Exeter University Department of Archaeology & History and the Institute of Heritage Sciences and the Spanish National Research Council in Spain have recently published a ground breaking Lidar based study on the Roman road network of Devon & Cornwall.

Prior to this study, the understanding of the Roman road network in the SW had barely changed since Ivan Margary’s 1967 publication ‘Roman Roads in Britain’ in which he concluded that Exeter was the focus of the road network in South West England. Exeter University’s study has established that instead of Exeter, it was actually North Tawton that was the centre of the road network which radiated out to the tidal estuaries on the north and south coasts of Devon and down into Cornwall.

As well as identifying the key role of North Tawton in the network, utilising Lidar data analysis, the University team have identified an additional 60-70 miles of additional Roman roads to the west of Exeter where very few had previously been recorded, and using predictive modelling, they have identified further possible routes of previously unsuspected Roman roads. This study will radically change the understanding of the South West in the late prehistoric and Roman period. As the report on the study states:

“…further lengths of road are yet to be identified on the ground. Although it could be argued that roads no longer in use and visible as earthworks might be of pre-Roman, or medieval date, the combination of 1) the consistency in construction practice (agger, quarry pits, terracing), 2) the coherency of the road pattern, and 3) in places the stratigraphic relationship with medieval field systems, argues for it being of Roman origin. The network presented here is only that which has been mapped as an archaeological earthwork visible on LiDAR data and, for example, there are gaps between those segments connected by historic tracks, lanes and roads which are likely to have fossilised the Roman route.”

Fitting into these exciting results is the recent discovery of a section of a previously unrecorded and unsuspected Roman road at the proposed business park that forms part of the Sherford new town just to the east of Plymouth. The extensive programme of detailed archaeological investigations that are being undertaken ahead of the construction of the Sherford new town just to the east of Plymouth, has recently discovered a section of a previously unsuspected Roman road. This section of the road which extends across the length of the area towards Plympton demonstrated the construction methods with its crushed slate surface and adjacent drainage points still clearly visible and well-preserved (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-devon-64512968).

At the time of excavation, the road was undated but due to the way it was constructed was thought to be Roman in date. Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating of the soil immediately below the road surface provided a later Iron Age date (300-130BC) date. As these soils pre-date the construction of the road, this dating has been interpreted as being reasonable evidence for the road being of Roman date and probably at the earlier end of the occupation range.

The section of the Roman road excavated at the Business Park is 1.7km to the west of the position od the Roman road in the area predicted by the Exeter University study. The University study predicted that the road would be orientated north-south but the Business Park road is orientated north west -south east. The different orientation could be that the model’s precited route is slightly incorrect or that the road excavated at the Business Park is a previously unsuspected spur off the route identified by the University’s modelling. Whichever explanation is correct, the Sherford Business park excavations have confirmed that the predictive modelling by Exeter University appears to be reasonably accurate and, at least in the Plymouth area, definitely closer enough to inform the research questions of future archaeological investigations relating to the Roman occupation and use of the area.

Rob Bourn, Managing Director of Orion Heritage said,

“Enhancing our understanding of not just Devon, but also Britain’s ancient history, the archaeological work at Sherford continues to be fascinating. We are thrilled to work on these important historic investigations, and hope the findings at Sherford help to encourage everyone to take an interest in local history and the secrets under the soil.”

Orion Heritage has been managing the extensive archaeological investigations that are happening ahead of the construction of the new town on behalf of the Sherford Consortium (Vistry Group and Taylor Wimpey).

Reserved matters permission was sought by Rydon Homes for 26 new homes on land off High Street, Barcombe Cross in Lewes District.

The application was refused on the grounds of the effect of the proposed scheme on the character and appearance of the area. While the reason for refusal was not specifically related to built heritage issues, the site is surrounded on three sides by the Barcombe Cross Conservation Area and so the effect on the character of the conservation area was a significant element of this refusal. The scheme had been allocated in the Lewes District Local plan and outline planning permission for 26 homes had been granted. The scheme was recommended for approval in the committee report but was refused by the Planning Committee.

The primary heritage issue was the effect on the character of the Conservation Area. It was accepted by all parties that the development would have a less than substantial harmful effect on the conservation area but this had been considered to be acceptable, subject to the high quality design of the scheme, when the site was allocated and granted outline consent. The proposed reserved matters scheme was designed in close consultation with the LPA’s planning case officer, Senior Conservation Officer and Landscape officers so as to ensure that the reserved matters scheme was to fit in with the character of the conservation area.

The Inspector concluded that the design of the proposed dwellings would reflect the built heritage and local vernacular which characterise Barcombe Cross. It was accepted that there would be no harm caused to the special interest of the Conservation Area, other than that caused by the loss of an undeveloped field within the setting of the conservation area, as identified as part of the assessment of the outline scheme. He also concluded that the appeal scheme would be respectful of the character, appearance and setting of the Conservation Area, as per the requirements of the local plan policy for the allocation.

Orion Heritage did the archaeological assessment, evaluation trenching and heritage statement for the outline scheme and was the heritage expert witness at the appeal.

Orion’s MD Rob Bourn was the heritage expert witness and the barrister was Richard Turney KC. The archaeological assessment was done by Charlie Willis, Sylvia Lock managed the evaluation trenching and Jan Mathieson and Robin Sheehan did the heritage statement and additional assessment of the Barcombe Cross Conservation Area.