Last Dig of the 2021 Season

Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th October

We had achieved a great deal over the 8 days of excavation in August but felt that the southern part of the area of investigation was still poorly understood as we had concentrated on the area close to the fort’s east gate. Therefore, unusually, we had a final two days on site in October to enable a more even coverage across the area of our study and to facilitate completion of work at the eastern end of Trench 2 where more complex archaeology had been encountered.


Saturday 9th October

Lovely weather for archaeological excavation: warm and dry, lightly overcast and a very light breeze. 17 volunteers helped out on the day.

Our focus was on the landscape adjacent to the disused hollow way called Drycroft Lane, which runs westwards from Dirty Lane alongside the fort’s southern rampart. A series of test pits and trenches were dug to examine the potential for a potential defended annexe attached to the east side of the fort.

Getting ready

The start of the day – de-turfing trenches and test pits. The fence lies just beyond Drycroft Lane and the post on the far right is just beyond the south-east corner of the Agricolan fort rampart.

Nick and Gill

Nick and Gill extended the narrow trench (10) that they dug on 29th August when they discovered a potential ditch hidden under a mound formed by landscaping the adjacent area.

Left to right – ditch, natural and rampart

The 3.3 metre trench extension quickly yielded impressive results, with the dark brown ditch fill on the left, dark yellow natural clay in the middle and much reduced rampart material on the right.

Mike and Steve

Mike and Steve re-visited a narrow test trench cut near the south east corner of the fort rampart to look for the ditch. This involved widening and extending the trench.

Roy, Katy and Janet

Roy was back to help and excavated a new trench, 12, across the earth mound running alongside the former Drycroft Lane. He was ably assisted by Katy and Janet.

Meanwhile, two test pits were excavated against the fence behind the site of Husteds Cottage (which had been excavated in the 2014 community excavation). We were looking for potential Roman remains beyond the footprint of the cottage. Cliff and Tim are digging the further test pit.

Margaret and Jayne

Margaret and Jayne excavating this test pit immediately behind the cottage site.

Wall, floor and threshold

Whilst no Roman remains were evident, they did find a wall, floor and threshold of a structure attached to the rear of the cottage and shown on 19th century mapping.

Cliff removing topsoil from another test pit
Stepped gritstone wall and floor

This revealed a stepped gritstone wall and a floor formed of a flagstone and ‘crazy paving’ made of beautifully laid gritstones.

Sonia and Kurt set about completing excavation and recording of two features at the east end of Trench 2 that weren’t finished last time round.

Classic Post Hole

Sonia revealed a classic post hole. With the post hole packed round with lighter clay and grit stones set on edge.

This is it half-excavated , with some of the clay fill evident to the right. The post hole appears to be set into or cutting a possible building foundation slot.

Kurt’s pit-like feature

Kurt’s feature was more pit-like and contained a mix of medium-to-large jumbled stones – but frustratingly still no Roman finds…

Carol and Marlene

Carol and Marlene opened up a test pit over the projected line of a possible annexe rampart.

Test pit by Mark

Mark was given the task of digging a test pit in a dense patch of rushes to see if their concentration related to a feature of archaeological interest. Sadly, this was not the case as only natural clay was encountered.

DAY 10

Sunday 10th October

Our last day produced lovely weather again, but this time sunny and more breezy – great for backfilling but not so good for photography and seeing soil colours in the low-angled, bright sunshine and long shadows!  We had another good turn-out, with 15 volunteers helping out.

Here are Mike and Steve are looking from the south east corner of the fort defences across the area of investigation, with the former rush-filled Drycroft Lane on the right before the fence. The earth bank running alongside the lane is being sectioned by Roy in the middle distance, whilst Marlene and Carol’s test pit is being dug on the higher ground to the left of a linear depression.

Their test pit produced a good result with a ‘marbled’ pattern of light grey and orange clay visible across the whole test pit and revealed to be 10-15 cm deep in the sondage. This is considered to be the remnants of rampart material.

A couple of test pits were dug in a previously un-investigated area towards the mound where Nick and Gill are excavating the possible ditch and rampart (seen in background). Margaret and Tim excavated the test pit in the foreground and found mainly orange clay and stone but with some patches of compact cream-coloured clay possibly representing rampart material.

Fivemetres to the south, Mark’s test pit revealed the cut of a ditch along its north side. This is probably the same ditch revealed in Nick and Gill’s trench 10.

Trench 12

And here is Trench 12 showing the now-excavated ditch at 1.5 metres depth beneath the turf. So here the landscape is totally misleading – the ditch being obscured by a much later mound of dumped material.

Roy’s trench 12 through the bank was not completed due to the water table being reached! But again, the earth work flattered to deceive as once more a negative linear cut, probably a ditch, has been covered over by upcast (from the adjacent Drycroft Lane). This photo shows the ditch cut on the left whilst on the right some stones were found which might relate to a stone drain for which a cut line was visible in the section (marked by the two pitched stones). The bottom of the ditch has not been reached due to water ingress and the right-hand side of the ditch is not visible within the confines of the trench. This probable ditch is an intriguing feature worthy of further investigation.

This photo of Roy’s leggings and boots at lunch break demonstrates how muddy and waterlogged his trench was!
Large ditch reveal

Another large ditch was revealed in Mike and Steve’s trench at the south east corner of the fort’s defences. We know that the east side of the fort has no ditch and wanted to see if it existed at this point as it follows the corner of the rampart. This trench revealed the orange and white clay of the rampart (top of photo) which gave on to a softer, mixed white, grey and orange/yellow silty clay deposit with lots of charcoal flecks. This deposit was sealed by a consistent mid-brown more compact silty clay. The soft mixed deposit was not bottomed and appears to go considerably deeper. It is interpreted as infill of the fort ditch and comprises material derived from slighting of the rampart when the fort was abandoned in the mid-AD 90s. At the moment we do not know where the ditch terminates and, indeed, it may continue straight eastwards to form the defensive ditch for an eastern annexe.

Final test pit – by Cliff

The final test pit of 2021 was dug by Cliff c 4 metres west of the test pit with the ‘crazy paving’ dug yesterday. This was to help determine the extent of the stone surface. A dense spread of stones was revealed, but of different character. Are these associated with the cottage and farm of Husteds nearby or are we seeing re-used remnants of the Roman road which has exited the east gate and is running to join up with the main highway. Certainly, the alignment is good in relation to the road revealed near the east gate during our dig in August, but much more investigation is needed in this area to form a better understanding of the character and origin of this stone spread.

Finally, back to Trench 2 where Sonia and Kurt continued to excavate a post-hole and pit-like feature. Sonia’s feature showed clear evidence for post setting and dense stone packing. Interestingly, this was at the terminus of a short linear, stone filled feature.

Kurt’s feature now fully excavated within the confines of the trench. It is a pit or terminus of a flat-bottomed ditch. This area, within the eastern extension of Trench 2, has a marked concentration of post holes, slot and pit/ditch which suggest an area of timber buildings and more than one phase of use/construction. These features are sealed under a mixed clay deposit which might represent trample or weathering which is in turn overlain by a stone path or track. Are we looking at structures within the annexe related to the fort, followed by later activity belonging to the fortlet phase, and possibly a post medieval phase as well? This is an intriguing area which we hope to return to in the future.

Site Tour by Norman

After lunch we had a final site tour from Norman, seen here pointing to the archaeology in Nick and Gill’s Trench 10 (thanks to Jayne for taking these pics)

Happy Castleshaw Crew!
Stalwart to the end

And the final act – the inevitable backfilling, undertaken with commendable enthusiasm and efficiency.

This has been a great season and we have achieved an astonishing amount in the 10 days on site. Whilst there has been very little in terms of Roman finds, the range and quality of archaeological features has made up for this and provided a very significant contribution to our understanding of this fascinating site.

Many thanks to all the volunteers for their hard work. After a year lost to the pandemic it has been so invigorating to get back on site. All the information now needs to be pulled together, analysed and assembled in a report of the results – so watch this space! Norman will also be giving an update talk at the Friends’ AGM the date of which will be announced to members and on the website.

Norman and Jayne – aka ‘Mr and Mrs Castleshaw’ signing off from the 2021 season…

Goodbye to Castleshaw 2021 and huge thanks to all who were there, as well as to all of you who are reading about it here!

Day 7 and 8 – last two days of our 2021 Summer Project

Day 7 Saturday 28th August

A pleasant day for digging, mostly sunny and becoming a little too warm in the afternoon.

This was a busy day with 17 volunteers on site.

Kirsty, Vicky and Jenny were back to continue with Trench 1, extending the trench eastwards to expose more of the Roman road surface and possible stone platform.

Jenny in the foreground with Vicky and Kirsty in the background – Kirsty taking a little respite from the sun
The extended part of the trench is on the left. Just needs a hard trowel and clean before recording

Trench 2 is getting more complicated with several cut features starting to be better defined. Steve half excavated a second post hole, while Sonia investigated a complex area adjacent to the stone surface. They were joined by Jayne and Kurt. 

Kurt supervised on the mid-1980s Greater Manchester Archaeological Unit fortlet excavation before taking a post with York Archaeological Trust. More recently, he has led a community archaeology project at Ravenglass Roman Fort in the Lake District. It was great to see Kurt again and we threw him into the deep end to try and unravel some of the secrets and complex archaeology of Trench 2.

Steve’s half sectioned post hole, nearly completed.

Several other stone-filled features are emerging close to the half-excavated post holes. This is a busy area for features/structural remains.

Work also continued in Trench 7 to look for the edge of the possible fortlet phase road exiting the former south gate of the fort. Margaret and Sue revealed a spread of smaller stones at a higher level than a string of larger, well bedded-in stones. Natural clay appeared to the south of stones (left side of the photo below). After recording, the small stones were removed to better define the lower level. More on this tomorrow.

Once again Linda brought welcome refreshments whilst we ponder the meaning of Trench 2
It was Steve’s birthday and Jayne brought a cake to celebrate at lunch time.
Birthday boy

Test pitting continued at the south side of the site.

Tim and Mike excavating a test pit to investigate an area of high geophyz readings.

This turned out to be an orange sandy clay deposit with lots of loose stones.

Nearby Mark, Carol and Kate dug two more test pits which were also targeting geophyz anomalies close to the fort east rampart. Shown below…

Further east, towards the east edge of the site, mum and daughter team Janet and Becky finished excavating the test pit at the east end of Trench 4. Becky recorded the post hole she dug a few days ago whilst Janet finished digging a cut feature in the corner of the test pit.

This can be seen in the photo below which shows it to be c 50cm deep and full of loose small stones in a grey clay matrix. This deep cut feature could be a pit of Roman date, although we have no finds from the fill and of course we are only seeing a part of the feature. We have not the time to explore this further but it does show that, along with Test Pit 10 just to the east, there is archaeological survival and interest in this area.

In the south-east corner of the site beside the fence by Dirty Lane, Marlene completed the sondage through her test pit – shown above. There is a ‘stripy’ deposit of mixed clays overlying a compact stone layer which in turn overlies a yellow orange sandy clay material over firm clay and shale (natural). The stripy deposit could represent the remains of a rampart. Are we looking at an outer defence for a military annexe?

The land falls away sharply in this area, so Nick and Gill were tasked with putting a narrow trench through the bank to see if it could represent a curving section of rampart. Here they are having removed the turf and topsoil.

Lots to do tomorrow!

(I believe that goes for the entire site! Note by B.)

And so tomorrow came… as it tends to do

Day 8 Sunday 29th August

Mainly overcast and more breezy than yesterday – perfect for backfilling!

Still it was very pretty!

There is further news on the identification of the decorated bronze artifact found on top of the ‘road’ surface by Andrew on Day 2. Heather Beeton, North West Finds Liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, has kindly had a look at it and considers that it is part of a decorative shoe buckle of 18th century date. So not Roman which makes sense as a parallel was hard to find.

In Trench 1 Margaret, Jayne and Tim took over the final trowelling

The stone surface looks great and displays several distinct types of stonework. Running along the bottom of the photo is a compact road material associated with a linear depression which may indicate the presence of a drain.

There is also an area of flat-laid, larger stones which are similar to the stone platform found on the opposite side of the gateway in the 2014 excavation. To the left of these flat stones is stone material similar to that seen in Trench 7, whilst over against the middle part of the right-hand trench edge are tightly clustered more angular, smaller stones. Several patches of charcoal and burnt daub/brick were revealed. The current theory is that there is A fort phase stone platform connected with the gatehouse structure which sits beside the fort road edge. In c AD120 the main highway was diverted round the back of the fortlet and here it can be seen as it exits the gateway and loops back to re-join the original highway to climb up to the Pennine pass.

In Trench 2 above Sonia half excavated a post pipe for a stone-packed post hole, seen just left of the photo scale. A clay filled slot was revealed running from the post hole towards and under the stone surface (left hand top of photo). Sonia also part excavated the linear, stone-filled gully on the right of the photo scale. This appeared to have a curving terminus with a flat layer of well packed stones lying underneath the upper level of angled stone packing. These features require further investigation. As does the feature explored by Kurt in the north-east corner of the trench. Careful excavation shows that this feature is larger than anticipated and is more like a pit. Again, further investigation is needed to complete the half section and record this feature. Another stone-filled feature was revealed right against the trench edge.

Clearly, we have an area of considerable archaeological interest with a good deal of evidence for previous timber buildings in the form of possible foundation slots, post holes and pits. There have been no finds but the features are sealed/partly hidden by a shallow deposit of mixed silty clay which could be a levelling up or trample layer, over which has been laid the stone surface. The current interpretation is that the building features relate to the first fort and that the stone surface is of much later date, perhaps fortlet phase. Further excavation within the confines of this evaluation exercise will shed more light on the function and character of these cut features.

Good to see Kurt on site again. Here he is with Norman discussing the complex archaeology of Castleshaw. A 1980s throwback moment!
Trench 7

Meanwhile, in Trench 7 Sue was clearing the area of deeply set stones revealed yesterday. The smaller overlying stone layer has been removed. The stones site alongside a shallow depression which is infilled with a mixed silty clay deposit which overlies a very shallow dark grey humic layer with plentiful charcoal. This runs under the road material and could represent a former, pre-Roman ground surface. The deeply set stones on the left of the photo are of uncertain function.

Test pit 12

Test Pit 12 was completed by Carol and found to contain natural shale bedrock occurring at shallow depth. It is becoming clear that the high geophysical survey readings in this area are due to variable natural geology.

A sondage through Test pit 11, excavated yesterday. The orange sandy clay overlay shaley stone material and it looks like we have natural deposits in this test pit.

It was a similar story in Test Pit 13 below – located towards the corner of the rampart, where a ditch was anticipated. However, the same sandy clay and shaley stone deposits came to light showing that the ditch was not present here.

Test pit 13

In order to determine the terminus of the fort ditch, a narrow trench (above) was dug by Steve a couple of metres east of the one near the south-east corner of the fort rampart where he had previously revealed a drain cut into possible ditch fills. A similar pattern was evident (stones on the right of the picture probably relate to the drain). Time did not allow extension or deeper excavation of this possible ditch fill but we will be returning to complete this work. If this is Roman ditch fill then we have narrowed down the terminus of the ditch to a 3 metre length area.

Nick and Jill continued to excavate Trench 10 across the curving embankment at the south-east corner of the site. Here it can be seen in relation to the house and Marlene’s test pit with possible rampart material showing. 

Trench 10
Higher area
Lower area

And here (above) is the full length of the trench after excavation, shown as two photos. There was no evidence for a ditch in the lower area (right hand photo) but, conversely, the higher ground to the north contained a cut going against the slope. It was filled with layers of dark grey silt with lots of charcoal flecks and capped off with a thick dump of mixed clay/soil.

Neat job by Nick and Gill !

The base of the cut feature is around 1.4 metres beneath the turf! A fantastic digging job by Nick and Gill to reveal this interesting section and in such a neat trench! The dumped clay/soil is in the upper part of the section. It suggests that there has been much landscaping in this area. We could be looking at the outer part of an early ditch and will need to return to extend the section northwards to confirm this theory.

Stocking up with energy at lunchtime before backfilling
End of dig tour

Norman gave his final tour in the afternoon before we set about filling in the trenches. Here we are with Norman practising and teaching his archaeological pointing skills!

Back-filling underway


These are Norman’s initial thoughts which of course may change when the report is written up and further research undertaken. There is likely to be one more weekend of excavation in October to target key areas – which may also change interpretation.

It has been a tremendous effort by the Friends of Castleshaw Roman Forts volunteers, especially give the remarkable absence of Roman finds – with just a small quantity of burnt daub and brick fragments and no pottery which is very unusual. However, plenty of features were uncovered including some impressive stone surfaces.

The evidence suggests that the area outside the fort’s eastern rampart has suffered from consider landscaping which has truncated or totally removed Roman remains in certain areas. The lack of Roman finds, blank areas on the geophyz survey, shallow soils overlying natural geology and dumps of clay to create a bank along the edge of the site support this theory. The area is quite flat which contrasts with the more undulating terrain to the east of the east gate exit road, where excavation in 2018/9 revealed better preserved Roman remains. The presence of the late medieval and post medieval Husteds cottage and farm may explain the reason for truncation and flattening of this area.

However, we have advanced our understanding of the sequence of roads and appear to have found the fortlet loop road of c AD120 turning sharply out of the former fort east gate. It partly cuts across a stone platform associated with earlier fort gate. There is good evidence for timber buildings, probably of fort date (ie. AD 70s), with the fort phase appearing to be partly sealed by a mixed layer of clay which underlies a stone spread. These stones form a path but may be recycled from the original fort road exiting the gate. Alongside the rampart an area of high geophys readings has been shown to be caused by natural shale rock occurring at shallow and varying levels. Fort ditch fills have been provisionally identified at the south-east corner and an area for the terminus identified, although more work is required here. There is a possible ditch in the south-east corner of the field, close to the fence, which is deeply buried under landscaped spoil. A test pit nearby has revealed possible rampart material so we may be seeing evidence for a defended military annexe attached to the east side of the fort.

The dig saw dozens of visitors and the Friends volunteers are thanked for showing courtesy, patience and enthusiasm for explaining the archaeology to them. Hopefully, some of these visitors will join the Friends and be part of future investigations and enjoy the winter lecture series which is being planned.

Over the period of eight days excavation 24 volunteers took part with daily numbers varying from 9 to 17. They have been an absolutely brilliant team undertaking some very challenging digging at times. So many thanks to: Sue, Sonia, Mark, Nick, Jill, Margaret, Cliff, Jack, Steve, Mike, Carol, Jayne, Tim, Kirsty, Kurt, Roy, Vicky, Jenny, Marlene, Mat, Janet, Becky, Andrew and Katy on the dig, Paul for meeting and greeting visitors, Alan for joining in with the backfilling, and Phil, Jane, Dave and Sarah for the geophysics survey. Thanks also go to United Utilities for permission to undertake the excavation on their land, to Lee at UU for organising the grass strimming of the site, to Historic England for supporting the Scheduled Monument Consent application to allow the dig to take place, and to our friendly neighbour Linda for the welcome supply of hot drinks and cakes!

We may do a couple more days in October so watch this space….

All words and pictures by Norman Redhead

Put together and presented by Bloggerina, till we meet again some sunny day.

Day 5 and Day 6 of our Castleshaw Summer Dig

Day 5

Monday 23rd August

After cancelling the weekend due to the rain forecast we went back to the site on Monday with much better weather predicted, allowing us two days of pleasant digging conditions. It was a busy day with 17 ‘Friends’ volunteers helping out. Jayne, Margaret and Sue continued work on the Roman road revealed in one metre square test pits which have now morphed into a long trench! (no.7)

They were joined by a long-time friend of Norman and Jayne, Roy, who was a professional archaeologist in the early part of his career before changing jobs and career path. He dug with Norman at Ludlow Carmelite Friary and Stafford Castle in the early 1980s. It was great to see Roy wielding a trowel again – seen here helping Sue with expanding Trench 7 eastwards to find the edge of the road.

Here’s the trench looking very impressive, but with a couple of areas of silty clay and very few stones evident .The stones continue beyond the near section edge so a further extension is required!
Trench 7

Meanwhile, Jack and Mark looked for the line of the road going southwards. They first dug a one metre square test pit 2 metres to the south of test pit 4 where Mark had found the road on Day 4. But this proved negative so test pit 4 was extend into a 1.5 metre square test pit to better define the road’s extent.

This ‘tongue’ of road was revealed and it looks like it has been removed beyond this point – as indicated by a large blank area in the resistivity survey plot. This might be due to the occupiers of the  adjacent farmstead (named ‘Husteds’) recycling the stones for other purposes.

We decided to leave Trench 2 for the coming weekend’s dig and focus our attention on the area to the south to investigate anomalies brought up by Phil’s geophysical survey.

Andrew is joined by Becky, daughter of Janet and archaeology student at Queen’s Belfast, to excavate a 1m sq test pit at the East end of Trench 4

This produced some archaeology with the test pit divided into two, with one half formed of mixed cream and yellow silty clay whilst the eastern half showed two possible features: a possible post hole and a stone-filled feature in grey silty clay, shown below. We will investigate these tomorrow.

Trench 4

Meanwhile, at the west end of Trench 4, Sonia and Janet also dug a one metre square test pit.

Not much joy in this one… so backfilled and on to the next!

Here is a general view showing the two Trench 4 test pits in the foreground, with Janet and Sonia commencing a new test pit (no. 10) 3 metres to the east of Trench 4. In the background Tim and Marlene are working on test pit 8 which is located over another geophysical anomaly.

Test pit 8 revealed, underneath a shallow brown plough soil, a yellow silty clay layer mixed with grey and dark grey patches of silty clay loam. A sondage in the corner came down on to a compact grey shaley clay level.

Test pit 8

Here are Tim and Marlene next to their test pit, chatting to some of the many visitors attracted to the site on this lovely sunny afternoon.

Steve and Mike were sent off to the furthest corner of the area we are investigating this year – to put a test pit over a sunken, linear feature which looks like an old excavation trench dug at the south-east corner of the Roman fort to look for the defensive ditch.

Their investigation revealed a nicely preserved stone-capped drain of uncertain age. Further news on this tomorrow.

Nice drain!

Phil did some more geophys, helped by his daughter Sarah and son David.

David left and Phil

The results are shown in the bottom rectangle, which indicates higher readings towards the rampart including some possible features of interest. We will be investigating these with test pits.

We were joined at lunch time by Andy and Gudrun bringing gifts! Andy was Norman’s colleague at the Greater Manchester Archaeological Advisory Service and retired as Senior Planning Archaeologist in December 2020. Andy and Gudruns’ daughter-in-law, Beth, runs a bakery which makes vegan/gluten free flapjacks ( and a wonderful range of flapjacks were brought for us to freely sample. On top of the refreshments provided earlier in the day by Linda we were totally spoiled and pampered!

Andy also brought his Mesolithic flint identification expertise to site, helping Steve and Mike classify some of the flints recently excavated by them at a prehistoric funerary site in Tameside.

Andy discussing the worked flints.

So an interesting and useful day with lots of follow-up work to do tomorrow.

Norman in the trench giving end of day site tour, photo by Phil.


24th August 2021

Another nice day for digging. Sue and Roy extended Trench 7 further east and finally found the eastern edge of the Roman road – or have they?! A line of stones seen in the bottom left of the trench suggests that we not quite resolved the true edge of the road yet. The blank area appears to have a pattern of stake holes. More work to do here on Saturday!

A closer view looking North
Section of Trench 7

Jayne dug a section across the relatively stone-free central area of the road covered by a silty clay deposit – shown above. We had wondered if this was an area of erosion from wheel-rutting but the silty clay was shallow and very few stones were found at a lower depth. One piece of burnt daub of probable Roman date was found but there was also a thin black humic layer over parts of the natural clay which suggests that this area has been disturbed by an unrecorded Bruton trench dug in 1907/8. We know that his workmen cut a trench along the spine of the road exiting the east gate further to the north so this could be associated with that investigation.

Steve continued excavation of the drain at the south-east corner of the fort. Three capping stones were lifted and the silt fill excavated to reveal stone sides and a clay base. Unfortunately there were no finds.

The test pit section showed that the drain was set within a cut filled with a dark brown silty clay loam. This was sealed by an old black turf line. It appears that a ditch was cut to allow the construction of the drain and then back filled. The old turf line might represent where Burton has cut a trench. Bruton’s plan of his excavations show a drain in this area with ‘modern?’ next to it. Clearly it pre-dates his publication of 1908 and could be of 18th or 17th century origin. Of particular interest was the nature of the soil that the drain was cut in to. This consisted of a mixture of light grey and orange silts with lots of charcoal flecking. The consistency and make-up is suggestive of Roman ditch fill so it looks like we have the defensive ditch here. The test pit location was too constrained to extend it to the sides but we will follow the potential ditch course around the corner of the fort through further test pitting. This is a key area as we know that the ditch does not exist along most of the east side of the fort.

Meanwhile Sonia excavated (above) a test pit (no. 10) located 3 metres east of Trench 4. There was a clear division across the middle between the natural-like yellow-orange clay and a light grey clay deposit full of small angular stones. Sonia put a section through this material which suggested that we have an infilled linear cut feature. So far there are no finds from the fill. Further investigation is required.

3 metres to the west of test pit 10, Becky and Janet were excavating the two features revealed yesterday in the east end test pit of Trench 4. Becky found a deep rectangular-shaped post hole with a flat stone providing packing support. It can be seen in the foreground of this photo above. At the top Janet’s feature is filled with the same clay and stone material as the feature being dug by Sonia. Could they be connected? Again, there were no finds but both features are sealed under plough soil so are early in date.

Trench 5 is located close to the fence in the south-east corner of the site. It was located to explore a geophysical anomaly but also to look at an area of higher ground which has the potential to be a defensive feature for the putative military annexe attached to the east side of the fort. A one metre square test pit was dug at the east end of the trench, firstly by Cliff then continued by Marlene. A mixed clay deposit was encountered and a sondage dug through this. The deposit was found to consist of striped layers of cream, white, grey and orange silty clay, coming down onto a compact stony and orange clay layer. This is reminiscent of rampart material seen in previously excavated sections through the fort and fortlet ramparts. Could we be looking at evidence for a rampart enclosing the annexe? We will revisit this area at the weekend.

Marlene standing next to Trench 5 test pit.
Cliff with Trench 8

Cliff was set the task of exploring an old excavation trench (our number 8) which runs for about 5 metres along the line of the fort east rampart near the south-east corner of the fort.

Here is the initial one metre square test pit across the old unrecorded trench which was probably dug by Bruton in 1907/8. The old trench is indicated by a ‘u’ shaped depression and has a shallow infill. Cliff has cleaned this off to reveal a compact yellow clay layer. We will investigate this further to confirm it is part of the rampart.

So, a really interesting day with the road not behaving and more questions to answer on this and with various test pits yielding features of possible Roman origin. Roy took his leave after two days of fruitful digging on the road and we hope to see him back soon.

Roy and Norman, pointing

Watch this space for our last two planned days this coming Saturday and Sunday.

NR 26/08/21

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading about two great days digging up at our favourite place, Roman Castleshaw!

Ciao for now, semper fidelis, Bloggerina

Days 3 and 4 of our adventures at Roman Castleshaw

Day 3 – 10th August 2021

Norman’s Report

A dire weather forecast led to cancellation of the intended weekend excavation so it was great to get back on site on Tuesday to continue our investigations. The forecast was good for the day, although being Castleshaw we had to endure a couple of unexpected showers early on – but then it gradually improved.

A wet start!

We were delighted to be joined by Matt (nearest the camera) from the Castleshaw Centre undertaking his first archaeological dig. First task, the hardest, de-turfing!
Steve was able to get stuck into half-sectioning the posthole he had revealed on Day 2.
And here he is looking pleased as punch with the feature, anyone would be!

It turned out to be quite substantial being c 40cm deep and probably of two phases, with later re-use in the form of stone packing near the top to support a shallower post setting – here seen in section.
Right on cue the sun came out as Phil and Jane arrived and here they are checking out Jayne and Margaret’s trench extension.

But they weren’t allowed to get away without doing some work!

Here they are undertaking a 40 x 20 resistivity survey from the east rampart towards Dirty Lane

Jayne and Margaret extended the western end of Trench 2 by a couple of metres to define the edge of the ‘road’. Here Norman is advising on the level to go down to, but when natural clay was revealed it soon became clear that the stones did not extend into this area. So another ‘blank’ for Jayne and Margaret. ‘Negative’ evidence of course still v useful but not so much fun to dig!
At the opposite end (east) of Trench 2 Sonia Mark and Matt continued to trowel the extended area to see if there were any other features similar to Steve’s posthole. Steve is the foreground.

Matt took to trowelling like a duck to water

He was quickly trained up and guided of course by the very experienced Mark and Sonia!

Welcome refreshments were provided by the site’s friendly neighbour, Linda.

Careful trowelling revealed several interesting patches of stone and soil colour changes suggestive of features – so we’ll give this area a more intensive trowel tomorrow!
Meanwhile Norman and Phil had been probing the area between the two trenches and found a suggestion of a stone surface

.Phil and Jane still geophyzzing away in the background. Also in the background of this shot are Jayne and Margaret excavating a test pit to evaluate its potential. Towards the end of the day they located a nice stone surface, of which – more tomorrow.
End of the day, a bunch of happy grafters under bright blue skies!

DAY 411th August 2021

A pleasant day for digging, with mainly overcast conditions and the predicted rain arriving true to the forecast at packing up time around 4pm – perfect!

It turned out to be a really interesting day with things starting to take shape.

Phil processed the resistivity survey results and produced this plot.

It confirmed previous surveys, in that there is a large relatively blank area but with anomalies towards the East gate (Trench 6) and further east towards the lane Trench 3 (excavated on Day 1) indicated by the wooden posts and in the ‘blank’ area. We will investigate the high reading area to the east of this and Trench 4 (yet to be dug) will aim to pick up the anomalies in this area. The fort rampart shows up clearly on the left (west) of the plot.

The test pit was finished with Jayne and Margaret delighted to reveal this excellent stone surface. But what is it?
The test pit was extended westwards towards Trench 1 (covered in blue tarpaulin) to find the edge of the stone surface. And there it is! Clearly visible running diagonally through the trench with the natural yellow clay beyond. Truly an excellent result.
Sue and Jack were tasked with finding the opposite, eastern, edge.
And the stone suface continues right through their 2m long trench.

It was concluded that we need to go further east. The levels in the middle of the stone spread are lower than at the sides and there are what appear to be linear depressions with a soft silty clay fill.

Mark then put a test pit 2m to the south to chase the stone surface in that direction.

Most of the test pit contained the same stone material but one corner was stone free and appears to be the angled edge seen in Jayne and Margaret’s test pit.

General work shot showing the test pit locations, with mark on the right by the wheelbarrow. BIG thanks to him for enthusiastically helping with de-turfing and initial excavation in Jayne and Margaret’s trench.

So what is this stone surface? There are two possibilities.

1 – A stone floor for a building such as was revealed in the 2019 investigations on the opposite side of the East gate exit (see 2019 evaluation report on website)

2 – A Roman road. This is the favoured interpretation – and it can be said with a relatively high degree of confidence that we appear to have found a road exiting the East gate! This may well date to the fortlet phase (early 2nd C AD) and would have formed the diverted main highway looping round the back of the fortlet. This new evidence indicates that it turns sharply right to the south out of the fort gateway to link back to the main highway, before it ascends the steep hillside. We may be seeing cart ruts and repairs in the road surface but more investigation is required to confirm these early findings. Bruton’s excavations of 1907/8 and the community dig of 2014 suggested that the road ran straight out of the East gate at a slight angle, but our test pits are considerably further south than the previous known road alignment. It seems likely that we are looking at two roads here, with the original Agricolan fort exit road being on a different alignment and to the north of the fortlet loop road.

This is all very exciting and we’ll be returning to this feature on Day 5!

Trench 2

The eastern extension was trowelled again and a compact mixed clay deposit was removed to reveal better-defined features.

Steve, Andrew, Sonia and Janet carrying out the trowelling exercise. It was Janet’s first time on the Castleshaw dig and she picked up trowelling skills really quickly.

Several features materialised, including a linear stone packed feature (centre of lower part of photo), another post hole (to the right of the linear stone packed feature), what might be a pit (bottom left corner) and possible stone packed post holes and another linear feature towards the top of the photo. It looks like we have the site of a building here, with the stone packed linear features possibly representing building foundation slots. We initially thought the spread of flat stones represented remnants of the fort road exiting the east gate, and this may still be the case, but the stones appear to form a pathway or threshold for the building perhaps leading to the entrance.

We’ve had a very good first 4 days and can’t wait to get back to site on 21st August to continue our investigations.

Norman Redhead.

So that’s all for now readers, hope you’ve enjoyed the blog and that you can tune into the next exciting episode of ‘Even more Roman Roads at Castleshaw’

Semper fidelis, Bloggerina

Never a dull day at Castleshaw…

Just for perspective here’s an aerial view from 2017 complete with geophyz detail
And another to show you the focus of the excavation area this time, outlined in red


The weather was perfect for digging! Dry, a light breeze, comfortable temperature and plenty of cloud cover, who wouldn’t want to be there.

Norman’s reportage follows.

Mon 2nd August

Trench 1

We returned to Trench 1 on day 2 to extend the trench 1 x 3 m to the east to follow the interesting stone surface revealed yesterday. This time the team was joined by ace troweller Sonia who has lost none of her skills during lockdown. A solid layer of stones forming a relatively smooth surface was uncovered along the north edge of the trench. This was part of the road exiting the east gate. Elsewhere there was a mix of stone types forming a rougher surface, but the presence of a brown plough soil horizon suggests that plough damage will have taken its toll. An angled edge to the stone spread may have been caused by a former, unrecorded, old excavation trench – but further work is needed to confirm this. It was noticeable that flatter more regularly shaped stones appeared towards the eastern edge of the trench and running under it. Could these be part of a stone platform similar to that seen in 2014 on the other side of the gateway? We need to extend further east to determine the full extent of these stones.

Sonia, Vicky, Kirsty, Gill and Nick posing nicely before getting stuck into extending Trench 1
Trench 1 after clean up

Trench One looking good with the east gate exit road in the foreground and possible disturbed large kerb stones, with a variety of stone materials beyond. The white finds tag (middle left of photo) represents a small piece of Roman glass found by eagle-eyed Jill.

A small spur of glass of probable Roman origin.
Here it’s shown against scale – less than 1 cm in length

Trench 2

We extended the trench eastwards to follow the fragmentary remains of the east gate exit road. It survived as a straggle of stones no wider than a pathway. Steve revealed a possible post setting close to the southern edge of the stones in the form of a circular area of silt encompassed by a series of angled stones as possible packing material. This feature will be half excavated to prove it is a post hole. Three other potential post settings were uncovered which will also be investigated further. Perhaps we are seeing evidence for structures lining what can only be a path or stone laid access area to the buildings. If this is the case then what has happened to the main road exiting the fort? Watch this space for further developments!

We had a first Roman find – not a piece of pottery as you might expect, but a piece of shaped bronze metal that we believe forms part of a Roman brooch!

Tim, Steve, Andrew, Mark and Sue working on the eastward extension to Trench 2
After cleaning and showing the remnants of the road with possible post holes to either side. The white tag shows the find spot for the fragment of bronze Roman brooch.
The brooch fragment has intricate decoration including a flower motif
The pin hole can be seen clearly at the side of the brooch. More research needed to find a design parallel.
Outstanding view of the pinhole in profile.

Trench 6

Excavating the one metre square test pits at either end of Trench 6. Jayne and Margaret in the foreground and Katy and Cliff at the back.
1 Jayne and Margaret’s test pit
2 Katy and Cliff’s test pit

The first test pit had a deep deposit of loose angular stones in a mid-brown and yellow clay soil which could not be bottomed in the time available. These densely concentrated stones explain the presence of the geophysics anomaly in this area. There have been no Roman finds but it is sealed by a layer of plough soil and could be Roman or a natural deposit. We will come back to complete excavation of this test pit.

Sadly, Cliff and Katy’s test pit was negative, coming down on to natural clay and with no Roman finds. There were a few stones but the test pit was very different to the one at the west end of the trench and was outside the geophysical anomaly shown by the resistivity survey.

Norman Redhead

I’m pretty certain you’ll agree that was a wonderful two days digging! Next excavations are this Saturday and Sunday 7th and 8th August. I’ll blog them for you as soon as possible after that. Hope to see you there.

Semper fidelis, your Bloggerina

It’s 2021.. It’s August.. It’s Castleshaw Archaeology!

Yes Castleshaw is back! Well it’s never been away but of course we have, for long enough. In fact almost two years. First of all it’s a huge welcome back to Norman Redhead, our resident Archaeologist, not long retired and looking forward to making Roman inroads into Castleshaw once again. Nothing would be happening here without his stalwart commitment and perseverance.

And a warm welcome back to all our happy diggers and at least we’re starting off with a promise of good weather for you as we embark on a series of digs through the August weekends.

And welcome back to the blog to all of you interested folk out there. I’ll do my best to keep you updated as fast as possible, just might be a few days lag in getting the info out here.

Without more ado here’s Norman’s report.


Sun 1st August

We’re investigating the area between the fort’s east rampart and the east gate exit road, bounded by Dirty and Drycroft Lanes. We’re just outside the fort defensive rampart to look for evidence of Roman buildings and activity in what might be a military annexe. We also intend to learn more about the line and character of the Roman road exiting the gate, the course of which is undetermined.

The weather started off drizzly but soon dried up and gave us a mostly dry and overcast day with some sunny intervals. Pretty good digging weather.

There was a good turnout of 15 volunteer diggers from the Friends of Castleshaw Roman Fort. Paul Renshaw from the Friends’ committee came along to talk to visitors and he put up a couple of signs to encourage them to come and look at the archaeology. We had plenty of interested onlookers and Paul was kept busy pretty much all day – hopefully some new members will come from it.

Three trenches were opened of the proposed six trenches – numbers 1-3 on the plan below.

De-turfing in the drizzle which thankfully didn’t last long

Cracking on with investigations in Trench 2 (background) and Trench 3 in the foreground

Trench 1

Trench 1 was placed adjacent to the side of the east gateway to see if we could pick up evidence for a stone platform similar to that found on the opposite side in 2014. Vicky, who helped run the dig in 2014, came up to volunteer along with Kirsty who also supervised in 2014. Hard to believe that the big community dig was seven years ago! With the help of Jenny, Nick and Jill a stone surface was revealed and cleaned for recording. The edge of the 2014 excavation trench was found, with a previously revealed road surface that was part of the road exiting the east gate. The new trench had a rougher stone surface and possible kerb stone. To the south, away from the gateway, it petered out against natural yellow clay. Its function and form are not yet clear and further investigations will be undertaken tomorrow.

Jill, Nick, Kirsty and Jenny get to grips with Trench 1

The road revealed – this photograph is looking south, away from the east gate exit.

Trench 2

This trench was located on a west to east axis to chase the line of the Roman road exiting the east gate. The road had been first excavated by Bruton in 1907 and revealed again in the 2014 community dig. It consisted of two main phases: the finally metalled Agricolan fort road of AD 79 and the cruder fortlet road dating to c 120 AD that looped round the back of the fortlet and exited the former east gate at an angle. Steve, Tim, Steve and Andrew found good remains of the road to the west, closest to the east gate, before it disappeared before re-appearing in a reduced form towards the east end of the trench. At this point we found that it was sealed under gravel laid for parking next to the compound erected for the GMAU dig in the 1980s! We will attempt to define the extent, character and direction of the road as its route eastwards from this point has been a mystery.

Mark, Andrew, Tim and Steve in Trench 2
Andrew with the newly discovered Roman Road in Trench 2. This was his first day as a volunteer at a Castleshaw dif – not a bad start!
Trench 2 showing a relatively well-preserved road surface in the foreground with no evidence for it in the middle of the trench then it is picked up again towards the far end.

Trench 3

This was positioned to examine a geophysical anomaly picked up by resistivity survey. After a day of hard toil by Jayne, Margaret, Katy, Cliff and Mike no Roman archaeology was found – just natural grey clay and shale and predominant yellow clay. The finds highlighted were a sherd of decorative slipware (probably early 18th century) and a decorated sherd of possible 16th century date. This latter sherd is illustrated below and took the form of a gritty grey fabric with internal slip decoration and external iron glaze. This may have come from Husteds Farm nearby; we had a sherd of medieval pottery in the 2014 dig from Husteds cottage site. The trench was backfilled and recorded. It provides useful negative evidence for Roman activity in this area.

Interior slip decoration
Exterior glazing
Mike, Katy, Cliff, Jayne and Margaret excavating Trench 3
The completed excavation of Trench 3

So at the end of Day 1 we had a good handle on the character and archaeological potential of the first three trenches. No Roman finds yet and Trench 3 drew a blank but Trenches 1 and 2 showed considerable promise for enhancing our understanding of the east gate exit road and associated features.

Tomorrow, tomorrow.

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