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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.

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This page provides a reasonably detailed overview of the methodology we intend to employ, whilst omitting some of the more technical details such as the table and field structure of the database etc. The methodology proposed is largely based upon that used by Bob Sylvester and Ann Owen of Clwyd and Powys Archaeological Trust (CPAT) (Sylvester & Owen, 2003, p. 6-7). Because of the dominance of arable agriculture and ever deeper ploughing in most of the lowland parts of Yorkshire, coupled with the massive expansion of the industrial towns of West and South Yorkshire during the 19th and 20th centuries, many archaeological remains that may have been visible a relatively short time ago are often no longer visible above ground or have been entirely destroyed. For this reason, we have expanded the CPAT methodology slightly to give a greater emphasis to antiquarian material. We also aim to incorporate as much excavation and survey data as possible into the database, enabling us to conduct analysis of planning, construction methods, dimensions, etc..



The starting point for any study of Roman roads has to be the local Sites and Monuments Record (SMR) usually incorporated nowadays into a Historic Environment Record  (HER). These are usually held for each County, except for National Park authorities which have their own, and some (but not all) Unitary authorities such as the City of York . Consequently, Yorkshire poses somewhat of a challenge as data is held by no less than eight different bodies, with a further seven adjoining HERs that cover small parts of the historic county  of Yorkshire along with parts of road beyond the county that cannot simply be disregarded because of the modern abstract construct of administrative boundaries. The relevant bodies are:


City of York HER

Humber SMR (held by Humber Archaeology Partnership, includes the East Riding)

North York Moors National Park HER

North Yorkshire HER

Redcar & Cleveland

South Yorkshire SMR

West Yorkshire HER

Yorkshire Dales National Park HER


Cumbria HER

Derbyshire HER

Durham HER

Greater Manchester HER

Lancashire HER

Nottinghamshire HER

Tees Archaeology HER

The second primary source of data for Roman roads are files created by the Ordnance Survey for their own purposes, compiled mainly during the 1950s and 1960s although the OS continued to compile them into the early 1980s. They derived from work by their own Field Investigators, other archaeologists, and incorporated some antiquarian material. The files principally comprise of annotated strip maps, accompanied by record cards. Copies of the maps (but not necessarily the record cards) are usually (but not always) held by individual HERs and the original files can now be found in the English Heritage Archive in Swindon.

There is considerable overlap between the data on the OS files and that on the various HERs, however whilst some of the OS data has been incorporated into digital mapping held by individual HERs, much has not, nor is there any consistency of approach from one HER to another.

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The first task will be to interrogate both primary sources and extract all relevant records and enter them into a project computerised Geographical Information System (GIS) supported by a specifically designed database. Data will, where possible , be extracted from the HER databases digitally, unfortunately much of the OS data will have to be entered manually as it has yet to be fully digitised. The HER data will need to be methodically checked and assessed, primarily be comparison with the original OS data. Records may in some instances include roads or tracks which are highly likely to  have a medieval or post-medieval origin, but for which a Roman origin has been claimed, for example the paved causeway up Blackstone Edge, or may be postulated in future. Similarly, there will be some records of features which are claimed to be Roman roads which are likely to be a mis-interpretation of some other kind of feature, such as the “road” across Wheeldale Moor. Each road line will be recorded as a series of adjoining segments, defined by the information that exists as to their form and survival.

The HERs will also be searched for entries of other Roman sites which would be expected to lie directly on a road line ie milestones, bridges, forts & settlements. In parts of Yorkshire, it is already generally recognised that villas tend to be located very close to a Roman road, as within the Foulness Valley (Halkon, 2008, p. 195), and this close association may well extend across the county.  Entries of villas and other Roman sites will also be extracted for comparison with the road mapping. A similar study to this one, conducted in South East Wales, considered that the large volume of Roman finds made it not worthwhile comparing the distribution with Roman roads (Sherman & Evans, 2004, p. 6). However  the suspected close association in Yorkshire between Roman cultural impact and the road network, and indeed the close relationship between coin find distribution and the Roman road network that has already been demonstrated in Eastern Yorkshire (Halkon, 2013, p. 232-3), makes such an analysis here vital. Therefore, finds data from the HERs, Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), and any other available sources will also be extracted and entered into the database. Using the GIS, the distribution of the various site types will be analysed with respect to the existing digital mapping of Roman roads. Particular attention will be paid to the relationship between the Roman road network, forts and other military sites, and settlement evidence. The distribution of Roman finds will also be analysed.

Additional to the primary sources are others including both published and unpublished material, including some in manuscript and archive form. For example, the road from Marrick in Swaledale to Ulshaw Bridge claimed to be of Roman origin by Andrew Fleming (Fleming 1996) does not appear in detail in the Yorkshire Dales National Park HER and there is no OS file for it. There are others of a similar nature, and all must be extracted and entered into the database. Similarly, there are many of Francis Villy’s claimed roads which do not appear on either major source, and whilst some detail was published, it will be necessary to examine archived material in Leeds. The same applies to Dorothy Greene, whose archive is held in Rotherham, and Donald Haigh, who at the time of writing is sadly quite unwell.

The potential importance of antiquarian material has already been mentioned. This has been proven recently by the rediscovery of the road north from Bainbridge identified by Warburton (Warburton 1720), indeed another of Warburton’s recorded roads south from Rossington Bridge has also been rediscovered by analysis of aerial photography. The work of antiquaries such as Warburton, Drake, Gale, Stukeley, Thoresby and many others will therefore be studied and a precis made of each account of a potential Roman road. Should any account differ notably from the data extracted from HERs etc, this will be followed up by analysis of LiDAR and aerial images, and on the ground where possible. We have to point out that in some cases the descriptions given by antiquaries can be rather vague, and so creating accurate geographic data sufficient to enter into the database will be, to see the least, a challenge!

To a large extent, the data structure of the CPAT analysis was governed by the structure of the SMR. We don’t have the same restriction, so we will record a greater level of data about each road feature, such as it’s dimensions and construction. Additionally, especially following the work of John Poulter, we feel it essential to record planning alignments, and the known features, if any, upon which they are aligned - none  of the Welsh studies did this. The CPAT project did apend some excavation and other point data from the HER, however it was not especially detailed or comprehensive. Our emphasis is slightly different to that of CPAT, being concerned to provide a research tool as much as simply a store of baseline data. For this reason, other files such as photos, survey/excavation reports etc, will where possible be digitised and linked to the database.

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As has been made clear throughout this website, we aim not simply to undertake a major programme of research, but to strive to involve as many people in that research as possible. The work is important, but equally important is the opportunity to encourage people from disparate backgrounds and with varying degrees of knowledge and experience to get involved with archaeology and gain a better understanding and appreciation of their local heritage. During Phase II we will develop relationships with existing archaeological and historical groups and societies, and encourage people with little or no previous archaeological experience to get involved wherever possible.  

Phase II is largely, although not entirely, a fieldwork phase, the first stage of which is to make ground observations of each road segment where possible, confirming or refuting the existence of the ground features noted on the HER and OS files. Features, extant or not, need to assessed as to whether or not they are likely to have been part of a road, and if so assess possible start and end points and attempt to determine a likely route and individual alignments. Provided an experienced person is present, this will give a valuable opportunity to those with relatively little experience to get a valuable feel for the way Roman roads and other features present themselves in the field. Location data will be checked using GPS. Each individual segment will have data attached to it, recording which road line it is part of, the length of the segment, its form & dimensions, construction if known, condition, status and survival . Once this is done for any individual road, we will then be in a position to assess the likelihood of any features along any alignment being of Roman origin, and by weighing all the available evidence, each alignment should then be classified Known, Probable, Possible, Claimed. Crucially, we will then be able to identify areas where further fieldwork or archive work may be needed, and identify what form that fieldwork may take.

Using the case of Margary 720b, the road from Ilkley to Aldborough (for no other reason than it happens to run near the writer’s house!), there is very little known tangible evidence for the line of the road between Ripley and Aldborough, and what little there is will be re-assessed at this stage, which may require excavation to establish a Roman origin or otherwise. Recent geophysics as part of a project being run by Cambridge University (Ferraby & Millett 2012) has established that the generally accepted alignment approaching Aldborough is unlikely to be correct. Assuming that ground observations confirm this lack of evidence, we have to consider the possibility of a different line to the generally accepted one for several miles. It may prove possible to trace the line from it’s known position leaving the west gate of Isurium (Aldborough) by means of Geophysical survey beyond the end of the Cambridge University work, perhaps enough to establish a long distance alignment, which in itself may then suggest further fieldwork. If geophysics proves unhelpful, then one piece of research that can help in a situation like this is the study of placenames and fieldnames, drawing particularly on Tithe Maps and Enclosures Award maps. Name elements such as “street/stret/strat/stait” or “causeway/causey/rigg” can all be suggestive (but not proof of) the previous existence of a Roman road. Should such indicators be found, then scrupulous examination of the relevant aerial photos and LiDAR data along the conjectured route can be undertaken. Any interesting features that are revealed will then have to be further checked by map regression, i.e. tracing the history of a feature through progressively earlier maps which can sometimes identify a surprisingly recent origin.  Finally, after all that work is complete, there may be deemed sites suitable for excavation, subject of course to relevant permissions.

There may also be sites identified adjacent to a road line which are suggestive of military or settlement sites, and these may themselves suggest a further programme of fieldwork, which may include earthwork and landscape survey, geophysical survey, and a programme of organised fieldwalking and metal detecting. In the case of Margary 720b, it has long been suggested that there ought to be an intermediate fort site between Ilkley and Aldborough, and given all we know about Roman fort locations such a site is likely to be very near to the crossing of the River Nidd near Hampsthwaite. The likely crossing point has recently been identified prior to the Project’s commencement, and therefore for the first time we can make an educated guess as to where a fort may well have been, providing a potential opportunity for all the work just mentioned. Whilst experienced oversight and supervision is essential, and in some instances that will involve a heritage professional, there remain opportunities for a wide range of skillsets and levels of experience.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY  Click on the author to return to the paragraph you were just reading

Ferraby, R. & Millett, M. 2012 Aldborough Roman Town Survey; Report of Archaeological Work: 2012

Fleming, Andrew. 1996. Early Roads to the Swaledale Leadmines in Yorkshire Archaeological Journal Vol.68 1996, pp 89-100  . Leeds, Yorkshire Archaeological Society

Halkon, P. 2008. Archaeology & environment in a changing East Yorkshire landscape: the Foulness Valleyc.800 BC to c.AD400 BAR British Series 472. Stroud, Archaeopress.

Halkon, P. 2013. The Parisi; Britons and Romans in Eastern Yorkshire. Stroud, The History Press

Sherman, A., &  Evans, E. 2004. Roman Roads in South-East Wales, Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust Report no. 2004/073 - unpublished.

Sylvester, R. & Owen, W., 2003. CPAT Report 527; Roman Roads in Mid and North East Wales, Welshpool: unpublished.

Warburton, J. 1720. A New and Correct Map of the County of York in All its Divisions, London

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Example of an OS Strip map

Plot of PAS finds data showing likely road west of A1

Plot of Villa sites on North York Moors

Map of SMRs and HERs in Yorkshire, text in blue. Surrounding HERs text in Grey.

Historical Background Introduction & Aims
Gazetteer of Yorkshire Ricknild Street Pilot