Walton Le Dale

Major Settlement and Supply Depot

The major Romano-British settlement at Walton-le-Dale near Preston in Lancashire developed on the north bank of the River Darwen and south of the River Ribble just to the east of the confluence of the two streams. Both of these watercourses were forded a little way upstream of the point where they merged. The settlement has no defensive ditches or banks but was excellently protected by the two rivers, which almost completely enclosed the settlement on all sides, being open to attack only from the east.

Excavations conducted during the 1980’s revealed that a substantial Romano-British settlement was established here sometime during the Hadrianic period. Although no evidence of actual military occupation was uncovered, in the form of identifiable defensive structures or buildings with an obvious military function, the internal layout of the settlement is reminiscent of the interior of a Roman military camp, with ordered streets set out in a grid-like pattern. Evidence suggests that Walton-le-Dale was the scene of substantial industrial development, with many of its workshops producing military equipment. Production continued here until the late Antonine period, after which, many of the industrial portions of the village were given over to warehouses and granaries, and the emphasis shifted from production of military hardware to the storage of materials and foodstuffs.

The road leading north towards Calunium (Lancaster) crossed with another military road running east-west between the forts at Bremetenacum (Ribchester) and Kirkham on the north Bank of the Ribble. The Roman crossroads actually lay about 2 miles north of the Walton-le-Dale settlement at Sharoe Green in Fulwood.

Although not mentioned in the second-century Antonine Itinerary, Walton-le-Dale lies on the course of Iter X, “the route from Glannoventa (Ravenglass, Cumbria) to Mediolanum (Whitchurch, Shropshire)”. This road links the Roman settlement at Coccium (Wigan, Lancashire) to the fort at Bremetenacum (Ribchester, Lancashire), and must have passed through the Romano-British industrial town here.

Over the centuries since the Romans established their military supply depot, the riverside margins of the settlement have been worn away, and a substantial portion of the original occupation area has been lost of the effects of river erosion.

Walton Le Dale had 4 major phases of occupation:

  1. Phase 1 – Late 1st century AD. Features included probable enclosure ditches and large timber buildings on same basic alignment as later phases, although they may predate both the side streets and possibly the main N-S road.
  2. Phase 2 – Late 1st to early/mid 2nd century AD. At least 3 substantial rectangular timber buildings (measuring upto c 25 by 12m), represented by both beam-slots and post-holes, set end on to a main road and separated by side streets. Each had a timber lined well at the end facing the road and the two buildings fully examined contained furnaces in the rear rooms. Traces of other similar buildings have been recorded outside the main area excavated, together with an additional side street and possible back street suggesting an extensive rectangular gridded site layout. Although ‘factory-type’ large-scale industrial activity is suggested by the remains, its nature is still obscure; metallurgy or glass-making seem ruled out by the absence of slag or wastes.
    A probable ‘hiatus’ occurred before Phase 3.
  3. Phase 3 – Mid-2nd to early-3rd century A.D. Main road and street surfaces renewed and road narrowed in width by a drain. All the surfaces are levelled up and another set of buildings constructed, characterised by large rectangular placements of circular post-holes. Five of these buildings were examined. Three measured c21 by 7m; one was 21m by only 3m wide; the fifth was 7m wide but probably only 16m long. Each had three main subdivisions and their short walls faced the main road. These buildings are provisionally interpreted as intended for military stores.
  4. Phase 4 – 3rd/4th century. Badly eroded by post-Roman activity. Remains did not respect earlier site layout. Individual elements of structures survived but no overall building plans were recoverable. Other associated features included large pits and two substantial timber lined wells and a stone lined well.
    Provisional conclusions suggest the site is a military/industrial complex possibly involved in the production and supply of materials and goods to several Roman garrisons in NW England during the late 1st and early 2nd centuries. After this the nature of the site seems to have changed from production to storage and supply of goods, this being represented by the changeover from large ‘factory-type’ production units to the series of probable storage buildings. (6-9)


The Roman Name for Walton-Le-Dale

Walton a common name, often ‘farmstead or village of the Britons’, from OE walh (genitive plural wala) + tün; … Walton-le-Dale Lancs. Waletune 1086 ( DB ), Walton in La Dale 1304. Affix means ‘in the valley’, from OScand. dalr. …” (Mills)

The epic geographical treatise of the second century by Claudius Ptolemaeus describes the entire coastline to the west of Walton le Dale, naming Moricambe Aestuarium (Morcambe Bay) to the north and Portus Setantiorum (Fleetwood, Lancashire) which overlooks the bay, then the rivers Belisama and Seteia, respectively the River Ribble in Lancashire and the River Mersey in Merseyside. The Roman settlement at Walton-le-Dale, then, lay on the Belisama Fluvius.

Knowing the name of the Ribble is no help in discovering the name of the actual settlement on its southern bank, but there is an entry in the difficult seventh-century work the Ravenna Cosmology which is of particular interest. Between the entries for Bremetenacum Veteranorum (Ribchester, Lancashire) and Lagentium (Castleford, West Yorkshire) there is an unidentified town named Pampocalia (R&C#125) which may be attributable to the Walton-le-Dale settlement, but equally, the name may apply to the nearby fort at Kirkham on the Fylde, or any one of at least half a dozen other unnamed Roman sites in north-east England.

Epigraphic and Numismatic Evidence

There are no inscriptions on stone recorded in the R.I.B. for either Walton-le-Dale or nearby Preston.

Most of the coins recovered from this site were unearthed during excavations between 1981-83 (89 coins), while another 6 were recovered during the dig in 1949, and a further 12 are attributed to casual finds. Of all these coins, 5 are illegible, but one of which is almost certainly Flavian. Of the 100 identifiable issues, 33 are Flavian, 31 are Trajanic, 18 are Hadrianic, while the others range from a single unidentified republican silver coin to a copper of Constantius II (Imp. 337-361AD), although there are only 4 coins which may be dated after 222AD.

Map References for Walton Le Dale

NGRef: SD5528
OSMap: LR102

References for Walton Le Dale

  • Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names by A.D. Mills (Oxford 1998);
  • Roman Coins from North-West England by David Shotter (Lancaster 1990) pp.36-40.

Roman Roads near Walton Le Dale

Iter X: ENE (8) to Bremetenacvm (Ribchester, Lancashire) WNW (8) to Kirkham (Lancashire) N (21) to Lancaster (Calunium) (Lancaster, Lancashire) Iter X: S (15) to Coccivm (Wigan, Lancashire)

Sites near Walton Le Dale