The Diaries Of Nicholas Blundell
It is possible that the first mention of our site was in the 18th century diaries of Nicholas Blundell of Crosby Hall.On the 28th of September 1721 he stopped in at a Hall close to our site to see Francis Farrer while on a journey to visit his cousin, John Gillibrand at Astley Hall in Chorley. It was here that Farrer showed Nicholas Blundell :‘a place in his ground where ‘tis supposed there formerly stood a small Castle and in taking up the foundation (for that was all as was left of it) he found a large Mugg-Bottle which I suppose held about three gallons, the mouth was large enough for a girl to put her hand into it, it had two large bows as came from the mouth of it, to the belly to carry it by; it was of coarse brown clay and seemed not to be nicely made nor well burned ‘twas so broke in digging it up that I could only judge at the size of it. He also showed me a piece of mugg which seemed to be the bottom of a Quart jug and had stamped upon it, in the inside of the bottom these words in the caracture OF BASSI, it was made of extraordinary good mugg mettle, and was where it was broke as red as the best sealing wax, the outside was not so clear a red, the bottom about the thickness of half a crown, the sides considerably thinner, the bottle an inch thick, he also showed me some pieces of tile which were of a very red colour and of much better mettle than any of our bricks tiles are now made of & very well burned, some were two inches thick & some almost four inch I guess, but were so broken into such small pieces one could not tell how many inches square they were’.
Fast forward three centuries to 2013 and following the discovery of large masonry blocks within Castle Field, there has long been a desire to investigate the site. In order to try and characterise the masonry remains found in the field we carried out a programme of gridded fieldwalking; the results were amazing … Roman pottery everywhere we looked! The pottery was examined by specialists and included coarse Cheshire Plain wares with fine wares including samianware from Gaul (modern day France), Amphorae from Italy and Spain and Black Burnished ware from SE Dorset was found to be a major source of supply to our site. The latest pottery was dated to the 4th century and the whole assemblage seemed to indicate that we have a long-lived fort possibly late 1st century right through to the 4th century and possibly later. Subsequent to the fieldwalking a geophysical magnetometer survey of c. 0.5 ha was undertaken by Dr Mark Adams, assisted by local volunteers, using equipment loaned by Liverpool University. This survey looked at the southern half of Castle Field. Provisional results confirm the presence of substantial stone walls, ditches, enclosures, roads, buildings and pits. Aerial photographs show parts of what appears to be a roughly square or rectangular ditched enclosure with rounded corners, characteristic of a Roman military fort.
In October 2013, a narrow trench was cut to evaluate the site, to determine the character, preservation and dating of the site. The trench was subsequently widened in one area at a concentration of masonry to expose a wider area of structural evidence. A key aim of the evaluation exercise has been to establish the precise nature of the remains, complexity and state of preservation. Trial excavation in 2014 and 2015 has revealed further information on the form of the structures found in 2013. The archaeology appears complex, with pebble surfaces (Roman roads, paths and yards), clay floors, beam-slots for timber buildings, and also hearths for one or more industrial processes, possibly smithing or iron smelting.
One of the most significant results from the evaluation has been the identification of a previously unrecognised late Roman or possibly post-Roman phase of rubble platforms, associated with late 4th century pottery. One intriguing question concerns the place- name – ‘fort in the wood’ – a hybrid Anglo-Saxon/Norse place-name, which may well refer to our site. It raises an intriguing question over the duration of occupation after the formal end of the Roman period in Britain.