Roman remains unearthed at site of new Sunderland square

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HISTORIANS today called for an investigation after links to Wearside’s ancient past were unearthed on a building site.

Fragments of 2,000-year-old Roman pottery have been recovered during “deeper excavation works” on the site of the new £11.8million city square.

Council bosses have pledged to produce a report on the finds – to be archived at The Great North Museum in Newcastle – once the work on the project is completed.

But local historians are calling for an in-depth archaeological survey of the area to be carried out now – to prevent Wearside’s possible links to Roman times being buried.

“This site seems potentially of considerable importance. A comprehensive appraisal should be undertaken prior to any new development,” said John Tumman.

“Clearly, there would not be pottery here without some kind of Roman presence. I am disappointed that this has not prompted more interest in undertaking a search.”

Wearside’s Roman past, or lack of it, has long been debated. Although coins, pottery and artefacts have been found, major structures – such as a fort – remain elusive.

Indeed, investigations into a possible Roman dam at Hylton two years ago proved inconclusive, but hopes remain high that Roman links will one day be confirmed.

“It seems that the most likely location for a Roman fort, at the north end of Castle Street at the cliff edge, was largely blasted away in the 19th century,” said John.

“Old engravings show massive 4ft thick walls at the top of the cliff. In the 1860s and 70s these walls were examined and found to be possibly of Roman construction.

“There was also a well named Castle Well and, of course, the name Castle Street itself. Sadly, the area outside of the Vaux site, near Gill Road, has never been excavated.”

Other historical findings close to the square include the 19th century discovery of a Roman pavement in the cellar of the Hat and Feather pub – now The Green Room.

A pavement was also uncovered during the building of Langham Tower in the 1880s, and a mosaic was allegedly unearthed near the court in the 1960s – but then reburied.

“The council doesn’t seem to put a high priority on archeology, but it would seem a wasted opportunity not to at least try to get to the truth of the mosaic,” said John.

“Over the past 150 years there have been a number of unexplained findings in and around the City Square area, suggesting there may have been some Roman presence.”

Local historian Norman Kirtlan today backed John’s calls for further investigations, as he believes “Sunderland has just too much Roman evidence to ignore.”

The former police inspector added: “If we can prove our Roman heritage, we will be able to rewrite the city’s history and affirm our rightful place in the history books.”

But Mel Speding, cabinet secretary of Sunderland City Council, said: “The fragments are now with museums officers and we are continuing to monitor the situation.

“Once the square is complete, a report will be produced providing details of the archaeological works, including information on the finds.

“Throughout the course of the St Mary’s Way Realignment Project, the City Council has been working closely with the Tyne and Wear County archaeologist.

“As we move forward with the regeneration of the Vaux site, further archaeological surveys will be undertaken when required.”

Roman finds in Sunderland

•Builders working on the new docks unearthed the remains of a Roman pottery kiln on the Town Moor in 1849.

•A paved Roman road was discovered at Low Ford in 1866, crossing the Wear to Baron’s Quay and heading towards Hylton Castle and Boldon.

•A possible Roman ford near Sunderland was destroyed by floods in 1400. There is also a dam at Hylton which many historians believe to be Roman.

•A Roman road heading north through Grangetown has been documented, after Roman cobbles were uncovered when air raid shelters were sunk in 1939.

•The site of Sunderland Cemetery is named Chesters Stones on old maps. It is thought it may originally have been the site of a Roman fortification.

•A Roman cobbled road beneath the Hat and Feather pub, in Low Row, was discovered during building work, as were the remains of Roman mosaics.

•It has been reported that the walls of a Roman building, together with Roman pottery and coins, were uncovered during building work at the university.

•Other Roman artefacts unearthed include an inscribed spoon at the mouth of the Wear and coins in Villiers Street, the Old Barracks and Town Moor.

•A 4th Century coin of Maximian l was found on a bombsite in St Thomas Street, pottery and coins at Fulwell and a bronze figurine in Carley Hill Quarry.

•Historian Raymond Selkirk, of The Northern Archaeology Group, put forward the theory in 2006 that Penshaw Monument was built from Roman stones.

•A human skeleton, with two Roman coins near its right hand, was found at Fulwell hill in 1759.