A few weeks ago I posted a blog about a visit Christine and I made to Castleshaw Roman forts in the Pennines near Oldham. This followed the visit by the Friends of Castleshaw Roman forts to Manchester Museum see finds from the excavations that took place there during the early 1900s. I see that the blog has mysteriouisly disappeared so I thought I’d redraft it, taking advantage of the fact that since I first wrote it, the Son of Mars exhibiton has opened at the Museum of Lancashire in Preston. This exhibiton celebrates the work of archaeological illustrator, Graham Sumner, and includes a number of his wonderful paintings of Roman soldiers and Castleshaw Roman fort.
The fort site is at the top of a valley overlooking a couple of reservoirs. The best way to get to the site is along the A62 and follow signs to Castleshaw Centre (on Waterworks Road). There is a small car park and the fort is on a hill on the other side of the road. You approach the fort across a fairly steep field. The fortlet can be seen very clearly on the AA route planner website if you go onto satellite. The photo above is looking back down the slope through the corner of the fortlet. There was a fort for an auxiliary unit or regiment of about 500 men covering 2.5 acres here from the 70s AD. It was abandoned for a time after AD 85 and early in the 2nd century it was re-occupied by a smaller contingent of about 80 men. A fortlet was built within the original footprint of the fort. It went out of use about 120 AD.
All this is explained in the information panel on site, which features authoritative reconstruction illustratrations by Graham Sumner.
There is a long history of antiquarian interest in the site and a number of excavations were carried out during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. People’s poet, Ammon Wrigley, leased the field containing the fort and dug a number of trenches in 1898. There is a photograph of this work in Sam Seville’s With Ammon Wrigley in Saddleworth (1984). A few years ago I came across a piece of Roman tile from Castleshaw with Ammon Wrigley’s name written on it that probably comes from this work. Wrigley is better known as a poet, however, and his lengthy poem Castleshaw was inspired by the Roman explorations. This is one of the verses:-
Now we see a phantom people
Meet them on the paved way,
Watch them at thier daily labours,
Here within their walls of clay;
But the scenes of pomp and warfare
Who can picture, who can tell
What the tide of Roman conquest
Washed upon this moorland fell?
The first serious work was done by Bruton Andrew and Lees in 1907-8. This is the material in the Manchester Museum archaeology collection. There are sherds of Roman pottery including samian ware, mortaria or grinding or mixing bowls and coarse wares; melon beads; glass fragments including part of a ribbed bowl, and a number of pieces of wood, possibly to be identified as the pilum muralis, the stake used to defend a rampart.
Sadly some rather spectacular pieces of leather that had been preserved very well in the acidic moorland environment cannot be located. The photograph shows the uppers of Roman sandals or boots comparable to what has been found at Vindolanda. They have been missing since at least the 1970s. It woud be brilliant if we could find out what happened to them.
if you want to find out more about the forts and the potential for further archaeological work, Norman Redhead has written an article in the Saddleworth Historical Society Bulletin (vol.42, no.3, autumn 2012, pp.65-75). Ken Booth’s Roman Saddleworth, the History, Archaeology and Visible Remains of the Roman Occupation of an area in the Pennines (Saddleworth Archaeological Trust, 2001) is available from the Saddleworth Museum in Uppermill. There is a small display about Castleshaw in the museum. A visit to the site and the museum in Uppermill is warmly recommended. On a fine day with a picnic, it’s a treat.
Incidentally I’d like to thank the anonymous elderly couple who kindly guided me the last part of the way to the car park after I’d taken a wrong turn at the reservoir on Sat.20th July. I think I mentioned where I worked and why I was trying to find the fort but I didn’t catch their name.