One-way Romans?

Some interesting news from Burton-on-Trent, where a local expert has carefully spent many years tracking down the likely location of an Ancient Roman marching fort. He remarks on the Roman practice of placing auxiliary ‘marching’ forts, at a day’s march or 15 Roman miles apart. This means 14.167 modern miles. There were then some slight adjustment to ensure access to two clean water sources, one for the baths and one for drinking.

So it would be interesting to plot that on a map from the marching camp at Chesterton along the Rykeneld Street. That camp was a 2 acre site at the far eastern end of Loomer Road, Chesterton, near St. John the Evangelist (R.C.) and Chesterton’s main road roundabout. Nearby was a larger fort under what is now Chesterton Community Sports College. These two sites are about 300 yards apart, so a point between them seems the best starting point for measuring, and makes little difference to the outcome.

So one can take the road out from there on a map, and along the most likely route. It’s known it went across Wolstanton Golf Course, and reached the current site of Stoke Station, then went on to Blythe Bridge and to Uttoxeter. It thus seems to me that there was most likely a marching fort about a mile or so east of Tean, most likely more or less at the the small modern village of Checkley — when you have several streams feeding down to the nearby River Tean.

On then looking for corroboration one finds that “there is evidence of a Roman road about a mile north of the village”, but also there is the known Roman fort at nearby Rocester, a few miles further on. This is now under the eastern part of the town.

However, if one goes the ‘other way’ from Rocester toward Chesterton, then at 14.1 modern miles you reach the vicinity of Heron Cross and Mount Pleasant, Fenton. Again, a short distance above the river (the Trent in this case) and well-watered and a likely spot.

Of course, it may be that both notions are more or less correct and that you had ‘one-way’ marching forts? Those headed north-west from Uttoxeter might then use Mount Pleasant, those headed south-east from Chesterton might use Checkley or thereabouts. Or visa versa. Because presumably the Army would not want squabbles about beds and food, which might occur if two or more marching companies both arrived at the same fort for the night, each going different ways. But I can find no information on such practices. Perhaps an expert reader can tell me if that was the way of such things, or not?

Honeyed Meades

The MeadesShrine, collecting all those wonderful Jonathan Meades documentaries about curious provincial architecture and grandiose foreign monstrosities. He’s still around, and currently has a regular column which enlivens the worthy-but-dull magazine The Critic. Of course, he’s too dangerous to allow on the telly these days. But at least he can be enjoyed at the MeadesShrine and on YouTube.

His new 1988-2020 writing collection is out as as the book Pedro and Ricky Come Again, which is a shelf-companion to his previous essay and article collection Peter Knows What Dick Likes (sadly not in ebook).

Fairies at Trentham

A local poem of Trentham by Annie Keary, “Fairy Men”, written when living in Trent Vale, Stoke-upon-Trent in the mid nineteenth century. In the second half she has “Cobbolds” = Kobold work-fairies, which I have looked into here in relation to Tolkien.


In Trentham woods […] I spied the fairy men.

[Various very conventional fairy troops are seen passing by, for five verses]

Last the sad stooping cobbolds came,
  Through earth-holes small they creep;
With patient steps they struggle up
  The under ways so steep:
For sins they are condemned to work
  While other fairies sleep.

They carry tiny water-pails
  Upon their shoulders small,
Toilsomely in the under world
  Work they to fill them all:
Catching each raindrop as it drips
  Through their dark cavern wall.

All night through fields and lanes they go,
  And deftly as they run
They slip a dewdrop in each flower,
  On each grass-blade hang one,
Yet dare not wait to see them turned
  To diamonds by the sun.

Recovered: a Keary fairy-tale

The literary Keary family had a home (homes?) somewhere around Trent Vale / Penkhull, Stoke-on-Trent, and Annie Keary’s children’s novel Sidney Grey: A Tale of School Life (1857) was said to have… “dealt with their [north] Staffordshire region and its brick-kilns” in the 1850s. This fact is also mentioned in a childhood memoir, Memoir of Annie Keary

“On the other side a shady road [at Trent Vale], a church almost opposite the gate; beyond the church the village, and beyond the village, to give the needful inferno element, one or two brick kilns, whose ministers (the ‘ultimi Britanni’ [ancient Britons] of our [childhood] world) were evil-looking, dark-faced boys, terrible to speech or thought. These brick-kilns were introduced into one of the stories Aunt Annie wrote for us, which was afterwards published under the title of Sidney Grey.”

This is the novel Sidney Grey: A Tale of School Life (1857). Still no sign of this novel online, but there is now her novel Sidney Grey: A Year from Home (1876). This is mostly set in “Dunstall, Staffordshire”, after the first few chapters, but with no mention of the brick yards. There is a short melodramatic episode of a rescue of some stray tots from a Hanley bottle-kiln, but that is clearly a ceramics factory. For this reason I suspect Sidney Grey: A Year from Home is a sequel.

No local colour in Sidney Grey: A Year from Home, apart from the brief rescue from a pottery kiln. But half way through we do get an interlude in which there is something better than brick kilns… a long imaginative children’s fairy-tale from Annie Keary, “Through the Wood”. Here it is, extracted in PDF and OCR’d…

Download: keary-through-the-wood-ocr.pdf

This is not the same “Through the Wood” as the story in her collection Little Wanderlin, and other fairy tales.