The Roman period ditch at Great Woolden Farm, Salford, during excavation in 1988.
The heavily urbanised landscape that is Greater Manchester is not an obvious place to look for or expect Romano-British landscapes to survive. A brief look at the distribution maps for Roman rural settlement in southern Britain would seem to support this, with low concentrations of sites in North West England.
Yet there has been a slow but steady increase in the number of known Roman rural sites in Greater Manchester since the 1980s as researchers have focussed upon this topic. In Salford the Iron Age farmstead at Great Woolden Hall, on the western edge of Chat Moss, remained in occupation into the Roman era. The families living here continuing to live in roundhouses and their way of mixed farming seemed little altered in the first two centuries of Roman era. However, the arrival of the Romans is represented in the site’s material culture in the form of Roman objects.
Pottery excavated from the site included fragments of jars and beakers of Cheshire Plain Wares, as well as a fragment of mortarium, a bowl used for pounding and mixing food, made at the legionary pottery kilns at Holt near Chester. There were also Black Burnished Ware bowls from south‐west England, Samian ware (fine table ware) from France and Spanish amphora that may have held olive oil or wine. The farm was abandoned in the 3rd century, although we don’t know why.
A second Romano-British farmstead was excavated on a sandy promontory above the river Irwell near Barton Aerodrome in 2008 and again in 2012‐13. Here, a network of gullies and ditches formed a series of small rectangular enclosures, each roughly 20m by 45m, with a trackway at the western end of the site giving access to these fields. East of the trackway a shallow gully, which produced Roman pottery, was represented by the remains of a roundhouse, c. 9m in diameter. West of the trackway were two curving gullies, forming an area c. 6.5m across, which was probably the foundations of another small roundhouse.
Only a small number of objects were recovered from this settlement, suggesting that the main focus of the farmstead may have been to the north, beyond Liverpool Road towards Barton aerodrome. These finds included a glass bead, a fragment of a rotary quern and a small number of Roman pottery sherds, including a Black Burnished Ware jar, a Grey Ware jar manufactured in Cheshire and fragments of a mortarium, again from kilns in Cheshire (perhaps in this case Warrington). These items belonged to the 2nd century to 4th century AD and were probably acquired at the civilian settlement outside the Roman fort at Castlefield.
These two rural settlements were not close to any known Roman road, just like most of the other sites known from across Greater Manchester. They thus give us a glimpse of a landscape where Romanisation does not appear to have been very deep. Whether that was because they were in remote areas away from the Roman forts and roads or whether this represented some deeper antipathy to the Roman occupation is unclear.