Salford’s Early Past Pt 4: Roman Roads

 

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The Roman road system in Salford.

Three Roman roads crossed the Salford landscape. These avoided Chat Moss, the large tract of raised bog which dominated several square kilometers of the northern bank of the River Irwell, in Salford.

 

They represent the earliest Roman activity in the area. Their construction coincides with the establishment of the Roman fort at Manchester. This was founded in the mid-70s AD as part of the conquest of the Brigantes. They led a loose grouping of seven tribes in northern England, of which Salford was part.

Of the roads to be found in Salford one, from Manchester to Ribchester, ran northwards along the line of Bury New Road through Broughton. A second from Manchester to Wigan crossed the River Irwell at Hulme, south-west of the fort, close to a rock shelter later known as Woden’s Cave. Somewhere near Chorlton Fold this road divided, one branch continuing west towards the Roman fort at Wigan along the high ground to north of Chat Moss. The other branch headed north-west towards the Roman army supply base at Walton-le-Dale near Preston.

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Aerial view of the Roman road at Wentworth High School. The road side ditches are arrowed.

In 2005 a dig in the Three Sisters Nature Reserve, Ellesmere Park, uncovered part of the route to the west. Here, the Wigan Archaeological Society excavated a gravel and clay foundation, c. 0.3m deep and roughly 8m wide, with well-defined ditches on either side, the northern one having been re-dug.

In 2012 and 2013 excavations by the University of Salford east of Chatsworth Road, in the grounds of the old Wentworth High School, located a further section of this Roman road. A 25m length of road foundation was uncovered. The road here was c. 8m wide with a cambered gravel and clay foundation c. 0.3m deep.

Beneath the gravel foundations was a buried soil which contained burnt organic material including heather. This buried soil was associated with land clearance before the road construction, and suggests a heathland environment in this part of Salford when the Romans first arrived. In contrast, the southern road ditch was partially sealed by road material slumping into it. This probably happened in the immediate post-Roman period when the route was abandoned.

The increasing availability of high resolution LiDAR data opens the prospect of tracing earthworks relating to the Roman road network across the Manchester region. Initial study suggests that low earthworks close to the projected alignment of the Roman road to Wigan may survive on the Salford/Wigan border at Worsley and Boothstown.

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