Rural Settlement in Roman Yorkshire Conference thoughts!!

I attended the above conference at the Milton Rooms in Malton last Saturday, organised by the Roman Antiquities Section of the Yorkshire Archaeologial Society and The Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies (The Roman Society)

It has to be stated that the conference was to some degree spoilt by the woeful quality of the PA system which seemed to consist of a couple of speakers from somebodies old HiFi that couldn’t deal with the output of the amplifier, an amplifier that spent most of the day either on the verge of distortion, or doing a Norman Collier impression by clipping the output,  fronted by what seemed like an oki koki 3000 microphone nicked from a  chidrens karaoke machine with awful frequency response.

Most of the speakers were to some degree affected by the quality of the PA, at least one had their talk ruined in my opinion,  only the predictably loud Dominic Powlesland  abandoned it all together and went vocally commando to do his talk on West Heslerton that replaced the original talk on the Aiskew villa. . Surely it is not beyond the wit of organisations where public speaking is at the core of their function, to either pick a venue with decent sound equipment, or spend a few quid to buy a portable system themselves.

It was encouraging that two of the talks were from amateur groups working in Yorkshire. The Roman Roads project was presented by Mike Haken who came up with some interesting ideas regarding settlement along the major routes, and the Swaledale & Arkenga thdale Archeaology Group(SWAAG) presented an interesting talk on their work in their valley.   Steve Sherlock gave a talk on the A1/Catterick road improvements,  Steve had  that much to talk about that the 30 mins slot was just not enough. Archaeology on another scale!

Prof Martin Millet and Dr Peter Halkon both gave their usual professional and interesting talks about their  work in East Yorkshire.

Dr Pete Wilson gave a talk on behalf of  Dr Martyn Allen on  data syntheses from the national Roman Rural Settlement project, aimed at collating and analysing developer funded projects since the advent of PPG16 legislation around 1990.
Although all of these developer interventions are recorded on the HER, few have been formally published, strangely the cut off point for this work was indicated as being 2004, and seemingly excludes anything that is not developer funded,  which in effect makes the work already 11 years out of date, and incomplete.
This built in obsolescence was exampled when Pete presented a map of the various types of Roman settlement, where the evidence for  the extent of the Roman villa landscape  appeared to be that from pre- 1995 with Holme House at Piercebridge being the only ‘villa’ indicated in the Tees Valley. It does question the validity of the research if the Dalton on Tees  and Quarry Farm ingleby Barwick  villas, both research led investigations, and both on the national monument record since before 2004 are absent.
One would presume if you are calling a data synthesis project Roman Rural Settlement, that it would record all Roman Rural Roman settlement , and not just Roman Rural Settlement that conforms to an abstract project design. The key is in the title, Roman+ Rural + Settlement.
Interesting conference though also bumped into one of my old tutors Professor Jenny Price.

Gone but not Forgotten

Howard Carter

Sockburn Church 1993
Sockburn Church 1993

At a meeting of the Teesside Archaeological Society  in the early 90’s,  I first met Howard Carter,  shortly after  foolishly suggesting  to the committee the idea of a TAS fieldwork group.  Foolish in the sense that my suggestion with lightning speed,    resulted in my  instant  co-opting(pressganging) onto the  committee as fieldwork officer, which would soon ensnare me into a very  polite pressganging into the role of  secretary of the society.

Anyway I digress, as the newly empowered fieldwork officer I stood up at a lecture to call for volunteers.

One of the first people who approached me, and somebody who was a loyal supporter of the project until his death shortly after we completed the excavations at Dalton in 1997 was Howard Carter. With a name like Howard Carter how could he not be interested in archaeology. No he didn’t find the tomb of Tutankhamum,

Howard was a very private man, who was already retired when I met him, I know he worked for HM Customs during his career, but just  like Ted Coles who I talked about recently,  retirement seemed to be just work continuing along a different path. I am also  not really familiar  with the archaeological background of Howard, although if his commitment to our project was any example, he would have been a valuable asset on any site he worked on.  In researching for this essay, it struck me that Howard had worked on every project I had organised.

Once you met Howard  his trademark Tam o Shanter and long beard made him unforgettable. One of our first areas of interest for the fieldwork group was Sockburn which included a group activity to remove the trees and shrubs that were growing in the stone work of the church, slowly breaking it apart.

Another dig was at Newton under Roseberry adjacent to the church wall, and carried out as a result of our first use of the Martin Clark Resistivity meter donated to the group by Robin Daniels of  Cleveland County Archaeology.

This was the Mk 1 resistivity meter meter designed for archaeology, requiring each reading to be manually recovered using manual potentiometer adjustment, in which  took an age to do a couple of dozen readings.  The meter was the result of work by Anthony Clark who wrote about and developed geophysical techniques long before ‘Geophysical’ or ‘Geofizz’ became cool buzzwords. His book ‘Seeing Beneath the Soil’ is still essential reading for those interested in geophysical survey.

The survey did show an exciting looking linear next to the churchyard wall, which on excavation initially looked like a parallel wall,  unfortunately it  turned out to be a ditch filled with stone acting as a soakaway for the boggy ground.

Newton under Roseberry
Newton under Roseberry

Howard was always there to offer advice and the occasional pithy comment, but it was at Dalton on Tees where like Ted Coles he showed his commitment to the archaeology, spending every weekend on site fair weather and foul,  for the whole year we excavated there.  Only towards the very end of the excavation did we lose Howard, who unknown to us had been in the final stages of terminal cancer for some time before succumbing,  yet had continued digging near enough to the end.

Howard and Ted Dalton on Tees 1997
Howard and Ted
Dalton on Tees 1997

One of Howard’s trademarks was a hand held auger from his Customs and Excise days which was used to sample the contents of sacks full of raw materials in traditional cargo ships in the pre container age.  Howard was rarely without this useful tool, and it was kindly donated to me on his passing, something I was using as recently as last weekend.

Jenny Parker

Time Team
Time Team

My fieldwork experience began at the age of 14, excavating with the Basingstoke & District Archaeological & Historical Society. It was then that I developed my interest in later prehistory and my lifelong fascination with the beauty of flint. As an undergraduate I worked for Martin Millet on the site of an Anglo-Saxon hall house at Cowdray’s Down. After coming to the North East I joined the Teesside Archaeological Society, excavating the Roman villa at Dalton-on-Tees and elsewhere in the Tees Valley. Major collaborative projects have included Foxrush Farm Iron Age/Roman site near Kirkleatham with Tees Archaeology and Streethouse Farm alongside Steve Sherlock. I have also taken part in many excavations across the north-east of England such as Catcote, Stewart Park in Middlesbrough, Sedgefield, Binchester and Arbeia and have taken part in several Time Team programmes. It is as a result of working on some of these sites that I am beginning to develop an interest in the archaeology of early industrial processes, particularly salt manufacturing.

I have a Postgraduate diploma in Archaeology from the University of Leeds. Archaeology forms a major part of my life, but I am strictly and unashamedly an amateur archaeologist working instead as a librarian. I was Reference and Local Studies Librarian at Middlesbrough for 25 years and am now working as a college Librarian in St Chad’s College, Durham University.
As a committee member of the Teesside Archaeological Society I edited the society’s Bulletin for 15 years and several other publications. I have also co-authored a couple of local history books about Teesside.

As one of the project managers,  my role alongside Linda Davies is to project design and manage our  rolling excavation programme.

Jenny First Day at Dalton on Tees 1997
Jenny and Sue Stark First Day at Dalton on Tees
Jenny Newsham Grange Farm 2015

Gone but not Forgotten

Ted Coles. Dalton on Tees Ditch 2
Ted Coles.
Dalton on Tees Ditch 2

As well as our current volunteers, I intend from time to time to post a brief bio of amateur archaeologist friends who sadly are no longer with us.

I first met Ted Coles in the   in the mid 1990’s, when I was leading the fieldwork group  of the Teesside Archaeological Society.  Ted on retirement had recently moved into the area from London to be closer to his family.  Ted had worked on a number of big digs in  the London area, and had an eclectic range of interests including the study and recording of stone horse troughs.

Our Roman dig on the villa at Dalton on Tees was the first time we actually worked together, and Ted soon became one of those amateur archaeologists who become indispensible to the project,  We excavated  at Dalton for a full year on weekends right through a pretty cold winter,  and the one certain thing was that fair weather or foul Ted would be on site. One of my defining images of the dig is Ted,  and another stalwart Howard Carter on site with a hard frost on the ground,  moving around wraith  like  in  the  misty low winter  light.

The image I have published above Ted having a session excavating a large ditch 7m wide, and at least 2m deep  at Dalton (we excavated  half of it).  This ditch is part of what appears to be  pre-Roman tripled ditched  hill fort style of defence,  postioned against the steep scarp  down to the river.

This part of the ditch ran  very close and parallel to the gable end of the large ailed building, and our  trench is adjacent to a doorway into the building.  The gable end of the building was rebuilt or reinforced on at least one occasion, presumably its proximity to a large open ditch made the structure inherently unstable.

The surface you can see with the bags and tools on it, is a layer of broken stone roof tiles that  seem from their layout to  have collapsed as part of a roof  structure into the ditch.   In a lower layer there  are  terracotta roof tiles suggesting   at least one re-roofing of the structure. The ditch was well stratified and appears to have slowly been filled up with domestic waste over the occupation period of the site.   Inconveniently time restrictions at the end of the dig meant we never managed to bottom the ditch due to its unexpected size.  We did however recover pottery from the 2nd century all the way through and including late 4th/ early 5th century Huntcliffe ware. On top of the Huntcliffe ware, stratified native style pottery similar to the earlier local Iron Age type was present.

In the late 1990’s work pressure took me away from archaeology, but Ted continued to dig on projects throughout the Tees valley, with  several years  excavating  with  Steve Sherlock at Street House.

In the photo above Ted is about 68, I’m not sure of his exact age when he passed away.  I would imagine he was around about 80 when I bumped into him at Street House a year or so before his death, still digging enthusiastically,  still committed to his archaeology as the guy  I had met shortly after he retired some 15 years earlier.

People like Ted put a whole new perspective on the concept of keeping busy in retirement.  Ted perfectly demonstrated that retirement doesn’t have to be all daytime telly, tea dances and a season ticket to the GP once you pass 65,  and that age really is a state of mind.

Rural Settlement in Roman Yorkshire.

For those of you looking for something to do  with  the nights  drawing  in, there is an interesting all day conference in Malton on  Saturday the 24th October 2015

I am advised by Jill Wilson there are still tickets available for the conference. If anybody is interested  either contact her, and she will send you the editable booking  form I have posted , or if it suits, just cut and paste the one below  into a word document, fill it in and return to her. You then pay the £12 entry for non members on the door, there is also a lunch booking form for those who don’t want to sample the delights of Malton hostelries.

Joint conference sponsored by the Roman Antiquities Section (YAS) and The Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies (The Roman Society) The Milton Rooms, Market Square, Malton YO17 7LX
Saturday 24th October 2015

9.30am Coffee and Registration
10am Dr Martyn Allen – Rural settlement across Roman Yorkshire:
data syntheses from the Roman Rural Settlement project

10.30am Dr Clive Waddington – A neglected frontier: results from preliminary excavations on a high status settlement on the Brigantian-Roman frontier

11am Dr Peter Halkon – Roman impact on the landscape of the Foulness valley and the western escarpment of the Yorkshire Wolds

11.30am Professor Martin Millett – Across Wold and Vale: new evidence for the dynamics of Roman rural settlement

12-1.30 Lunch
1.30pm Dr Steve Sherlock – The Landscape between Cataractonium and Scotch Corner
2pm Ian Roberts – The Other Side of the Vale: The Magnesian Limestone in the Later Iron Age and Roman Period

2.30pm Peter Denison-Edson – Romano-British settlement patterns in Swaledale: answers and questions, with particular reference to 4th-century material culture
3pm Coffee

3.30pm Mike Haken and Hugh Toller – Lines in the landscape: Roman roads and rural settlement
4pm Nansi Rosenburg – The Aiskew Roman villa**
4.30pm Discussion
5pm Conference ends ** title to be confirmed
Tea and coffee will be provided.

Contact: or 01944 738282
Booking Form
Tickets: £12
£10 for Roman Antiquities Section (RAS) and Roman Society members
(Sponsored places are available for the first 10 Roman Society members to book)

Please book…… place/s for the Rural Settlement in Roman Yorkshire Conference
Member: RAS/Roman Society (please delete as appropriate)



I enclose payment of £……
Cheques should be made payable to ‘Roman Antiquities Section’ or payment can be made directly to the RAS account: account number 30992461, sort code 20 48 46 using as the reference your name and adding ‘conf’.
Please return this booking form (along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope or your email address to receive booking confirmation) to:
RAS, Rarey Farm, Weaverthorpe, Malton YO17 8EY

We’ve got the Three Men, now we need a Boat!!

As part of the wider Mid Tees Research Project, we are investigating the river in the area around our research area.

The area in question is some 7 km around the loop, taking in at least three fords, with the purpose of exploring the possibility of a fixed crossing point, and any other underwater structures  in the area. The work will be carried out on an ad hoc basis to suit the participants involved, and dependent on the river conditions.  The normal depth state of the river through the area when it is not in  flood is  in the region of 30cm to 60cm across 60% of the width of the river,  with a single  deeper channel in the general area of 60cm to 1.5m.

There is a major problem getting access to the river especially during the growing season, where we can only dip in and out as the vegetation allows. We are looking for somebody with a rib with an engine that can be carried on the top of a vehicle that is suitable for 3 or 4 people , or a flat bottomed boat with a trailer., who is interested in getting in some river time, whilst taking part in an interesting exercise.  There is a launching ramp  at one end of the area if necessary.

The nature of the work will be to carry out a physical inspection of the river bed, where possible using divers, underwater photography and possible towing a small magnetometer array  behind the boat to pick up magnetic anomalies under the gravels.

I would be grateful if anybody with a boat themselves, or perhaps somebody they know with a boat, who might be interested, could contact me to discuss the matter further at.

email: john.brown@




The Piercebridge Formula Revisited.

When writing the Cades road background for the Pountey’s Bridge post, I noticed in the image provided for me by Rolfe and Bob,  standing in the middle of the river was the person that the archaeological community at the time considered the devil incarnate, to be ridiculed, insulted and generally brushed aside.

That man  is the late Raymond (Ray) Selkirk, author of the Piercebridge Formula and  On The Trail of the Legions.  I never met Ray myself, and although we were both looking for missing Rome in the north east in the late 1990’s, Ray was coming to the end of his amateur archaeological career, whilst I was just beginning mine.  However if I   share anything with Ray Selkirk, it is the same comittment to always challenge the status quo,  especially the cosy world of concensus  archaeology.

Ray Selkirk 1931-2006

So why was this man so reviled by the archaeological establishment?

What was his archaeological crime, was he a north eastern equivalent of Erich von Daniken, touting the theory in his book Chariot of the Gods,  that God was  a spaceman, or was he perhaps the equivalent of those who for religious reasons are committed to the idea that a  fossilised Noah’s Ark is sitting on a hillside in modern Turkey.

Nope!! The archaeological community thought Ray was apparently  far barmier than that, what Ray actually wrote about in the Piercebridge Formula was  the idea that the Romans might have canalised rivers such as the Tees to transport goods upstream to places such as the fort at Piercebridge.

Romans building canals?  Surely not you might say, what a ridiculous idea, who would use rivers and canals for transport purposes?.

Well just about everybody actually!

Of course the Romans did build canals, and the Greeks before them,  why wouldn’t they, they built huge numbers of them.  To suggest that they would not engineer rivers to serve them in Britain if necessary is chutzpah of the highest order, especially from a community that collectively are not exactly known for their engineering prowess.  Yet with one or two big names sticking the knife in,  most just hunkered down to progress their careers by  not making waves, whilst Ray was subject to intellectual evisceration.

Roman and Greek canals.

Of course when it comes to airy fairy waffling on archaeology, the establishment,  including the great and the good who today fill  our TV screens,  take some beating themselves.  With their ‘sites of ritual significance’,  ‘ processional ways’ ,  ‘high status buildings’, high status, this, high status that, ritual this, ritual that. Anybody listening to popular archaeology as defined by the establishment would think the whole population through unrecorded and recorded history was composed of middle to upper middle class types, only living in the equivalent of 5 bedroom detached homes with on-suite facilities, spending all their time when they weren’t doing high status things. building churches, walking from one church to another in their best clothes,  in between praying, sacrificing, and votively offering all sorts of things.

What really was the archaeological crime committed by Ray Selkirk, I would suggest he was on a hiding to nothing by postulating a theory in advance of finding definitive supporting archaeology.  The archaeological community in academia can get away with all sorts of theoretical gobbledegook, but an amateur archaeologist does not have that luxury of independent thought, if they expect  to be taken seriously.   Ray should have known that, and should have tempered his book accordingly, the confidence Ray had in  his idea, which is a perfectly logical area of research in my opinion, became  in the Piercebridge Formula a statement of fact rather than a theory.

What now for the idea of  canalising  rivers such as the Tees.?

For the archaeological establishment any attempt to revisit the idea will be forever linked with Ray Selkirk and avoided like the plague,  probably leaving any future research that might take place to amateur groups.

Well I was told there were no villas in the Tees Valley, until we found one, I was told that all the military activity took place  through  the Dere St corridor, until we found Roman camps and settlements on Cades Road where they weren’t supposed to be. There are apparently no small Roman towns in this area, well watch this space!

When Ray Selkirk wrote the Piercebridge Formula there was only Piercebridge to  support his reasoning,  now we have  a Roman military and civilian landscape along the Tees, from the villas at Dalton on Tees and Ingleby Barwick,  Cades Road at the tidal limit, and adjacent to the tidal limit  we now have Roman camps and  civilian settlement.

Perhaps it is time for the Mid Tees Research Project to revisit  Ray Selkirk’s ideas, to bring  him in from the cold.

Pountey’s Bridge

Pounteys Bridge Investigation

Rolfe Mitchison and Bob Middlemas


( additional Cades Road research by John Brown)

Pountey’s Bridge and the Tees crossing point of Cades road is  the classic chicken and egg scenario.  An enigmatic roman road lost to history needing a crossing point,  and a bridge looking for a road to cross it, put the two together, a touch of imagination and everything is a possiblity.

Pountey’s is but  one manifestation of the name which simply means Pons(bridge) and teys(Tees). Bridge of the Tees.

The earliest name and reference is  circa 1200, and with  Leland failing to mention it in the middle of the 16th century it would seem by his time it had already gone out of common use.  Perhaps a  more accurate  indicator of its demise, can be gleaned from the known  presence of a hermitage on the bridge under the control of the prior of Durham, who made the last appointment to this hermitage in 1426, after which there is no further reference

Hermitage on Pountey’s Bridge

That there was a bridge at Middleton One Row there is no doubt, and  a bridge that seems to pre- date the bridges at Yarm  built by Bishop Skirlaw in about 1400, and the current bridge at Croft also built in the 15th century to replace the  earlier wooden bridge destroyed by floods.   The question is what evidence is there for linking Pountey’s bridge to the Roman period as a crossing point of Cades Road(Margary 80a),  and when was the link made.

Cade’s Road(Margary80a) is named after John Cade of Gainford, an 18th-century antiquarian who in 1785 proposed its existence and possible course from the Humber Estuary northwards to the River Tyne, a distance of about 100 miles (160 km). Although evidence exists for such a road on parts of the proposed route, particularly through North Yorkshire, there is considerable doubt regarding its exact course and where it crossed the Tees. The road’s Roman name is unknown, although Cade referred to it as a continuation of Rycknild Street.

Cades route begins at Brough-on-Humber the site of a ferry, a Roman fort and civilian settlement (Petuaria) alongside a major Celtic settlement. He suggested that it ran northwards through Thorpe le Street and Market Weighton, before gradually turning westwards (possibly following the line of another Roman road) until it reached York (Eboracum). From York it continued northwards, skirting the edge of the Hambleton Hills towards Thornton-le-Street near Thirsk, and then north  just to the west of the massif of the North York Moors.  Approaching the Tees the  12km extant alignment of  hedgelines and country lanes evaporates into thin air just 800m from Fardeanside Ford a crossing point into Newsham in the parish of Egglescliffe one of the principal crossing points of the Tees, even after the building of the road bridges at Croft and Yarm. After crossing the Tees Cades route takes the road north to Sedgefield, Durham, Chester le Street, before finally terminating at Newcastle.

Cades Road looking south from the Tees. The Fardeanside Ford is at the junction of the ploughed field with the hedgline.
Cades Road looking south from the Tees

It is at this point on Cades deliberations, where common sense and logical thinking seem to have left the building, in preference for the if’s, but’s and maybe’s of antiquarian thought.

John Cade was  a  local man from Gainford, and  the area along the 100 mile route he knew  most intimately was where he was now trying to solve a conundrum.   Accepting that he was party to the view that Roman roads were generally straight between given points reflecting the topography of the landscape, logic would have suggested that crossing the adjacent ford, would allow the route to continue in a more or less straight line towards the point where the route becomes  evident in the landscape again at  Sedgefield. The problem for Cade was that a crossing at the ford was not supported by evidence of archaeology, no Roman camp, no earthworks, and perhaps more importantly no clearly defined straight alignment  to the north.

Did Cade therfore jump at Pountey’s bridge as his crossing point?

Well no he didn’t!

Cade didn’t choose Pountey’s because he presumably   knew that in 1785, there were numerous mentions of Pountey’s bridge as being medieval, it was not until the 1820’s, that for the first time the bridge is mentioned as Roman.

Cade also had another candidate, just 2km to the west in the longest  loop of the Tees  that extends some 4.5km from the median line of the river south into the North Riding of Yorkshire lay the ancient site of Sockburn(Soccieburg). A defended ancient site by its name elements, the site  where all the  new Prince Bishops would  formally  enter the county of  Durham, the site of the famous Sockburn Worm legend, an ancient church with Viking hogbacks and Anglo Saxon crossshafts aplenty.  Sockburn, together with maps already ancient by 1785 showed  a road north out of the peninsula joining with the straight road north to Sadberge at Middleton St George.  Cade presumably had enough circumstantial dots in his mind to join them up and neatly  extrapolate the  site at Sockburn back to the Romans.   In doing so Cade forced his alignment 2km to the west of its route through North Yorkshire creating a dogleg.  A single dogleg is perhaps not a problem,  and is common on roman road alignments, the  problem for Cade was that as he approached Sedgefield, he had to force the road back to the East by 2km to return to the alignment in East Park. This diversion created a  double dogleg, with not a pimple in the landscape to justify it, clearly against all the engineering practices common to the laying out of a roman road alignment.

Perhaps we should not be too hard on John Cade, he was after all working without the modern benefits of good maps and aerial photographs., we can perhaps be less generous with those who came later.

To anybody considering field research in archaeology, the logic of Cades double dogleg is a perfect archaeological example of putting two and two together and making five.  However Cades alignment set the baseline of the alignment, which in major part survives to this day. Cades route was subject to criticism within a few years of him  publishing it, but it was nearly 150 years before an alternative alignment at the Tees was suggested by OGS Crawford of the Ordnance Survey.

In the early 1920’s,   probably  based on  100 years of local folklore and surrounding the romanisation of Pountey’s bridge in the 1820’s, OGS Crawford suggested an alternative  alignment. The intervening century had generated  claims of a motte north of Pountey’s being a Roman camp, with  perhaps another Roman camp at Sadberge in the ‘roman’ field, he needed to look no further than Pountey’s Bridge. Without any more actual  evidence than Cade,  he suggested the road continued in a NNW direction and crossed at Pountey’s, before returning to Cades alignment.   Crawford although reducing the dogleg to the west slightly, like Cade did not address  the return dogleg approaching Sedgefield,

Despite the passing of 250 years since Cade, and despite numerous investigations, no evidence of Rome has been found at Sockburn or Pountey’s or on the alignment upto Sedgefield, apart from a few random  finds.

Subsequently Crawfords route, including Pountey’s was adopted wholesale by Margary in his definitive book on Roman roads, but still nobody questioned the bizarre logic of the doglegs, whilst 800m away across a simple ford,  hiding  in plain view was a Roman military site and settlement on the north side of the river, opposite the confirmed southern alignment, and exactly where logical thinking, topography, strategic value and common sense dictated it should be.

Cades Road Alignments
Cades Road Alignments


As the specialised divers in the amateur  Northern Archaeology Group , we led an investigation at the site of Pountey’s Bridge, with the aim of locating any remaining structure, and hopefully dateable artifacts to support the argument that Pountey’s was Roman.

Bob and I first got interested in Pountey’s Bridge in early 1991. This was due to the diligence of a Billingham historian called George Preece, who devoted many hours researching the subject. George told us that the bridge foundations were still visible in the river in 1823, and asked if we could locate them. He had already secured permission from the land owner in advance.

Our first dive was on the 4th May 1991,  when we spent 5 hours searching approximately 100m of river bed. We knew we were in the right area when we found pieces of worked lead, followed by a chisel, then an iron clamp,  clamps of this type were used to hold massive bridge stonework together, the lead was then poured in molten solidifying the joint between the iron clamp and  the stone. The lead would be chipped out with a chisel when the bridge was being dismantled.

Ponteys Bridge stone clamps

Our next dive on the 8th June 1991 produced a second iron clamp, and after digging down 300mm in the gravel bed adjacent to the southern bank, we uncovered the top of a large worked stone. This stone measured 550mm D x 750mm W x 175 mm H. We were happy we had  now located the remains of the southern abutment of Pountey’s Bridge, but were pleasantly surprised to discover that there was another layer of clamped foundation stones underneath this single stone.
Our next job was to find a pier, so we measured out 8m  from the face of the abutment and dug down into the gravel. After digging 450mm down, the stonework of the likely  pier emerged with quite an area of it still intact. The huge stones like the abutment were held together with iron clamps.
Over the next few weeks we completely uncovered the south abutment and found it to be 13.6m  wide  and  15m  deep.

Ponteys Bridge site plan
Ponteys Bridge site plan
Location of Ponteys Bridge south abutment and pier adjacent to Church Lane, Middleton One Row
Location of Ponteys Bridge south abutment and pier adjacent to Church Lane, Middleton One Row

An open day was held in the September 1991, when members of our Northern Archaeology Group and the public, were able to wade across the warm river and observe the foundations, using glass bottom buckets.

Ponteys Bridge 1991 Public Open Day
Ponteys Bridge 1991 Public Open Day

After the open day, Bob and I reluctantly filled the excavations in and the bridge resumed its long sleep.
Bob and I have recovered approximately 5000 Roman coins and artefacts, plus buckets of pottery from the Roman bridge crossing at Piercebridge, in contrast we have not managed to find a single coin, artefact, or shard of pottery at Pountey’s of any period.  This absence of material may  be more a factor of the deep deposits of river gravels 2-3 metres deep across  the Pountey’s crossing site, perhaps in the future  investigating  down to the the bedrock, the secret past of Pountey’s Bridge will probably be found.

The investigation whilst perhaps not confirming  whether the bridge was Roman  not, has perhaps provided additional evidence  supporting a likely medieval date for the bridge . Traditional Roman masonry construction techniques used in   large  structures are  alternating  stretcher courses and header courses,  this has the purpose  of the header courses extending behind the facing stone, locking the stone face of the structure to the  core structure behind, and increasing the stability of the structure as a whole.  However the two courses of masonry exposed in the south abutment of Pountey’s are both stretcher  courses, there is  also  the absence of  Lewis holes in the stones for location and handling the material, also  very unusual though not unknown on a Roman structure.  Pountey’s Bridge was  a mystery,  and to some degree still remains a mystery, although we have perhaps shed some light on the issue.

Rolfe Mitchinson & Bob Middlemas.


Although this site is principally for research conducted by the Mid Tees Research Project, we are happy to publish other unpublished research by other organisations or individuals. If you have a piece of work  gathering dust on your shelves, send us a copy either peer reviewed or not, and we will add it to the archive. It is more important that raw data is made available to other researchers, even if some of the ‘T”s and a few of the ‘I’s remain uncrossed or undotted.

Please send any contributions to: