Spectacular views from this hilltop site on Mellor Moor leave you in little doubt as to why it was chosen for a Roman signal station. It had a clear line of sight to two Roman forts: Ribchester to the north and Kirkham to the west (see our page on Kirkham’s lost Roman fort here).
There is good reason to think that it could have been part of a chain of stations communicating north to south, east to west, or even both.
A north to south route would have followed the main Roman road through the western side of Britain, established during Agricola’s conquest of the area. To the north of Mellor is Longridge Fell (on which another possible signal site has been identified) and the Bowland hills. From there the stations could have followed the Roman road towards the fort at Burrow in Lonsdale.
An east to west chain would have formed a route from the River Ribble to the River Aire. As stated above, the view west to the Roman fort at Kirkham is very clear. Interestingly, excavation has revealed that before the Kirkham fort was built there was a signalling station there. Although there are good views eastwards upstream of the Ribble from Mellor, the Pendle area does form a problem and there would need to be at least three signal stations to get around it. It is possible that there was a signal station at Whalley, as there are a number of Roman finds from around there.
An excavation of Mellor’s signal station site in the 1950s revealed some stone walls, although the central tower would have been wooden. It is thought to be of a similar construction to the ones that form the Stainmore Pass signalling system (which follows the modern day A66 road). A construction date of 79 AD was given, implying it was built soon after the Roman invasion of north west England. The building was surrounded by a ditch and bank, the ditch was one and a half metres deep, the bank a little over half a metre high. The tower would have signalled using fire or smoke.
There have been other Roman finds in the area. A Roman altar was found in 1874 and a second one was found in 1988 by workers engaged in hedging and ditch clearance.
Reaching the top of Mellor Moor today there is little left to see of the site, despite the Ordnance Survey map having “Earthworks” marked on it prominently. If you aim for the trig point and then look around, with the eye of faith perhaps you will see a raised area and a shallow bank and ditch, if the grass is low and the light is right. English Heritage describe the earthworks as a raised platform 19 metres by 10 metres, surrounded by a faint trace of a ditch and a faint trace of a bank beyond that. Years of ploughing have eroded the features, making it hard to discern much.
All that said, the site is well worth a visit and not only for the views of the countryside around. There is a saying that “a good site is a good site” and you will immediately notice that it has been used in more recent history. A short distance from the trig point are the above ground remains of a Royal Observer Corps monitoring post, which would have been used to measure nuclear fallout if the Cold War had ever turned hot. For more details on this site have a look here at the Lancashire at War website which is our other historical website. Next to the monitoring post is a modern circular panoramic viewing platform, with villages, towns and hills marked on and their distances away, so enjoy your Roman viewpoint!
Site visited by A. and R. Bowden 2013. This page updated 2019.
Access and Parking: Park at Mellor Village Hall. To reach the site, walk up Mellor Lane , straight over the cross roads and turn left into the field following the public footpath. Head for the top of the hill which is marked by a trig point. The West Pennine Moors Explorer map has the site clearly marked and it’s recommended that you take a copy with you.
English Heritage: www.pastscape.org (accessed 20/10/13)
Journeys Through Brigantia, Volume Eleven, Circular Walks in The East Lancashire Pennines, 2003, John Dixon and Jaana Jarvinen, Aussteiger Publications
The Romans at Ribchester: Discovery and Excavations, B.J.N. Edwards (2000) Centre for North-West Regional Studies, University of Lancaster
Ribchester, B.J.N. Edwards (1972) The National Trust
Roman North West England: Hinterland or ‘Indian Country’? Editor Tom Saunders (2011), Archaeology North West (New Series Volume 2) Council for British Archaeology North West
Romans and Britons in North-West England, David Shotter (2004) Centre for North-West Regional Studies, University of Lancaster