined with stones with a small gully , about 7cms wide, running down the centre. (Fig. 8)

Trench 3 – Section through culvert

Professional Opinion
Norman Redhead seemed impressed with our efforts, although he wasn’t as enthusiastic as we were about the culvert feature. He thought perhaps it wasn’t so old, although not of this century. He was, however, far more interested In the ditch feature in Trench 2, which by then we had cleaned out and taken down to the subsoil (layer 3). In the section he pointed out to us that the fill of the ditch was not only below the plough soil (layer 1), but was also sealed by the stony layer (layer 2).

Trench 2 – Section through ditch feature

This year our efforts did not provide us with enough evidence to prove the existence of a road, whether Roman or not. The cobble surface could possibly have been the remnant of an old farm yard. Significantly perhaps, the gap between the ditch feature in Trench 2 and the culvert feature in Trench 3 correspond well with the width of the road that was discovered in the previous years excavation. The culvert feature had cut into the stony surface and, therefore must be of a younger date, but its purpose remains a mystery. As a field drain it was fairly elaborate, and as a culvert it should have followed the slope of the hill rather than cut across it. Both features do line up with our projected line for the road. Next year may provide us with the answer and the society are looking at other sites in the area, possibly a moated site, with a view to excavation.