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Chester Roman Roads


Roman Roads in and out of Chester.
Descriptions of the routes will be expanded soon.



Road_North

The Road to North Wirral


North

The stretch of Roman road that has been discovered in the centre of the Wirral is along what is nowadays called Hargrave Lane, which refers to an old village or hamlet called Hargrave, which no longer exists (though it did in 1086, held, with its neighbour Neston, by Robert Cook, or Robt. Cocus as he is called in the Domesday Book). Hargrave Lane is to the west of Bromborough Golf Club, across the M53. If you follow the line south towards Chester, after a half kilometer break you find Street Hey Lane running in exactly the same direction in a dead straight line to the east of Willaston. Any name with Street, or one of its derivatives (Stretton, Stretford, or whatever), in Britain is almost certain to have Roman connections. There are a lot of Strettons about. There are also a lot of Eatons that seem to have Roman connections. There seems to be no obvious evidence of the line of the mid-Wirral road between about Little Sutton and Chester. Following the line of Hargrave Lane northwards, it is very close to a tree-lined avenue running to the west of Clatterbridge Hospital and passing east of Brimstage, a straight line with a kink in it (if that's possible). This avenue turns off right to become the Lever Causeway towards Tranmere, but from this point (Little Storeton, straight ahead, it is known as Roman Road, first a track crossing Prenton Golf Course, then a normal road for a short distance through Prenton. Where would it be heading after Prenton? The next place in line is Noctorum, which sounds very Latin but is apparently from the Irish Cnoc Tirim meaning Dry Hill and refering to Bidston Hill on which it stands. This line moves on over the hill and down to Bidston Golf Course, close to where James Stonehouse has the old course of the Mersey running into the sea. You will notice there are quite a few golf courses on this route, and a great many in the Wirral as a whole. Maybe that's why the Romans wanted to be here. It is nowadays thought very probable that there was a port in this area from Roman times onwards. A great number of Roman coins have been found washed up at Meols (between Birkenhead and Hoylake), together with pottery fragments and other artifacts of this age. Meols is a Viking name and the Vikings were prevalent in this area of north Wirral in the early 10th century. Several thousand items of Viking, Roman, Mediterranean and Asian origin have been discovered here, suggesting a great port (said to be the largest in the North-West of the country at the time), which traded with much of the known world. When they were digging the foundations for the Railway Hotel, a massive pub on the main road by Meols station, the workmen are said to have found the remains of a Viking longship. The find was hushed up at the time (1950s?) and the pub was built over it. I believe Stephen Harding, who is honoured by the Norwegian government for his tireless work in bringing the Viking history of this area to people's attention, is trying to do something about getting the boat excavated, though how you do that without knocking the pub down needs some thought. The voice on the Liverpool to West Kirby Merseyrail line, by the way, says: "The next station it smells." Well it doesn't, but at least she's got the pronunciation right. Next to the Railway pub, running the very short distance to the sea, is a road called Roman Road, which seems unlikely but who knows?

Why does Noctorum (Cnoc Tirim) have an Irish name? Wikipedia suggests that there was an Irish settlement here in the early 5th century, shortly after the Romans left Britain to save Rome. There were certainly Irish settlements in Viking times, centuries later: Irby was one, Liscard (Wallasey) another. The Irish were among the allies of the Norwegians and Danes.

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The Street

The Street from Chester to Frodsham and beyond


North-East

North of Mickle Trafford, a village to the north-east of Chester, is a road called The Street which runs in a south-west/north-easterly direction. Any out-of-town road with Street in the name is almost certain to have Roman connections, and John (R.J.A.) Dutton, in his book Hidden Highways of Cheshire (1999, published by Gordon Emery) describes how he has spent many years as an amateur archeologist charting the courses of this and other roads (mediaeval as well as Roman) in Cheshire and North Wales. His conclusion with this road is that it ran from Chester to the crossing point of the Mersey at Wilderspool (Warrington), via Helsby and Frodsham. How it left Chester is not known, but two possibilities are that it branched off eastwards from north of the Northgate, along what is now Brook Lane to Mannings Lane, Newton, or that it left via the Eastgate and turned directly north and north-west, again to Mannings Lane. The Street, as marked on Ordnance Survey maps is an extension of Mannings Lane which runs north-east out of Chester from Hoole and Newton and past Mickle Trafford. Dutton's route has the road cutting off across fields before Bridge Trafford to Dunham-on-the-Hill and closer to the crags of Helsby Hill than the modern road, past Frodsham Hill to Preston Brook, where it met a major route to Warrington. At Helsby, next to this suggested route, beneath the crags, a Roman altar stone was discovered. This is now in the Grosvenor Museum in Chester.

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Road East

The Road East from Chester


East

Watling Street ran from London along the route of the current A5 road as far as the Roman settlement at Wroxeter (Viroconium Cornoviorum) near Shrewsbury, and then turned north to Chester, via Whitchurch. It was later extended to run eastward, leaving Chester by the Eastgate (this is the one with the famous elaborate Victorian clock on the top, straddling the walkway along the walls.

To be continued .....

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South-East Road

The Suggested Road to Beeston and Beyond


South-East

Although there is little official mention of a road leaving Chester to the south-east, John Dutton in his book (mentioned above in connection with the north-east road to Warrington) suggests that such a road did exist in Roman times, and his thoughts seem convincing enough, especially when his route passes within a few yards of what appears to be the entrance to a Roman military training ground.

To be continued .....

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South Road

Watling Street from Deva to Mediolanum


South

The present Old Dee Bridge, which crosses from the Bridge Gate (at the bottom of Lower Bridge Street) to the separate village of Handbridge across the water, dates from 1387. It is Grade 1 listed and is a scheduled monument. It seems there was probably a bridge here in Roman times, a wooden structure on stone supports. By the time of Ethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, in the early 900s, any bridge had gone: there was only a ferry. In the time of Hugh Lupus, 2nd Earl of Chester, in the 1070s and 80s, a new bridge was built, as reported in the Domesday Book of 1086. This again had a timber superstructure, which was swept away about 1279. It was another 100 years before the present sandstone bridge was built. The Hugh Lupus bridge had a drawbridge at the Handbridge end, which was deemed not necessary in 1387. 20km or so upstream from Chester are two villages on opposite banks of the river Dee, Farndon and Hope with an ancient red sandstone bridge between them. It is virtually identical to the Old Dee Bridge at Chester, and was built in 1339. It seems likely that this may have been the prototype of the Chester bridge. The Holt-Farndon bridge had a gate tower towards the centre, which was removed in the 18th century. You can see where the work was done to create a regular arch where the tower had been.

Iron Bridge

The Iron Bridge to Eaton Hall
.


Eaton Hall

The New Eaton Hall, Grosvenor Family Home
The Old Tower remains a Distinct Landmark


Dee at Iron Bridge

The River Dee at the Old Ford. Fancy a Paddle?


So the stone and wood Roman bridge on the site of the later Old Dee Bridge carried Watling Street, which ran to Mediolanum (Whitchurch, Shropshire) and on to Viroconium Cornoviorum (Wroxeter, near Shrewsbury). This route crosses the river Dee twice, once at Chester and then again, not at Farndon but at Aldford (Old Ford). It would take a very brave or foolish person to ford the river nowadays at Aldford - there is a crossing point here, but it is a bridge ('Iron Bridge') which carries a private road to Eaton Hall, the Duke of Westminster's family home. You have to think that the course of the river must have been very different in those days, more spread out and therefore shallower. I am toying with the vague idea that maybe the Dee split into two branches here, the western branch flowing via Pulford to the tidal estuary at what is now called Sealand (this is, literally, land reclaimed from the sea). The two paths would have created an island, which might explain the name Eaton in the Eaton Estate. The name 'Eaton' generally refers to a settlement on an island (Ea or eye: island; Ton: town, settlement). There seem to be a lot of Eatons which are associated with Roman activity.

The current Whitchurch Road from Chester is the A41, which looks to be a much more sensible route than crossing a major river twice. The A41 does, however, run through the middle of what looks likely to be a military training ground at Waverton, three miles south-east of Chester, as mentioned in the River Gowy pages. This information is from a book called Waverton: A History of its People and Places, editor John Whittle. Completely independently, in a book called Hidden Highways of Cheshire, RJA Dutton suggests a Roman road passing right in front of its entrance gate and crossing the A41 to Waverton and Beeston and beyond. Two 'maybe's like this seem to me to turn into a big 'very likely' and deserves some further investigation. Look at the South-East road to Beeston and Chesterton above. (The link opens a new window, so close it afterwards).

To be continued .....

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