Roman Fort and sections of Roman Roads
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Location Description:
- Land to the west of Flax Lane, Burscough, Lathom, Ormskirk L40 5TD
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Location Description:
- Land to the west of Flax Lane, Burscough, Lathom, Ormskirk L40 5TD
- West Lancashire (District Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
Roman fort of at least two phases, and sections of Roman roads, surviving largely as buried archaeological deposits with slight earthwork traces indicated by Lidar analysis.
Reasons for Designation
Burscough Roman fort, and sections of associated Roman roads, is scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* Rarity: Roman sites of all descriptions are rare in west Lancashire, and this multi-phase fort fills a void in the military occupation of lowland north-west England; * Survival: despite being reduced by ploughing, it retains significant archaeological deposits relating to its construction and the nature and longevity of its occupation; * Potential: it will revise our understanding of the Roman military occupation of Lancashire and add considerably to our knowledge of the economy of Roman Britain; * Period: Roman military monuments are important in representing army strategy and government policy, and forts are of particular significance to our understanding of the period; * Documentation: it is well-documented through aerial and geophysical survey, confirmed by archaeological evaluation; * Group value: taken together with other Roman forts in the region, including Wigan and Ribchester, Burscough will provide great insight into Roman military strategy.
Roman forts served as the permanent bases of auxiliary troops for the Roman army who served in both infantry and cavalry units. They were linked by the Roman road system which was part of the network of control. These installations were a very important feature of the Roman period in Britain, as the British provinces were some of the most heavily militarised in the Roman Empire. The settlement and administration of west Lancashire during the Roman period is poorly understood, and the recently discovered Roman fort and sections of Roman roads at Burscough potentially fills a large gap in our knowledge of the military occupation of lowland north-west England.
Timber-built forts are in general a feature of the conquest phase of Roman Britain, from AD 43 to the first decade of the 2nd century AD. Stone-built northern forts were occupied from the 1st to the 5th century AD. All were constructed to a fairly standard plan with some exceptions: they were virtually always rectangular with rounded corners, and most were surrounded by at least one V-shaped ditch. Defences of timber forts took the form of earth and turf ramparts 3-9m wide, sometimes with stone bases, while stone-built forts were surrounded by stone walls some 4.5m high to a wall-walk. Auxiliary forts normally had four double gates flanked by towers. Internally, they maintain a basic plan with the principal street (via principalis) crossing the short axis of the fort, linking the two main gates in the long sides. A street (via praetoria) running from a gate in the short side nearest the main street joined the via principalis in front of the central headquarters building (principia). The area in front of the principia contained barracks and store buildings. Facing onto the via principalis were the buildings of the central subdivision of the fort, which include in the centre, the principia. To one side was the commander’s house (praetorium). On the other side were granaries (horrea). The rear section of the fort contained further stores, barracks and other structures. Many Roman forts attracted a civilian settlement (vicus) typically extending along one of the approach roads to the fort.
C18 references to a ‘camp’ within an unidentified field close to Flax Lane, Burscough are likely to reference the field annotated on the 1846 Tithe map as ‘Castle Field’. In 2005 sub-soiling activities in the northern part of the former ‘Castle Field’ revealed the substantial remains of a sandstone structure. Subsequent field walking produced a large assemblage of Romano-British pottery, which has been dated to around the mid-2nd century AD; significant quantities of architectural pieces including stone, brick and tile were also recovered. A geophysical survey the same year confirmed the presence of substantial structural remains.
In 2013 a narrow trench was opened to investigate the stratigraphy, preservation and character of the site: the work since then has produced considerable quantities of pottery, ceramic building material, and other finds, as well as complex multi-period stratigraphy seen in restricted sondages. In 2014 a geophysical magnetometer survey of about 0.5 ha within the southern half of the field was undertaken, the provisional results of which confirmed the presence of a fort comprising substantial block walls, bounded by at least two phases of external ditches. Internally, stone structures and a road network were also identified. Limited archaeological evaluation in 2014 and 2015 revealed further information on the form of the structures: one stone building with buttresses bears a close similarity to granaries at Roman forts in Britain. The evaluation also produced a significant quantity of pottery, ceramic building material, industrial waste, metal finds and other material. Specialist work on the ceramic finds has dated the occupation span from the late-1st century to the late-4th century AD or later, with a possible occupation hiatus in the 3rd century. A late-Roman or post-Roman phase, including a series of rubble platforms associated with late-4th century pottery has also been identified. Although most of the ceramic material is considered likely to be residual, complex stratigraphy was also identified including a well-defined clay oven associated with 2nd century AD pottery. A detailed resistivity survey in 2018 confirmed the clear presence of a Roman fort of at least two phases: the first phase is a large auxiliary fort about 2.5-3 ha in extent; the second phase comprises a later, smaller fortlet, about 0.5 ha in extent, constructed over the eastern rampart of the earlier fort. The survey also identified a broad feature approaching the eastern fort entrance, interpreted as a Roman road; a similar road is thought to also approach the south entrance.
In 2020 Historic England assessed all available vertical and oblique aerial photographs held in the Historic England Archive, vertical photographs hosted on Google Earth and Bing Maps and Environment Agency Lidar images. The Roman fort was visible as cropmarks, soilmarks and earthworks on a variety of aerial photographs and Lidar data ranging from 1946-2019. The remains from aerial photographs and Lidar were then mapped and seen to correlate with the results of the geophysical surveys undertaken on the site.
PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS: Roman auxiliary fort, sections of Roman roads, and a later Roman fortlet overlying its eastern rampart. The remains survive largely as buried archaeological deposits revealed on aerial photographs and by geophysical survey, with slight earthwork traces indicated by Lidar analysis.
DESCRIPTION: the buried and earthwork remains of a Roman auxiliary fort, oriented north to south and measuring a maximum of about 155m by 160m, are situated on a slight plateau on land that otherwise slopes gently to the south. The lines of the defences of the fort are clearly identifiable on geophysical survey and aerial photographs, but the north-west and south-west corners are also visible on Lidar images as slight earthworks. The north-west corner of the fort is visible as the slight earthwork of a broad bank about 12m wide, with a regular, broad and shallow external ditch; the latter is interpreted as a shallow quarry ditch dug during the construction of the rampart. Several large depressions visible in the wider landscape are considered to be post medieval extraction, probably marl pits: one of these pits sits within the angle of the north-west corner of the fort. The north-east corner of the fort is defined by up to five ditches and an additional outer ditch whose location aligns with the outer edge of the broad external ditch identified flanking the rampart of the north-west corner. The number of ditches is considered to indicate more than one phase of occupation, and it is considered that a later, small fortlet overlies the eastern rampart of the earlier fort. The south-east corner of the fort is defined by a narrow ditch with traces of an internal bank visible as a slight earthwork scarp. The south-west corner of the fort is partially visible as a short section of buried ditch; the present field boundary kinks at this location which suggests that its course was influenced by the location of the fort’s ramparts.
A number of internal features have been revealed by geophysical survey including a well-defined eastern gateway with double gate towers, and numerous stone buildings interpreted as granaries or barracks. Limited trial trenching of the latter has revealed the presence of a large stone, buttressed building typical of a Roman granary. Overall the evaluation has demonstrated the presence of a complex multi-period stratigraphy and deposits including pebble surfaces, clay floors, beam slots, and hearths associated with probably industrial processes. The geophysical survey has also revealed the buried remains of a broad section of Roman road approaching the fort on the east side. A similar feature is thought to be associated with the fort's southern entrance.
EXTENT OF SCHEDULING: this covers the full extent of the multi-phase Roman fort mapped by the geophysical survey and aerial photography, sections of Roman road and what is considered to be a later fortlet overlying the eastern rampart. The western boundary has a margin of 10m considered necessary for the support and protection of the monument.
EXCLUSIONS: all fence posts, hedges and stone walls that cross the monument are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included.
Books and journals
Margery, I D, Roman Roads in Britain, (1957), 358-359
North-West Roman Roads: David Ratledge, 2018, accessed 27-04-2020 from http://www.romanroads.org/gazetteer/M702aa.htm
Roman Forts and Fortresses: Introduction to Heritage Assets; Historic England 2018, accessed 23-04-20120 from https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/iha-roman-forts-fortresses/heag230-roman-forts-fortresses/
A Geophysical Survey of Land at Flax Lane, Burscough, Lancashire; Feb 2017: Dr M Adams and B Aldridge, unpublished report
Background to an Archaeological Evaluation of Castle Field, Flax Lane, Burscough, West Lancashire: Dr M Adams, unpublished report
Land West of Flax Lane, Burscough: Assessment of Aerial Photographs and Lidar, Historic England 2020.
The Fort in the Wood: Analysis of Roman Finds from a West Lancashire Site: Bluestone Archaeology, unpublished report for the Roman Society, 2017
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing