Wigan to Warrington

This road (Margary 70b) connects Wigan with the Roman site at Wilderspool on the south bank of the River Mersey. It has been well documented by various writers and confirmed by fieldwork over the years but little sign of it can be seen of it at the present time. This is what Margary had to say:

‘… it appears that the river Mersey was crossed close to Warrington Parish Church,…. Its alignment runs slightly west of north through Hulme and the grounds of the Winwick Mental Hospital, beyond which it turns a little more to the north to pass just on the east side of the Vulcan Foundry buildings. It can be seen in places as a belt of stones across the fields under suitable conditions, but it is gererally invisible. Yet its remains were found to be quite substantial, consisting of a layer of irregular sandstone blocks with gravel surfacing, and the width was noted as being from 14 to 24 feet. It was in best condition to the north of Winwick, whereas to the south of this the sandstone was found to be soft and much perished while the gravel was less plentiful.
Continuing north through Wargrave, it next appears as a lane past the extensive school buildings at Earlestown, and then as Queen’s Drive. Just beyond this the main Warrington – Wigan road, which has been running upon a course 1/2 mile to the east, comes on to the line and a distinct relic of the agger can be seen as a broad swelling in the field beyond the houses of Earlestown as it crosses this to fall into the main road. This follows it very closely for the next 1 1/2 miles to Ashton in Makerfield, but for part of the way the Roman road lay just to the east of the present one, inside the frontage of Haydock Lodge, as the earlier writers noticed, and traces of it can indeed still be seen there although much disturbed by the modern drive and planting.

Ribbon development along the main road through the mining village with the unexpectedly Welsh name of Brynn has obliterated former traces, but part of the course north of this, which lay through fields east of the road, is still marked by a hollow and cart track, nearly down to the point where the side road called Land Gate is crossed. Half a mile farther on there were formerly traces of the road in the field opposite the Ben Jonson Inn and on to Marus Bridge near Wigan, but cultivation seems to have destroyed them for nothing can be seen there now although the land is still open. Then the present road represents the course into Wigan, where the Wall Gate leads it into the town, this course providing the easiest crossing of the river Douglas.’

In the Wigan area excavations in 1993 by the GMAU in advance of a housing development revealed evidence for the road on the south side of Bryn Road. HER 4226.1.2 (SD 5735 0051) describes the excavation south of High Beeches Crescent validating the Ordnance Survey map projected
line of the Roman Road. The road ran north-west/south-east and had a gentle cambered profile, was a minimum of 5m wide, and was composed of irregular sandstone blocks bedded on sand and gravel.

The Society’s involvement over the years in searching for this road had been limited – a resistivity survey in the mid 80’s produced nothing in particular. However in 2015 a proposed housing development on the Land Gate site north of Bryn Road prompted us  to take a closer look and we undertook a visit to the site in late 2016 (see Newsletter 199).

In 2017 trial pits  in advance of a much reduced development plan, followed by evaluation trenches by Oxford Archaeology North, revealed strong evidence that the road had survived. This prompted the GMAAS to request a full scale excavation of the site before construction could begin. Over a four week period earlier this year, archaeologists from Salford University with help from members of the Society were able to uncover a couple of large sections over a fifty metre stretch. It showed, however, that ploughing over the years had removed the upper metalling but the road’s foundation layer had survived 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 excavations showed the road to have been about seven metres wide, which is smaller than expected but matches the section of the road discovered in 1993 on the other side of Bryn Road.  A section through the alignment revealed the only example of a roadside ditch. This surprisingly produced sherds of pottery in the upper levels which turned out to be medieval in date. You can see more details of our activities here.