Bilsborrow - John Cross School

This site was drawn to our attention by David Ratcliff (http://www.romanroads.org/gazetteer/roman1.htm) who had been using LIDAR images to trace possible Roman roads in Lancashire.  A possible housing development had been mooted on Bilsborrow Lane, Bilsborrow and in the documentation there appeared a proviso regarding a possible Roman road which might go across the site.  Although we didn't have access to that site a continuation of the LIDAR appeared to trace a path over the corner of a playing field belonging to Bilsborrow, John Cross Primary School.  Permission was enthusiastically granted and a survey (performed by Wigan Archaeology Group) of the field was taken.  Although the resistivity plots were inconclusive it was decided that a dig was the only way to prove the existence of the road - one way or another.

The above image shows the projected line of the Roman Road (in red) together with the resistivity survey.

On Sunday, 23rd September, 2018 a 10m x 2m trench was opened.  At the same time the field was swept by metal detector.

Over the next two days the trenches were taken down to natural - unfortunately with no sign of the Roman Road.

On a more positive note, the pupils visited the site and were encouraged to get involved.  By doing this we might have discovered future archaeologists.

Many thanks to the staff and pupils of the school, in particular Liam Reynolds, the headteacher.

And in the End

The Hollowforth site has finally been closed down.  It has been a frustrating but rewarding site and John Grimbaldeston couldn't have been a more welcoming and encouraging host.  Several big digs have been completed along with numerous odd days.  The size of the spoil heap was evidence of the amount of work put into the site and the requirement to hire a digger to reinstate the site gives testimony to this.



So, what have we learnt from the site?  First a great deal about the structure and running of mills.  In particular the complexity of a mill that may have been on the same site for several hundred years; a veritable palimpsest of building styles and ideas.  When we started there was no understanding of mills and their structure; the type of wheels, undershot (which the records showed it to be in this case), overshot or breastshot wheels, the different types of mill stone (with the very hard French burr being one of our discoveries) together with the techniques required for drying the corn and the different types of kiln tiles particularly fascinating.  After all of these positive comments, why was it frustrating?  The main answer being that we couldn't access the portion of the mill nearest the wheel and thus the main workings.  Perhaps, sometime in the future this may become available.

One a more positive note the webmaster found the research into the history of the mill fascinating and this has to a number of discoveries:-

  • the estate maps held at Cheshire Archives for the Woodplumpton (and other) areas from the 1770's onwards of which copies are now to be found in Lancashire Archives.  This has becomes an invaluable resource for local historians.
  • the one mention of a mob emerging from the 1768 riots in Preston which a Hollowforth miller managed to restrain from further destruction.  This has led onto further research on the riots and there will be more on this in a later article.
  • the continuing influence of the manorial system on the area.  Even when the system was breaking down in most areas, John Warren still influenced the district.

Now we move onto new sites.  If any viewers of this site have any interesting possible sites can they please contact the group secretary on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



If you've been to our meetings or have read the newsletter you'll know that we've been working on a potential new project. We're pleased to announce that we have agreement for an investigation of a possible section of the Walton-le-Dale to Lancaster Roman road.

We only have a 'window' of 2-3 days and we hope to mark out and remove turf on Sunday 23 September and complete and backfill on Tuesday 25 September, weather permitting. Owing to the location of the site, we are not able to leave trenches open beyond that time frame.

If you'd like to be involved please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with your contact details as soon as possible as numbers are limited. There is no cost to volunteers and essential kit will be provided.

NB This dig has been completed.  For information regarding our findings go to the "Digs" section of the website.


Roman Ribchester

At the May meeting, Duncan Sayer and Jim Morris from the University of Central Lancaster gave an excellent on their ongoing excavation in Ribchester.  For the last 3 years, staff, students and volunteers have spent 4 weeks uncovering this Roman site.  It seems that an original, wooden fort was built around 75AD, then replaced with a stone one around 125AD.  Prior to this dig it was thought that the fort was abandoned by 350AD but there are indications that aspects of the fort continued after the Roman withdrawal from Britain.

Year 1

Clear the top-soil.  Try to orient the site with previous digs.  Uncover entrance stone.

Year 2

Continue taking down the layers

Year 3

Indications of metal working - probably the gilding of small items.

More excavations took place in the summer of 2019 - which was probably the last year.