Wilderspool Settlement was a Roman Small Town with industrial functions with extensive bronze, iron and glass working industries, 1st-2nd century; later 3rd/4th century occupation The site was defended by a ditch and wall; no visible remains. The initial Roman settlement at Warrington was probably a mansio or wayside station towards the end of the 1st century AD

The settlement occupied a tongue-like strip of land, on hich ground, 41 feet above O.D., overlooking the plain and above flood-level. It was defended by the river Mersey on the north and by the Cress and Lum brooks on the west and east. It occupied an important strategic position at the head of the tidal portion of the Mersey at the place
where it can be first forded.

The Roman settlement was clearly a walled town with no evidence of a military camp. It probably became established as a mansio, at the ford, then a customs-town and port and finally developed into an industrial town. It was on the Brigantian frontier.

Wilderspool  Wall Defences

The excavations revealed that the Roman town was defended by a wall with an outer ditch, forming an irregularly four-sided figure and enclosing an area of c.3 acres. Only the western side of these defences was fully excavated but the ditch was traced sufficiently to indicate the general plan. The wall was built of local sandstone facing to a core of rubble and clay and was 9-12 feet thick. Large buttress-like bases were found on the west and east sides and identified as ballistaria. There were traces of an angle tower on the rounded NW angle of the defences and, at this angle, a well-made causeway was found with vague indications of a gate. At the south-west angle of the wall, the main Roman road from the south entered the town and the traces of the pillars of a gateway were found. A third smaller gate was found in the west rampart.

A fragment of tile, stamped ‘XXD’ and an amphora sherd with the graffito ‘VV’, found in the excavations of 1895-1905, probably refer to the 20th Legion Devensis and suggest that the defences were constructed by that legion c.50 A.D. Coins found at the settlement range from Mark Anthony to Constantine the Great by comparison with
Roman settlements at Chester and others nearby suggest that, like them, Wilderspool survived until the 5th c., at least. The material in Warrington Museum does not seem to have been authoritatively examined and dated in any publication since the beginning of this century.

Industrial Buildings at Wilderspool Roman Town

Industrial buildings, including clay floors and hearths have been found 250m south of the brewery site in Stockton Heath (Harris and Thacker, 1987, 195). This site was
excavated by May in 1901-4 and, as at the Brewery site, a complex of clay floors, furnaces and pits on either side of the King Street were revealed. From the results
of these excavations the outline plan of just one building can be described. This was built from stone and measured 18.3m long and 8.5m wide, had a veranda on one
side and contained working hearths.

Much of the industrial remains discovered at Wilderspool cannot be directly related to a particular industrial process. However, some industrial processes have been
identified from the archaeological record and these include shaft and bowl furnaces for iron smelting and smithing, and two furnaces complete with crucibles for
producing bronze. A large numbers of iron objects have been recovered, ranging from nails and bolts, to knives, locks, keys and even a carpenter’s plane, and many of these were probably produced onsite.

There is plentiful evidence of pottery production at Wilderspool as kilns with waste fragments of jars, flagons and mortaria were found. The pottery produced at Wilderspool supplied the Roman forts in the immediate region. However, mortaria were produced on a much larger scale and a high proportion of Wilderspool mortaria has been discovered at numerous forts along Hadrian’s Wall.

There was probably production and manufacture in organic materials such as cloth, wood and leather, but none of the sites so far excavated has had suitable conditions
for the survival of such materials.

Temple at Wilderspool Settlement

May also revealed what he thought was a temple to the south of the area he had identified as the fort. The excavation recovered stone walls, a clay floor, a clay
platform and drain, and what led him to interpret this building as a temple was the discovery of a bronze head of Minerva, the stone head of another goddess and a pot
sherd with the face of an owl.

Roman Coins found  at Wilderspool Settlement

Large numbers of Roman coins have been turned-up as casual finds over the years at Wilderspool, confirming the Roman presence here (Watkin 1886, Kendrick 1872). These antiquarians recorded some 23 coins with various provenances ranging from Republican silver issues (2) to silver & copper issues of Commodus (R.I.C. 500?), including 9 of Trajan and 4 of Hadrian both of silver and copper denominations. Many more coins were recovered during extensive excavations conducted by Thomas May between 1895 and 1906, and the results published in five issues of the H.S.L.C. The coins recovered during these investigations numbered 88 identifiable and 23 illegible coins ranging from republican silver (2) to a silver of Septimius Severus, including 37 of Trajan, 16 of Hadrian, 14 of Domitian and 8 of Vespasian. Excavations conducted in 1910 unearthed 14 coins ranging from Trajan (7) to Septimius Severus, and further exploration in the 1930’s recovered a single issue of Florian. Another major excavation in 1966 produced 22 coins, of which three coppers were unidentified and the others ranged from a single republican silver to a copper of Constantine I, along with 5 Trajanic and 4 Domitianic issues. In addition, another 6 casual finds have been recorded, all copper, ranging from Agrippa to Tetricus. In all, 154 coins have been recorded up to 1990, with by far the most falling into the reign of Trajan (96-117AD) who has 60 examples, followed by 33 Domitianic issues (69-96AD) and 25 Hadrianic (117-138AD).

Excavations at Wilderspool Roman Settlement

The first recorded finds from the site of the settlement were made in 1787 when Wilderspool House was built for a Mr. Greenall. The finds included a coin of Domitian but no detailed account survives (s). Later in the 18th the erection of a brewery led to more finds. In 1801 the Old Quay Canal was cut through a corner of the site and
extensive building foundations were found. The architectural debris included capitals and bases of pillars and large, mortised stones. In 1823, finds were made in building a row of cottages through the Roman road and dug in a field near Wilderspool House but found only potsherds.

In 1848, Mathew Lyon and other local enthusiasts excavated sections of the Roman road in the fields south of the settlement. From 1867-72, a large part of the area was quarried for sand and the objects found were recovered by Dr.A.Kendrick and several accounts published by him (b). The majority of the finds were presented to Warrington Museum. A Roman well was found and the stones removed and reerected in a Warrington Park. Among the more interesting finds were a terr-cotta mask, said to be for an actor but possibly a wall-decoration, and the burial of two infant cremations in feeding-bottles or tetinae – possibly of twins as the bottles were left and right-handed. From 1887-94 the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal further mutilated the site. May states that the excavation of the cutting was `without archaeological result’ but, in the same paper, writes of a Castor pot that was found in making this canal.

In 1895 May began a series of excavations in advance of the development of this area for housing, with the aid of Warrington Corporation. These excavations continued until 1905 and were published at irregular intervals as papers in the Transactions of the Lancs. and Chesh. Hist. Soc.

References for Wilderspool

  • Roman Coins from North-West England by David Shotter (Lancaster 1990) pp.41-46.
  • http://www.cheshirearchaeology.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/HTS_Arch_Assess_Warrington.pdf

Map References for Wilderspool

NGRef: SJ6186 OSMap: LR109

Roman Roads near Wilderspool

S (8) to Condate (Northwich, Cheshire) SW (19) to Deva (Chester, Cheshire) Possible road: ENE (15) to Mamvcivm (Manchester, Greater Manchester) S (8) to Nantwich N (13) to Coccivm (Wigan, Lancashire)

Sites near Wilderspool Roman Town