Where is Roman Wigan ?
Prior to 1982, virtually nothing was known of Roman Wigan. It has often been identified with ‘Coccium’ recorded in Iter X of the 2nd century Antonine2nd century Antonine Itinerary as lying 17 Roman miles from ‘Mamucium’ (Manchester). Rivet and Smith (1979) preferred anidentification with Edgeworth, near Bolton, but this was partly on the grounds that no Roman settlement at Wigan had at that time been discovered.
Regardless of this question a series of chance discoveries in recent centuries demonstrated the existence of some form of Roman settlement in the area. In 1690 a hoard of over 200 coins was found by a farm labourer at Bolton Field, Standish. The coins dated from the reign of Domitian (AD 81-96) to that of Gordian III (AD 238-244), and were found in a bronze vessel together with an engraved ‘intaglio1, or gemstone, and two large gold rings. In 1926 a hoard of 137 silver coins (spanning the period AD 54-225) was found at Boar’s Head during the digging of foundations at Minerva House, Wigan Lane .
The location of these hoards, in close proximity to the road north towards Walton, is fairly typical and they probably represent the concealment of personal wealth, perhaps during a time of political or economic upheaval.
Other coin discoveries in Wigan have included a group of bronze coins of various emperors of the late 2nd to late 3rd century AD, found near the .
Market Place in 1837 ,undated examples from Millgate and Bottling Wood ,4th century bronze coins from the Mesnes and the Rectory gardens, and a silver coin of Antonius Pius (AD 138) found at Marylebone in 1930 .
Probably the most celebrated discovery, however, was that of a gold aureus of the Emperor Vitellius (AD .69) found near the Mesnes in 1850 Roman pottery has been found in Millgate and Library Street , and a group of 2nd century pottery (including Samian Ware) was found, together with bronze vessels, on the site of theTechnical College in 1901.
Much of the other material ascribed to, the Roman period is of uncertain date. A. milestone, possibly Roman, was found at ‘The Elms’. Wigan Lane, in 1930, while an altar built into the wall of the Parish Church, though inscribed with, the date 1604, has of ten been claimed to be Roman Statuary has included a number-of unidentified figures found at the Parish Church in 1551 and a head (possibly of Minerva) found at Minerva House, Wigan Lane in 1930 . Less equivocal was the discovery of a headless statue of Cautopates, attendant of the god Mithras, at Appley Bridge in 1932 (Shatter 1973,57). This was clearly of significance, suggesting the existence of a Mithraeum, and therefore probably a military garrison, in the Wigan area.
Structural evidence of Roman .Wigan has always proved elusive. The ‘Roman’ road observed during the construction of the Baths in Millgate in 1911, and stretches of walling uncovered in Millgate and
King Street West could be of any date, while other features such as the walls observed in Scholes are clearly non-Roman.
The majority of finds occurred above the 38m contour, suggesting that the focus of Roman settlement was, as in the medieval period, on the summit of the hill rather than in close proximity to the river. The exception to this was the discovery, in the early 19th century of a number of cremation urns, charcoal and ironwork in the Darlington
Street area during the construction of the gasworks.
This area clearly represented the cemetery of Roman Wigan, and its location at the foot of the hill was, in keeping with Roman custom, well removed from the focus of settlement. Exploratoryexcavations in the area conducted by GMAU in (Holdsworth and Reynolds 1981), in common with those undertaken previously in the town, produced no evidence of Roman occupation.
In late 1982, GMAU had the opportunity to investigatean area due for development as a library and museum complex, at the junction of the Wiend and Millgate and close to the heart of the medieval town.
The project was MSC-funded, though with assistance from Wigan Borough and, latterly, HBMC(£). The excavations continued until September 1984, although with intervals dictated by the vagaries of funding and demolition contracts.