Tunnel from Lancaster Canal to River Ribble
This article pulls together all a number of Facebook threads regarding a "possible" tunnel between the Lancaster Canal and the River Ribble in the early 1800's. The original post contains the comment/query
Can anybody give me information about a pumping house, steam engine and tunnel running from the Ribble to the canal in Preston, opened in 1806 to supply water to the canal. This is all the information I have but would like to know where the engine house was. Any other information would be interesting.
Various correspondents replied with suggestions that William Millar, the canal engineer, was responsible for this particular tunnel but without giving any idea of its position or reason for it.
The need for any extra water supply was queried. It was pointed out that the levels were normally maintained by rainwater draining the fields. Also that barges travelled between Preston and Lancaster even before the canal system had even been completed into the centre of Preston.
The word "tunnel" also promoted discussion. The distance from the canal to the river was also queried as far as a tunnel was concerned. "Pipes" would also have been a more suitable way of holding the pressure.
The originator of the thread, Mike Allen, then provided more background:-
The information about the pumping engine that I started with came from 'The canals of North West England' by Charles Hadfield and Gordon Biddle 1970. In this book they say that '[the canal engineer] Cartwright also designed and supervised the cutting of a tunnel from the canal at Preston down through the rock into the Ribble, through which water was pumped by a Boulton and Watt steam engine. Pumping commenced in July 1806. Later they state that the engine and land were sold in 1836 as the water from the Killington reservoir was found to be adequate to supply the canal.
The book also says that the work was completed by Cartwright's assistant James Miller. Perhaps the canal was leaking.
The position of the pumping engine was discussed with the most likely place being under the present University buildings, adjacent to Leighton street. This being the shortest distance to the River Ribble.
The difference in shaft/tunnel reared its head again which led onto the possibility of taking water from boreholes. Where they taking water from water table and thinking that this was the River Ribble? Unfortunately, the only boreholes shown on the BGS viewer are located on the far side of Leighton street, away from the canal.
Various maps were analysed and on the 1840 O.S map a " pump" is shown close to Victoria mill at the river end of Marsh lane. There is also an enclosure next to the mill marked with what looks like "well". If the engine and land were sold off in 1836 presumably the engine was either dismantled and used elsewhere or put to use to supply a new venture, perhaps Victoria mill?
A reference, almost contempory with the construction of the tunnel/pipe was re-discovered. Marmaduke Tulket wrote a book in 1821 called 'A topographical, statistical and historical account of the borough of Preston' in which he says [when describing the canal street cotton mill]
''Opposite to this cotton mill, upon the north-west bank of the canal, stands the large steam-engine house, built of stone, and erected at the sole expence [expense?] of the canal company, in 1805,for the express purpose of conveying water into the canal, when deficient. The water is pumped by means of this powerful engine, out of deep subterraneous tunnels, forming a communication with the river Ribble. The engine enveloped within the walls of this massive building is rated at fifty boraes horses power; but at present la very seldom used."
Barney Smith, of Preston Digital Archive fame, suggested that the pumping house - or what remained of it (with adjacent well) was opposite Canal Street Mill. Still extant in 1862 when the following map was produced.
The working map for the canal company also shows the same position.
Since all of this area is now covered by University buildings all the building records available at Lancashire Archives looking for any sign of a cover for the tunnel. Nothing was found.
More information appears in a document dated 20th November, 1809, in which the Lancaster Canal Company and Messrs Horrocks & Co agreed over various land disputes. The important portions, as far as this old discussion is concerned, is that Horrocks & Co “relinquish all claims…..in respect to use of their steam engine at the Canal Street Factory, during the time the Tunnel from the River Ribble was in execution”. Prior to the canal being built, the factory used “springs which drained Spittle Moss” for supplying water to their steam engines - now, it seems, they used canal water. Another important line in the document reads "during the time the Tunnel from the River Ribble was in execution" so the tunnel was only in operation for a very limited time. Presumably the "leaks" on the canal had been reduced. Canal street ran from the Lamb & Packet to the canal. It doesn’t explain what the word “tunnel” means but it does fix it into this area - as identified by Barney Smith.
The last document, for the moment, concerns an agreement (30th December, 1806) between the Proprietors of the Lancaster Canal Company, the Mayor, Bailiffs and Burgesses of Preston and John Grimshaw*. In it there is a description of the Proprietors erecting a steam engine for the purpose "of drawing and raising water from the River Ribble into the said canal." This should be achieved by "a tunnel or watercourse" which went through or underground land owned by Mayor, Bailiffs and Burgesses and known as Spittle Moss. After a payment of £63 and a yearly rent of two shillings and sixpence the proprietors should "at all times hereafter leave and keep open one Eye Pitt or Hole" and that " the said pit eye or hole will and sufficiently covered or fenced off to prevent passengers and cattle from getting or falling into the same." Also part of the agreement was "to remove spoil banks from Spittles Moss thrown up by the digging or to pay for damage occasioned by the spoil banks". Does this imply that the tunnel was at a low level, perhaps a few feet below ground level? Also, did the tunnel go futher to the north, over Spittle Moss before going down to the Ribble? If so, why?
*Probably John Grimshaw who was an attorney in 1768 and owned land near to Davil Meadows, adjoining Marsh lane. Was Mayor in 1782.
I did wonder if the marsh/Ribble end of the pipe might have something to do with the outlet which, it has always been supposed, was associated with Spa baths just above Watery lane.
The Corporation records for 1836 (CBP 1/1) show that the Lancaster Canal Co had to pay a rent of 2s 6d for the Tunnel under a part of the Marsh to their steam engine near the canal in Marsh Lane. This must be related.
Other "probably" useful documents can be accessed at the PRO
RAIL 844/11/15 Ribble Tunnel, design for principal beach - 1805
RAIL 844/11/14 Ribble tunnel. Plan of foundations of engine house - 1805
One of our members, who happens to be a Wyre Ranger for the River Brock, discovered a derelict building by the side of the Brock, between Brock Mill and Brock Bottoms. This building appears on the 1846 Ordnance Survey map but all later maps failed to show it. The discovery was mentioned at a Wyre Archaeology meeting and much discussion ensued. After some consultation with the landowner it was decided to put in a dig to investigate.
On the 1848 6 inch Ordnance Survey map a building appears (to the right of BM 243) but by the 1890's 24 inch series there is no sign. This map also shows the track going behind the cottages - away from the river - with a croft in front of the cottages. Further research, using the tithe map for the area (undated but probably around 1840) also shows the building but also gives a description from the schedule. It seems that area behind the cottages was called "Bathalen Holme" and in front of them 2 houses and croft. The rental value gives the impression that they were run down.
Further research uncovered a couple of estate maps which took the buildings back to, at least, 1800. The cottages are towards the right-hand side of the map - next to the 52.
On the 9th November, 2019, Wyre Archaeology started their investigation of the site. Most of the site had been cleared and the majority of the undergrowth had already died back. The first task was to determine the extent of the cottages which was surprisingly easy to do.
Walls soon appeared. The initial indications seemed to indicate a building with two rooms; possibly with some form of mortared floor. Not surprisingly, in an area that has been popular with walkers, families and campers, a number of finds quickly appeared. Broken glass being the primary find. A completely intact beer beer bottle from Fleetwood (without contents) was discovered.
One interesting find, no doubt left by picnickers, was an easily identifiable knife. Morris' Cafe could be found at 10 Foxhall Road, Blackpool and was run by Frederick Llewellyn Morris. He was at that address in 1901, at the age of 34, but died in 1919 when the business was taken over by his son of the same name. The 1929 Barrett's directory lists it under his name but as the Central Cafe. The cafe continued to as late as 1938 with the implication being that the knife was "liberated" around this date.
More digging took place on the 16th/17th November. In spite of the midges, four enthusiastic members continued the excavation of the South-east corner of the site. Probably the most important find, in terms of dating evidence, was a 1817 George III silver sixpence.
RIBCHESTER – LANCASTER ROMAN ROAD
11 & 12 AUGUST 2019
That the Romans were great road builders is an undisputed fact. Both on the Continent and in Britain, examples can be seen as surviving physical remains and arrow-straight lengths of modern tarmac overlying Roman routes. How Roman engineers laid out those routes has been, and continues to be, a subject of conjecture if not of dispute among many experts; some favouring the opinion that routes were mapped out over considerable distances between significant forts or settlements, whilst others argue that their engineers surveyed over more limited horizons using natural vantage points or temporary structures to take bearings, taking into account natural hazards such as bogs, and obstacles such as steep inclines.
A further point of discussion lies in, or rather around, roadside ditches; major roads generally had two on either side. Were they simply for drainage taking water from the neatly cambered agger, or for traffic control, separating military from civilian road users, horse-drawn from pedestrian, or did they have a more significant purpose? In the absence of any surviving Roman Road Builder’s Manual, no-one can claim to have a definitive answer. An emerging view potentially lends support to the idea that Roman engineers laid out roads over short – admittedly straight – sections and that the ditches, particularly the inner pair, were dug first in order to mark out the line, the spoil contributing to the build-up of the agger.
The roads were essential to the pacification of Britain following the initial conquest and to its later development as the Province of Britannia. Despite a number of more recent studies, the reference point for most investigators is Margary’s Roman Roads of Britain (Margary I D, 1955-7), in which were classified all the then-known or surmised roads in a numerical system which has remained as the most comprehensive gazetteer of Roman road since then.
THE ROMAN ROAD NETWORK
The Roman conquest of the island of Britain began in the south-east in AD 43, the legions over the next 20 years subduing tribes in the south-west, gradually establishing a de facto frontier on a line from the Humber to the Severn. Progress was temporarily halted by Boudicca’s rebellion in AD 60/61 and it wasn’t until the later 60’s that the North began to come under Roman control, with the Brigantes and the Parisii tribes becoming assimilated into the Empire in the early 70’s. The North-West remained a hostile, or at least unsettled territory during this period and even towards the end of the 70’s Roman control was not fully established; the Brigantes and the Selgovae of southern Scotland having to be subdued again in around AD 79, coinciding with the foundation of the major legionary forts at Chester and Lancaster. It’s likely however that these forts were built on or close to the sites of earlier turf and timber forts dating from around AD 71 or possibly earlier, since the fort at Ribchester and the outpost at Kirkham (and possibly Burscough) already existed at this time.
The construction of the Roman road network necessarily followed the progress of the conquest, the roads being built by the military for the purpose of moving troops and supplies between military stations. Therefore it’s likely that the Ribchester - Walton-le-Dale - Lancaster road was constructed sometime between AD 69 - AD 73 and the Ribchester - Catterall - Lancaster ‘link’ road being constructed later, possibly between AD 73 and AD 79.
THE RIBCHESTER – LANCASTER ROMAN ROAD
The route taken by a road from the Roman fort at Ribchester to that at Lancaster had been the subject of speculation and of serious research for close on two centuries. The prevailing view was that the road followed a fairly direct line NNW, over Longridge fell, passing either east or west of Beacon Fell and joining the S-N road near Galgate. The rationale for this was simply that such a direct route must have existed; there were place names along the line (Broadgate, Street, Street Bridge, Stang Yule (probably a misprint for Staney Gate) associated with Roman roads, and there were here and there isolated landscape features that hinted at the possibility of an agger. Despite the lack of any hard physical evidence this route was included in the 1846 First Edition Ordnance Survey map as ‘supposed Roman road’ and was later enshrined in Margary’s 1957 Roman Road bible as Margary 704.
The public access to the Environment Agency’s LiDAR data was the key to disproving this supposition. Roman road researcher David Ratledge had used this technology to locate the route of a number of Roman roads, in some cases proving the OS maps to be incorrect. A significant LiDAR-based discovery was that the Walton-le-Dale to Lancaster road (Margary 70d) did not follow the direct route of the current A6 but at Cabus headed NNW towards Cockerham (in Roman times on the sea) before turning NNE at Ashton and then N just south of the Lancaster fort.
LiDAR imagery now led Ratledge to identify the Ribchester - Lancaster route as running through Longridge and Inglewhite to Catterall where it joined the S-N road. David was able to check out his discovery in the field by visiting accessible points on the route and looking for indications of an agger or cutting typical of Roman road engineers. Ian Milnes, a metal detectorist and associate of David's, using David's published LiDAR projections to identify potential detecting targets had, over several weeks, been detecting at a farm in Claughton near Bilsborrow and had realised that something significant lay under the surface of a particular field. Having gained the farmer's trust, Ian got agreement for Ratledge to visit the site and he, investigating by using a metal probe and small test-pits, was now convinced that the road had been located and suggested to colleagues in Wyre Archaeology that an excavation could put this beyond any doubt.
The detectorist sought and obtained permission from the farmer for a limited excavation once his crop had been harvested and before his winter crop sowing. Accordingly, after a brief site survey that revealed a promising 21 metre-wide scatter of small stones and pebbles across the length of the field, a two day window was proposed as a suitable opportunity to excavate.
The excavation by the Wyre Archaeology team took place over the two days 11 and 12 August 2019. The earlier site survey had identified an appropriate location clear of an overhead HT cable where it was planned to open two trenches at points where it was thought the inner boundary ditches might be located and, subsequently, open a trench across the presumed centre of the agger. Depending on progress a further trench might be opened outside the field in the grass verge bordering the metalled farm track where the track rose to pass over the agger. In the event, having located and opened trenches to expose the ditches, these trenches were simply extended across the full width of the agger.
The field surface was thickly covered in stubble from the recent harvest. Under this stubble was found a distinct stone scatter some 21 metres wide running the entire length of the field corresponding to the line of the road as perceived in the LiDAR image. The topmost plough soil had a depth of between 100 and 150mm.
The two presumed inner boundary ditches were excavated to a depth of approximately 800mm but although in section there appeared to be a distinct fill they did not appear to conform precisely to the expected Roman v-shaped cut and it transpired that the eastern ditch had been truncated by a cut at its northern side to lay a ceramic field drain. On closer inspection it appeared that this had also compromised the eastern surface of the road. The western ditch also contained a semi-cylindrical feature at a depth of 75cm that could have been decayed organic matter – possibly a D-shaped wooden post however this could not be verified and it may be that this ditch had also been compromised by the laying of a drain.
On extending and joining up the 1m-wide ditch trenches, the surviving surface of the road was revealed to be just over 8m wide and comprised of small stones, probably pebbles taken from the nearby River Brock and approximately 20mm -25mm in size. The surface had an obvious camber, rising some 100mm from the edges to the centre. This surface layer was approximately 150mm in depth, although it was apparent that the topmost metalling had been disturbed and dispersed by ploughing over previous centuries. At the centre of the agger a 1m x1m trench was opened and excavated down to what was presumed to be the natural surface in order to reveal the underlying structure of the road.
Beneath the surface layer was a further layer of pebbles of varying sizes from 25mm to 150mm. These in turn were laid on a bed of larger river stones of approximately 200mm in size. Since there was no apparent dark humus layer indicating decayed turf it appeared that this foundation layer had been laid directly on the natural clay which was blue-grey in colour, at a depth of + 800mm beneath the topsoil.
At the conclusion of the excavation, as agreed with the landowner, then trench was closed and backfilled.
The excavation and surrounding area were subject to a thorough metal detecting survey and field walk but there were no significant finds.
The dig was a success in that it achieved the aims set out in the project plan. However in post excavation discussion there have emerged a number of valuable lessons. Firstly more time could have been taken to investigate the boundary ditches more thoroughly, particularly when evidence was found that they had been compromised. Extending the ditches parallel to the line of the road by another 1m may have offered more definite proof that they were the actual ditches and that they had been explored to their full depth. Similarly the 1m sondage at the central point of the agger could have been excavated to a slightly greater depth to satisfy the question of whether the clay surface encountered was indeed the natural. However, on balance, given the limited time slot and the very changeable and sometimes very unpleasant weather the outcome was rewarding. It is hoped that another opportunity will be forthcoming to revisit the site and excavate elsewhere along the line of the road.
That this is the location of the Roman Ribchester-Lancaster link road there can be little doubt. The excavation proved the existence of a road constructed in a method known to be Roman and its line conforms exactly to the route revealed by LiDAR imagery. In the total absence of any contradictory evidence it is well justified to classify this road as Margary 704aa.
EXCAVATION TEAM – WYRE ARCHAEOLOGY
Tom Anderson, Dave Berry, Chris Birkett, Chris Drabble, Mike Edwards, Brenda Evans, David Hampson, Andy Jackson, Darren Meadows, Simon Millward-Hopkins, David Ratledge, Steve Rice
1. Roman road ditches at Red Scar Industrial Estate Preston on Ribchester to Walton-le-Dale road. Google Earth
2. Roman Roads in Lancashire showing location of WA Excavation. D Ratledge
3. LiDAR image of route of Roman road north of River Brock crossing at Matshead, Claughton. D Ratledge
4. Excavation Site. D Ratledge/Roman Roads in Lancashire
5. Trench plan. D Ratledge/D Hampson
6. Eastern Ditch. D Hampson
7. Western Ditch. D Hampson
8. Road surface looking west. D Hampson
9. Drone photo showing road surface, side ditches and central sondage. C Drabble
10. Plan and profile of road surface. C Drabble
11. Section photo/drawing of road structure. C Drabble
Roman Roads in Britain. Vol II. Margary I D, 1957.
Lancashire's Roman Roads, a Lidar Reassessment. David Ratledge, Lancashire & Cheshire Antiquarian Society Transactions Volume 110, 2017.
Romans and Britons in North West England. Shotter D, 2004
REPORT PREPARED BY: D W Hampson & D Ratledge, 3rd November 2019