Pennocrucium: Roman Penkridge pt2

Introduction: 2015
This is the second of a series of articles that together will make make-up my undergraduate degree dissertation from back in 1999/2000. The first article dealt with the introductions followed by the location, extent, topography and the origins of Pennocrucium as a place-name. This article will deal with the road system, known and suggested.

Please remember, it is a product of its time: I have not kept track of any advances at the site since 1999, so much more may be known now, and equally the illustrations are now a little dated (I have had to photograph those in the project and dissertation and make them as clear as I can). Penkridge is a little out of the Blog area, however, the places referred to will be known to everyone locally (anyone that has driven from the Gailey island towards Brewood has gone through or past these sites). Finally, I have re-written parts for certain reasons, but ultimately it remains a dissertation – in other words it wasn’t written for the Wyrleyblog audience but to impress the University, so please bear that in mind and I hope some find it of interest.

Communications: The Road System around Pennocrucium
In this section I want to look at the communication system that surrounded the civil and military installations at Pennocrucium. So, after a basic introduction to roads, I want to look at the several known roads (see fig 1b) and the several ‘possible’ roads in the area. After, a brief comparison will also be made between the settlement at Pennocrucium and that at Wall (Letocetum, near Lichfield); Wall was the neighbouring settlement, around 15 miles to the east, which also grew-up around a road junction – in this case Watling St and Icknield St.

Fig 1b: Roman Penkridge in the modern landscape.

Fig 1b: Roman Penkridge in the modern landscape, remember to click on the photos to enlarge.

The writings of Siculus Flaccus, a surveyor around the time of the emperor Trajan (AD98 – 117), described how the course of a road would be dictated by the local geographical and topographical features; surveying was also dictated by the distance one could see, so high points were often used – meaning that Pennocrucium could likely have been a surveying point even before the settlement or fort was established.

Flaccus went on to give three general classifications for roads: public, local and private. Public roads, built at state expense, often were military in origin and military built, although not always. They often carried the name of those that ordered their construction, like the famous Appian Way for example – named after the censor, Appius Claudius Caecus. Military roads would be up-kept from military funds, other roads may levy rates from local landowners or those living beside the road.

Local roads often connected with and between public roads. Construction was often ordered by a more local administrator and local landowners would be expected to contribute and help maintain them. Finally, there were private roads. These were built by private individuals to service a specific need (on private estates, for example), but could be opened up to the public if they so allowed. I suppose ‘hollow-ways’ needed to be added to this, which are simply depressions in the ground created by constant use although military ones could be flanked by ditches.

The actual construction, as in the width of the road and materials used, would vary depending on the type of road, the terrain and the materials available. The simplest construction would be compacted earth or clay; the next level up would be the use of a gravel surface to act as some metalling.

By the time we get to the military roads we are looking at a high level of sophistication. Trees would be cleared for some distance from the road to reduce risk of an ambush (it may also supply construction materials). One or more sets of ditches would be dug either side in order to provide ballast and drainage for the road – possibly also to demarcate the ‘official’ roadway. The roadway would require the excavation of a trench to a level of bedrock or something that would give a firm foundation – a wooden platform may be used if the ground is wet or unstable. The road was then built up with successive layers of stone, gravel, sand and possibly wood. The top was given a pavement surface of smooth stones. The road was cambered to assist with the drainage of rain water. Kerb stones were also added.

ca. 1970-1994, Blackstone Edge, Rishworth Moor, Greater Manchester, England, UK --- A surviving paved Roman road, England, ca. 1970-1994. --- Image by © Robert Estall/CORBIS

Blackstone Edge, Greater Manchester, England — A surviving paved Roman road. Image by © Robert Estall/CORBIS

So what of the roads around Pennocrucium? I have crudely amended the OS map to colour-code the known roads within the area. I have also added some routes in red dotted lines, which are hypothetical extensions of the known routes as they may have been prior to the construction of the settlement and a possible link to Whiston’s proposed Ackbury Heath road. Finally, a box is marked to show the location of Whiston’s proposed Water Eaton route (see fig 1c).

Fig 1c: Colour-coded roads and suggested roads around Pennocrucium. Ford after OS Landranger Map

Fig 1c: Colour-coded roads and suggested roads around Pennocrucium.

Our first road, marked in orange, is Watling St – the current A5 road. The Roman name for Watling St is unknown, so the name today derives from an Old English word for St Albans and the people that lived their after the Roman withdrawal (Waetlingaceaster). The road, it is strongly mooted, was an established trading route from Ireland, through North Wales, England to France even before the Roman arrival – or at least parts of the route. This may have influenced the Roman decision to advance the XIVth legion along it after the Claudian invasion of AD43.

Whatever the full truth, it was under the Roman military and within a few years of the initial invasion that the road became the established north-east- south-west super-highway. The route became one of the supply lines during the Caractican campaign into Wales in the prior to AD51, then to the military garrisons and later civil settlements at Wroxeter and then, after AD88, at Chester.

Watling St - through the settlement site, across the River Penk to where the Chester Rd once split. WA Baker 1970.

Watling St – through the settlement site, across the River Penk to where the Chester Rd once split. WA Baker 1970.

Watling Street was a public, metalled road, surveyed and built by the military. There was also once a Roman bridge that spanned the gap over the River Penk, but all trace of this has now gone. It is interesting to note that only the settlement and the Watling St fort (fig 5: D) are aligned with Watling St, and all of the marching camps and the other forts are to the north of it at not aligned to it.

The second identified road (yellow, fig 1c) splits from Watling St to the west of Pennocrucium at an angle of 45 degrees and is recognised to head north-west via Whitchurch, Shropshire (Mediolanum) to Chester (Deva). Until around AD88, the XXth legion were based at Wroxeter, after which, it was moved north to Chester to replace the IInd legion. The ‘Chester’ road must surely have been constructed before AD88 to help supply the legion from the south, as the only other significant route, it appears, would have been via Wroxeter.

After AD88, this would have become a more significant branch than the original course of Watling St as Wroxeter declined in military value, although not as a settlement. Again, this must have been a public, military road.  Nothing of the junction with Watling St is visible from the ground, but the road can just be made out on the original photograph, if not the scanned copy above. The closest feature to this road is the Stretton fort, although it is not aligned with it and is not directly adjacent to it.

The third route (fig 1c, green) appears to have started from the south gate at Pennocrucium; however, as it hasn’t been traced on the ground for a couple of miles, this road could have joined Watling St at any point between Stretton and Water Eaton and was later diverted into the newly founded settlement site. If, however, its path is traced it would have touched Watling St around the point where the Watling St fort was located (Fig 5:D), indicating a possible connection.

The Staffordshire Sites and Monuments Record claim that the road is not in fact traceable on the ground until it has crossed the River Penk south of Somerford Hall (see fig 1b), after which it is betrayed by metalling and hedge alignment that mark its path through Brewood Park Farm. The road then re-crosses the Penk and is eventually lost on the outskirts of Wolverhampton. The likely outcome for this road is Greensforge, South Staffordshire. Again, this would appear to be another significant public, and likely military, road.

Greensforge is a site that appears to be another hub for a Roman road system, where cropmarks give light to several camps and forts that possibly date from the Claudian era (Welfare & Swan, 1995, p170-173). Although a settlement has not been positively identified at Greensforge (excavations have been small and remain unpublished [in 1999]) , one is likely. Greesforge, along with the salt producing settlement at Droitwich (Salinae)  and Worcester, were en route to the legionary base at Gloucester (Glevvm).

Greensforge (Frere

The Nerovian/Flavian Fort and Annex at Greensforge (Frere)

Route four (fig 1c, blue) seems to split from the ‘Greensforge’ route at Clay Gates, around a quarter of a mile south of the settlement. The Staffordshire Sites and Monuments Record claims, from Clay Gates, hedgerows, aggregate and stone seem to trace an alignment through Crateford, Standeford and Slade Heath to Featherstone. It is then lost.

Returning to Clay Gates, the north-west bend of the current road and the hedge alignment may suggest that originally this road continued on its course towards Watling St, only later being diverted into the new settlement (see red dotted lines, fig 1c). If this is correct, then it would have met Watling St between the River Penk and the settlement site and if the direct course is taken it would, in fact, have crossed Watling St almost exactly in alignment with the Roman fort at Stretton – and so there may have been a connection here.

Terminology such as aggregate and stone would indicate that this road was another one of considerable status, again likely a public one. The destination of this road is conjecture, but in all likelihood it is probably connected with the fort at Metchley (the site of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Edgbaston in Birmingham) and possibly further to the Lunt fort at Coventry.

Now we turn to the ‘possible’ roads. The Eaton House roads are particularly interesting (see fig 1c, fig 5 and fig 6). In 1961, aerial photographs taken by Arnold Baker suggested a road (twin parallel ditches around 8m apart), leading from opposite Eaton House and running for some 170m in a north-westerly direction (Whiston, Keele Archaeology Group Newsletter, March 1965). There was some evidence too of a north-east branch, which would make the site of the house a larger road junction (see fig 5: V)

The cropmarks and roads around Pennocrucium (after Oldfield 1981)

Fig 5: The cropmarks and roads around Pennocrucium
(after Oldfield 1981)

Whiston made several site visits to the area as a whole between 1961 and 1964. His findings on the Eaton House road were, however, to be inconclusive; he found no further evidence in a northern or southern direction. Saying that, Welfare and Swan (Roman Camps in England, Royal Commission of Historic Monuments of England, p179) do have a further extension, on the same alignment, a couple of fields away – which I have transposed onto the Oldfield plan above (fig 5: V)

Fig 6a: Whiston's 1961 drawing of the possible road at Water Eaton - showing the site of Kinvaston fort and the Rowley Tumulus. (JW Whiston)

Fig 6a: Whiston’s 1961 drawing of the possible road at Water Eaton – showing the site of Kinvaston fort and the Rowley Tumulus.
(JW Whiston)

It is interesting to note that if the cropmark in the field (see fig 5:v and 6b) were extended in its north-west direction, it would have crossed the River Penk at the point where there was, prior to 1963, a footbridge and then continued to the site of the Rowley Hill tumulus. It doesn’t align with the Kinvaston fort.

Fig 6a: Whiston's 1961 drawing of the possible road at Water Eaton. (JW Whiston)

Fig 6b: Whiston’s 1961 drawing of the possible road at Water Eaton.
(JW Whiston)

Alarm bells do ring. It is easy to dismiss it as a modern farm-track, especially as it leads from opposite the house, but the fact it may have earlier roots, from prehistory even, cannot be ignored – especially as it seems to cross later field boundaries. It may have been a prehistoric route that led to the tumulus, a Roman hollow-way that headed towards Kinvaston or a medieval farmer’s daily grind to his field.

There is the conspicuous absence of a route that leads from Pennocrucium to the north-east. The slight evidence indicates a possible split in the road with one branch heading towards the Kinvaston fort. The destination of the other suggested branch is pure guesswork – it could have headed towards the villa site at Acton Trussell for example.

One would expect that Engleston villa (see fig 5) was in some way connected to the local road network, either by a proper paved road or one of compacted earth and gravel. Aerial photographs, again supplied by Arnold Baker in 1961, offered evidence of a possible road at Ackbury Heath; Ackbury Heath is three miles south-west of Pennocrucium (see fig 7).

The possible road at Ackbury Heath, as sketched by Whiston in 1961.

Fig 7: The possible road at Ackbury Heath, as sketched by Whiston in 1961.

Once again, this was followed-up by JW Whiston (Whiston, 1965) . Like Eaton House, he could not support it with ground evidence, but suggested its position indicated a possible link between Pennocrucium and Wall Town, a Nerovian fort near Cleobury Mortimer.  Speculation as this is, if the Eaton House roads are accepted then this is the only direction that lacks a road link from the settlement and, if the route were plotted, it is probable that its course would take it close to the villa site creating that connection to the settlement.

It is interesting to note, in support of the road, that if the route were charted it would intersect Watling St at around the point that the Stretton – Metchley road would have done. Further, see Oldfield (fig 5), the hedge alignment (field boundary) leading from the villa site towards Watling St may also be indicative of the position of this former road (or just one from the villa), which may continue across the Watling St as the current minor route that leads into Water Eaton.

That really concludes the road system around Pennocrucium. I willingly concede that most of what has been raised here is conjecture, but equally there is evidence, however slight at the moment, of a larger road network than originally thought.

Pennocrucium: A Brief Comparison with Wall (Letocetum)
As a ‘road’ settlement, which is discussed more fully later, it would be beneficial at this point to make a brief comparison between Pennocrucium and the neighbouring settlement at Wall (see fig 8).

The road settlement site at Wall (DOE)

Fig 8: The road settlement site at Wall: it has many similarities with Pennocrucium although Webster feels it never achieved the same size. (DOE)

At first glance there are some obvious similarities between the two sites rather than just the settlements: both sites have identified mid-1st century forts adjacent to them, both have several identified camps dotted around them and Wall may also have had a vexilliation fort like the one at Kinvaston (Welfare & Swan, 1995, p170-180). Further, within a mile of Pennocrucium there is Engleston villa. A villa is really an ambiguous label given to large, rural buildings in which farming may take place (Percival, 1981, p13); Wall on the other hand has what Webster calls a ‘Roman farmstead’ (DOE guidebook, 1983).

Moving on to the settlements, both of course sit astride Watling St, although the road takes a turn within the settlement at Wall. This is nothing new, the site at Mancetter also stood astride Watling St and the Military Way ran through forts like Housesteads on Hadrian’s Wall.

After the road, the most obvious feature is the extensive 2nd/3rd century ditch systems that surround them. To me, the most striking feature is the size. If the scales marked are accurate, then Pennocrucium (see fig 5) is around 236.4m by 181.8m – giving an overall area, take from the outer most ditch, of some 42977.5m (sq). Wall is some 233.3m by 183.3m, giving an overall area of some 42763.9m (sq). This, to me, suggests that both were constructed to a set ideal.

Wall has been excavated the more fully of the two and also has an identified bath-house and mansio. If the two settlements are of equal size and have similar attached ‘farmsteads’, it begs the question, should we not expect Pennocrucium to have a bath-house and mansio? Webster feels not; his words echo, perhaps a little too closely, the passage already quoted from the Victoria County History of 1908: that Pennocrucium was ‘probably a mutation, where only the necessary stable accommodation was provided for the use of the government postal routes’ (Webster, 1983, p3).

Only at present is one forced to accept this, as nothing remains above ground and so little investigation has been done to suggest that Pennocrucium had the same amenities. Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence, of course: the mansio and bath-house at Wall were outside of the later defences – I suppose, at Pennocrucium, the villa, which had a bath-house, could have supplied the same amenities.

Part 3 coming soon – this part is dedicated to Dr Stanley Ireland, a tutor from my degree days.

My thanks to:
Bedoyere, G 1993 Roman Towns in Britain, London, Batsford
Burke, J 1983 Roman England, London, Guild
Chevallier, R 1976 Roman Roads, London, Batsford
Hoskins, WG 1977 The Making of the English Landscape, London, BCA
Lynam, C(ed) 1908 VCH vol 1, Oxford, OUP
Percival, J 1981 The Roman Villa, London, Batsford
Rivet & Smith 1982 Place-Names of Roman Britain, London, Batsford
St Joseph, JK 1956 Birmingham Archaological Society Transactions vol 74
Taylor, C 1983 Village and Farmstead, London, George Philip
Wacher, J 1976 Towns of Roman Britain, London, BCA
Webster, G 1983 The Roman Site at Wall, London, HMSO
Whiston, JW 1965 Water Eaton and Ackbury Heath, Keele Arch Group Newsletter, March 1965

Ordnance Survey
Chris Wardle, SMR for Staffordshire County Council (2000)
WA Baker
Robert Estall/CORBIS
National Monuments Record

and Siculus Flaccus 🙂

  1. […] Pennocrucium: Roman Penkridge pt2 […]

  2. dave says:

    I am looking forward to the next part thanks

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