Ogden Water, Calderdale – Roman Road Excavation

Volunteers busy working to uncover the road early on in the excavation. Copyright Pennine Prospects

As part of the Celebrating Our Woodland Heritage project, Chris Atkinson, Woodland Heritage Officer of Pennine Prospects led a community-excavation of a Roman Road site at the Yorkshire Water property of Ogden Water, Calderdale, West Yorkshire. The investigation took place between the 9th and 24th June 2018.

The road site has long been interpreted as representing a route between Manchester and Ilkley (WYAAS PRN: 557 / Margary 270a). However very little work has been undertaken on the road in the area of Ogden Water in recent years, the last few excavations were undertaken in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s. These were located to the north of the excavation discussed here, those of the 1960’s and 70’s were undertaken on the hill slope immediately to the north of this years excavation, whereas those undertaken in the 80’s took place near Denholme Gate. The road was also documented in the 19th century. One such account read:

… the operations of the plough have, within the last two or three years, rendered it (the road) very conspicuous in three fields, about a hundred yards beyond Denholme Gate, on the west side of the turnpike road from Halifax to Keighley … . The road lay about a foot deep, and was formed of large boulder stones, some half a yard square, set very neatly, and so level that the plough passed over the road without obstruction. It was twelve or fourteen feet broad, and scooped out on each side for the passage of the water‘ (John James; 1861).

Excavations in the 60’s and 70’s confirmed the use of local boulder gritstone in its construction. However I have so far been unable to determine whether they excavated the road fully within the area of their trench.

The aim of this excavation was to:

1. Determine how the road was constructed
2. Retrieve datable evidence to determine when the road was constructed
3. Assess what the local environment was like at the time of its construction
4. What impact has the current woodland had on the road

The community excavation uncovered part of the same road surface excavated further to the north in the 60’s and 70’s. The trench measured 15 metres long (east-west) by 2 metres wide (north-south). Its location was determined as a result of historic map regression and a series of geophysical surveys.

The road surface was encountered at the eastern end of the trench. It was clear the full width of the trench lay outside of the excavated area, however it is likely we investigated a half of that surface. The boulder gritstone surface of the road measured approximately 30cm deep, beneath which were a series of sandy and silty layers representative of a hill-wash (material washed down the hill during periods of bad and calm weather). This combined layer measured up to 30cm and overlay a compact silty clay containing degraded sandstone. This layer of material was found across the entirety of the trench and appeared to represent the natural subsoil as there were no artefacts and no charcoal inclusions.

Boulder gritstone surface of the road. The line of rectangular stones represent a later land drain that cuts the road surface. Copyright Pennine Prospects
Photograph detailing a cross-section through the road after half of the surface was removed. Although difficult to see because of the light, there are a series of fine sand and silt layers (dark layer) immediately beneath the surface. These represent the hill-wash deposits. Beneath are natural subsoils. Copyright Pennine Prospects

In terms of calling it a Roman Road … I’m afraid the jury is out for the time being. The simple style of road construction, the absence of any road side ditch and the presence of post-medieval artefacts on the road surface makes it difficult to confirm it as Roman. We did however uncover a number of charcoal fragments immediately beneath the road surface. These will be analysed to determine the wood species and then sent for radiocarbon analysis which will provide us with a date as to when the wood was cut prior to the roads construction.

Two of four drains identified across the trench. The stone built field drain cuts an earlier drainage ditch. Both features appear to be post-medieval in date. Copyright Pennine Prospects

In addition a number of stone lined post-medieval drainage ditches were encountered, one of which cut through the exposed section of road.

To explore the excavation yourself, checkout these 3D Models of the trench created by Courtenay Crichton-Turley (Thank You) of Heeley City Farm, Sheffield:

Celebrating Our Woodland Heritage
by Christopher Atkinson BA (Hons) MA
on Sketchfab

Analysis of environmental samples including charcoal and pollen is ongoing. It is hoped this will all be reported on by December. You will be able to obtain a copy of the report along with reports detailing woodland surveys from the download page.

I would like to thank all of the volunteers including Sheffield’s Young Archaeologist Club for your support, help and great company during the excavations this summer. I hope to meet you all again sometime soon (perhaps next years excavation or woodland survey?).

Thanks too to Yorkshire Water and Calderdale Council for allowing the investigation to go ahead on your land, and to Geoscan Research and the University of Bradford’s School of Archaeological and Forensic Sciences for undertaking the geophysical surveys. Of course, I cannot forget our funders the Heritage Lottery Fund, Yorkshire Water, Green Bank Trust and Newground Together, without your support this investigation and project would not have been possible.


  1. Has there been any progress on determining when the road may have been built. Do you have a map showing the route of the road and the location of the trench sites along the road?

    • Hi There,

      We did obtain a radiocarbon date just before Christmas, from a piece of charcoal found a few centimetres beneath the possible Roman Road surface. The date received was somewhere between 592BC – 409BC. So unfortunately this a long time before the Roman Conquest and leaves me scratching my head some more. I am very tempted to make a return to the site and look at opening up a larger excavation area. Something to look out for! I will email you a copy of the map.

      All the best

  2. I was born in Calderdale in 1931. Have always been aware that there was a Roman road near Blackstone Edge, but never found it. I live in Canada now, since 1956, and am returning to UK for a visit in the middle of May this year. I would like any information about this road so that I can see it for myself. It may be the last chance I get. The Ogden reservoirs, near the Lancashire Border and the Ogden Water area seem to have the same Roman road remains. Is this the road from Manchester to Ilkley ? I am very interested in the excavations done last year. Is it likely the whole road will be exposed at some time in the future ?

    • Hello Betty,
      Thank you for your message. The road at Blackstone Edge is very distinctive, although there is some question as to whether the stretch of road visible is Roman or not. Generally speaking however the section of Roman we investigated at Ogden Water, Calderdale, is thought to represent the Manchester to Ilkley road. As far as the excavation goes, there is currently no plan to return to the road to expose it further. We are currently examining the data of last years excavation and awaiting the results of the environmental analysis and radiocarbon dates to confirm whether the section of road we investigated is indeed Roman. I hope to have the results of this ready for July. If you would like to visit the site, or Blackstone Edge in May and would like company, please feel free to contact me on: Chris.Atkinson@pennineprospects.co.uk

      Best Wishes

      Christopher Atkinson BA (Hons) MA
      Heritage and Landscape Development Manager
      Honorary Visiting Lecturer in SAFS University of Bradford
      Celebrating Our Woodland Heritage
      Pennine Prospects
      Hebden Bridge

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