Roman Bridlington - Evidence of Praesidium?Comitatus portray the Praesidiensis, a legion we have always linked with Praesidium. Roman itineraries seem to place the Praesidium in the area of modern Bridlington, but what hard solid evidence of occupation do we actually have?
Evidence of Romano-British occupation can be found all over the East Riding. It lies between the military sites of York and Malton, the coastal signal towers, and the civitas capital of Brough in the south. Villas cluster around Brough, Malton and the Gypsey Race stream leading to Bridlington. The area was good agricultural land, with clay for potting, and good road links to the south and the west. By the fourth century the area would be dominated by the fortress in York, under the Dux Britanniarum. Malton had been destroyed in the raids of 367-69, but had been rebuilt. Brough was suffering from the increased flooding of the Hull Valley. Roads and harbours were becoming blocked, and communications to the south were becoming more difficult.
There is some evidence of limited Germanic settlement in some areas including the Mount in York, Sancton and possibly at Elmswell.
There are traces of Prehistoric settlement around Bridlington, and the Romans may have followed Prehistoric routes. There were at least four villas in the Gypsey Race area, leading to a possible harbour in Bridlington Bay, the ďSafe-Haven BayĒ mentioned by Ptolemy. The remains of a paved road between Bridlington and Sewerby may have led to a signal tower at Flamborough. This road running thorough the Gypsy Race area could have led to the harbour and Praesidium itself. However coastal erosion has destroyed the Roman harbour installation. This paved road seems to have followed the present road into Sewerby village, and was found again near the Wesleyan chapel at Sewerby during works on a water main.
The suggested signal tower at Flamborough would complete the southern end of the chain of towers running down the North East coast. It would be needed to relay signals from Scarborough across the Flamborough headland. But its site isnít known. Small amounts of pottery were found on Beacon Hill, but the site has now been destroyed by quarrying. However views to the north were cut off by high ground. A V-shaped ditch defending a promontory has been identified at Breil Nook, but this sounds Iron Age. Trial trenches found nothing around the old lighthouse site, so the most likely site seems to be the current lighthouse. It gives excellent all round views, but it is hard to imagine a Roman watchtower lying under the lighthouse car park!
Hard evidence seems illusive. But there is some, South of Sewerby House. Near where the steps lead down the cliff Roman pottery and querns have been found. Nearby were discovered the remains of a building and enclosure, but these have been lost to erosion. However fourth century coins found on the beach below can date the site to our period of interest. In 1846 twenty skeletons were found to the west of Sewerby village during digging related to the railway. They were irregularly aligned suggesting they are Roman or pre-Roman. Lack of grave goods suggest they are not pagan Saxon, and later Christian burials would be orientated East-West. Further Roman finds were made to the South East of Sewerby House, and medieval earthworks to the north of the House over lie a Roman quarry. Two crop marks in the Parish showing enclosures are also probably Roman.
Some mention must be made of Danesí Dyke cuts across the headland. The earthwork isolates 10 square km, is around 5m high and has a 18m wide ditch on the west side and a high bank on the counterscarp. It is possibly Iron Age or post-Roman, and does seem similar to Aberford Dykes and other post-Roman earthworks.
It seems that the Sewerby area holds the few Roman remains that are left close to the old harbour area. Comitatus have done some legendary shows at Sewerby House, and Iím gratified the Late Roman connection with the venue is so strong.