Heritage Lottery Fund backs new bid to unlock secrets of Saddleworth's Roman outpost

May 2014.

The Friends of Castleshaw Roman Forts have been awarded a major grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to support its research into the area's Roman history. We have been given 70,100 to carry out a fresh excavation of the site.


Hundreds of schoolchildren and adult volunteers will take part in the dig which is due to begin in July 2014 and is expected to take up to 4 weeks


It's an opportunity to bring history to life for all the youngsters – and the not so young - . taking part. We have called our project 'Redefining Roman Castleshaw' and it's designed to extend and improve understanding of our shared past.


The Friends will work in partnership with the landowner (United Utilities), Castleshaw Centre, professional archaeologists, and Saddleworth Museum to deliver the project. An educational archaeologist will deliver classroom activities and workshops for teachers. Daily site tours, an end of project conference, a leaflet, website updates and other media will be used to relay progress and discoveries. There will be training workshops for volunteers on archaeological techniques, identifying finds and cataloguing. This project will inform future research, presentation and management of the Roman Fort monument so that this fascinating history comes to life.


Castleshaw Roman Fort dates back to Agricola's conquest of the Pennines in the late 1st century AD. Designated as a scheduled monument in 1935, the site was one of the first in the country to be afforded such special protection, and is one of only 180 or so known Roman auxiliary forts and just over 80 fortlets (excluding those along Hadrian's Wall) surviving across the country.

This alone would ensure Castleshaw's considerable importance, but it is the range and preservation of  material which together make it exceptional.  Excavations have so far identified a section of the main trans-Pennine Roman road running between the legionary fortresses at York and Chester; an early example of an unmodified 1st century AD auxiliary fort; a later second century AD fortlet, and an associated civilian settlement (vicus). The presence of all four of these elements at a single site provides an almost unparalleled opportunity to study the development of Roman military infrastructure in the 1st and early 2nd century, as well as learn something of the day-to-day lives of those who lived and died within its shadow.

Unfortunately, the site has suffered considerable disturbance from antiquarian excavations. New techniques and a better understanding of the Roman military in Britain mean that the new project will allow a much better interpretation of the archaeological remains. The lost or poorly reported excavation results from previous digs will be to a great extent recovered by the new project. Finds will be assessed by experts and will be stored and displayed at Saddleworth Museum.

The project will re-excavate old excavation trenches in the northern half of the fort, which were dug during 1907-8 and the late 1950s and 1960s, and for which there is little information. The site of a farmstead adjacent to the eastern defences of the fort will also be investigated.

In the early 1960s Thompson's excavation within the fort revealed a pit full of Prehistoric Beaker pottery dating to the early Bronze Age (c 2000-1500 BC). It is intended to re-excavate and extend this area to see if there are further signs of Prehistoric occupation/activity beneath the Roman fort construction.

Overall, the future vision for Castleshaw will be to provide a stimulating and educational visitor experience for all, bringing Castleshaw's Roman past to life, whilst still preserving the isolation and 'edge of civilisation' feeling, so central to its unique 'sense of place'. The site will provide visitors with a good understanding of life in the Castleshaw Valley during the 1st and 2nd century AD, as well as placing the forts in a wider regional and national context. It will be a focus for education, healthy exercise, recreation and an appreciation of the natural environment and as such, an asset to Oldham, United Utilities, the local community, and the wider public.

Norman Redhead, Archaeological Adviser to the Friends, has commented: “I am really excited about this project as it is nearly 20 years since the last archaeological investigations took place at the site. There are so many questions that remain unanswered about the Roman fort and earlier settlement activity. In the 1980s we did a lot of work on exploring and presenting the smaller fortlet, now we have the opportunity to start doing this for the larger Agricolan fort.”



The Friends of Castleshaw Roman Forts , 2014