ROMANS (43 – 410)
The Roman advance across southern and central England in 43 and 44AD was swift, reaching a line bounded roughly by the rivers Trent and Severn. After a pause of 3 years they then marched on into the Cheshire Gap and North Wales. In 47AD the Cornovii capitulated either without a fight, or no more than a skirmish near the Wrekin. Similarly in 48AD the Deceangli offered no resistance. But the Ordovices under their leader Caratacus held out for another 30 years, until they were mostly killed in genocide by the Roman forces. Roman administrative boundaries followed the formal tribal boundaries, so the Cornovii area remained as an administrative area, under its new centre at Wroxeter. The huge number of Roman written records, that must have been created, are completely lost. Our knowledge of Roman Britain is derived almost entirely from (1) archaeology (2) applying knowledge of the wider Roman empire to what must have existed in Britain (3) a few written records that survived in Rome. The Whitchurch Heritage Centre includes a Roman display.
The Roman fortified settlements and road system made a lasting influence that persisted into Late Saxon times. But we know little about them, even the roads are known by their Saxon names, there is no knowledge of their Roman names. The section of the A5 from Shrewsbury to Holyhead was built by the Victorians to improve communication with Ireland. In Roman times ‘Watling Street’ veered north from Wroxeter to Chester, with Whitchurch a marching fort, set as a day’s march, halfway between the two. A few Roman finds at Bangor-on-Dee suggest small scale occupation. A considerable number of roof tiles at Holt, suggest that this was a Roman tile-making centre for Chester. A Roman itinerary lists a place called Bovium between Chester and Whitchurch. Some historians identify this with Tilston, and suggest it was a cattle trading post. But the evidence is inconclusive, the archaeological evidence at Tilston could equally fit with another type of way side station. There was an 8-mile watering post – 8 miles being considered the distance that a cart could travel in a day.
Every 12-18 miles were change stations where new horses could be exchanged, or the services of a cartwright or blacksmith obtained. Every 15-18 miles was a ‘Mansio’ where it was possible to sleep the night and get a meal. Every mile was marked by a large and very elaborate milepost – giving a detailed description of who built the road. All of this is lost – nothing remains on the route from Chester to Wroxeter.
The Roman troops in our local area were probably stripped away in 383AD, with the remaining troops and administrators removed from southern Britain in 410AD. Warlike Irish tribes known as the ‘Scoti’ raided north and south Wales in this period. It is not known if their raids included the Cheshire gap. Prior to the Romans leaving they had relocated the Venicones from Fife in Scotland to the former home of the Deceangli in north Wales, to help strengthen its defence. The Venicones were the founders of Gwynedd.
Little certain evidence has been forthcoming of later prehistoric settlement or Roman settlement though possible rectangular and subrectangular enclosure sites of these periods may be represented by cropmark evidence recorded by aerial photography near Pigeon House (Hanmer), south-west of Horseman’s Green, and on Blackhurst Farm, Bettisfield (Maelor South). Iron Age settlement is perhaps indicated by the earthwork remains of a double bank and ditch defending a slight promontary of less than a hectare in Gwernheylod Wood (Overton) overlooking the banks of the Dee. Roman activity is represented by a single coin of early to mid 2nd-century date at Cloy House (Bangor Is-y-coed) and eight coins of late 3rd and early 4th century date from Eglwys Cross (Hanmer) but the nature or extent of settlements in the area at this date is speculative.
Sources: Wrexham History; CPAT.