Before the Romans

What was here before the Romans?

People have known for a very long time that Romans lived in Castleford from the thousands of pieces of Roman pottery, coins and other Roman objects found in the town. But there were people living in the Castleford area thousands of years before the Romans came to Yorkshire. Archaeologists digging on Roman sites in the town have found objects from the earlier Neolithic and Bronze Age periods. There are also pre-Roman sites known in the area around Castleford.

Why is there less evidence for prehistoric Castleford?

During prehistory many objects were made from wood, leather and bone. Archaeologists rarely find these ‘organic’ materials on sites because they tend to decay more quickly than the ‘inorganic’ Roman pottery and metal finds.

What other evidence is there?

Botanical (plant) evidence shows that people may have lived in the Castleford area as early as 8500 BC when most of the area was woodland. By about 4000 BC they were beginning to clear woodland for agriculture. By the time the Romans arrived, the area around Castleford was mainly open land. It was already being intensively farmed.

The Neolithic and the Bronze Age

Evidence of people living in Castleford

The archaeologists found Neolithic pottery and Neolithic to Bronze Age flints during the Castleford excavations. They didn’t find any evidence for the homes or buildings of these early people. They were probably quite flimsy and may have been destroyed by later development – from the Romans to the modern day.

These fragments of pottery date to about 3000 BC, during the Neolithic period. Pottery this early is a very rare find in West Yorkshire. People may have made containers from leather and bark instead of pottery. 

Flint was used before metal was available, to make knives, scrapers and arrowheads.

Evidence of people living in the area

Burials and monuments of the same date as the Castleford pottery and flint have been found near Ferrybridge power station. In the Neolithic a henge monument (a large circular earthwork) was built there. Archaeologists think this was a religious monument, where people held meetings and ceremonies.

People went on using the henge monument for a long time. During the Bronze Age several round barrows containing burials were built close to the henge. The archaeologists found burials with grave goods such as flint daggers and arrowheads.

A reconstruction of people gathering at the Ferrybridge henge monument in the Bronze Age. By this date Bronze Age barrows have been added around the original henge monument.

The Iron Age and the Brigantes

Who lived around Castleford?

In the Iron Age the Castleford area lay within the territory of a powerful group of British tribes called the Brigantes. They controlled almost the whole of the north of England.

Evidence for people living in the area

Botanical (plant) evidence shows that there was well-established and well-organised farming in the Castleford area during the Iron Age. Aerial photography shows that people lived in small farms scattered around the landscape. Some of these farms close to Castleford have been excavated at Whitwood, Ferrybridge and Ledston.

By the Iron Age people were living close to the henge monument at Ferrybridge, but they were still using and respecting the ceremonial monuments. Archaeologists found fields and farms with roundhouses. There was evidence for crop processing and metal-working.

This reconstruction shows an Iron Age farm at North Elmsall. Archaeologists found a farmyard with a large roundhouse in the centre. There were three smaller roundhouses outside the yard used as homes.

Burial of an important man

A rare burial of an Iron Age man was found at Ferry Fryston near Ferrybridge during improvements to the A1(M) in 2003. He was buried in about 200 BC in a complete chariot. Archaeologists think that burial in a chariot was reserved for people of very high status in the Iron Age. Chariot burials are usually only found in East Yorkshire, so this man may not have been local.

All the wooden and leather parts of the chariot had rotted away, but archaeologists got enough information from the remains in the grave to make this replica.

The arrival of the Romans in Castleford

The Roman Conquest in southern Britain

The Romans conquered southern Britain in AD 43, but they did not immediately try to invade the north of Britain. It took some time to establish control of the south-east. They suffered a disaster in AD 60 when Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni tribe, led a revolt against them.

The Romans move into northern Britain

The Queen of the Brigantes, Cartimandua, at first had a policy of becoming an ally of the Romans, rather than opposing them. In the end her own people, led by her ex-husband, revolted against her. This became the excuse for the Romans to move in and take control. Petillius Cerialis, Roman governor of Britain, conquered almost the whole of the north of England from AD 71-4.

The fort at Castleford was an important staging post for the conquest of the north of England. The road from Doncaster through Castleford to York was one of two main roads to the north built by the Romans.

C IIII G which is shorthand for the Fourth Cohort of Gauls. This unit was stationed at Castleford to guard the road and the river crossing.

What did the Romans call Castleford?

The earliest historic documents indicate that the Roman name for Castleford was either Legeolium or Lagecium. However, Roman Castleford is more often referred to as Lagentium – a name which was first recorded some 300 years after the Romans left Britain. Lagentium is thought to mean ‘Place of the Swordsmen’.

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