NEW evidence that appears to confirm the existence of another Roman road in Tynedale has rekindled the fires of controversy.
Historians and archaeologists have long argued about whether the Romans ever built a road heading due west from Corbridge on the south side of the River Tyne.
The perceived wisdom is that they wouldn’t have bothered – not when they had built another one, the Stanegate, going west on the north bank.
However, the Environment Agency has just unearthed an interesting stone structure while reinforcing Corbridge’s flood defences.
And it is thought to provide the first concrete piece of evidence that there was, after all, a road on the south bank.
Archaeologists from Tyne and Wear Museums believe the stone structure at Dilston Haugh was a length of retaining wall for a ramp that led to a long-gone Roman bridge over the River Tyne.
They say the find is of national significance, not least because stone Roman bridges are incredibly rare in Britain.
Archaeologist Terry Frain said: “Corbridge was a big bustling supply base and there was a lot of transport crossing the Tyne to Hadrian’s Wall.
“We knew of one ramp to the bridge but we did not realise there was another.
“This ramp approaches the bridge site in a completely different direction, and it will add another chapter to the very interesting history of Corbridge.”
For one person, controversial historian Raymond Selkirk, the discovery confirms a long-held belief.
“Of course there was a road on the south bank,” he said.
“There was a Mr Forster who lived in Corbridge in the late 1800s – he was a school master and a very capable archaeologist – who wrote a book.
“He reported that when the road from Corbridge to Hexham was being built, the workmen discovered an unknown Roman road at Dilston.
“That was in the 1890s.”
He added that two Roman roads crossed at Dilston, with one arm heading east to Newcastle, one going south to Baybridge, near Blanchland, and another due west to Hexham.
“The evidence (of the road to Hexham) is there for anybody to see today,” said Mr Selkirk.
“In the strip of woodland just to the south of Park Farm, near Dilston, you can see pieces of the old Roman road.
“The cobbles are sticking out of the ground in places.”
The founding member of the Northern Archaeology Group, Mr Selkirk has claimed in the past to have evidence which would force a re-interpretation of the Roman occupation of Tynedale.
Much of his evidence is gleaned from aerial photographs.
He is well-known in historical circles for his belief that Hexham was originally a Roman site and that the evidence is buried under the ecclesiastical buildings.
His claims, though, have been given short shrift by other professionals over the years.
One of Britain’s leading archaeologists and an expert on Hadrian’s Wall, Robin Birley, appeared decidedly sceptical about the latest discovery and decided not to pass comment this time.
In the past he, along with other eminent historians, have pointed to Mr Selkirk’s lack of hard evidence, and his rather unorthodox approach to research in general.