Early Discoveries

On the Roman road network

People have known for a very long time that Castleford was a Roman place on one of the main Roman roads in Britain. Lists of places along the roads of the Roman Empire were written down in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. These were copied later and preserved in medieval documents.

Castleford in relation to the main Roman roads. The Antonine Itinerary mentioned Castleford twice between Doncaster (Danum) and York (Eboracum). It was called Legeolium on the route from London to Carlisle, and Lagecium on the route from York to London. The later Ravenna Cosmography called it Lagentium.

16th century - John Leland and William Camden

A visit by John Leland in c. 1534

People in England first began to be interested in visiting and describing historic places in the 1500s. John Leland was the first of these antiquarians to visit Castleford and make a record of what he saw. In Castleford he saw foundations that were probably part of the Roman fort near the church, but he didn’t recognise them. Instead he thought they must be much more recent.

‘… From Pontefract to Castelleford Village 2.Miles, most by enclosid Ground. One shoid me there a Garth by the Chirch Yard, where many straung thingges of Fundations hath be found: and he sayid that ther had beene a Castelle, but it was rather sum Manor Place …’

William Camden identifies Castleford’s Roman origins c.1582

William Camden, like Leland before him, travelled extensively around England. He produced a book Britannia describing the places he saw. He first published it in 1586, but it went on being added to and revised over many editions after his death.
He knew the Latin sources and was the first person to identify Castleford as a place in the Roman route lists. He also recorded that large numbers of Roman coins were found near the church. This confirmed Castleford’s Roman origins:

‘ … the older name of this place is that in Antonius, where tis’ called Legeolium and Lagetium which among other remarkable and express remains of antiquity, is confirmed by those great number of coins … dug up here in Beanfield, a place near the Church …’

There are no maps of Castleford as early as the visits of Leland and Camden to help locate what they saw. This extract from the 1772 glebe map is the earliest to show the area where Leland and Camden described archaeological remains and finds.

18th century - William Stukeley and Thomas Whitaker

A visit by Stukeley 1725

In the 1700s many more people took an interest in visiting sites and publishing what they saw. William Stukeley visited Castleford in late 1725. He described what he saw in more detail than Leland and Camden:

‘ … The place where the Roman ford was, is a little above the cascade: the stones are in great part left, but the mill-dam lays it too deep under water. Hence the paved road goes up the bank to the east side of the church, and forward through the fields, where innumerable coins are ploughed up: One part is called Stone Acre. A man told us he had formerly ploughed up a dozen Roman coins in a day: urns are often found: there are stone pavements, foundations etc. South of the church is a pasture, called Castle-garth: here were buildings of the city: but the Roman castrum was where the church now stands, built probably out of its ruins … ‘

A visit in 1780

There was still plenty to see in 1780. When Thomas Whitaker first visited Castleford he could see what Stukeley had described and he acquired some Roman finds for himself:

‘ … When I was there … besides a pretty intaglia on a cornelian, I procured a scarce denarius of Caracalla, reverse a lion. The principal scene of these discoveries lies in the orchards and enclosures south of the church, which was probably the ground on which the city stood. The church itself unquestionably stands within the Roman castrum … '

c.1750 - Mosaic pavement found

In about 1750 a visiting antiquarian T. Wilson recorded in a letter that he had seen ‘ … several fragments of a fine tessellated pavement (mosaic) at Castleford, which had been dug up in a garden adjoining to the Bean-field …‘

This was the field called Bean Croft Field, where many other buildings and finds had been recorded. Unfortunately the mosaic was not drawn or kept.

Why have no mosaics been found since?

This is the only record of a mosaic being found in the centre of Castleford. Why? The large scale excavations carried out on from 1974-1985 were concentrated in the fort and the trading settlement next to it. Neither of these would have been likely to have mosaic floors.

Mosaics were usually laid at a later date in the homes of wealthy Romanised people. Individual finds from Castleford show that there was a later Romano-British settlement at Castleford but no buildings have yet been found by archaeologists.

So there may be other mosaics waiting to be discovered in Castleford!

1775 - A mystery castle

A square feature called Castle Hill is marked just south of Castleford, on the map of Yorkshire published in 1775 by Thomas Jefferys. Could this also be something Roman? It is in the area of Bean Croft Field where Camden described frequent coin finds and Stukeley saw stone pavements and foundations.

A 1775 map is more like a Roman fort than a medieval castle. Jefferys was usually accurate in his recording of visible archaeological sites

In the 19th century local historian Samuel Johnson heard of something similar that had been seen in about 1820 in the Bean Croft. According to local tradition, it was the site of a castle, which could mean a Roman fort. However, the remains seen in 1820 looked more like a moat.
Samuel Johnson made a thorough search of the Bean Croft Field in about 1860, but found no evidence either for a moated site or a castle.

1861 - Discovery of Roman milestone reported

In 1861 a local historian Samuel Johnson published his book History of Castleford: cuttings from the Castleford Magazine. He had been energetically collecting reports of finds from Castleford’s Roman past. Among the many sightings he reported were:
  • The paving of the Roman ford across the river was seen when the water level was low. The ford was about 12 feet wide and paved with stones.
  • A stone pavement, possibly the Roman road, was found 11 feet down during drain-laying in the road outside the Mexborough Arms.
  • A quern (for grinding corn) was found at the west end of Carlton Street.
  • A milestone was found at Half Acres. It was dedicated to the Emperor Florian in AD 276. This is now in Castleford Forum Museum, on loan from York Museums Trust.

1880 - Unexpected discovery during drain-laying

In about 1880 a milestone was found near the south end of Beancroft Road at the junction with Beancroft Street. It was cylindrical in shape and had two inscriptions on it. The first was to the Emperor Trajan Decius and dates to AD 250-251. Soon after the stone was turned upside down and a new inscription was added to Gallus and Volusian. It can be dated to AD 251-253. It gave the distance to York as 22 miles.

This milestone was bought by Professor Haverfield who later presented it to Leeds Museum.

This is one of three milestones now known from the Roman road near Castleford.

1900 - Evidence for a cemetery in Beancroft Road

In 1904 local historian Lorenzo Padgett reported the discovery of two cremation urns on Beancroft Road, one of them containing burnt human bones. One was found when digging the foundations of a new house at the corner of Beancroft Road and Smawthorne Lane, and the other was found when digging the foundations of a shop on the opposite corner.

The Romans did not allow burials within a town. Instead they were placed outside settlements, often along the roads into town. So these urns show that the vicus (settlement) did not extend as far south as Smawthorne Lane.

Finds from the town centre

At about the same time, pieces of Samian pottery were being found and recognised as Roman in the town centre. Some fragments from about 1900 were saved and much later presented to the museum collection in Castleford Library.

Pottery vessel called a tazza from Beancroft Road. These may have been used to burn incense.
Samian pottery found underneath an old house in Albion Street in December 1900.

1920s - Finds from Carlton Street

In 1922 two pieces of Roman roof tile were found in Carlton Street. The two fragments of tile were stamped C IIII G, a shortened version of the name for a Roman army unit, the Fourth Cohort of Gauls. This army unit must have been stationed at Castleford.

At the time people thought the fort lay around the parish church, where the early writers thought they saw the remains of the fort. But we now know that the second fort was to the east of the Roman road, and these tiles were found within it.

Not long after, two Roman lamps were found in Albion Street in 1930. These early finds were kept and much later presented to the museum collection at Castleford Library.

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.

1960s - Redevelopment in Albion Street/Carlton Street

Substantial redevelopment started in 1963 and included a new bus station and the bowling alley, Crystal Bowl. Suddenly Roman finds were being found in large numbers, and the importance of Castleford’s Roman past began to be recognised. For the first time professional archaeologists were involved in Castleford. Staff from the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments office at York watched the work, but were not able to do detailed recording. Library staff did sterling work rescuing objects from the builders’ spoil heaps.

Excavation at Welbeck Street

The discovery of finds in 1968 at Welbeck Street, which overlay the Roman road, led to an excavation by the Castleford and District Historical Society, which continued until 1971. It found finds ranging in date from the 1st to 4th centuries AD. Nearby amateur archaeologist Ron Jeffries was digging by the railway station in 1969-70. The finds were numerous, including coarse pottery, mortaria with stamps, glass fragments and Samian pottery.

A complete Castor ware beaker decorated with white patterns found in Albion Street in 1965.

The excavations carried out by the Castleford and District Historical Society were done entirely by volunteers.

Early 1970s - Finds at 94 Carlton Street

Amateur archaeologist Ron Jeffries was responsible for making many finds of Roman material around Castleford.

In 1970-71 amateur archaeologist Ron Jeffries excavated behind 94 Carlton Street in an area just within the second fort. The finds included coarsewares, Samian pottery, a complete mortarium and a possible fragment of Roman scale armour, lorica squamata.

Further investigations at Welbeck Street

In the early 1970s lecturer Harold Bowes did further work near the excavation done by the Castleford and District Historical Society. This was to be the site for the British Legion Club. He found parallel ditches crossing the site, filled with burnt wattle and daub from timber buildings, as well as very large quantities of split animal bone.

In 1974 he began excavations with volunteers on the other side of Welbeck Street. This also produced extensive finds and the West Yorkshire Archaeology Unit continued the work as the first full time excavation in Castleford. This was the beginning of a long series of excavations that ran almost continually from 1974 to 1985. They were to reveal in detail two forts as well as a trading settlement built outside the fort to supply goods and services to the garrison.

No comments:

Post a Comment