Chapter 6: The Roman Period

Canon Hudson, in his short history of Gilling, stated that no Roman remains have been found in Gilling but that a Roman road ran from York through the Gilling pass to the River Tees. This statement is to be found in Gill’s Vallis Eboracensis and may be the source of Canon Hudson’s information, or it may be on the authority of Drake. This has never been substantiated on archaeological evidence. However there is evidence for a road from Old Malton (Derventio) to Aldborough (Isurium). This probably passed through Gilling at its southern tip. The road itself has never been found as an actual structure, but the road from Hovingham to the cross-roads near the Yearsley Long Barrow is called Malton Street. It is thought that this road was not a full military road but more of a vicinal road carrying local traffic and trade. Such a structure would not be as substantial as a military road, and probably not as straight in its planning.

The road starts at Malton and follows approximately the present Malton-Helmsley road as far as Hovingham. Here there was a Roman Villa or farm behind the present Hall. The road also deliberately avoids the tumulus outside Hovingham which is reputed to be Roman. It has never been excavated. The metalling of the old road is visible as scattered stone in the adjacent field between Barton-le-Street and Hovingham. Somewhere near the villa at Hovingham it ceases to follow the present road and probably turned in a south-westerly direction passing the villa site and following the Hovingham-Coulton road. Miss Kitson Clarke thought that the road went uphill after the villa site and she substantiated this by probing the ground parallel to the linear earthwork which extends along the northern edge of the escarpment of Hovingham Heights. But perhaps the evidence of place-names refutes this theory.

The 1852 Ordnance Survey names the Hovingham-Coulton road Malton Street. At that time much of this road was an unfenced track, especially that part from Grimston Grange for about one mile towards Hovingham. This stretch ties up with the road forming the T-junction with the Coxwold-Oulston road. From Grange Farm to the Newborough Priory wall the road is undefined. Some Ampleforth Abbey boys attempted to find the road through the south end of Newborough Priory grounds and tried in several places but failed to find any evidence of a road. Further Mr. R. H. Hayes and the author investigated the area, and by probing found some evidence of buried stonework. We also thought that the road may not necessarily follow exactly the present Malton Street, but rather a line a few yards to the south on the summit of a ridge.

Some further slight evidence of the line was that when examining the Bronze Age tumuli field known as Coney Hills we noticed a line of fresh green weeds, which appeared to be on the Gilling-Yearsley boundary and the agreed boundary between the Fairfax and Fauconberg estates. Could this be the line of one of the ditches of the Roman road? As already stated the presence of tumuli along this line may indicate that the route is a Romanisation of a more ancient trackway. A further indication is the name of a farm near Coulton called Coldharbour. This name is often found near Roman roads. It indicates the presence of a rather inhospitable shelter for travellers. It is possible that they were dilapidated buildings of Roman origin taken over by the Saxons. That the road goes further west is indicated by a second Coldharbour on the A19 near Raskelf. One is also reminded of the Iron Age quern found at Coldharbour.

Other evidence is very slight. Oyster shell has been found by the author in two places. The first was in a field adjoining the Glebe field east of Gilling village, and the second was near the Blackdale Plantation in a quarry. As far as I am aware no Roman coins have been found in the parish. John Rushton in his book on Ryedale mentions the finding of a pebbled way being uncovered near the station.

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