The Fort Report – Summer 2019

Continuing on from our research last year, we, the Friends of Castleshaw Roman Forts, undertook 5 days of test pitting and trench excavation. These took place on Saturday 22nd June (to coincide with the Greater Manchester Festival of Archaeology) and all 3 days of the Bank Holiday weekend 24th, 25th, and 26th August, with a final day on Saturday 21st September. The weather over the Bank Holiday was exceptionally hot, a happy reminder of the rare spell of hot weather we had for the Big Dig in 2014!

The turn-out of volunteers was great – we had around 60 Friends helping out in total over the 5 days. Their enthusiasm and dedication is amazing and is crucial in furthering our understanding of this enigmatic Roman site.

The plan below shows mostly last year’s trenches and test pits. We set out to better understand the Roman features found in the re-excavated old Bruton excavation trench which we interpreted as a wall and furnace. But we also wanted to define the extent and character of a stone platform between the furnace and the road existing he east gate. The remarkable thing about this area is that there was no defensive ditch outside the rampart; we were keen to get answers to our questions – Why? and What was its use? One theory was that, as Castleshaw was the next fort along the cross-Pennine highway from Slack 8 miles east, it may have been built in a similar way – with a bath house close to the rampart and a section of ditch missing to accommodate this..                                   


22nd June


In test pit 13, below, Nick and Gill found the eastern edge of the stone platform.

        Whilst in test pit 14, Sonia and Margaret found two layers of stones and lots of charcoal and burnt clay - clearly an area of well-preserved archaeology. Finds included burnt one fragments and nails.

In test pit 14 Sonia and Margaret found two layers of stones and lots of charcoal and burnt clay – clearly an area of well-preserved archaeology. Finds, below, included one burnt fragment and nails.



Luke, Mike and Steve cleaning up a 4 metre long trench (1) to define the edge of the stone platform to the north. Stone flags are visible at shallow depth in the foreground.


Trench 1 with test pit 14 beyond. The stone platform runs between the two.



Trench 1 with test pit 14 beyond. The stone platform runs between the two.




Right, the stone flag floor revealed in Trench 1. It probably dates to the first phase of the fort in the AD 70s, as it lay under a later and cruder stone surface. The stones disappear half way through the trench on the north side where a post hole is evident.


August Bank Holiday

And a bright sunny start to the day, which became increasingly hot. The vegetation has got out of hand this summer for various reasons and there was a real worry that we might have to cancel the dig because the grass and rushes were too long. Thankfully Lee, our United Utilities ranger, stepped in and strimmed the area of archaeological investigation for us. This had the added advantage of allowing us to see the earthworks better, such as the linear depression of Bruton’s old trench where the two figures on the far left, below, are digging.

Looking from the other side towards the fort eastern rampart. Chris and Mark re-open Bruton’s trench on the right, Nick looks for more evidence of the stone platform in the near middle, Steve and Mike extend Trench 1 towards the east gate exit road on the left, and Jayne/Lisa, Margaret/Sonia and Tim/Dave further explore the western extent of the stone floor in the far distance.


Trench 1 was extended by 4 metres towards the road exiting the east gate. Steve and Mike found the southern edge of the stone floor which can be seen at the top (north) side of trench. They also found lots of burnt clay and charcoal in the rest of the trench, together with patterns of stake holes (Steve’s speciality!).

The stake holes (above) were concentrated around a semi-circle of intense charcoal and heat reddened clay, associated with a depression which was partly exposed against the trench edge. Animal bones don’t usually survive in the acid soils at Castleshaw, but here we had several pieces of burnt bone – burning preserves the life of the bone in the soil. Putting all this evidence together, this feature is interpreted as a clay oven probably used for cooking meat.

One of the challenges of the intense sunshine at this time of year is that it casts deep shadows across the trench, making it hard to photograph features. We had to rig up a sunscreen from tarpaulin sheets to provide an even light across the trench – as you can see it was quite a challenge!


Meanwhile, Sonia and Margaret dug a one metre square test pit alongside and to the west of the one they excavated back in June. This was to try to find the western extent of the stone floor. This turned out to be a really interesting test pit with lots of archaeology, as the following photo sequence shows.


Below you see patches of charcoal lying over upper layer of stone floorRevealing the upper stone surface, with more stones below and a possible edge in near half of test pit (the north side).   

A gully or ditch is revealed along with a post hole. These appear to define the northern edge of the stone structure, which has at least two phases. Could they stone floor be set within a timber framed building?



Lisa (below left) was digging for the first time and was ably supported by one of our veteran volunteers, Jayne. They excavated TP 16 which was 3 metres north of the stone floored structure. As can be seen below, they encountered an area of intensely heated (red) clay alongside a deposit of charcoal. The excavation stopped at this stage but suggests that this could be part of another oven. A very interesting piece of archaeology that will repay exploring more widely in the future. A pretty good result for Lisa for her first ever dig!


Dave and Tim weren’t as fortunate in test pit 19, which was several metres westwards toward the fort east rampart. No archaeological features were found which suggests there was a gap between the rampart and whatever activities the Romans were undertaking in this general area.

Below the tripod sits on the fort’s east rampart. Dave and Tim are working on the test pit in the background beyond Jayne and Lisa.               

 Jayne and Margaret excavated one more test pit (21) in the area west of Trench 1, located 1 metre south of test pit 14 to try and confirm the southern edge found in Trench 1. However, this test pit produced a different type of stone surface at a much shallower depth. As can be seen this is made up of small angular pieces of gritstone, with a couple of larger, flat and smooth stones. This could be a track or a yard surface and the two larger stones being a post pad for a timber structure. The shallow depth of this stone surface suggests it could be a later phase, perhaps belonging to the early 2nd century AD fortlet. A larger area needs to be opened up to understand this feature properly and so the excavation was halted at this level.

Below left, opposite test pit 16 on the other (eastern) side of Trench 1, Nick carried on his quest to define the extent of the stone platform. He did find a stone deposit with a clear edge – but the stones were jumbled and there was plenty of evidence of heat reddening of the stones and charcoal. This feature wasn’t explored further but looks as though it could be the edge of an oven/furnace.


And Nick had the star find of the day – rim sherd of a mortarium showing part of the spout. Here is the object.

Mortarium rim sherd – side view



Here is the sherd viewed from above




And here a more complete mortarium excavated in the Castleshaw fortlet by GMAU in the late 1980s, with the spout part reconstructed





And here is a complete reconstructed example showing two forms of spout and the grit set into the interior to make it easier to crush herbs and spices with a pestle



Chris, Cliff and Mark revisited the ‘furnace’ and possible Roman wall revealed in last year’s re-excavation of Bruton’s old trench, initially cutting extending the trench in a metre square area to follow the line of the possible flue exposed last year (where the photo scale is below).


This found lots of burnt red clay and a concentration of stones so it was decided to re-open last year’s dig to help understand what was going on in an increasingly complex area of archaeology. The photo shows the line of the cut of Bruton’s trench of c 1908 (marked by the two photo scales) and the possible furnace site far left side, with the possible wall top middle of the photo to the right of the photo scale.

Once this area had been carefully trowelled and cleaned it was possible to understand the features. It became apparent that there were two discrete areas of stone concentrations forming two separate stone structures (the left side of the blue line shows the gap between) .

The ‘wall’ exposed last year was actually the rear of what can now be interpreted as a stone domed oven. Bruton’s old trench had cut right through the middle of this structure so that only one of the flag stones of the oven floor had survived (shown by the horizontal blue arrow below). The stoking area and front of the oven (previously thought of as a furnace flue) is indicated by the vertical blue arrow.

A second stone oven lay immediately to the east, with the outside curving wall shown by the blue arrow, and the centre of the oven being infilled with collapsed stones from the dome roof in the middle of the photo above.Above is another full trench view with the photo scales showing the centres of the two stone ovens. There was not enough time to excavate the second oven with the collapsed stonework and this is something we may come back to in the future.


To give you an idea of how this may have looked, above is the stone oven set into the rampart of Castleshaw fortlet, as excavated by Bruton in 1907 but with the dome missing (left). The image on the right shows how it looked after 80 years of exposure to the elements when GMAAS re-excavated it in 1986.



There weren’t many finds from the trench (2) of Roman date – no pottery and a burnt piece of bone (possibly a sheep tibia) and a twisted chunk of melted lead being the main finds.


However, there was delightful sherd of blue and white pottery dating to the mid-19th century which showed a family group, which remarkably has survived almost intact!



Nick and Gill were set the task of digging a 2 metre long test pit (22) to the west of the where we re-excavated Bruton’s trench last year to see if there were any further Roman structural remains. In this photo they can be seen to the left of the Cliff, Chris and Mark digging the oven features.

The two photos above are from last year, the left hand one showing the 5m trench re-excavating part of Bruton’s old trench. In the foreground can be seen stone work originally thought to be a wall of a building. The right-hand photo shows this stone work at the top of the photo, with the ‘furnace’ now interpreted as an oven in the foreground.

As can be seen left, the new trench revealed very little in the way of stonework except for some random stones at the top of the picture. We now believe that the photos above show remnants of a third oven forming a bank of ovens. Debris from the edge of this third oven is revealed in Nick and Gill’s new test pit.




Banks of ovens are not unusual at Roman military site. Two classic examples, below, can be seen at Caerleon, Newport, Wales (left) and Elginhaugh, Scotland (right).  

At Castleshaw, in the 2014 community excavation, re-digging of an old excavation trench through the eastern defences of the fort revealed that the old trench had cut through the edges of two ovens set into the eastern rampart of the Agricolan fort. Note the similarity with the recently excavated features.

Here is a plan showing the 2014 excavation trenches in light red shading, older excavation trenches in grey, overlying the resistivity survey plot. The stone platform is shown as a blue rectangle and the ovens are in bright red.


Above, the trenches had to be backfilled at the end of the Bank Holiday so here is the team making progress on Trench 1 and then a final group shot before filling in Trench 2.


Dirty Lane

We also put in a line of one metre square test pits close to the fence by Dirty Lane to examine the potential for Roman deposits and to look for evidence of the defensive ditch coming round the corner of the fort defences.

One of the test pits revealed a previously unrecorded old excavation trench (perhaps one of Bruton’s) – this photo shows the dark humic soil backfilling the old trench which is cut into natural yellow clay visible on the left.

Another test pit, below, showed a concentration of stones sealed under the brown plough soil horizon. No Roman finds and these appear to be within the natural clay subsoil.



There was no evidence for the fort ditch but this test pit did pick up the edge of the rampart, showing the individual turves of clay and decayed grass (the black humic material).




21st September

This was the final day’s exploration and once again we were bathed in glorious sunshine! This time we focused on a strip of flattish ground away from the fort on the opposite side of Dirty Lane, as well as undertaking further test pitting on the slope running away from the north-east corner of the fort rampart to confirm the presence/absence of the ditch.

Steve, Mike, Jim and Dave excavating several test pits near where the fort ditch should swing around the north east corner of the defences.

All the test pits were devoid of Roman material and features such as test pit 28, left.

However Test pit 34 was only 3 m from the Friends’ Trench 5 excavation in 2017 which confirmed the presence of the Roman ditch so we must be very near to the terminus and this is something we would like to go back to next year.


On the other side of Dirty Lane, test pitting focused on a promising square earthwork immediately adjacent to the stone wall which bounds the road. 3 test pits were dug close together, by Chris and Mark (top), Nick and Gill (right), Sue and Jayne (bottom).


This test pit dug by Nick and Gill found that the earthwork feature was made up of series of dumps of spoil, possibly from construction of the road and subsequent repairs. The black lines are humic soil horizons represented decayed turf lines. But interestingly there appears to be a shallow ditch at the bottom of the test pit – no finds came from this but it could be Roman in origin and might possibly be a defensive ditch for a military annexe (or enclosure).

Another test pit, dug by Chris and Mark close to the one above, shows the other side of the ditch (running from left to right in bottom half of the test pit. The ditch cuts a Roman deposit which yielded several pieces of melted lead.

Two more test pits, were dug by Mark and Sue roughly opposite the corner of the fort but on the flat ground beside the wall bounding Dirty Lane. The orange bucket to the left and the figure in the middle of the picture show the sites of these two test pits.


There was not enough time to complete the excavation but both test pits showed promise – the  one above left suggesting a negative feature possibly a continuation of the ditch, whilst the other (right) had a concentration of stones. This flattish area adjacent to the north-east corner of the fort will be worthy of more detailed investigations.

And finally

So, all in all, another fascinating few days of archaeological evaluation at Castleshaw Roman Fort. Still no evidence of where the bath house might be but we are certainly narrowing down the areas it could possibly be located, if it ever existed. The work outside the eastern rampart is painting a picture of a possible military annexe that contained banks of ovens and buildings. Could this area have been given over to providing refreshments for travellers climbing the Roman road up to the Pennine pass – the equivalent of a motorway service station?! We have much more to do yet in this area, and of course it is more complicated by the likelihood of later fortlet activity overlying the earlier Agricolan fort archaeology. Fascinating stuff and watch this space for next year’s news.

The above report was written by Norman Redhead, Heritage Management Director (Archaeology) for the GM Archaeological Advisory Service, University of Salford.

Edited, formatted and produced by Jane Neild. Please note with apologies that the formatting isn’t always consistent with viewing on smaller hand held devices.

With grateful thanks to all the wonderful volunteer digging crews for their many hours of selfless hard work (and probably enjoyment!)

And to Phil Barrett (and sometimes Jane Neild) for the Geophyz efforts.

Till next time, I am, faithfully, your Bloggerina





The Plot Thickens at Water’s Clough

Our delicious mystery site at Water’s Clough is keeping us busy!

So far we’ve completed three more test-pitting days answering questions from our investigations last year. You’ll remember, and see previous posts, that by the end of 2018 we had revealed the remains of a very, very large building, interpreted now as a 13th century monastic grange.

Measuring 74 metres long and comprising an east and west range of similar proportions flanking a central range on a north-south axis, the building had clear evidence for internal rooms and rather strange projecting chambers at each corner. The walls, where they survived, were uniformly built of grit-stone set in a distinctive orange mortar. But in many places the stonework had been reclaimed for building elsewhere, leaving just the foundation trenches to show where walls had been.

A stone track running tight up against the southern edge of the building contained two sherds of 13th/14th century pottery. They were found in a cart rut on the track which seems to have been built for carts to remove stone from the dismantled walls. Remarkably, no fragments of roof tiles, architectural pieces, flooring or even pottery have come from the building interior which suggests either very thorough dismantling or that it was never finished. Here is the plan from last year:


The 2019 investigations by the Friends are seeking to ‘fill in the gaps’ from last year’s work. We aim to further our understanding of the layout and form of the building, examine the area to the north, and hopefully get some more artefacts to help with dating.

Here’s a summary, with photos, of the work carried out over the three investigative days this year.

Sunday 12th May 

And what a lovely sunny welcome at the site for our first day of digging in 2019!

As usual we excavated a mixture of one metre square test pits and small trenches which could be completed in one day. We set out to do 4 separate days of excavations, working our way across the building from west to east.

So this day was spent in the western range area.


The team get cracking.


Cliff and Jane cleaning up the fully exposed south west corner project chamber, which is the same size as the one revealed last year at the south-east corner of the building. At 1.7m by 2.4m internal size it’s a small room, perhaps a monk’s cell? You can see here where one wall foundation has been completely removed/recycled/robbed out but the other three sides retain the wall foundation.

We also revealed the north west corner projecting chamber shown below. This turned out to be considerably longer than the one in the opposite, south west corner, but the same width. Why? A lot of head scratching over this! Mainly by Sonia, Rachael and Nora, who are cleaning up the wall.


And above right Nick and Gill followed the line of the stone track outside the southern wall and found that it terminates exactly opposite the western end wall of the building – the photo shows orange sandstone and grit-stone track metalling dying away on the left to reveal the natural clay. This proves that the track was constructed for the purpose of dismantling the building.

Another sherd of medieval pottery, below, came from the track – a body sherd of lead glazed pottery.


The find above excited a lot of interest! Closer inspection however suggests it is a fragment of a clay pigeon.

Below is Steve happily digging out an old depression and spoil mound to the north of the building. This is of unknown function but you can see a stone deposit coming to light.


And here’s Margaret digging a negative feature revealed by geophys – sadly this turned out to be a field drain.

Below Nora is pleased with her walls at the NW corner of the Western range, although there’s some later concrete there as well.


End of the day and time for team photo!


Sunday 9th June.

Not such a nice day today – overcast and one heavy shower that stopped play for half an hour early afternoon. A lot rain overnight as well making conditions rather squidgy to start with!

We focused on the central range this time, although Mike and Steve had unfinished business with the depression just north of the western range.

This is it after excavation and widening out. We seem to have a stone deposit which could be an early track/road – it’s certainly quite deep down and sealed under a mixed clay deposit. No finds and this might be one to come back to in the future.


Above, the rest of the team start investigations on the central range

From previous work we know that there is a central corridor in the central range. It runs up to what appears to be an entrance, however there is a low stone wall blocking the ‘entrance’ so we wanted to work out what was happening here. Carol and Anne working on the north ‘entrance’ while Cliff and Mike look on




Cleaned up and with a rubble deposit removed – sadly no finds in this nor on the floor sealed underneath. Natural clay found under the rubble and two sondages exposed the depth of the wall foundation in the corners. The wall at the top blocks the corridor and ‘entrance’ but the wall appears to be integral with the side wall on the right (although the one to the left butts up against it) so has this all been rebuilt or was there never an entrance here? Within the wall construction are a couple of re-used stones with evidence for tool dressing so we could be looking at a rebuilding phase here, although the same orange mortar seen elsewhere has been used. This area has the best preserved and only visible walls, up to a metre high, and perhaps a small structure survived here long after the rest of the building was dismantled.

   We also followed the corridor walls until they met the narrow corridor running west to east across the middle part of the central range. We discovered that the corridor carries on to the south beyond this corridor, so effectively the central range is divided into four areas


Above you see projecting from the north east corner of the central range another of our odd little chambers. We found the corner of this which can be seen in the test pit on the left with the photographic scale. The north wall for this chamber has been ‘robbed out’ and can be traced as the linear depression on the right running up to the central range.


Dave and Phil undertake a geophysical survey over the site of a possible rectangular enclosure lying next to the Roman road and identified from last year’s drone photography

The cattle were particularly curious about the survey techniques, especially this young bullock photo bombing this picture!


Saturday 6th July.

A lovely day after early rain, which cleared just after we arrived!

This time we concentrated on the eastern range, in particular the chamber projecting from the north east corner, but also revisited the room beside the central range


Below are Sonia and Anne revealing yet another wall. This one subdivides the chamber projecting from the north west side of the central range, creating very small rooms which are a bit of a mystery.


This photo above right nicely shows the neat cut of the foundation trench and its fill.  The fill is comprised of clumps of mortar which were chipped off the stone when it was reclaimed, together with pieces of discarded stone that were not worth taking away. They were then neatly laid and packed in mortar suggesting a deliberate infill and perhaps represents a second phase of construction, with the discarded material being used as a foundation for a later structure.



Margaret and Carol look very pleased with their handiwork. And why not! The eastern wall of the central range runs from left to right and is joined by a wall in the foreground which is for the projecting chamber, but yet another new wall has been revealed on the far side within the central chamber. Looks like further investigation will be required on this.

And further investigation was undertaken today in this central section revealing the wall in the middle distance joining with the central corridor wall.


Mark and Steve are working on revealing the walls of the chamber projecting from the north-east corner of the eastern range. Cliff and Alan are working on the corresponding walls in the background. And later Alan cleans up the north east corner which is overlain by a dump of stone left on site rather than carted away.

On the left the projecting chamber’s walls are clearly revealed, now just discarded stones and orange mortar left in the foundation trenches for the former walls.The room was larger than the corresponding one on the south-east corner, being 1.9 metres wide and 2.9 metres long.. The photo above right show the north east (left) and north west (right) corners of the projecting chamber.


Above, one of the internal rooms’ foundation trench, beautifully revealed by Nick and Gill. In the foreground it meets the eastern wall of the central range with the corridor wall just visible on the near side.


Nora and John working on proving the line and character of the north wall of the east range. And here it is on the right..

Mike was set the task of investigating the earthwork bank just north of the central range overlooking Water’s Clough. Below you can see that it was found to be made of sods of clay and turf, revetted with stones. However, a deep cut feature filled with grey sandy silt was found on the inside of the bank. Could this be a ditch or hollow way? We will be returning to this feature next time. And attempting to find out! 

Below, another area of archaeological interest at Waters Clough is how the Roman highway crossed the deep clough. A future project will be to look for evidence of bridge abutments. First of all it is hoped that geophysics, courtesy of Phil and Jane, will be able to trace the road line up to the edge of the clough. Some of that we managed to establish today, you can see the Roman Road clearly moving towards the edge, which then shows high resistance all the way along the area of geophys. To be continued!





A well-earned lunch break!

Till next time, best wishes from all the Friends at Castleshaw Roman Forts, with grateful thanks to all the wonderful diggers, to Norman for his motivation and expertise, also to Norman for most of the words and photos here, to Phil and Jane for additions, and also to Phil for ably masterminding the geophysical surveys.


Water’s Clough – a puzzle, in words and pictures

So.  What was going on at Water’s Clough?

If you’ve looked at previous blogs you’ll know that we first started getting curious about this area in 2016, when some upstanding walls and google earth images seemed like clues pointing us to some story or other.  No records had survived.  No maps from any period showed anything at all.  Here’s where it is, as shown by the little map from earlier blog.


You’ll see then that the site is in the Castleshaw valley by the stream. This is down from the Forts, which are not shown but are away to the North East. The grey road going off the south of the diagram is Waterworks Rd, eventually joining A62 or the back road into Delph.

Since those first questions we’ve done several test-pitting days, some blogged earlier.  And, whilst there were very few artefact finds, it has to be said that our curiosity just grew ever-more pressing because what we did have was structure!

The first question was whether it was some amazing survival of either the Romans or something from the medieval period, or something else?  The Cistercians were great builders and land managers from early medieval and of course it had been always known in Saddleworth that they had, at some point, built a Grange further down the valley, on land just a little bit higher out of the valley bottom.  By the time of the last test-pitting day this was a vague possibility.  The only way forward was to dig in a slightly bigger way than normal (for us).  Preparations began for a week long dig some time during 2018.

By May half-term week this year we had the necessary permissions from United Utilities and even a small grant from them to fund another archaeologist.  So Norman Redhead and Kirsty Whittall were our professional team, we had a couple of dozen members volunteering to dig throughout the week, and the usual Geophyz survey team (Phil and Jane) in operation!  Also flying in with surveying help would be a drone man (Greg), and one more expert survey to be done by Richard from Salford University.


Here’s Norman with Eleanor and the stalwart Utilities people bringing on the grub!


Kirsty looking very thoughtful and Phil with Resistivity survey kit


Greg the drone man (Suave Aerial Photographs)

and below is Norman explaining to Richard exactly what he wants surveying


All systems in place – now it was a frenzy of digging, trowelling, geophyzing, surveying, drawing, and droning.  And the weather was largely up for it too!

   Norman setting the pace…       

           Chris and Mike


Kirsty and Steve

  Sonia proving that you can dig without kneeling…

Now and again they got a break…

But was everybody happy?  You could bet your sweet trowel they were!                    

   Cliff and Mark


                                    Dave, with a mysterious rock

                        Jayne    Sue

  Margaret with a medieval road

                     Margaret and Sue   and Norman

Time for some sample structure…

  Great example of one of the walls

Here it is with the other end of that trench, the medieval road


 One of the corners at the West end

Below, the building is nearest us, the medieval road in the centre and the Roman Road at the far end..

  And from the other direction

Below is the medieval road with a section removed N to S


 a robbed out section

Final analysis and feedback……


Below, Norman gets the best job of all…


and then finds the Roman roadside ditch!



So what was the outcome of all this detective work?  Well it’s just not over!  At this stage I can tell you that we have a huge building. It was probably Cistercian and possibly multi-purpose. If it was Cistercian then it was connected with Roche Abbey.  Beyond that, and if your appetite is wetted at all, then there’s a date for your diary.  Come to Norman’s talk on 12th September, when he will discuss every aspect of the site and of his analysis. This will be at the Civic Hall, Uppermill and is the AGM of the Friends of Castleshaw Roman Forts, but all are welcome. Suffice it to say that this is a tremendously interesting and enigmatic site that will be the focus of much exploration in the future.


Here’s a pic of the dig team on one of the days but very grateful thanks and warm regards to all who put their strength and sweat into the dig week for the simple love of it!  Special thanks to United Utilities and the professional archaeology team of Norman Redhead and Kirsty Whittall for making it all possible. Thanks to the farmer, we loved the friendly bullocks!  And thanks to those who gave special expert help: Greg; Richard; Phil.

We’ll be back!

Bye for now, your Bloggerina.


Digging and Delving at Castleshaw Roman Forts

It’s June 2017 and we were taking part in the First Greater Manchester Archaeology Festival… the forecast was for rain all day, but surprise! – we managed to get a largely dry day!

Here are Norman’s hands showing the volunteers the area for digging…

 And here are his test-pitting aims for the day:

  1. Undertake archaeological test pitting in the area to the north of the Roman Fort northern defences and bounded on the west by the Roman north road and to the north and east by Dirty Lane. The test pits will be dug at regular intervals to give good coverage across the area to determine the presence or absence of Roman features and deposits.
  2. Locate and partly re-excavate several old excavation trenches located in or close to the north defences.
  3. Undertake archaeological trenching across the site of a former field boundary identified in the 2014 geophysical survey.

Here’s a couple of test pits well underway, one with some stake holes appearing…   

And some of the dig team: Sonia; Tom and Alan; Marc; Cliff; Nick and Gill



By lunch time there were finds!  Including of a piece of daub, a 2nd C AD sherd of black burnished ware, a rim sherd of mortarium, a sherd of greyware and a fragment of melon bead.  See Norman’s report at the end for full description, meanwhile some photos appear below.


Guided tours were happening through the day and here’s a couple of interested participants with Sue, one of the tour guides, with Norman giving info on the test pitting. 

Meanwhile, over on the East side of the fort Phil and me were doing geophysical survey of an oblong area from the East Gate to the fence.


Here’s some pictures of the test pits at the time of the last roundup… and a lovely piece of slip ware c. 17/18C.



Below is an image of the geophyz result, overlaid on to the familiar aerial photo of the forts… you can see the markings of the East Gate at bottom left corner of the geophyz overlay.  And you’ll find more detail on the web-site –  … just watch the little scrolling bar at the top and click on geophyz survey when it comes up.  You’ll also find there an explanation of the 2014 excavation of the East Gate and how this fits into it.

I think you’ll know that we were pretty pleased with finding this – a new direction for the road that was previously thought to run round the fort!  And raising all sorts of interesting questions….

In his summary of the test pits Norman reports:

“Five test pits were dug in a line parallel with and just outside the defensive ditches on the north side of the Roman fort. The western most test pit revealed the edge of an old excavation trench dug at right angles across the road leading from the north gate. A shallow Roman deposit of burn material was found overlying natural. This contained a sherd of early 2nd century AD black burnished ware. In the plough soil layer above the Roman deposit was found a fragment of Roman melon bead along with several sherds of post medieval pottery including a nicely decorated body sherd of late 17th/early 18th century trail slipped ware. Another test pit was located over the line of an old excavation trench running north from the rampart. The old trench backfill was excavated to reveal a well cut trench with vertical sides going down into natural clay. The date of this trench is not known. Within the back fill, and therefore unstratified, were several Roman finds, including: a rim sherd of mortarium, a base sherd of grey ware, and a piece of daub probably for a timber building wall. These finds might indicate that there was a building nearby. The presence of these sherds within the backfill suggest that this trench was probably dug in 1907-8 when it is known the workmen kept only the larger pieces. One of the other test pits had several stake holes in the base, cut in to natural, but there was no discernible pattern and it is not known what these were for. The last two test pits went down onto natural and had no Roman deposits or finds, but one of them showed clear signs of plough marks cut in to natural yellow clay. This indicates that this north of the defences has been affected by deep ploughing. There were no Roman features but this is the first of 3 days test pitting in this area so we may well find these when we come back to the site at the end of August.”

Many thanks to all the volunteer diggers, to the tour guides, and to the geophysical team for a great day at Castleshaw Roman Forts, to the visitors on the day, and to Norman Redhead for making it all possible.

Farewell, till we talk again, Bloggerina

Our New Information Boards – May 2017

Glorious day up at Castleshaw when the Information Boards were installed and officially opened!  The Boards were part of the Heritage Lottery Funded project – see Blog 1 for details, daily diary and many photos from that time at link

Today was the coming together of the final objective, that is to help visitors to gain an understanding of the long history of the Valley.

The main movers in the plan to create and install the Information Boards were Norman Redhead, Archaeologist and Leader of the entire project, and Morgana Restall, the United Utilities Ranger for the site at the time.

Norman and Morgana 

As you go into the public car park along Waterworks Rd you’ll see the first Board facing you as you walk toward the exit at the far end.  Here’s Morgana with the Board.  It describes the landscape and wildlife of the Valley.

Morgana with Valley Board

Then as you walk toward the gate that will take you to the road leading up to the Roman Forts you will see on your right the major Board showing the history of the valley ‘Through the Ages’.

 Norman shows the full extent of the History Board





Here’s the Valley Board ready to be officially opened, and a group of Reception Class children from the Castleshaw Centre who happened to be visiting that day!


Morgan has the honour… and proudly does the job!


Speeches were given by Morgana, Sue Exon, (Chair of the Committee of the Friends of Castleshaw Roman Forts), and Alan Schofield, (Chair of the Castleshaw Working Party)…


Norman and Alan

Some members of the Committee looked on… all in all everyone agreed that it was a job well done and well completed on a very fine day in the beautiful Castleshaw Valley.


More digging to report on soon, regards as ever, Bloggerina

Trowellers’ Treat for May (2017): Test-pitting at Water’s Clough

Friends of Castleshaw Roman Forts Day at Water’s Clough 13th May 2017

In case you don’t know where Water’s Clough is, and honestly not many of us did until last year, it’s the stream area where the Roman Road disappears out of the Castleshaw Valley before it appears again up the hill to the Forts.  Here’s a small map to show our area of investigation…

Here’s a view from the test area down the valley towards Delph, which you can just see in the distance.

It’s roped up just now for the geophyz, but you might be able to detect the agger, look to the right of the image and you can see the slope going down.



We did some initial geophyz of this area last June..  Below is the result and you can so clearly see the road now in black on the geophyz image.  It’s really easy to see the continuation of the road and the probable site of the bridging to get it across the water.


Here’s the geophyz team for today, using the nice upgraded meter, Phil with his best supervisor’s hat on, and Rob from 3rd yr Uni of Mancs.  He says he’s finished his dissertation so it’s ok to be here!


Also trying her hand at a bit of geophyz was Eleanor…

     with the result,

and in close up here…..   


Norman (our leader) planned to put test pits across the part of the road that was surveyed in June as mentioned, and he had five placed in a line as in this photo.




            ..We had some old friends with us…. here’s Nick and Gill


  Sue (committee chair)

and John and Nora with Eleanor


And here’s some pics of the test pits – some showing the road and one showing the clay bed at the side of the road.




Norman reports:

“The line of test pits established that the Roman road is present at this point but quite badly degraded with only the bottom foundation material surviving as quite a shallow deposit. It looks as though there has been heavy recycling of the road material at this point at a later date after it goes out of use – it doesn’t survive to anything like the depth of the Causeway Sett section dug by Saddleworth Historical Society in the 1970s. The road appears to be laid onto a prepared flat natural clay bed with no evidence for road side ditches or buried ground surface, although of course we only sampled a small part of the road.”

These are images from the geophyz… overlaid on to the earth image, with measurements, the 2017 geophyz itself, and then the two images – 2016 and 2017 together.



You’ll see on the first image at the top of post the word ‘RUIN’…..Here’s Cliff, Steve and Mike trenching across the east wall of the ruin; Norman says “deep foundations but no floor or finds”

And here’s Sue, Rob, Mark and Eleanor standing on the corners of another building.  Norman again: “I spotted (this one) which lies close to the ruined one but which we haven’t noticed before. I intend to go back soon and investigate this as it is becoming clear the ruin is part of a larger complex of structures and earthworks. All in all, a useful day!”


And we all agree… watch this space for more!

All geophyz processing and imaging by Phil Barrett; earth photo courtesy of Norman Redhead; photos by Norman Redhead and Jane Neild.  Lead archaeologist Norman Redhead.  Dig team today: Sue; Cliff; Mike; Steve; John; Nora; Nick; Gill; Eleanor. Geophyz team: Phil; Rob.  Blog by Bloggerina.

8th April 2017 – Excavation at Mytholm Mill

Here’s a picture of Mytholm, Mytholme, or Mytham Mill in Uppermill on the morning of the excavation.       

Residents of Saddleworth or anyone walking by the river from Uppermill to the garden centre (Newbank) would recognise this right away!


For anyone else though, if you look down from the canal with the Limekiln behind you it’s the ruined building in front of you, the viaduct and Uppermill on the left, the garden centre down the path to the right. Here’s a map.


The mill (Mytham then) was built in 1779 as a fulling mill by local merchants John Harrop, John Smith and Henry Whitehead.  At this time the woollen industry was expanding at a considerable rate creating a need for processing in a bigger faster way, but the developmental stage at the time produced industrial buildings that looked like typical weaver’s cottages.

This is a photo of it, probably early 20 Century 

Fulling was the stage of beating woven cloth with hammers to thicken it – modern felting is done in the same way – but the scale of the fulling process at Mytholm would have meant that the hammering of the wool pieces would have gone on for up to 20 hours! The hammers were massive wooden blocks and were driven by an ‘overshot waterwheel’.  You can see the groove of the wheel here, and there was a dam to control the water constructed at the height of the first floor.  The dam is visible at the site.

Here’s an interesting legend on the extant wall at the other side of this grooved wall: it possibly refers to the height of the head water or of the wheel.                  

So why excavate?  Well just what the XV1 FEET refers to is one of the questions.  Another question relates to the location of the end wall of the building, and another to the location of the steam engine, which took over the power supply at some point before 1866.  We know that because it was sold by auction at that time along with a great deal of sawmill equipment.  Mytholm had ceased being a fulling mill in the 1840s when Hutchinson and Co turned it into the saw mill, and it is possible that the steam engine was wholly related to that business.  The blocks in the picture are assessed as being the stands for the engine, you can easily get to see them as they’re by the side of the river across from the mill site. 

So the excavation began on the beautiful morning of 8th April 2017, managed by Norman Redhead, County Archaeologist, in association with the local archaeological group that is the Friends of Castleshaw Roman Forts.

 Here’s Norman giving the first briefing to some of the team at the start of the day.

And below, Paul is setting up the Friends information boards and info.


In the early part of the day there were 3 trenches, looking like this.

Phil, Jane, John ….

                             …then John, Nora, Alan

and Norman, Claire and Jack

Things moved on well and the weather held!  We always welcome visitors and we estimate that about 200 people talked to us during the day.

This is the major wall at the East Gate of the Mill.

The middle trench went down through demolition rubble to find a cinder level at around 65cm.  John dug a sondage of 50cm and found boiler waste, so it can be said that the boiler house was in that part.

This is the wall going East, there wasn’t time to find the back or the return.

The other trench found no structure of any consequence.

Finds were gathered, and Phil checked the spoil heaps….  There was… pottery, glass, metal and demolition rubble  … even a wall tie              


But the star find was found by John and Nora in their trench –          

…a beautiful bone pipe-bowl carved with a heart and initials in a cartouche on the reverse…. more photos to be found in Norman’s report, I’ll let you know when it’s on the website.


 Measurements were taken and photography done, then back-filling and closures


Norman gave the final briefing, some things are resolved but some tasks remain, enough for us to come back another day.

Here’s a picture of the group of workers.  I can confirm that they seemed happy and contented after a job well done on a beautiful spring day!

We’ll see you again somewhere then… but farewell for now, as ever, Bloggerina

A Roman Road…or two ?

Out and about 23rd May – thought you might like to see a couple of contenders for Roman Road of the month!

The first is the famous Ardotalia-Melandra to Rigodunum-Castleshaw short-cut.  Its reality as a Roman Road is just a fact of life to the people who’ve grown up in Carrbrook, Micklehurst or Greenfield.  Have a quick surf and you’ll see sources citing Moor Edge Road as the Roman Road that allowed troops to travel from Buxton-Brough-Melandra to Castleshaw and on to York without the extra day’s march to Mamucium-Manchester.

Go to Carrbrook and see the official noticeboard of the country park – whoever wrote this is sure the road is Roman, no question. But the OS Roman Britain map (NMR 2001) doesn’t mark it and it seems there is uncertainty amongst academic sources.  A few pictures to help you make up your own minds…

DSC_0660   DSC_0663

You can’t deny that beautiful metalled surface… and here it is below complete with Roman milepost!  Trust me there’s been no medieval gateway there…


Want a ditch?  Here’s the most well-dug ditch to grace the side of any Roman road.


Later on, after lunch at Woolly Knits, the sun came out and we drifted over to Castleshaw…


How about this one below?  Castleshaw to Denshaw and Rochdale….

DSC_0672  DSC_0675

Same metalled surface, same completely robust structure. …

Here it is straight as you like along the tops …DSC_0705






and this side of the road is really showing itself to be in very good shape





DSC_0676  Back down the hill –

looking straight at Castleshaw

You may think neither of them are Roman.  But if you think one of them is – then the other one stands up to the comparison.  We love them both and, well, we think they’re both Roman!  That’s our view…what do you think?…. we’d love to know

Catch you later


All photos today by P Barrett, if you want to use any of them just ask via blog and we’ll get the original to you.

Test-pitting in the moorland breeze

Yesterday (Sunday 17th May) we carried out a day’s worth of test-pitting in the field that lies just the other side of the lane to the north of the forts.  It’s where Harbour Farm used to be, and we understand it went to demolition when the Upper Reservoir was built, (late 19th century), possibly and presumably for the purity of the watershed?

We did the test-pitting of that area as part of the wider hinterland survey – one of the objectives in the constitution of the Friends of Castleshaw Roman Forts.

Apart from a few minutes of rain when we got there the day was free from weather hazards, except for a strong and persistent eye-watering moorland breeze!

DSC_0450 Here’s Phil and the 2 Sues breaking ground…








We opened 6 test-pits initially with another one later on.  You can see that they’re in a sort of line near the wall at the top of the field.

Phil – the proud digger of this test-pit… and some very easily lifted turfs

DSC_0456  DSC_0459


Lorraine, Steve, Mike and Kevin…




DSC_0627 and Huddersfield Arch with the neatest (OCD) spoil you’ll ever see…


…all getting on with it








……..then making the case for an extra test-pit.?DSC_0640



some rubble……


some rubble and some roof tiles



and bigger stones…..


So no foundations or walls left of Harbour Farm at all…

But wait…. could this be looking look like a metalled Roman road layer?

You bet it looks like it…..I had the close up view and it’s solid over that part of the test-pit…DSC_0635





and here it is with a lovely section through it…. looking for all the world like another deeper layer of road!


We worked our fingers and our trowels to the bone – it’s Norman’s trowel that proves it!

A fun job, done wellDSC_0652!


Farewell till next time,