Roman Road

Through much effort, field work and research; it has been confirmed that a direct route did exist from
Roman Chester (Deva) through to Meols.  The road is thought to have been around 6 metres wide
which was about twenty Roman feet, and was thought to be constructed from separate distinct layers
of cobbles on a layer of larger stones.  The following information is was written by local archaeologists
Peter France & John Emmett.

The only dating evidence found within the road was pottery dating from the later first century to the
early fourth century.  The road was traced by K Jermy and others, based along the line of Street Hey
Lane, East of Williston, appears to be aligned on the crossing of Wallasey Pool, close to the Penny
Bridge.  Further investigations by local archaeologist Peter France and John Emmett have suggested
that this route, with some post Roman distortion forms the basis of the late medieval Blake Street.  

The Roman line has been traced to point along the Noctorum Ridge.  The Roman road has been found
to diverge from the Meols road at a point in South Wirral at an angle of about 35 degrees, but the
alignment projected back towards Chester points to the Northgate.  Construction of this route is
narrower than the other, at about four  metres; and the layers are even thinner.  The conclusion
drawn from the study of these two roads is inescapably that the Birkenhead road is later than or
subservant to, the Meols road.  It is tempting to believe that the Hoyle Lake was used in naval
campaigns in 60-80ad as a supply base especially as military occupation of Chester is now known to
have predated the Agricola water pipe of 78ad.

Other routes are subject to ongoing investigation, especially that which was found to underlie the
foundations of Birkenhead priory during the main restoration work of the late 19th century.  This can
be traced for some distance, taking in the famous Birkenhead ridge on the way.  

There are two possible routes for this road in the Claughton / Bidston area but the general intention
seems to have been to join the Chester to Meols route at a point just South of the latter.  Watkins
Roman Cheshire mentions a road leaving Chester to head out towards Blacon point and then run into
Wirral parallel to the coast in a typically elevated position.  

The magnificent survival of a length of this road runs through the former deer park at Shotwick, where
its survival is undoubtedly due to lack of agriculture activities for century's.  It has been found to
underlie the park enclosure bank and therefore must predate it.  A section of this route was once
marked on OS maps as a Roman road.  Its true date, course and destination are currently under
investigation, as it is felt unlikely that all North / South roads in Wirral were in use at any one time.  

There was certainly a network of lanes and cracks linking farmsteads and other sites to the main lines
of communication.  These are now nearly impossible to detect archaeologically.  Many lengths of lanes
or roads have traditions of being Roman  in date but these are very difficult to verify, especially as no
obvious alignment or construction details are known.  An obvious example is the length of road
discovered during the construction of the Manchester ship canal.  This was stated to be made of
stone and was burried beneath 15 feet of soil.  It was aligned from the river bank to a point
somewhere in the vicinity of Parkgate.  Given the discovery of Roman practice earthworks not far
away, and that the depth of overburden was identical to that which covered the Birkenhead bridge,
this feature becomes worthy of further study.  

It should be noted that the recent research into tide levels shows that the MHW level during the
Roman period was about 15 feet lower than the present day level, and this makes the information
more acceptable.  It is unsafe to project any information out of hand without thorough investigation ,
especially when current thinking may dismiss it.  

Roman road construction was broadly similar right across the empire over hundreds of years,
although the materials used would vary depending on what was available locally.  The main ridge, or
agger, was formed from material from the two lateral ditches. This gives the road its distinctive profile
which we can recognise today on many sections.  First, a broad ditch, the fossa, was dug.  The base
of the fossa was levelled and tamped down to form the pavimentum.  A foundation layer called the
statument, consisting of layers of flat stones embedded in earth or clay, was laid on top of the
pavimentum.  This provided a firm foundation for the road as well as allowing drainage.  On top of the
statument was a layer of sand or gravel called the rudus.  This gave the road its resilience.  A top
layer of gravel, the nucleus, formed the road's surface. This may have been bound with concrete, but
not necessarily.  In towns, the surface may have been paved, but that would not have been the case
in the roads around Ribchester.

Richard Mortimer of Cambridgeshire Archaeology has pointed out that the construction method
described above applied to the Roman military roads, but there had been very successful and
long-lived Iron Age societies before the Romans arrived, and these societies had roads and tracks of
their own, many of which became 'Roman' roads.  Even with the military roads, if there was no need
to create the foundation they often wouldn't - a road over a good, hard gravel terrace would often
only be de-turfed and ditched

The Roman roads were constructed from layers of stone, topped with hard-packed sand and gravel,
which may have been bound with concrete. We can often see the remains of this metalling today.  In
cross-section, a Roman road takes the form of a ridge, with a ditch either side. This ridge, or agger,
often survives today, and is one of the most distinctive features of a Roman road.  One or both
ditches may survive, sometimes forming a convenient route for a stream.  Where a road had to cross
a river, a ford would have been easier to construct than a bridge, and we can see the remains of
fords in rivers and streams. In order to ease the gradient when climbing a hill, or to level the road if it
ran along the side of a hill, the Romans engineered cuttings and terraces.  The "Line". As everybody
knows, the Romans built their roads in straight lines.  Often, when there is no other evidence, a
straight line drawn between two confirmed sections of Roman road will indicate the course of the road.
Remains of a Roman Road in Britain
Roman road design
Roman road design