full title

The Roman Road from Little Chester to Buxton

Margary Number: 71a

Distance: 31 miles

Heading south-east from Buxton over the limestone uplands is a very well-known and direct Roman road aligned apparently on Little Chester, Derby. It is locally known as “The Street” and on the limestone uplands it has survived extremely well and can be traced as far as Longcliffe near Brassington. Beyond Longcliffe, two suggested options for the route divide. Did the Street turn left for Wirksworth or carry straight-on? A two hundred year old puzzle.

Probably the most recent articles on the two options are those by Wirksworth Archaeology Society and by Adrian Farnsworth & Paula Whirrity. The former are strong protagonists for a route via Wirksworth and the Derwent Valley. The latter suggesting possible options for two direct routes as far as Kirk Ireton. See references at the bottom for further details.

Ivan Margary was more circumspect and hedged his bets somewhat. He described a route via the Derwent valley and hence Wirksworth (he was following the road in the opposite direction). However, he cautioned this with “if a directly aligned road was not made.” His caution was well placed.

We can now be certain that Roman road 71a did indeed follow a direct line to Little Chester. The Lidar evidence is overwhelming and unambiguous. Lidar has now found dozens of roads around the country with no digging required! So the 200 year old puzzle has at last been solved with only a short length around Carsington/Brassington needing the final lidar release to pin it down precisely there. Watch this space.

Almost certainly associated with this road is the lost Roman site of Lutudarum. This is listed next to Derventio (Little Chester) in the Ravenna Cosmography and was probably the country’s major Roman lead mining site. Lead pigs with the stamp of Lutudarum have been found in a wide variety of locations – many in Derbyshire including two at Carsington, four in Sussex and nine near Brough on Humber. Finding the road might go some way to pinning down this elusive site’s location (see later).

 

 

Historic Counties: Derbyshire

Current Counties: Derbyshire

HER: Derbyshire

 

location

 

 

 


Route Map to Carsington Reservoir

The key locations quoted in the description below are shown on this map.

Typical Roman engineering to create such a straight alignment despite having to cross the many side valleys of the main Ecclesbourne Valley. Only a single small deviation at Rakestones-Kirk Ireton was needed.

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route-map

Oblique 3D Lidar Image - Route to Carsington Reservoir

The strategy was clearly to run along the west side of the Ecclesbourne Valley. The oft suggested alternative via the Derwent Valley and Wirksworth would have been considerably longer and crossed much more difficult terrain.

 

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3d-lidar

Lidar Image & Route Map 1

Visible on the west bank, opposite the west gate of the fort are perhaps the beginnings of the road to Buxton. It joins Darley Grove, now a park path, which angles up the slope very Roman like. Did this stretch of Darley Grove make use of the old Roman road?

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map1

Oblique 3D Lidar Images - The Clues

Spotting the road was surprisingly easy and the section from Quarndon Hill (north west of Derby) heading in a straight alignment to Windley, a distance of about 3 miles, was found straightaway. It took another days work of varying the illumination angles in the LiDAR model to tease out the complete route to Carsington. Despite those side valleys it was amazingly direct.

At Carsington the LiDAR currently runs out but the reservoir construction works had revealed significant Roman remains plus there were earlier finds of 2 of those lead pigs stamped Lutudarum. Just north of Carsington reservoir, near Brassington, are numerous old lead mines. It all makes sense.

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clues

Contour Map & OS First Edition Map

Beyond Darley Grove then there is the extensive modern development of Allestree and tracing the road to Quarndon Hill is somewhat speculative. There is an old boundary on the west edge of Allestree Recreation Ground that might be the line. However, short of someone digging up the road in their back garden here we are reliant on (intelligent?) guesswork. For this I used a contour map and the OS First edition mapping. This section is logical but, of course, unproven. Woodlands Road is the logical Roman route up the hill to the high ground of Quarndon Hill, which was obviously the setting out point for the main alignment to Carsington.

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contours

Woodlands Road, Quarndon

We can be confident that Woodlands Road marks the route up the hill to Quarndon, it has all the necessary characteristics.

Images; Google Streetview

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woodlandsroad

Lidar Image & Route Map 2

From Quarndon Hill then the Common marks the line and when the modern road swings off line then the first clues become visible in the fields (see clues above) plus there are plenty of them to dispel any doubt.  

A feature of this road, well the southern half that is, are the number of cuttings. To get a straight alignment, obviously a high Roman priority, then crossing the side valleys of the Ecclesbourne valley necessitated frequent earthworks. The advantage for us nearly 2000 years later is that cuttings survive rather well as they are much harder to plough out. There is an amazing sequence of them between Quarndon Hill and Turnditch.

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map2

Oblique 3D Lidar Image - Spring Carr

This is the first pair of cuttings for crossing the stream at Spring Carr. It appears that on both sides of the stream that there were curving zig-zags to ease the slopes. There is also evidence of direct routes but these appear abandoned/ cut off.

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spring-carr

Oblique 3D Lidar Image - Champion Carr

There are several clues leaving the Common but at Spring carr begins the series of cuttings to negotiate the several side valleys. The most amazing pair are at Champion Carr – twin cuttings for the descent to the stream. The twin cuttings are so spectacular that I make no excuse for having included two images of them (here and below). Another pair of cuttings follow on this fabulous stretch of road.

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lidar

Oblique 3D Lidar Image - Twin Cuttings

One cutting is clearly on the direct line and the second, the curving one, obviously a relief route with reduced gradients. Why two cuttings? Was the original one too steep for those heavy lead pigs coming from the Lutudarum mines?

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double-cuttings

Oblique 3D Lidar Image - Windley

The main alignment seems to have been selected to make use of a natural valley for the ascent from Windley. Even so it appears considerable work was needed to construct the road on side sloping ground. A long revetment would have been needed and this has survived albeit much disturbed now.

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lidar

Lidar Image & Route Map 3

WIndley Valley seems to have been a key target for the alignment.

My guess is the setting out points were Quarndon Hill and the hillock just south of Blind Lane at Winson Farm. The 3D Lidar model indicates they were inter-visible.

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map3

Oblique 3D Lidar Image - Turnditch Hall

We are now approaching the high ground of Turnditch but first passing Turnditch Hall there is stretch of surviving aggers – a rarity so far, no doubt due to ploughing. There is a feature astride the road there but opinion is divided on what it may be.

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Turnditch Hall

Oblique 3D Lidar Image - Ridgeway Brook

We are looking back down the line of the road towards Turnditch. Not as spectacular here but enough clues to follow the route.

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ridgeway brrok

Oblique 3D Lidar Image - Rakestones

It is obvious in this oblique LiDAR view just why the road aimed for this spot at Rakestones. It a natural watershed ridge linking the two high grounds together. There was a small zig-zag in the woods.

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rakestsones

Oblique 3D Lidar Image - Nether Lane, Kirk Ireton

Approaching Kirk Ireton and alongside Nether Lane the Roman line follows the row of trees visible in the field. The road is angling here to return to the main alignment which it re-attains through Kirk Ireton

Google Streetview.

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nether lane

Oblique 3D Lidar Image - Kirk Ireton

After the deviation at Rakestones, the main alignment is regained at Kirk Ireton and continues all the way to the reservoir.

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3D lidar

Oblique 3D Lidar Image - Carsington Reservoir

The last available lidar trace and it is a good one. A very prominent agger heading for what is now a flooded valley of Carsington Reservoir.

During the reservoir construction works significant Roman remains were revealed plus there were earlier finds of 2 of those lead pigs stamped Lutudarum.

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carsington lidar

Lidar Image & Route Map 4

Evident in this map is the section off the main alignment. This was selected to follow that ridge at Rakestones and it returned on line at Kirk Ireton.

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map4

Oblique 3D Lidar Image - Carsington Reservoir North

The evidence for the climb up from the reservoir is very subtle but definite. The route cleverly used a spur of high ground to ease the gradient up to the heights of Carsington Pasture.

 

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3D lidar

Carsington Roman Sites

We can now interpolate the line of the Roman road across the reservoir with reasonable confidence. The location of the various Roman sites recorded in Derbyshire's HER have been added. This would seem to support Carsington as probably the lost site of Lutadarum, one of the country's leading Roman lead production sites. Smelting lead requires water and this site alongside Scow Brook and the road, plus the lead mines on Carsington Pasture, would seem a perfect location.

 

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roman sites

Oblique 3D Lidar Image - Carsington Pasture North

Carsington Pasture is much disturbed by minining over the centuries but enough of the agger survives to confirm the route. A straight alignment was used all the way to Minninglow.

 

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3D lidar

Oblique 3D Lidar Image - Minninglow

There was slight change of direction on the side of Minninglow and we leave the road heading off towards Buxton.

 

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3D lidar

Lidar Image & Route Map 5

The release of further series 2 lidar for the Carsington Pasture area has enabled the road from south of the reservoir to be connected up to the known section north of Longcliffe.

North of the Carsington Reservoir and on Brassington Moor are many old lead mines. Carsington is now the logical site for Lutudarum as it is the nearest site to the mines on the spring line. Water would be essential for processing the lead.

North of Longcliffe the road is well established and shown on modern mapping.

 

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map5

NEW 3D Lidar video from Little Chester to Carsington Reservoir

Make sure quality (setings) is HD 1080p

 

Acknowledgements

Raw LiDAR Data is Copyright Defra and processed using software by Mike Aerts. Mapping is Ordnance Survey Opendata, OS First Edition Map under CC-BY-NC-SA licence and Bing Mapping.

References

The Street; A re-evaluation of the Roman road from Wirksworth to Buxton, Anton Shone & Dean Smart, 2019.

Roman Roads in Britain, I.D. Margary, 1957.

Possible Roman Roads Between Derby and Kirk Ireton - Southern Sections of 'The Street'? Adrian Farnsworth & Paula Whirrity, June 2006.

Little Chester Roman Fort, Derby, Derbyshire, Archaeological Evaluation Report, Oxford Archaeology North, April 2014

Derbyshire HER - the definitive site for all historic sites in the county.

 

   

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Last update: January 2021

© David Ratledge