Castleford Heritage Trust

Roman Castleford

The Trust would like to thank the West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service for the folowing information.

ROMAN CASTLEFORD - A SUMMARY (August 2018)

Roman Castleford is thought to have originated as the site of a Roman fort established c. AD 71 around which a civilian settlement (a vicus ) developed.   The fort was established at a strategic fording point on the river Aire at the highest point upstream where it was possible to cross & where supplies could be delivered by boat travelling up the east coast to the Humber estuary and then up the river Aire.   The ford is thought to be in the river immediately north of the roundabout on Savile Street / Church Street and is said to have been visible as paving stones in the river bed in the 1920s when the weir was drained.

There is evidence for 2 forts at Castleford.   The first dating from c.AD 71 to c. AD 86 and founded by Petilius Cerealis (governor of Roman Britain, who had been ordered by the Emperor Vespasian to conquer the land of the Brigantes, the tribe occupying much of northern England).   The date of the end of the first fort is known from the date of a Roman coin found on the floor of a building that was then subsequently demolished and the site levelled and cleared by fire.   The fort was occupied by legionaries from the IX legion.

The second fort was then built, possibly immediately after the destruction of the first.   The second fort’s defences have been found (which is not the case with the first fort’s defences) and it covered an area of c.3.4 hectares/8.4 acres encompassing an area that now stretches from Bradley Street in the east to Church Street in the west & from Carlton Street in the south to the northern end of Back Bank Street in the north.   The fort had a defensive V-shaped ditch which was 4m wide and had survived when excavated to a depth of 1.2m.   Originally this was backed by a turf rampart 6m wide that is thought originally to have been about 5m high with a 2m wide fighting platform round its top.   Most of the buildings in the fort were of timber, but some had dwarf stone walls and tiled roofs.

The second fort had a defended annex to its north covering c1.4 ha/3.4 acres from the north of the fort to the river.  This was defended by a bank and ditch.   It is thought to have acted as a defended wharf for the receipt of supplies.  It also contained two possible warehouses as well as the site of the bath-house.   It would also have provided a defended area for troops and goods moving along the road network, to stay overnight without disrupting the fort.

The second fort was deliberately demolished at the end of the 1st century AD, but the bath-house continued in use into the 3rd and 4th centuries.   The civilian settlement is thought to have originated soon after the construction of the first fort.   The full extent is not known but its focus appears to have been the main road leading to the river crossing, with buildings either side of the road south of the fort.   The original buildings were long rectangular wooden ones stretching back from the street frontage.   These were replaced in the early 2nd century and substantial new timber and masonry structures were erected, including a possible tavern which was later replaced by a much larger masonry structure which was possibly a mansio (an official staging post for travellers on Imperial business, where they could stay or change horses).   There was also another large stone building which may have been a market or a temple.   The main knowledge of this area is based on excavations on the west side of this road between what is now Booth Street and Enterprise Way but Beancroft Road is on the line of the Roman road from the south and cremations urns (presumably Roman) were found at the junction with Temple Street in 1880 (which suggests that this area lay outside the vicus).   However, work at Dalton Terrace slightly to the north west in 1997 recorded a ditch with Roman pottery and animal bone, so the southern extent of the vicus may be only slightly further north than Temple Street   Structural remains and Roman pottery have also been seen west of the fort, off West Street and there are reports that part of a mosaic was seen during the excavation of an air raid shelter in the garden of a house near the north western end of Ferrybridge Road during the Second World War, so it is possible that Roman Castleford may have covered a substantial area.   It was certainly of regional significance and finds include imported Samian pottery, continental mortaria (a type of mixing bowl), specialist quern - stones for grinding cereals from Germany, as well as glassware from the Mediterranean.   Amphorae for transporting food such as olive oil from Spain and wine from Gaul have also been found (and can all be seen in the museum).

Castleford is known to have been a regiones.  This is thought to be an administrative centre for lands owned directly by the Emperor.   Other known regiones in Britain were Bath, Carlisle & Ribchester.  It is not known exactly what such a status entailed but presumably there must have been significant administrative buildings of some sort.   Regiones appear to have been administered by military officers of centurion rank.

Castleford’s status is known from the separate finds of 2 metal brooches by metal detectorists.  One is from North Lincolnshire, the other from an unknown find-spot.   Both brooches have lettering saying that the brooch is from the Regio Lagitiensis i.e. it is a brooch from the Regio of Castleford.  The brooches date from the 2nd - 3rd century AD.

Castleford also appears to have been a significant metal-working centre throughout the Roman period.   A large number of fragments for making enamelled metal vessels were recovered from a pit in the first fort (dating c. AD 85-100).   (It has been suggested that Icenian metal-workers may have been forcibly re-settled in Castleford following the revolt by Boudicca.   This is based on the recovery of a number of a particular style of late 1st century brooch from Castleford whereas the vast majority of similar brooches have been found in Norfolk, the heartland of the Iceni.)   An unfinished 2nd century metal brooch was excavated from the civilian settlement south of Booth Street and a large number of spoon mould fragments from the 3rd and 4th century were excavated from an area of what had been the fort but which appears to have been used for industrial activity at this date.  A significant amount of enamelling material was also found in the Dixon Street excavations where large amounts of burnt late 2nd century Samian pottery were also found.   The amount of damaged pottery was such that it was subsequently used as a levelling deposit by the Romans, so it may be a warehouse rather than a shop had caught fire.

In the 3rd century settlement seems to have shifted from the area around the station to the site of the former fort.   In the late 3rd century Castleford was re-defended with a substantial wall surrounded by several parallel ditches.   These are known to have run north-south between Bradley Street and Bank Street, & east-west to the north of Carlton Street   The western side of these defences may have corresponded with a section of a north-south aligned bank which was visible to the west of All Saints’ Church in the early 20th century but has now been removed.

In the 260's the Roman Empire was invaded by barbarians and lost control of parts of Germany to the east of the Rhine and Danube, land that was amongst the most fertile in Europe.   It is thought that the Empire shifted agricultural production to Gaul and Roman Britain to increase food production to supply the legions in Germany.   We know that by the mid-4th century that there were 600 grain ships operating between Germany and Britain.   It may not be coincidental that we see much larger rectangular and sub-rectangular field systems appearing in the 3rd and 4th centuries to the north and south of Castleford (visible on aerial photographs).   The villa at Dalton Parlours near Collingham also dates from this period and had some sort of military connection.   It is likely that cereals produced in the new, intensively farmed agricultural landscape of eastern West Yorkshire, will have been transported by cart to Castleford and stored there for export down the Aire and Humber to the Roman army in Germany.

Ian Sanderson,
Principal Archaeologist

Based on various sources in the West Yorkshire HER