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Historic England Research Records

Heronbridge Roman Settlement

Hob Uid: 69293
Location :
Cheshire West And Chester
Cheshire West And Chester
Claverton
Grid Ref : SJ4110063600
Summary : The site of a Roman settlement/Small Town. Buildings of timber and stone and what appears to be a Roman dock have been found. The Roman settlement is most likely to have been small and primarily agricultural rather than industrial or urban. Artefactual evidence dates from the first to early third centuries.
More information : (Name centred SJ 407 634). Roman Settlement (GS). (1)

A small semi-circular earthwork midway between Eccleston and Iron Bridge (old name for Heronbridge) is formed by a fosse and rampart cut through the higher ground. The earthwork which faces SSE is 220yds long, but from its form and surroundings cannot be of Roman origin. (2-3)

In 1930-31 excavations were carried out at the Roman site at Heronbridge.

(at 'A', SJ 4109 6385). A trench across the most prominent part of the mound revealed a ditch 19' 3" wide and 9' 6" deep, with traces of an inner rampart.

(at 'B', SJ 4107 6375). This excavation revealed the remains of a long building or shed possibly used for some industrial purpose from 100 AD onwards. Other remains of sheds point to another industrial occupation that does not seem to have extended to later than 250 AD. At the west end of the building remains is a depression, possibly the continuation of the ditch found at 'A'. Also in this area were found the remains of about 20 men, buried in circumstances that suggest they met a violent end at about the period 160-200 AD. Included in the finds on this site is a Roman altar.

(at 'C', SJ 4109 6361). Excavations in 1933 showed that in Roman times the ditch was at least 15' wide and 9' deep with a profile of normal blunted-V type. Inside the ditch (to the east) were the remains of a rampart wall. The ditch is probably a continuation of that discovered in 1930 (at 'A').

The conclusions are that the site was fortified when the 20th Legion first settled at Deva, possibly as a bridgehead guarding a ford. It later became an industrial site (2nd and early 3rd centuries). There is insufficient evidence to suggest permanent occupation into the 4th century. The defences probably consisted of a stout wall and ditch.The ditch can be traced for 600' running N-S and parallel to the road on the west, and then turning NE for another 150'. (4-5)

A small uninscribed altar 12" high, 1st century potsherds and a coin of Tetricus II were found by Mr W T Williams. (6)

(at 'D', SJ 4105 6394). Excavations in 1946, 200' (from plan in auth 11 the distance is 200yds) N of the industrial site excavated in 1931-2, revealed a row of three stone buildings, one measuring 96' x 30'. The buildings ran E-W at right angles to Watling Street and to the east of it. Another small two-roomed structure lay to the E. The northernmost of the three buildings included a two-roomed building of stone with concrete floors, coloured plaster walls and roofed with tiles. New floors and a hypocaust were added about mid 2nd century when five more rooms were added to the E. Six amphora stamps were found under this block. Traces of destruction of the whole building probably date to the end of the 2nd century. (7-8)

(at 'E', SJ 4102 6383). Mr W Williams found traces of buildings of different periods within the north angle of a Roman street running W from the main Roman road. The chief feature consists of two buildings of ashlar separated by a courtyard, made in and occupied throughout the 3rd century. (9-10)

In 1953 further excavations were carried out. Buildings of timber and stone and what appears to be a Roman dock were found.

At Site I ('D'), was part of a timber-built workshop with an associated bronzeworker's hearth of the period AD 90-130. This was followed by the three stone buildings (described in auths 7 and 8) which probably became derelict by the 3rd century. (11)

(at 'F', SJ 4105 6391). At Site II traces of two buildings of the first period (AD 90-130) were found. One was of timber and the others of timber and stone. Three of the four pits excavated in this area contained metallic slag. The second period is represented by traces of three stone buildings similar to those at Site I ('D').

(at 'G', SJ 4106 6385). At Site III are traces of a timber building of the period AD 90-130. Stone buildings of three distinct periods followed: a stone wall (AD 130-150), a strip building 24' wide with a probable length of 80' (late 2nd-early 3rd century), and an extension of this building (probably 3rd century).

(at 'H', SJ 4105 6388). Between Sites II ('F') and III ('G') a wide natural hollow, probably an old stream bed, runs E to the river. A section across it revealed that the S side had been built up with a massive platform of rough-hewn sandstone and a wall of squared stones. On the N side of the hollow were the remains of a wall of dressed blocks but no platform. These two walls apparently represent a dock 23' wide. The relationship between dock and river requires further investigation, as the difference in levels would necessitate the use of locks. The silting-up of the dock apparently commenced at the beginning of the 3rd century.

The conclusion reached is that c AD 90 Sites I, II and III ('D', 'F', and 'G') were occupied by timber buildings and that metal working was carried on. About AD 130 these were replaced by stone buildings and the dock built. The site became derelict by the 3rd century. (12)

The only extant feature of the site at Heronbridge is the bank or rampart.

Its present condition is:

'J' (SJ 41156391) to 'K' (SJ 41086363) A much spread bank with an average width of 20.0m and a height varying from 0.5m to 1.0m. 'K' to 'L' (SJ 41106356) A bank, average width 10.0m and maximum height of 1.0m. In the deep ditch at 'L' are several large undressed stones.
'L' to 'M' (SJ 41116346) A much spread bank with average width of 12.0m and 0.3m high.

'N' (SJ 41146344) to 'P' (SJ 41236351) This part of the earthwork consists of an irregularly cut ditch varying in width from 15.0m to 20.0m and from 1.0m to 3.0m in depth. The east end of the north side of the ditch continues as a steep and apparently natural slope eventually fading into the flood plain of the Dee. The west end of the north side of the ditch is apparently a continuation of the bank to the north ('J' to 'M') although separated from it.

The ground at excavations 'D', 'F', 'G' and 'H' is disturbed, but no structural remains are visible. The natural hollow at 'H' is now a small stream, roughly dammed to form a small pool. The stream bed contains a scatter of tile and a small sherd of Samian was found. There is nothing visible of the excavations 'A', 'B', 'C' and 'E'.
The ends of the bank or rampart (at 'J; and 'P') terminate on the flood plain of the Dee which in Roman times probably formed part of the river. The river would thus form the eastern defences and complete the enclosure. The purpose of the earthwork was probably to guard a ford. At the time of investigation the Dee was in flood and no trace of a ford was visible.

The supposition that the structure excavated at 'H' was a dock seems very unlikely, there being at least 30 feet difference in the levels between it and the river. It would seem more probable that it was a catchment or reservoir for water, possibly in connection with the industrial phase of the occupation.

The whole area is under pasture.

A Roman altar inscribed DEABVS MATRIBVS etc. and a representative collection of finds from this site are preserved at the Grosvenor Museum, Chester.

See APs CPE UK 1935 2211-2. (13)

Further reference. (14)

The remains of this site are as described by Mr Geary and have been surveyed on 25" AM. A gap between the bank and the southern ditch - entrance. Two other gaps in the bank - on the west side are the results of modern mutilation. SJ 41016390. An excavation, under the direction of Mr Thompson, curator of Grosvenor Museum is at present in progress outside the enclosure - close to its NW corner. Foundations of a Roman building have been unearthed, and according to the Assistant Curator finds of Roman denarii and pottery have been made. (15)

SJ 411 636 Roman Settlement (R) (Site of). (16)

The full extent of the industrial site at Heronbridge has not been determined, but on the east side of Watling Street buildings are known to occur for a distance of over 700 ft. On the west side buildings are known to exist for a distance of approximately 200 ft (see plan), and it is probable that more remain to be discovered.

Excavations between 1929 and 1960 show that occupation extended from the late first to the early third century. The sections cut across the crescentic earthwork show that, in addition to the rampart which is all that shows on the ground today, there was also dug a ditch to the west lying between the rampart and Watling Street. The front face of the rampart apparently coincided with the inner lip of the ditch, without a berm, and the total width of the rampart was rather more than 30ft. The ditch, said to be V-shaped by the earlier excavators, but U-shaped by the later excavators, was 16 to 17 ft in width and 8 ft deep.

On the basis of one section cut in 1930, it was claimed that the rampart had a stone face at the front, but it was not repeated elsewhere, and it seems more likely that this may have been a Roman building sealed by the rampart.

At least twenty adult male burials, evidently battle casualities, were found to post-date the first building period, but pre-date the earthwork. Excavations in 1954 established that the earthwork belongs to the late Roman or even post-Roman period. It has been suggested that it represents a bridgehead thrown up by Aethelfrith, king of Northumbria, when he attached and defeated the Britons at Chester between AD 613 and 616. As well as the casualties among the Britons, Aethelfrith is said to have massacred 200 monks from the monastery of Bangor Iscoed who had come to the scene of the battle. (17)

The cemetery may have been early Christian, the burials being oriented east-west and unaccompanied by any grave-goods. All the burials recovered were of adult males, which suggest some kind of monastic community and, moreover, at least part of the cemetery area was subsequently incorporated into a large earthwork enclosure, which recalls the enclosing vallum of early Celtic monasteries, the area enclosed being somewhat large, but not excessively so. The place-name Eccleston certainly seems to indicate the existence of a church here in the immediately post-Roman period. (18)

Heronbridge Roman Site. Scheduled, no. Cheshire 25 (19)

No change since reports of 12/11/54 and 14/9/59. (20)

Excavations at Heronbridge in 1966 to the W. of Watling Street and N. of the area explored in 1959-60, revealed a timber building 15ft wide of the late 1st or early 2nd century. After some repairs the timber building was replaced by another in stone, 20ft wide, not earlier than the late 3rd century. A side-street immediately to the north was remade more than once; in its final 4th century form it was 15ft wide with a substantial kerb on the N side. (21)

SJ 411636. A field survey was undertaken at Heronbridge in 1983 including the putative 'Dark Age' earthwork, and the chief results were:

1. The semi-circular earthwork at Heronbridge was proved to have been thrown up by the Roundheads in March 1645.
2. The Dark Age ecclesiatical site known from the placename of Eccleston was not at Heronbridge but at Eccleston old churchyard. (see SJ 45 SW 7)
3. The extent of the Roman settlement at Heronbridge is very unlikely to exceed greatly the area already excavated.
4. The Roman settlement is most likely to have been small and primarily agricultural rather than industrial or urban.
5. The associated Roman ditch and field system has considerably modified and dictated the later and present landscape.
6. The roads of unknown date found along the line of the known Roman route in excavations from Greenbank south to Aldford are probably later roads built out of old Roman slabs on the berm of the original road. (see RR 6a)
7. Evidence points to the line of a Roman road leading west at the north of Heronbridge.
8. The bumps and hollows visible in the adjacent fields are almost all concerned with the 18th century, and medieval field system.
9. The war burials suggested as being datable to about 200 AD are more likely to be Anglo-Saxon.
10. Several pieces of evidence point to an ecclesiastical centre at Eccleston in the Anglo-Saxon period (as well as the post-Roman). (22)

A futher consideration of the of the 1983 survey produced the following results.
1) Ridge and furrow on the site is cut by an ancient road which continues under the earthwork, placing the latter firmly in the post-medieval period.
2) The earthwork is of one build, and can be demonstrated to be a Parliamentarian defence, using an existing field system ditch and bank boundary as a basis. It is attested in documentary sources. (23c)
3) The ditch associated with rampart contained Roman pottery,and probably belongs to a field system of that period.
4) The 'war' burials lie in plough soil containing material of all periods, and are sealed by a spill from the slighted rampart. No evidence has been found to refute a Civil War date for them. (23)

Roman date persists for bank and ditch. (24)

None of the surface archaeology at Heronbridge relates to the Roman activity as revealed by excavation. The rampart of the alleged crescentic enclosure consists of a linear bank that runs parallel with the road for over 340m before curving gently north-east for a further 120m towards the R Dee where it terminates at the junction of the land slope and flood plain. The gully claimed as forming the southern end of the enclosure is in fact a linear quarry cut obliquely across a steep natural scarp. Thus the earthwork can no longer be seen as defining an enclosure at all. Excavations have shown that the bank or rampart of this alleged enclosure in fact overlies Roman buildings and levels, an observation supported by field evidence which shows that the bank lies in a landscape heavily used and altered in the medieval and later periods which would make it an unlikely survival from the Roman period. Nor is the interpretation by authority 18 of the bank as the vallum of a Dark Age monastery convincing, especially since the area of the excavated burials is not confined solely within it. The recent suggestion by authority 23 that this is a Civil War earthwork rests solely and unreliably on the erroneous observation of the relationships between various earthworks on the site combined with the documented references to siegeworks and the garrisoning of troops in 1644-5 whose siting is not in any way specifically tied to this precise location. Although it is difficult satisfactorily to account for the sheer size of the bank especially in its northern section, a better explanation for its origin would seem to be as a medieval boundary feature, picked out and used by later plough furlongs and enclosed fields. The bank has now been made the subject of a new record of its own (SJ 46 SW 60).

The earthworks at Heronbridge were surveyed at 1:1000 scale by S Ainsworth, P Everson and R Wilson-North of RCHME in late 1985. The above account summarises a level 3 descriptive text deposited with the plans and other archive in the NMR under collections UID 622032; the archive includes an overlay of the positions of the various excavation trenches dug on the site as recoverable from ground survey. (25)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : OS 1" 1952
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Source Number : 2
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Trans Lancashire Cheshire Archaeol Soc, 25, 1907, 150
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Source Number : 11
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : J Chester N Wales AAH Soc, 39, 1952, 1-20, plan
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Source Number : 12
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : J Chester N Wales AAH Soc, 41 1954, 1-19, plans ans illus
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Source Number : 13
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : F1 EG 12-NOV-54
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Source Number : 14
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : J Roman Studies, 46, 1956, 125-6
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Source : Field Investigators Comments
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Source details : OS 6" 1968
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Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Thompson, FH 1965, Roman Cheshire, 15, 60-4, plan
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Source Number : 18
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Source details : DoE 1971, List of Ancient Monuments in England
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Source details : F3 ASP 27-FEB-76
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Source details : Watkin, WT 1886, Roman Cheshire, 48
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Source details : Finch Smith, R 1987, Roadside Settlement in Lowland Britain, 302-4 (Oxford BAR BS 157)
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Source Number : 25
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Stewart Ainsworth, Paul Everson and Robert Wilson-North/10-OCT-1985/RCHME: OS Revision, Cheshire
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Source : Heronbridge/pencil survey
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Source : Heronbridge/publication drawing
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Source : Heronbridge, record of excavations/ink survey
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Source : Heronbridge, southern end/pencil survey
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Source details : J Chester N Wales AAH Soc, 30, 1933, 109-117 and plates XLV-XLVI
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Source : Heronbridge/ink survey
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Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
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Source details : J Roman Studies, 32, 1942, 110
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Source Number : 7
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Source details : J Roman Studies, 38, 1948, 85-6, plan
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Source Number : 9
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : J Roman Studies, 27, 1937, 232
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Source Number : 10
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : J Roman Studies, 19, 1929, 192-3
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Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Roman
Display Date :
Monument End Date : 300
Monument Start Date : 90
Monument Type : Settlement, Industrial Site, Town
Evidence : Sub Surface Deposit

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : CH 25
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : SJ 46 SW 1
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Related Activities :
Associated Activities : HERONBRIDGE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1930-01-01
End Date : 1931-12-31
Associated Activities : RED HOUSE CROFT,HERONBRIDGE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1933-01-01
End Date : 1934-12-31
Associated Activities : HERONBRIDGE 1
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1946-01-01
End Date : 1948-12-31
Associated Activities : HERONBRIDGE 2
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1953-01-01
End Date : 1955-12-31
Associated Activities : HERONBRIDGE I
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1953-01-01
End Date : 1953-12-31
Associated Activities : FIELD OBSERVATION ON SJ 46 SW 1
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1954-11-12
End Date : 1954-11-12
Associated Activities : HERONBRIDGE 3
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1958-01-01
End Date : 1960-12-31
Associated Activities : HERONBRIDGE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1958-01-01
End Date : 1960-12-31
Associated Activities : FIELD OBSERVATION ON SJ 46 SW 1
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1959-09-14
End Date : 1959-09-14
Associated Activities : HERONBRIDGE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1966-01-01
End Date : 1967-12-31
Associated Activities : FIELD OBSERVATION ON SJ 46 SW 1
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1976-02-27
End Date : 1976-02-27
Associated Activities : FIELD OBSERVATION ON SJ 46 SW 1
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1985-12-01
End Date : 1985-12-01
Associated Activities : HERONBRIDGE, CLAVERTON
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 1997-01-01
End Date : 1997-12-31
Associated Activities : LAND AT HERONBRIDGE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 2002-01-01
End Date : 2005-12-31
Associated Activities : HERONBRIDGE (II)
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 2004-01-01
End Date : 2004-12-31
Associated Activities : LAND AT HERONBRIDGE (TIME TEAM)
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 2005-01-01
End Date : 2005-12-31