<< 1 2 3 4 5 >>


Early Indications

Both Roman and Medieval activity were detected in the evaluation trenches, prompting full excavation work, which began late in November 2004 and carried on through the winter months, sometimes in atrocious conditions. Despite the bad weather, evidence soon began to emerge of extensive Roman occupation dating to the early 2nd century AD. This included high-quality Samian-ware* and even wood from two 'V'-shaped ditches which look typically military in design. These were intermingled with evidence of Medieval activity in the form of pits and ditches outlining the burgess plots** which would have backed onto the houses and shops along the Millgate of Medieval Wigan. Significantly the Roman ditches ran in a perpendicular direction to the main road suggesting Millgate may have originated in the Roman period.



These findings gave great hope for further discoveries in the rest of the development area. However, when trenches were opened on the north side of the Civic Centre, opposite the area in the Wiend where previous discoveries had been made, the archaeologists drew a blank. Early photographs of the construction of the Civic Centre, however, gave a good clue as to the reason for this with larger areas being excavated out for its foundations. Trenches were also opened in the area around the bottom of Watkin Street. This was to establish if any archaeology survived relating to the mill which once stood on the banks of the Douglas in that area. This also drew a blank but it demonstrated that the spoil deposited in the late 19th century was much deeper than first thought and the conclusion was that the development would not disturb any archaeology at that depth. Our only hope lay in the area on the other side of Pennington's furniture shop further down Millgate opposite the present Town Hall.



Evaluation trenching in this area soon turned up a Roman hearth. Plans were therefore put forward for a larger scale excavation to be carried out over the next few weeks. When Tom Glover (our chairman) and I visited the site a week or so later, cellared buildings and an early 19th century bread oven had been uncovered on the west side of the site adjacent to the road on Millgate. I was particularly intrigued by a cobbled road complete with pavements, curbing and drains, which had not seen the light of day for over 100 years. However, what Mark Bagwell, the site director, was getting particularly excited about came as a complete surprise to us; square brick tiles piled on top of each other in a fashion which could only mean one thing, a Roman hypocaust***. At this point in time only a few tiles protruded through the mud but there was enough to convince the experts that they had possibly hit on the remains of a Roman bathhouse. There were also indications of a large stone wall in another area of the site which had been robbed out to leave a large foundation trench. These findings changed the whole complexity of the site and fresh negotiations were held with the archaeologists, Wigan Council and Modus, who generously gave an extra six weeks to excavate the whole of the area between the multi-storey car park and Penningtons furniture shop.


* Samian-ware was high quality table-ware imported from the continent and usually decorated with animal hunting scenes.
** Burgess or burgage plots were parcels of land belonging to the freeman or more wealthy residence of the Medieval borough. Typically they were long and narrow with the short end facing onto the street.
*** A hypocaust was the Roman equivalent of under-floor central heating. It consisted of a concrete floor suspended on brick or stone pillars. Hot air from an adjacent furnace room (or stokehole) was forced under the floor between the pillars and up through box flues built into the walls.