Pounding the streets of Stoke-on-Trent
in search of a buried past

- 'Mystery of Roman Road is just par-for-the-course'

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Historian Fred Hughes writes....   

Going back a few weeks to Winton Square in Stoke, historian Steve Birks established that the Roman Road passed by the railway station and travelled along the Fowlea Valley to Etruria. 

“From this point though,” says Steve, “it’s almost impossible to follow the route from Etruria, it has simply disappeared. And yet if we accept that Roman roads followed a straight line, it is feasible to suppose that the Rykeneld Street from Derby to Chester climbed from Etruria to May Bank giving a relatively flat approach to the Roman Station we know was based at Chesterton.”

But, in the absence of proven documents and only limited early references, following the road from May Bank to Chesterton has to be guesswork.  

“Even the historian John Ward, writing in 1843, was unable to place the exact line,” says Steve. “Ward surmised that the road followed a dingle path to Wolstanton Marsh and through Wolstanton village to Port Hill and to Bradwell Hall in the direction of Chesterton. But this is not as clear as he suggests.”

Indeed, a more direct route from May Bank can even now be seen to follow a line occupied today by Rathbone and Belmont Avenues, passing west of Wolstanton High School into Hollinshead Avenue and across Wolstanton Golf Club. Golf historian Alan Mountford tends to agree.

“I considered all this when I was writing my centenary history on the golf club,” he acknowledges.
“I discovered the lane leading to the clubhouse was an ancient bridle path crossing Dimsdale Parade and Hassam Parade to arrive at the A34, which was an old coaching road. My book shows a map of the Dimsdale Estate in 1877. It indicates a newly erected farm close by a Saxon barn. There are a couple of thrilling photographs as well taken in 1900. One shows Dimsdale Hall having been renovated in the 17th century where the front is clad with a brick and stone built Jacobean façade. The other, taken about the same time, shows the hall from the rear. And this clearly shows it to be a fine Elizabethan mansion. But I found no references to the Roman Road.” 

'West View of Dimsdale Old Hall near Newcastle under Lyme, Staffordshire,'
'West View of Dimsdale Old Hall near Newcastle under Lyme, Staffordshire,'
showing a house with brick pedimental gables and large chimney stacks.

© William Salt Library, Staffordshire Past Tracks

Dimsdale estate was purchased by the golf club in 1903. The old house began to decline and was redeveloped in the 1920’s as a clubhouse. Eventually the last remnants of Dimsdale Hall were demolished in 1947. 

“We did keep a memento,” says club chairman Bert Maxfield. “In the restaurant you’ll see we have preserved part of the oak-framed wall with wattle and daub rendering which we have encased in glass. It’s a reminder of our ancient past.”

The Dimsdale estate came into existence in 1608. According to Ward it was the seat of the Brett family of ancient standing, but he is unable to provide its lineage. In the early Victorian period the hall was owned by a family named Bennett. Bert offers an interesting notion to why he believes the Roman Road passed by here and walks me over to the 5th green.

“Have a look at that and tell me what you think,” Bert suggests. And there, for some 60 metres under the well-manicured grass are long undulations of earth mounds that look to me as though they had once been ploughed furrows.

“There’s been much speculation as to what those ridges are,” continues Bert. “And there is a thought that they may have been part of a Roman station in this vicinity. But I suspect we’ll never know if this is true.”

Bert also directs me to another ridge, one that is less prominent but clearly marked running across the 16th to the 8th fairway as if it was a planned thoroughfare, an access to the old farm perhaps.

“The farm has gone now and a builder has begun to erect a few valuable houses on the old barn site,” says Bert.

Alan’s book provides some remarkable information about the site’s development. In 1924 for instance the course was only 8 holes rented from the farmer. The same year it was extend it to its present 18 holes.  

“The clubhouse was opened twelve months later,” says Alan. “It was still very primitive and electricity wasn’t installed until 1934. After this things moved on a pace but it wasn’t all plain sailing. In 1966 after a long fight we were able to fight off a council order to acquire the land for a public park.”

Apparently the council offered the club some land at Keele as a straight transfer. The offer was rejected and ironically the land at Keele was developed as a popular municipal course. So good came out of it whichever way you look at it. And Wolstanton Golf Club went from strength to strength.

“Membership is very high,” says club secretary Valerie Keenan. “We are very proud of what we’ve achieved and our members have a great feeling of companionship and belonging.”

But in all this digression am I any closer to discovering if the Roman Road passed this way. The question remains, did the Rykeneld Street travel through Dimsdale or Bradwell? 

“Ward is unusually vague about it,” says Steve. “His reference to correspondence between two Cambridge University academics is far from clear. In recent times archaeological digs have discovered that the Roman road passed through Dimsdale. Part of it was unearthed by Wolstanton High School in the 1960s when a twenty-foot wide buried road surface of thick sandstone blocks on a foundation of clay on gravel laid in typical Roman method was found. Later excavations in 1995 revealed another section of what was thought to be the same road in a back garden close to Wolstanton Golf Course. But that is all.”

And so we will let the Romans sleep, oblivious to our passing interest. But I reckon a well-swung driver could easily send a golf ball from the golf club into the heart of the Chesterton garrison. That’s how close history is.


next week: the lane to Bradwell Wood

click the "contents" button to get back to the main index & map
next: Bradwell  and the Sneyd family
previous: Packhorse Lane - the lifeline of the Potteries


29 February 2008