A History of Lancashire


Roman Lancashire

The Romans began the conquest of Britain in 43 A.D., almost a century after Julius Caesar had first crossed the Channel from Gaul. Five years fighting gave them control of most of the south-eastern half of Britain, and by 60 A.D., Suetonius Paulinus had carried the conquest as far as Chester and North Wales. But the Romans did not hold the south-east sufficiently strongly to justify so rapid an advance. The revolt of the Iceni under Queen Boudicca forced Suetonius Paulinus to rush his troops south again order to defend London, and not until the 70s did the Romans attempt to conquer the backward Brigantes who occupied most of northern Britain. In the early days of the conquest the Romans had found the Brigantes under their queen, Cartimandua, amenable and co-operative, but before 70 A.D., these early Iron-Age Britons had become hostile and troublesome. Between 71 and 74 the Ninth Legion built a fort at York (Eburacum) and pushed north-westward as far as Carlisle (Luguvallium). This campaign established Roman control north of Lancashire. In 78 Agricola brought the Twentieth Legion, Valeria Victrix, to Chester (Deva). After he had subdued the Ordovices in North Wales, he led his soldiers across the Mersey by the ford at Latchford, and marched north towards the Ribble and east towards the Pennines. He soon built earth ramparts to defend the small garrisons he left at Ribchester (Bremetennacum), Manchester (Mamucium), and Overborough (Galacum), and during the next three years his men constructed rough roads to link these forts to Carlisle, Illey (Olicana) and York. Agricola himself led the relentless march to the north. By 82 A.D., he was across the Tay, and in 84 A.D., he won the decisive battle of Mons Graupius against the Caledonians in the Eastern Highlands of Scotland.

So far the Romans had done little but march straight through the area we now call Lancashire. The Roman historian, Tacitus, son-in-law of Agricola, described how the Romans ‘with sudden attacks and punishments’ terrified the Brigantes. ‘When Agricola had alarmed and terrified them sufficiently, he next tried the effects of good usage and the attractions of peace.’ Certainly his officers forced the Brigantes into road-making and trench-digging. Everything was done to keep the advance going. But Agricola was recalled in 84 A.D., and under the Emperors Trajan (98-117) and Hadrian (117-138) the plan to conquer the northern Highlands was abandoned. Hadrian’s Wall (122-128) eventually restricted the area of Roman occupation, and made it necessary to have safe and good roads leading to it from the legionary centres of Chester and York. Therefore during the first half of the second century the roads through Lancashire were increased in number and made more permanent . The old forts were made bigger and stronger, stone walls or timber palisades replaced earth ramparts, and additional strong points were built at Wilderspool, Wigan (Coccium), Walton-le-Dale, Kirkham, Lancaster and possibly at Colne. This Roman consolidation and expansion at first prompted the Brigantes to resist whenever they could. It is recorded that Antoninus Pius, who succeeded Hadrian as emperor in 138, had to suppress a revolt in the north, but the Brigantes could do little against the military superiority of the Romans. To the Romans Lancashire was unattractive because of its climate and its distance from Europe, and there is little evidence that Roman civilians ever settled there. No sites of Roman villas have been found in Lancashire. Some ex-soldiers married local girls and stayed on to farm in the Ribble valley and probably in the neighbourhood of Mamucium. Some Roman traders may have lived for short periods in or near one of the bigger forts, but most Romans who came to Lancashire were active soldiers on defence duties. Once they had finished their tour of duty they moved elsewhere, and were no more permanent than British soldiers are today in Germany. Lancashire is poor country for the archaeologist. Industrial development during the last three hundred years has destroyed or overbuilt much of the evidence the archaeologist would like to discover. New knowledge of the fort of Manucium has been found under cellar floors of warehouses near Knott Hill station and by rescue digs when nearby property was rebuilt. At Walton-le-Dale excavation had to await the convenience of the market gardeners who occupied the site. The Roman sites at Lancaster, Wigan, Warrington, and Ribchester are thick with property. Even so, during the last hundred and fifty years some interesting Roman finds have been made. Inscribed altar-stones and tomb-stones have been found at Lancaster, Ribchester, Warrington and Manchester, and preserved in local museums. Various Roman coins and pieces of jewellery have been dug up, and the Walton site has yielded a large quantity of Samian ware, which is red glazed pottery imported from Europe. In 1796 an elaborately-carved bronze helmet was discovered at Ribchester, and last century there were unearthed a bronze statuette of Jupiter at Manchester, a bronze bust of Minerva at Warrington, part of a Roman altar at Wigan, and various stretches of the original gravel surface of Roman roads, usually about thirteen feet wide/3.9m. Since 1945, there have been enlightening excavations at Lancaster, Manchester, Castleshaw, Walton, Kirkham, and Ribchester.