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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.

  before

  after

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..

Garstang Roman Road

David Ratledge’s long research into Lancashire’s Roman Roads has benefitted much from the increased accessibility of LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) a process that uses laser beams projected from from equipment on an aircraft which then receives the returned ‘echo’ from the surface below. This can reveal features not visible to an observer on the ground and even surfaces hidden under foliage and grass. The application to the search for Roman roads, characterised by a raised agger and side ditches has brought brilliant results. One discovery has been confirmation of the line of the road linking the Roman depot at Walton le Dale to the fort at Lancaster.

This picture looking south from Garstang shows how the line of the road approaches Garstang where it crosses the River Wyre close to the Council car park.  The LiDAR trace of the agger is in the centre of the picture

 

Members of WAG and David Ratledge (on right) conduct an initial visual survey.

One of our members had contacted the owner of a piece of land along the line to ask if she would allow us to firstly survey the field in question and possibly proceed to an excavation.  We were pleased a few weeks later to have assistance from Wigan Archaeological Society in using their GPR (Ground Penetrating Radar) to identify a number of ‘targets’ for excavation and, after submitting a detailed excavation plan and supporting documents, we got the go-ahead for a 4 day BIG DIG from 23 rd to 26 September, at the end of which we were required to return the field to its previous undisturbed state. 

 

 

The image to the right, produced by GPR, shows centre and right the probable road ditches at a depth of 82cms. 

 

 

Our Garstang Big Dig was scheduled for the 4 days 23rd to 26th September and began with fine weather. As planned we opened 2 4m x 3m trenches, each divided lengthwise by a narrow baulk, over the middle and eastern anomalies identified by the Wigan AS GPR.

In both trenches, at around 37cms, we found a layer of cobbles of an average diameter of 15-20mm. These were laid on a bed of sandy clay of a red/orange colour.

The concern was that rather than being parallel, the outer edges of the features in the respective trenches appeared to be converging to the NNW and, more puzzling, when we opened the 3rd planned trench between these first two, there was no evidence of any surface at that depth. Nor was there evidence of ditches bordering the supposed road.

Intermittent showers had proved a handicap, despite having our heavy duty shelter, and it became apparent that the dig would have to be suspended for Monday when heavy rain was forecast. The landowner did allow us to return on Tuesday 27th, albeit with a very depleted but hardy team to backfill part of the trenches and replace turves. She also kindly agreed to our returning the following weekend with a proviso that the field would be returned to its original state by the afternoon of Sunday 2nd October.

 

Over the week, heavy rain proved a real problem as the trenches, despite being covered, acted as sumps into which water drained resulting in the need to bail out before further investigation (above).

VWith the landowner’s permission we opened a 4th trench over the anomaly located closer to the gate inwhich the only feature was a scatter of larger cobbles at a depth of about 1m that were interpreted as natural, possibly glacial in origin. It must be said, however, that this trench was excavated during a period of very heavy rain and that the only way to counter that was to dig out part of the trench to act as a sump. Consequently, the area exposed was limited to about 0.5m square and offered no additional information.

   

After bailing out the main trenches and part backfilling to reduce water influx, it was possible to excavate the eastern extremity of Trench2 and the western end of Trench 1.  In the further excavation of Trench 2 we were able to expose more of the cobbled surface described above. Here, it became apparent that the surface had been subject to damage that had removed part of the edge resulting in an almost 90 degree ‘bite’ out of the surface (above left). On further excavation it was observed that the actual original edge was in fact orientated almost exactly N-S and parallel to the feature in Trench 1(above right). 2m scale laid N-S North at top.

In the western extremity of Trench 1 was revealed at a depth of around 0.8m a layer of larger cobbles of average diameter 30-40mm. Their arrangement was evidently not random and we concluded that this might represent part of the foundation layer for the road structure (below). The depth at which these were found suggests that, when attempting to find the ditches, our excavations have not been sufficiently deep.

Our initial conclusion is that, on circumstantial evidence, the features revealed do suggest that we have confirmed the route of the major N-S Roman road as being on the line identified by David Ratledge.

Our activities, at least when the weather was fine, attracted a lot of attention from local residents who were very keen to learn more about Roman roads and Wyre Archaeology. We were also delighted to have a number of new diggers joining us from Wigan AS, local students and other keen amateurs.

Physical finds were limited to those normally found in farmers’ fields: bits of willow pattern pottery, odd pieces of maybe mediaeval or earlier pot, glass, bone but very oddly no clay pipe fragments. Obviously the former farmers of Garstang were non-smokers.  

One interesting find pictured here from Trench 2 raised questions. Is it or isn’t it a (Roman) sling shot?



 

Burn Hall

The origins of Burn/Bourne go back many centuries. Wyre Archaeology have spent several seasons on the top of Burn Hill looking at different features and uncovered small amounts of iron and Roman age pottery.  Unfortunately these were few and far between and no obvious pattern appeared.

The photo above shows the fragment of mortarium along with a sketch of a complete mortarium.  Thanks to Brian Hughes for these images.

The present thinking, after discussion with Peter Iles, Archaeological advisor for Lancashire, is that the Romans may have had look-out station or touring camp somewhere on Burn Hill - but nothing long lasting.  

In the Domesday Book there is mention of Brune which occupies 2 carucates of land.  The next area mentioned is Rushale (Rossall) so it is likely that Burn and Brune are one and the same.

The farm/hall was built on the lee side of the hill for shelter and it is probable that all habitation was always on this side of the hill - away from our archaeological investigations.  Whilst detecting on the site several medieval coins were found.

The first maps that show Burn were navigational maps produced by Fearon & Eyes in 1737.  Two images are shown below.  The first being a photo of a photocopy of the original.  The second has been colourized and extra information added.  Thank you to Blackpool libraries for this image.

 

The earliest images of the hall were painted by William Lathom in 1817.

 The Edmondson family farmed at Burn Hall/Burn Farm between 1946 and 1975.  Mrs E Edmondson penned the following document covering some of the history of the hall.

 Notes on the Principal Historic Points of Interest of Burn Hall

Prepared by: Mrs E (Emily) Edmondson

Date: 15 January 1975

Burn Hall is Thornton's oldest landmark, reputed to have stood on Burn Hill for at Least 500 years.  Parts of the existing building are thought to go back that long.

Not enough of its history is recorded.  If only John Westby, whose ancestors came to Burn Hall about 1556, had kept a diary like his friend Thomas Tyldesley or there were a few tattered manuscripts left behind.  In his diary Thomas Tyldesley write "Went to Mains Hall to prayers.  Then with Jack Estby to Burn Hall to dinner: stayed 'till four".  That was an entry in his diary for a June day 265 years ago.

The Westbys, Lords of the Manor of Westby in Gisburn in the West Riding of Yorks, which they retained down to a comparitively recent period, obtained possession of the Manor of Mowbreck in the parish of Kirkham at a very remote date and made it their principal residence. (For more about this see Catholic Record Society Vol 15. The Fylde part 1 p.p. 220-222). The family were also Lords of the Manor of Holmes and Driffield in Yorks as well as Burn Hall, Thornton.

John Westby died in 1722 after which the Burn Estate passed to his daughter and coheiress - the wife of Rev. John Bennison.  This London parson ruined himself in an attempt to cultivate his land on a plan laid down by Virgil in his Georgics.

"BFH 1784" over the front door of the Hall stands for Bold Fleetwood Hesketh who restored Burn Hall and in 1794 built Thornton Windmill.  (He lived at Rossall Hall and was uncle of Sir Peter Hesketh Fleetwood who founded Fleetwood).  The Hall came into the hands of the Fleetwood family after Dennison ruined himself.  (For further details see Thornber's History of Blackpool, page 311 seq).

It is worth remembering that for centuries the people who came the Hall knew it only as a lonely outpost in the marshes often surrounded by the sea.  It was admirable for people in hiding and must have sheltered priests on the run in the reformation.  The Jesuit priest, Father Campion, is almost certain to have hidden in Burn Hall and under torture in the Tower in the Tower of London before his execution he gave away the names of Mrs Allan of Rossall Hall and Jack Westby of Burn Hall as people who helped him.  It could have sheltered Rossall born Cardinal William Allen during one of his secret visits to his home county.  It was he who founded Douai College in France to train Catholic priests for the English Mission.

The massive oak beams in some of the rooms bear the stamp of centuries service.  The most interesting room is the old domestic chapel-room.  Once very beautiful.  Its ancient plaster ceiling is embellished with vine leaves, clusters of grapes and acorns.  The room was once oak panelled and the walls lined with oaken wainscot, carved shields, small statues and foliage.  The stone fireplace in this room bears the coat of arms of the Westby family engraved in it and, once above the doorway of the entrance, was the Latin inscription "ELEGI ABJECTUS ESSE IN DOMO DEI MEI, MAGIS QUAM HABITARE IN TABERNACULIS PECCATORUM".  This translated "I would rather be worthless in the house of my God than dwell in the rich house of sinners."  In this chapel room Mass was said and the chapel was in frequent use from the time of Elizabeth I till the death of John Westby in 1772.

Note

Mr R W Edmondson tenanted the property from 1946 until January 1975 and his wife, having taken more than passing interest in it, kindly prepared these notes for ICI's reference, both in considering the future treatment of the building and a longer term reference document.

 

Further to a communication with Mrs A. Stewart (the daughter of Mrs E Edmondson) it seems that part of the ceiling, an old staircase and a coat of arms can now be found in Fleetwood Museum. 

Segment of the ceiling

Crest found within the house.

No date given for the image above but the farm looks in good condition.

 

South facing garden. Is that the sundial (shown on the map) in the middle-right?

 

OS map from the 1890's.

 By the 1970's Burn Hall was derelict.  The next two photographs show the building in a very sorry state, just prior to demolition.

 

Prior to demolition Richard Watson, of the Pilling Historical Society, produced a sketch map showing the different phases of the site together with approximate dimensions.