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The Roman Road runs across the foreground of this view, looking south-east.

 

THE ROMAN ROAD

An original, authentic Roman road can be seen running straight across the full width of our Estate. It is known as Batham Gate ('the road to the village of the baths') and gives us a direct and dramatic link with the Roman occupation of Britain which began in 55 BC with the landing of Julius Caesar. 'Veni, vidi, vici' (I came, I saw, I conquered) was Caesar's phrase but back in Rome they were less cool. Britain was then a mysterious, legendary place at the edge of the world - a new world of awesome isolation and uncharted risk' - and Caesar's strikes in 55 and 54 BC set Rome by the ears and increased his reputation as a daring military leader.

When the Romans got firmly established they linked their towns and forts to a splendid system of straight, well- engineered roads so their soldiers and supplies could be moved about easily. These roads were incomparably better than anything seen before (or a thousand years after), and many stayed in use and were incorporated into the modern road network. Many major highways in England follow the lines of the old roads, although often the original construction has long since been wiped out. Many others have been lost through ploughing or building, so an original Roman road such as Batham Gate is comparatively rare.

This is why a long stretch of it, Including the full width across our land, is officially scheduled as an Ancient Monument. On site Batham Gate shows up clearly as a flat, sloping terrace about 20 ft wide, and some 6" below the surface is a layer of small, evenly-sized gravel on a bed of consolidated brown sub-soil. This seems to have been the standard surfacing, as confirmed by the Journal of the Derbyshire Archaeological and Natural History Society Vol. 33 January 1911:

'The road appears as a grass grown ridge or "hump" as the people of the locality call it. It is quite distinct when seen from close quarters though not prominent from a distance. The road is 20 feet wide and does not show any external signs of ditches. It is only slightly raised above the general level of the adiacent land. About three inches below the surface is a layer of small cherry gravel, pieces of which can easily be got out with a pocket knife. The ancient track may be traced across several grass fields and two ploughed fields, in one of the latter the gravel is very plain on the surface and rattles as you walk over it. After twice crossing a narrow lane it strikes the rough ground of Bradwell Moor, here it is not raised and in places is formed by being cut out of the heathery slope and banked up on its outer edge. After reaching a height of 1,451 ft it descends a little to a bleak region where disused lead mines with their great spoil heaps abound, and at the 1,131 ft level the ancient route coincides with the present day road which descends 500 ft in the next mile and thus reaches Bradevell. The latter place is connected by Stretfield Road to the Roman fort Navio at Brough.

There are several other accounts of Batham Gate. The earliest is by a Doctor Jones of Derby, writing as long ago as 1572 about the 'Benefyte of the auncient bathes at Buckstones' (Burton). He said that between there and Burgh (Brough) 'there is a highway forced over the moores, all paved, of such antiquity as no man can expresse, called Bathgate'. Samuel Pegge, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, published an account in 1784 of 'The Roman Roads Ikeneld Street and Bathway' similar to that in the Archaeological Journal. The Bishop of Cloyne mentions it in 'Magna Britannia' in 1817 ('a vivid green streak amongst the heather'), it is recorded in Ivan Margery's standard work 'The Roman Roads of Britain' and on all the Ordnance Survey maps.

The OS 6" map shows Batham Gate across the full width of our Estate, clipping the edge of the earthwork and forming a crossroads with the Portway. The Air Ministry's splendid aerial photo, taken on 16th April 1948, shows all three features. Who used Batham Gate, and where did it lead! Doctor Jones of Derby has answered that: the road linked the important Roman fort at Navio (now called Brough) with the popular spa and recreation centre of Aquae Amemetiae (Burton). You can see these places on the extract from the OS 'Map of Roman Britain', with other identified Roman stations and roads. (Solid lines show that a route is certain; dotted lines show probable routes).

St Annes Well, Buxton which is built on the site of the original Roman Bath

The fort at Navio served as a Roman police-station for the area, being well- placed at a junction of streams and valleys and able to look after the extensive lead- mining industry. It was within a day's march of Ardotalia, near Glossop, and Templeborough as well as Burton. Extensive excavations by teams from Manchester University show that the fort was rebuilt in about the year 158, upon an earlier site, probably due to a revolt by local tribes in 155-158. The new fort was a four-sided and walled enclosure, 336' x 275', with a turret at two corners, the outer walls being about 6' thick with a gateway in the middle of each side.

The most recent excavations show several rebuildings, finishing with an early 4th century half-timbered stone structure. We reproduce a plan of the fort, by courtesy of Manchester University. Four pieces of a large stone inscription, now in Burton Museum, were found during excavation and it tells us who built and garrisoned the fort: 'In honour of the Emperor Titus Oelius Hadrianus Antonius Pius, father of his country, (erected by) the 1st Cohort of Aquitanians under Julius Verus Governor of Britain, and under the direct orders of Capitonius Fuscus Praefect of the Cohort'. So Capitonius Fuscus and his Aquitanians were the earliest people we can name, but it isn't difficult to imagine farmers, traders, tinkers and travellers being thankful for the wide, straight metalled road provided by Roman engineering and using it instead of winding, muddy native tracks.

Trading settlements grew up round most Roman camps and in those days, as now, good communications brought increased prosperity. To the soldiers, Batham Gate must have been a more popular road than the others at Navio. The'Doctor's Gate' road to Ardotalia, another fort, traversed some of England's bleakest moorland bogs at over 1,650 ft above sea level. A march in that direction in a harsh Derbyshire winter would have had the soldiers cursing their bad luck, and the road to Templeborough was little better. But Batham Gate led to the bright lights of Aquae Arnemetiae, one of the two Roman spas in Britain. (The other was Aquae Sulis, at Bath). It led to comfort, leisure and relaxation in the warm mineral waters of the Roman baths, and not far away was an arena for chariot- racing called Roosdyke.

Professor lan Richmond had this to say about Burton in his standard work 'Roman Britain': 'The site was in military occupation on the fringe of the military area. The social pleasures of such spas counted for at least as much as their curative qualities, and they were pleasant resorts for soldiers or officials on leave or for civilians on holiday '. Aquae Amemetiae means 'the waters of Amemetia' - the Goddess of the spring - and her Celtic name translates as 'She who dwells by the sacred grove'. Such groves were a feature of Celtic worship, and we know that a thermal spring garden and a grove of trees were destroyed in 1784 when the 5th Duke of Devonshire built the Crescent at Burton. Even today there is still a 'Grove Hotel' near the ancientsprings. The thermal water comes to the surface through nine springs, all close together, and the main one flows at a regular 2 million litres a day at a comforting 82F This is the famous St. Anne's Well, built directly over one of the original Roman baths as we know from the account given in Whittaker's 'History of Manchester' published in 1773:

'The Roman bagnio at this place was plainly discernable by the ruins, within the present century. The dimensions were then traceable by the eye, and the wall of it was brick still rising about a yard in height upon three sides and covered with a red coat of Roman cement as hard as brick and resembling tiles. The basin was floored with stones and supplied not by any of the springs which feed the present bath immediately above, but by that finer source of water which is now called St. Anne's Well and was then enclosed within it; and this contained the very curious and only remains of the Roman baths in the district so late as the year 1709, when Sir Thomas Delves with a Gothic generosity of spirit destroyed the whole in order to cover the spring with the stone alcove that is over it at present. But about 50 yards to North East of this driving a level from the present bath to the river in 1697 was found an appendage probably to the Roman bagnio; a basin about four yards square but made with sheets of lead which were spread upon large beams of timber and broken ledges all along the borders. This additional bath was replenished from another spring which is about 14 yards from the south side of it called Bingham Well'.

Near the thermal springs is Buxton Museum, whose Roman Room displays plentiful evidence of the Roman occupation. One of the exhibits is a milestone unearthed from a local garden in 1856, giving directions to Navio. The inscription - or what's left of it - reads: '....invested with the power of the Tribune, Consul for the second time, Father of his country, to Anauio 12000 paces'.

The Roman inscription found at Navio, showing who built the fort, (courtesy of Buxton Museum)

It is a pity that the name at the top is missing, but obviously this stone stood beside Batham Gate where it left Burton. The Aquitanians and other garrisons must have passed it with some regret - it meant the end of a pleasant break, a ten-mile slog over the hills and our Estate, and back to military duty. No similar milestone has been found at the Navio end, although there probably was one. It seems the Romans left the area after 350. While they were there both Aquae and Navio were the centres of settled communities, and we leave the Roman period with Professor lan Richmond's cool and balanced view of what life was like under military occupation:

'There the native communities of fell and forest, tied to their flocks and herds, were kept from internecine strife, and it seems their little farms grew and spread. But neither the habit of life nor the economic level of such folk was conducive to an adoption of Roman ways. Their market needs were few and could be met either at tribal fairs or in the settlements for entertainment and trading which grew up around all but the wildest forts. The Pax Romana spelt out an unexciting daily life, Punctuated by many duties to both tribal and central gouemment'.

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