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“A thousand roads lead men forever to Rome”; Alain de Lille, 1175

All content © Roman Roads Research Association 2016, all rights reserved; unless otherwise stated.

 a charity registered in England & Wales, no  1163854.

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Roman roads have always been a popular area of heritage interest for the general public. Yet, despite this interest, many heritage professionals in Britain (with the notable exception of Wales) have all too often been guilty of assuming that one Roman road is pretty much the same as another, and that our knowledge of the Roman road network is fairly complete. Consequently, the serious study of Roman roads has been often left to a handful of disparate individuals and small amateur groups, with little or no co-ordination or cooperation between them. The reality, however, is that many of the generally held perceptions, often those of professional archaeologists, are quite simply wrong. Indeed, we are  only reasonably certain of about 40% of the network at best. Neither has it helped that the subject has, on occasions, attracted individuals whose enthusiasm has been rather more evident than their objectivity. We’re not all cranks and nutters, honest!





Analysis of 19th century Tithe Maps and Enclosures maps along with their accompanying documentation can reveal field names with elements that suggest a nearby Roman road; names such as “Street Close” or “Causey Bent”

FIELD NAME STUDY

MAP REGRESSION

ARCHIVE WORK

Map regression involves examining the same features on progressively older maps - regressing through time. This can sometimes demonstrate the order in which features appeared, and can eliminate some so called Roman roads.

Much of our work involves research in archived material at sites such as this, the Brotherton Library at Leeds University, where the Yorkshire Archaeological Society archive is soon to be housed.

The Roman Roads Research Association has been formed to provide a much needed focal point for Roman road researchers, with the twin aims of advancing public education in Roman heritage and specifically Roman roads, as well as promoting the study of the Roman road network in Britain. Apart from simply organising our own programme of study we aim to  harness community interest in a series of Community Archaeology projects, and crucially we will also aim to support and encourage all those individuals and groups already active in research, amongst other things providing a platform for online publication.  



The sort of activities our members will be involved in…..

Our Aims

Why Are Roman Roads so Important?

It’s a bit like asking, “What did the Romans ever do for us?” Every day millions of us still drive along roads first laid out by Roman surveyors nearly 2000 years ago (such as Oxford Street in London, and large parts of the A1, A5 and A66); roads that link many of our major towns and cities such as London, Manchester and York, all with Roman origins. It’s no exaggeration to say that Rome left us with at least some of the foundations upon which our country was eventually built. We are all rightly proud of this island’s heritage, but how can we hope to fully understand the part played by Rome without first understanding the road network which kept Britannia functioning?  

Roman roads are all too often seen as merely links between Roman sites, with the emphasis placed upon the sites themselves rather than the whole infrastructure. We cannot understand the whole picture if we do not first understand how and why the infrastructure developed, why forts are where they are and why settlement patterns developed; we can do none of that without an accurate picture of the development of the road network.   

What do we aim to achieve?

Our ultimate aim is to build a computerised GIS dataset of every Roman road in Britain, and then conduct and promote further fieldwork along the course of each road so that we can learn as much as we possibly can. We will also digitise as much existing existing research as possible (copyright permitting), such as excavation reports and archives, itself a massive time consuming and potentially expensive task. At the very least, we will make a precis of whatever is available and make that accessible on the database. Crucially, as much data as possible will be made publicly accessible.

As we’ve already pointed out, roads are only part of the overall infrastructure, so we will also incorporate into the database summaries of all the military sites, settlements, villas etc. which the road network served. We will also be actively engaged in conducting investigations (or encouraging work by other organisations) of the many sites that have been only superficially studied, initially by non-invasive techniques such as geophysics. The database will, in effect, become a database of Roman Britain, not simply the road network. We could say that this aim is somewhat ambitious, but that might seem a little understated! It would be unrealistic to expect to complete this work quickly even with major funding, and a very optimistic target would be 10 years.


How Will We Do It?

In order to trial our methods and systems, we are establishing an initial project in Yorkshire, imaginatively named the Yorkshire Roman Roads Project! God’s own county has an estimated 1,060 miles of Roman road (about 12% of Britain’s total), but we are only reasonably certain of the course of 480 miles. Whilst it’s wide variety of landscape and disparate administrative structure present substantial challenges, we can be confident that if we can succeed in Yorkshire, we can succeed anywhere in Britain.

2015 will see the launch of a 2 year pilot project, Ricknild Street - Fact or Fable, examining the route north from  the fort at Chesterfield, Derbyshire (just outside Yorkshire), past Templeborough, Rotherham, potentially as far north as Boroughbridge in North Yorkshire. The pilot will investigate how we can best utilise Community Archaeology to both carry out vital archaeological work, and increase interest in and awareness of our Roman Heritage, and Roman roads in particular.

The experience gained from of the Ricknild Street pilot will then inform a series of other similar schemes, some small, some large, initially across Yorkshire and then spreading across England and Scotland (much of the work we are proposing has already been completed in Wales by the various Welsh Archaeological Trusts).

Why is the RRRA needed now?

Put very simply, if we don’t do this no-one else will, and time is running out. Pressure for ever greater output is placing land in rural England, particularly in arable areas, under more pressure than ever before. Unfortunately, that means ever bigger machinery with increasingly deep ploughing, and surviving archaeological remains are rapidly being destroyed.  We can’t really blame farmers, who have to produce as much food as possible for the rest of us, but we can at least make an effort to discover and record what we can of the 60% of the Roman road network about which we are still uncertain, whilst there is still evidence left to find.

Archaeological studies carried out prior to major construction work such as new roads and pipelines have often proved invaluable in providing detail of sites about which we would otherwise be unaware. However, new building and development is by it’s nature destructive and there are increasing concerns in some parts of the country that local authority funding cuts are resulting in less than objective heritage assessments, and reduced ability to monitor. In others, councils themselves are paying scant regard to their obligations and responsibilities and pushing developments through without adequate archaeological investigation, as is currently the case (January 2015) in Dorchester with West Dorset District Council.

Get Involved and Support Us!

The easiest way to support the RRRA is by becoming a member. Then, not only will you be helping us financially, but you will also have opportunities to get involved in all the activities illustrated below.

Our first financial target is to reach an income of £5,000. This is the income that the Charity Commission requires us to have before they will accept an application for charitable status. Charitable status is so important - it will enable supporters to Gift Aid their donations and subscriptions making them worth up to 25% more to us. What’s more, it gives us credibility and opens up sources of funding only open to charities. Even little things like reduced PayPal fees for registered charities all add up.

You can help us take another step towards that £5,000 target by making a donation, by joining RRRA, or even better, BOTH!


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The easiest way to support the RRRA is by becoming a member. Most of our work will be carried out by volunteers, but even then there are major costs to cover such as equipment, administration, insurance, software licensing, training, etc.; your modest membership fee goes towards covering these costs. As a member you will receive

  • The satisfaction of knowing you helped us to realise our objectives
  • free admission to most RRRA talks and events
  • insurance cover for RRRA excavations and fieldwork
  • your own @member.romanroads.org e-mail address  completely free
  • the chance to get involved. There are many opportunities to do so; whilst our initial major project is centred in Yorkshire, we are keen to see research conducted anywhere in the country and will always support the research of our active members, no matter where they might live.

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