Farndon Local History Pages

Farndon Archaeology and Exploration

Townfield Lane Roman Fortlet excavation

Townfield Lane Roman Fortlet excavation

The site

Following on from the survey project of the Roman Legionary Tile and Pottery works in 2018, research continued into the surrounding area in the hope that previously undiscovered sites may come to light. In 2021 Chris Matthews of Archaeological Survey West, who had carried out the survey of the tile works in 2017/18, announced,

We have been busy researching for a project we started in Farndon Cheshire, very close to the Holt Roman Tile Works (we surveyed in 2018). The assumption is that it’s Roman, but we are hoping for something more definitive. We aim to make sense of a small rectangular bank and ditch enclosure near Farndon. So far we have been modelling LiDAR data and combining it with a small magnetic survey we undertook last month. There is more to do and more methods to try but so far so good!
Chris Matthews, Archaeological Survey West, 12 Nov 2021

Townfield Lane site - LiDAR
The rectangular crop mark to the left of the fish farm.
Townfield Lane site - LiDAR - note the medieval ridge and furrow traversing the site and is clearly evident elsewhere on both sides of the river
Townfield Lane site - LiDAR
Townfield Lane site - LiDAR
Townfield Lane site - geophys
Townfield Lane site -
LiDAR comparison
Tile works site on the left bank beyond Holt, and the Townfield Lane site in the field at the centre top, within the river loop, to the left of the fish farm (photo: Webaviation)
Tile works site in the foreground, and the Townfield Lane site in the field at the centre top within the river loop, to the left of the fish farm (photo: Carwyn Rhys Jones)

The Townfield Lane site at ground level (pic: Chris Matthews)

After assessing the site during early 2022, there was a further announcement,
We are launching a cross border archaeology project for the communities of Holt & Farndon, giving people the chance to discover and get hands on with their local history. Come and browse the project information and listen to the key talks at either 11am or 3pm by our project team. The open day will be held on the 2nd of July between two venues, the first is Farndon Memorial hall between 10:00 and 12:00. We will then move the display to the Kenyon Hall in Holt between 14:00 and 16:00 (where we will repeat the talk). The excavation is set to start on September the 10th for 10 days and will look at part of Holt & Farndon’s Roman past, by investigating a mysterious playing card shaped enclosure near Townfield lane. It is believed this enclosure may be a Roman military fort linked to the tile and pottery works at Holt.
Chris Matthews, Archaeological Survey West LLP

The Consultation Day was a success, with 120 people attending the two sessions in Farndon and Holt. It is hoped that enough funding can be secured to enable the full investigation to go ahead. The contribution form is above should you wish to make a donation or be involved in the project.

  Chris Matthews @ChrisM_ASW   Follow Chris on Twitter

View LiDAR animation


· The Context

It is assumed at this stage that the Townfield Lane site relates, or is contemporary to the Roman Tile works just upstream on the Holt side of the Dee. But it may also help our understanding of the wider Chester hinterland during the Roman period, especially in relation to other discoveries in Rossett, Plas Coch in Wrexham, Eaton-by-Tarporley, Heronbridge and Halkyn Mountain.

Familiarisation of the Holt site is essential to aid understanding of the relevance and interest in the Townfield Lane project;

Hidden Holt: The Story of a Roman Site

The Discovery of Roman Legionary Tile and Pottery Works, at Holt, near Wrexham

II: Geophysical Survey of the Holt Roman Tile and Pottery Works, 2018

by Chris Matthews, John Cubitt and Paul Hinchliffe

Journal of the Chester Archaeological Society, Volume 89 for 2019

Rossett Roman Villa

In the light of the discovery of the Roman lead ingot near Rossett in 2019, a partnership project was established between the University of Chester and Wrexham Museum with the aim of investigating its wider archaeological context. As part of this, the footprint of a winged-corridor villa was identified. This article outlines the initial findings and their potential significance.

In October 2020 geophysical surveys were conducted at a site in Burton Green, Rossett, by the University of Chester, Wrexham Museum and Archaeological Survey West as part of a project entitled ‘In the Footsteps of Trebellius Maximus’. The results revealed a Roman winged corridor villa, outbuildings, associated field system and trackway. The existence of the complex had been hinted at through stray finds and metal detecting over a number of years, and a subsequent Historic Environment Record entry postulated a high-status Roman building, possibly a villa. Through magnetometry, the presence of a villa has now been confirmed.

Caroline Pudney and Steve Grenter

A Roman Villa near Rossett

by Caroline Pudney and Steve Grenter

Journal Chester Archaeology Society (new series no.91, 2021, 179–193)

Rossett Roman villa archaeological dig gets under way (BBC News)

Rossett lead ingot

The first indication of a site near Rossett was the discovery of a lead ingot or pig. A pig is a roughly rectangular bar of mined metal that is shaped to be convenient for transportation to a location where it can be processed.

Rossett Roman ingot

Metal detectorist Rob Jones discovered a metal object in a field near Rossett and careful digging revealed the corner of a lead object with ‘writing’ on it. When fully revealed, the inscription appeared to mention Marcus Trebellius Maximus, who was the governor of the province of Britannia under the Emperor Nero from AD 63-69. The Rossett find represents the only example of an inscription bearing his name ever found in the UK, and one of very few from the empire as a whole. Trebellius was partly responsible for bringing stability to Britannia after Boudica’s revolt in AD 60/1, although he was ultimately forced out of the province by mutinous Roman soldiers who were dissatisfied with the lack of military activity under his governorship.

Rossett Roman ingot

Featured in British Archaeology October 2020

It is among the earliest dated inscriptions recording Roman seizure of Britain’s mineral wealth and testifies to its rapid exploitation following the spread of Roman power across the island. The production of the ingot presupposes prospection for metals, expropriation of mining sites and the mobilisation of labour, forced or voluntary, to mine and process metal-rich ores. The inscription also illustrates the bureaucratic control exercised over the production of valuable metals.

Rob Jones, very responsibly, reported the find to the archaeological authorities, and it has now been acquired by Wrexham Museum.

The Roman Villa at Rossett #2 – Some background to the excavation

Blog pages by professional archaeologist Andie Byrnes, featuring this excellent account of the contextual background of the Rossett site within the Chester hinterland, and its relation to contemporary discoveries.

In fact, the whole basedinchurton.co.uk website is fascinating, and well worth a follow. See also the Roman Road article by Andie (link in Further Reading below).

  Based in Churton @BasedInChurton   Follow Andie on Twitter

The Townfield Lane Site Through Time

Townfield Lane - 1840 Tithe Map & ownership
Townfield Lane - 1840 Tithe Map - modern comparison
Townfield Lane - 1895 OS Map
Townfield Lane - 1971-73 aerial view
Townfield Lane - 1999-2003 aerial view
Townfield Lane - 2010 aerial view
Townfield Lane - 2015-2017 aerial view
Townfield Lane - Modern map

   www.farndon.org.uk @FarndonCheshire   Don't forget to follow us too!

The Townfield Lane Site - Regular Flooding

As local residents will testify, the lower Townfield Lane site floods regularly, sometimes two to three times a year, presenting archaeologists with potential additional problems in analysing the site due to alluvial deposits.

The flooded River Dee below Farndon.
The sweep in the river at Almere can be made out in the centre.
The fortlet site is just off camera to the bottom left off Townfield Lane.

Map showing the Dee Flood Plain with the fortlet site circled.

Townfield Lane - The Excavation

(NB. Certain information about finds is witheld, and will be in the full site report by Chris Matthews later in the year)

The site was made ready on Friday 9 September, with several trenches prepared intersecting the 'playing card shape' crop mark, plus an area that had suggested activity just outside of the enclosure to the north east.

In addition to the full time professional archaeologists on site, there were on average 18-20 volunteers most days. Few were inexperienced, and most had put in many hours on other digs in the locality, such as Holt, Rossett, Pulford, and Oswestry, plus earlier excavations across Merseyside. This include several of the local volunteers from Farndon and Holt. There were also a number of students from the Archaeology Department in the University of Chester. Many were also retirees with little signs of ageing, including a couple in their eighties!

Drone view - day one

Day 1 - 10 September 2022

Tour of the site
while Chris gives an
introductory talk
Chris and Kelly
Joe and Kelly
with Alice looking on
Jayne and Joe
Checking the spoil heaps
Some of the finds
including iron slag
Finds on the first day confirmed the site as Roman, although at this stage it wasn't entirely clear if it was military, as there was a significant amount of iron slag recovered from some of trenches.

Day 3 - 12 September 2022

Torrential rain all day - work abandoned

Day 4 - 13 September 2022

Rob Jones
giving trench 4 a sweep
Joe with the Roman spindle whorl

Roman spindle whorl
made from the base of
a Roman orange ware vessel.

Roman spindle whorl

Spinning with a Roman-style spindle and distaff

An informal demonstation of how whorls were used. The whorl acts as a stabiliser and weight on the spindle to increase and maintain the speed of the spin.

Whorls have been made of materials like amber, antler, bone, ceramic, coral, glass, stone, metal (iron, lead, lead alloy), and wood (oak). The Townfield Lane whorl was made from a fragment of Roman orange ware, possibly by knocking out the bottom of a discarded vessel.

Spinning with a whorl (c) on a spindle (b) and distaff (a)


Day 6 - 15 September 2022

By now, the discovery of so much iron slag and what looked like a bloomery suggested the site was not military after all and was more likely a Roman enclosure for iron processing. Meanwhile the search for the enclosure ditch in trench 4 continued;

Jan and Mike
Nick, Dr Kevin Cootes
(LJMU & Site Director of the
Poulton Research Project),
Dave Matthews and Chris M.
Day 7 - 16 September 2022

Today we welcomed several visitors to the site, including Dr Caroline Pudney (Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Chester), and representatives from Cheshire West and Chester Heritage and Archaeology.

Chris explaining the
mysteries of trench 4
and where the ditch might lie
Some of the small finds
Fishing weights
Looking on is Ed Trevor-Barnston,
estate manager and son of
land owner Michael.
Chris with the rim
of an orange ware pot
Dave Matthews
hard at work in trench 4
Mr & Mrs Ron Saunders
visiting from Farndon village

Team Townfield!

Chris Matthews tweeted;

We have had some fantastic volunteers who have worked very hard in what have been difficult conditions. In summary, we came to investigate an enclosure, tentatively identified as a fort. But, we leave having discovered a Roman metalworking site/bloomery (far more interesting!).

Day 9 - 18 September 2022

In the final hours of the dig, a second bloomery was discovered in the same trench (3), below which was a flint.
Always good to see visitors taking an interest in the site, especially when its my son Liam and his girlfriend Kate!

Roman Iron Making - The Bloomery

Chris Matthews writes;

A little visual aid for anyone who wants to know more about bloomeries and what we found at Townfield Lane. If you volunteered on the Townfield Lane dig, visited us or have been following the updates, this video will help to visualise what we found. Look out for the part when they break a hole in the side of the furnace and all the molten slag pours out like a tap. This is the tap slag which we found plenty of in trench 3! When it solidifies it forms nice patterns and spouts which have an almost pewter look to them.

Whilst the video shows a smaller scale Medieval bloomery, the basic method is largely indistinguishable from what the Romans would have been doing on our site.

Iron smelting in the early medieval slag drop shaft furnace, making iron

What happens next?

The site has now been backfilled and returned to its original agricultural state. The finds and site documentation will then be analysed, and Chris Matthews will be working on a site report due towards the end of the year. Information about certain finds has been withheld, but will be included in the full report.

After the report has been published, it is hoped that feedback will be given to the local communities of Farndon and Holt in the form of an evening held most likely in the Farndon Memorial Hall, featuring a talk by Chris Matthews and an exhibition of finds and photographs.

Further information, when known, will be published on Twitter, Facebook, and this website.

News Update 23 September 2022

Townfield Lane Site Map

On 23 September, Chris Matthews tweeted;

Here is a sneak peak at our results. There is indeed a ditch and bank earthwork, although it was somewhat difficult to see! Within the enclosure we identified industrial activity which included a Roman bloomery furnace (used to process iron ore into workable iron).

  Chris Matthews @ChrisM_ASW   Follow Chris on Twitter

News Update 30 September 2022

Project Update Newsletter

by Chris Matthews, Archaeological Survey West

Volume 1 | Issue 1 | September 2022

The Townfield Lane Excavation

Further reading

Books and Papers:

Greene, K. The Archaeology of the Roman Economy. Batsford (1986)

Johnston, D.E. Roman Villas. Shire Archaeology (1994).

Mason, D.J.P. Roman Chester. City of the Eagles. Tempus (2007) (2nd edition).

Matthews, C Geophysical methodology for the Holt Roman tile works v1.1. (Unpublished report). Wrexham: Archaeological Survey West LLP (2017)

Matthews, C Holt Roman tilery and pottery: geophysical investigations (Unpublished report). Wrexham: Archaeological Survey West LLP (2018)

Cheshire Historic Towns Survey

by Mike Shaw and Jo Clark

Farndon - An Archaeological Assessment

Environmental Planning Cheshire County Council

Revealing Cheshire's Past

From Farm to Fortress - II: The Romans


Cheshire County Council

Online (in addition to those above)

Pudney, C. The highs and lows of archaeology: In the footsteps of Trebellius Maximus. Archaeology Chester, 16th Apr 2021

Andie Byrnes/Based in Churton;
A touch of Rome just east of Churton #1 – Background to the Roman Road. 3rd April 2021

Clark, J. Cheshire Historic Towns Survey. Tarporley. Archaeological Assessment(2003). Environmental Planning, Cheshire County Council

North, F.J. Mining for Metals in Wales. National Museum of Wales (1962).


Lane Farm Cropmarks, Rossett  http://www.coflein.gov.uk/en/site/409231/details.html

Plas Coch Romano-British Settlement  https://coflein.gov.uk/en/site/422290/

Wrexham County Borough Museum and Archives

The Rossett Lead Pig www.wrexhamheritage.wales/explore/#rossettpig

Researched and written by Mike Royden

  @MikeRoyden   Please follow on Twitter!


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