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Travelling Through History – Where Our Forebears Trod 3

Travelling Through History – Where Our Forebears Trod 3

Having looked at Rykneild Street going South West, I felt it might risk any enthusiast rather hanging in the air if I did not continue the story of the same ancient road in its opposite direction. After all it was the Romans’ major SW to NE route, and it seems rather to have pivoted at Derventio.

According to the plan drawn in 1721 by the antiquary William Stukeley, it seems to have had a sort of bypass around Little Chester (as Derventio ultimately became). Once one had crossed the Derwent, as described last week, one reached the settlement itself by turning immediately north up what is now City Road to enter the Roman small town. But if you wanted to reach Chesterfield, the next settlement on the route, one passed Derventio to the east, along the alignment of the present Mansfield Road.

Essentially, the route went due north along much of what is in part the A61, leaving the County boundary somewhere just NE of Dronfield. From the junction with Old Chester Road, Rykneild Street runs north along what is from the Old Chester Road called Alfreton Road (and Mansfield Road diverges east over the railway line). From there it went through Breadsall village, but its course thence has been utterly lost through the building of the Derby Canal (Little Eaton Arm), the Great Northern Railway line to Heanor and Sir Frank Whittle Way.

But leaving Breadsall, drive between the church and the former school (founded by the philanthropic Harpurs in the Regency period) and you are back on the alignment. From there it runs straight as a die up Moor Lane to the entrance to Breadsall Priory, the original monastic house no doubt founded there for that very reason: ease of communication. From there it backs more to the NNE as Quarry Road and you can follow it from the comfort of your car until the T-junction with Brackley Gate/Cloves Hill. From there the course is barely visible, but is helpfully marked on the 1:25,000 OS map, from which you can tell that Horsley Lodge (where acceptable refreshment may be obtained) sits right by it and one suspects that the drive overlies it to a large extent. Unfortunately, the construction of the golf course around it, without an archaeological assessment, has probably led to the loss of much potential information along with stretches of agger – the bank on which it was pitched – is visible in part in the fields to the north. From Golden Valley to Bottlebrook (which it jinks as it crosses) it follows part of the modern road on the east of Kilburn, helpfully named Rykneild Road until it jinks at the point where Denby Lane goes off to the right, but continues as Ticknall Lane, Rykneild Hill, Station Road and then Street Lane Marehay, right up to the point where the alignment it cut by the modern A38 just west of Ripley.

The course then backed NNW to ascent the ridge to cross the B6374 Upper Hartshay to ascend Bridle Lane across the A610 and up onto Pentrich Common. Pentrich is one of a select few Derbyshire places with a fully British name rather than Anglo-Saxon or Danish. It derives from penn (=hill) and tirch, plural of twrch (=boars), thus Boars’ Hill. On the highest point, just short of Castle Hill (and hence the name) are the vestiges of a Roman fortlet , built as the temporary home of a cohort sized detachment of soldiers probably in the first stages of the conquest of Northern England around 47-50. That it may have found use later is possible, for it must long have been a feature in the landscape to name the accompanying summit.

Descending from there it meets the alignment of the B6013 and runs through Oakerthorpe, Fourlane Ends to Toadhole Furnace where it parts company from the road and proceeds along the hillside below the road until the two re-combine at Higham, where there was once an ancient cross on the alignment. Strettea Lane is another Roman Road (as one might gather from its name) running from Higham eastwards to Stonebroom and Morton.

Just north of Higham the alignment becomes the A61 and runs through the diagnostically named Stretton-in-Shirland. Thence it follows the A61 un-deviatingly, all the way through Clay Cross, Old Tupton, Birdholme and thence across the Hipper (where the discovery of a stone paved causeway was reported in the local paper in 1932) to Chesterfield, Old English caestra (from Latin castrum = fort) + feld (= field). Here there was a fort, in use from around 68 to 120 but later used as a store prior to abandonment, although the civilian vicus around Vicar Lane probably supported a small wayside settlement including a posting station or mansio.

In fact the site of the fort – the famous parish church of St. Mary & All Saints sits within its former enclosure – is now believed to overlie an Iron Age hill fort on this spur of land above the valley of the Rother, crossed by Ryneild Street possibly north of the town presumably via a causeway and ford, although no-one is quite sure. The real problem at Chesterfield is that the Romans appear to have abandoned it relatively early, so that when a new settlement eventually came about, no vestige was left to inform the street pattern, unlike many other places; only the walls of the fort, inside which the church was founded, were probably obvious several hundred years later.

That being so, there emerges a real problem when it comes to following Rykneild Street north out of the town. William Bennet, the antiquarian Bishop of Cloyne, wrote at the beginning of the 19th century,

‘The country people have a tradition of the road going on still further to the north, and that after crossing the Rother near Chesterfield, it proceeded on the east side of that brook, passing on the west of Killamarsh church, and through the parish of Beighton into Yorkshire; but I am more inclined to think the Roman road continued exactly in its old bearing on the west side of the river, leaving Whittington on the left, through West Handley and Ridgeway to the Roman camp on the banks of the Don, while the old Ryknield Street [Sic] proceeds on the east side into Yorkshire.’

Field names including the element ‘street’ have been traced in Brimington, Staveley, Eckington and Mosborough, but a road following the Rother Valley has not to date been securely identified. Bishop Bennet’s suggestion of a route through Ridgeway (with nearby Ford, a diagnostic name for an ancient road) has yet to produce any identifiable alignments on the ground.

Thus, when looking to follow in the feet of our forebears north of Chesterfield, we are either stuck for evidence or spoilt for possible choice of route. Yet by some means Romans could travel just east of Sheffield to Rotherham, where at Templeborough there was another Roman settlement.  From there one travelled NNE to Thorpe Audlin (Yorks.) to join the Lincoln (Lindum) to Castleford (Lagentium) Road from whence one could go NE to York (Eburacum) or continue north to Aldborough (Isurium Brigantium) and Catterick (Cataractonium) to Hadrian’s Wall.

But south and west from Chesterfield to Burton-on-Trent, we are much more sure of the road’s alignment, but on either section, there is much to see and enjoy.

Rykneild can be spelled in many ways. In this article we have followed the author’s spelling. Editor


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