Dishforth to Barton

Project Profile

Project Title :

A1, Dishforth to Barton,
Improvement North Yorkshire

Client :

Carillion/Morgan Sindall

Type of Work :

Watching Brief, Excavation,
Building Recording, Post-excavation Reposting and Analysis

Project Gallery 

Excavation of Roman oven   Excavation of infant burial  
Excavating a horse skeleton   Cleaning preserved timbers  
Samian dish   metal finds  


A1, Dishforth to Barton

The A1, Roman road to 21st century motorway

As part of the Highways Agency's project to upgrade the A1 dual carriageway between Dishforth and Leeming Bar to motorway status, NAA carried out a series of major excavations along the 21km length of the scheme. The archaeology uncovered ranged in date from the Neolithic to the 19th century, but, perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority of the remains were Roman in date.

This section of the A1 road in North Yorkshire has a very long history, possibly beginning before the Roman conquest of northern Britain. The route may have originated as a prehistoric trackway along the higher, drier ground between the Rivers Swale and Ure. This alignment was subsequently followed by the Roman road between Aldborough and Catterick, known as Dere Street. The Roman road evolved into the medieval Great North Road, which in turn became a turnpike coach road in the 18th and 19th centuries. When the road was upgraded to a dual carriageway in the 1950s, this was achieved by the simple expedient of building a second carriageway to the west over much of the length of the route, but with a bypass diversion to the west of Leeming Bar.

The most significant site along this route was that of the scheduled Roman fort and settlement at Healam, which lies to the south of a small beck near the centre of the scheme. The new road alignment passed to the east of the core area of this site, but cut through a part of a roadside settlement and industrial area to the north of the beck and a series of enclosures to the south. Excavation exposed an extensive area of occupation north of the beck contained within a series of ditched enclosures, which included the remains of buildings, burials and road surfaces. On the slopes immediately above Healam Beck, relatively deep deposits up to 1.5m thick were preserved which were the result of successive phases of reclamation and building. A large millstone was recovered from this area which suggested that one of the buildings may have been a watermill. The course of the beck had moved several times during the Roman period, and it was originally wider, marshier and much more of an obstacle than the current stream. There was evidence to suggest that repeated attempts had been made to protect the edge of the bank using both timber posts and stone revetments. Several phases of Roman road surface were recorded on the western edge of the site which was aligned on the later turnpike period bridge. The footings of this later bridge appeared to incorporate Roman masonry, but it was unclear whether this was in-situ or re-used. The Roman Bridge across the beck would have lain very close to this location.

The full or partial plans of seventeen rectangular buildings were uncovered during the work, ranging up to 17.5m by 5m in size. The majority were of timber construction, but several had stone foundations. The corner of one building had been constructed over the near-complete skeleton of a horse. Most of the structures lay within a sequence of rectangular enclosures, showing deliberate planning within the settlement.

A number of human inhumation burials were recorded within the site. The majority were dispersed throughout the enclosures, but several burials of neonates were recorded which appeared to have been grouped together within a small cemetery area.

The excavations produced large quantities of finds including Roman pottery, glass, metalwork, animal bone, charred plant remains, and a range of other artefacts. Analysis of this material is currently being undertaken to refine our understanding of the chronology of the site, its economic basis, and the range of activities which were undertaken in the different areas. It is anticipated that a report will be published on the results of this work in 2012.