THE ROMAN GARDENS PROJECT
The History of Mamucium and the Roman Gardens
The settlement of Manchester was established in and around the Roman Gardens project site in Castlefield nearly 2,000 years ago, when a village grew up beside the Roman Fort of Mamucium. The heritage of this Roman Fort, which is essentially the birthplace of Manchester, will be the focus of the project.
Founded in AD 79, Mamucium was sited on a sandstone buff near the confluence of the Rivers Medlock and Irwell in a naturally defensible position. The Fort was garrisoned by a cohort of auxiliary soldiers and guarded the road running from Chester to York.
The impact of Mamucium, was in its time, as great as the creation of the canals. Castlefield became, for the first time, a centre of commerce and communication. The Fort was on the main route between the major fortresses at Chester and York, and on the road to Carlisle and Hadrian’s Wall from the south.
Supplying the fort generated new trade, and a thriving civilian settlement called a vicus grew up around the north and east sides of the Fort, alongside the Roman Road.
After the Roman withdrawal from Britain around 410, the area of Mamucium was used for agricultural purposes, and laid derelict for centuries. The site lay in ruins until the Industrial Revolution when Manchester expanded and the fort was levelled to make way for new development, including the Rochdale Canal and the Great Northern Railway.
The Roman Gardens today
The Roman Gardens site today features a reconstruction of the Mamucium’s North Gate directly on the site of the original stone gateway of the fort, which was excavated by Greater Manchester Archaeological Unit during the early 1980s. A section of the original Roman stone work and a series of defensible ditches uncovered during the dig are also incorporated into the reconstruction, showing how the Roman defenses may have looked around AD 200.
The alignment of the Roman Road, routed perpendicular to the North Gate, has also been retained in the current Roman Gardens site and forms a key north to south axial route through the site. A number of representative building foundations of three Roman buildings have also been reconstructed alongside the Roman Road. This includes a booth, a hotel (known as a mansio), and a house.
The project site in Castlefield is at the south west corner of Manchester city centre, with the Rochdale Canal cutting through the southern corner of the site. Deansgate, which has developed into a busy thoroughfare, passes close to the east and follows the general line of the Roman road to Ribchester and Castlefield.
Working closely with the local community, residents, businesses and stakeholders, a project masterplan has been developed for the Roman Gardens site by BDP, with ‘in kind’ support estimated at £18,000.
We established from the Greater Manchester County Archaeologist the significance of the reconstructed North Gate, stone footings, ditches and Roman Road in the existing gardens. We will therefore maintain their final positions within the project masterplan. The North Gate itself is a replica of the northern entrance to the Roman Fort that once occupied this site and helps cement the true historical importance of Castlefield as the birthplace of Manchester.
The project masterplan will aim to:
Welcome you in and across to Castlefield;
Sit comfortably with both our Roman and Victorian heritage, as well as Castlefield’s latest incarnation as a residential area and tourist destination;
Be high-quality, featuring a simple urban design including both hard and soft landscaping;
De-clutter the whole site, including the removal of barriers to entry, therefore improving pedestrian permeability;
Have a uniform approach to pathway design, lighting, furniture, and a simple, cohesive palette of plants and trees;
Have appropriate borders to stop trampling;
Be straight-forward and inexpensive to maintain.
The detailed project masterplan proposals will include the following design aspirations:
The retention of the reconstructed Roman North Gate, ditches, road and vicus which, apart from having heritage significance, anchor the Roman heritage concept into the park.
The existing footpath which is routed along the footprint of the Roman Road will be redefined to emphasise the key north to south pedestrian axial route through the site.
A new east to west footpath (the ‘Bridgewater Walk’) will also be incorporated into the site design, improving connectivity with the wider area. Small social spaces with seating and fruit trees will be incorporated into the walk. Grass mounds, providing informal recreation and seating opportunities will enclose the Bridgewater Walk.
A rain garden will feature, using run-off from an adjacent apartment block and will be planted with a wide range of species in order to create a densely vegetated, stable and thriving bed. The proposed planting will have dense root systems which will thrive without frequent maintenance, and withstand occasional flooding.
The existing mature London Plane trees, located along the Liverpool Road frontage, will be crown lifted to provide more light into the space, open up views, improve visual connectivity and accessibility, and maintain the heath of the trees. The tree pit surrounds will also be retrofitted with arbor resin (or a similar product) to remove trip hazards where root lift has raised the existing paving slabs and allow free flow of air and water to the root zone.
A ‘Park Square’ along the Liverpool Road frontage will be a paved, community area with grow boxes, tables, chairs and an events stage. Herbs, vegetables and fruits will be grown here to reflect early Roman kitchen gardens. The ‘Friends of the Romans Gardens’ group will manage and maintain the Park Square.
Introduce bird boxes, butterfly houses and bug hotels to improve biodiversity.
Ornamental, bee friendly, Roman inspired planting will be planted along the borders of the site. Evergreen plants will form the backbone of the planting beds, providing structure, all year interest, and being very easy to maintain, will be labour saving.
Progress to date
The project began in December 2010. Concept design proposals and plans have been prepared, consultation has been carried out and in 2015 Castlefield Forum raised £19,000 with Crowd Funding to take the plans through the planning process which was achieved in 2017. The planning costs included, Tree Survey, Topological Survey, Archaeological Assessment, Crime Impact Assessment, plus Landscape Architect, Town Planning and Lighting Design Services and the Council’s Planning Application fees.
Subsequently, some elements of the master plan have been achieved. Using Manchester City Council (MCC) Clean & Green fund, crown lifting of trees was completed in 2017 and resurfacing of the pathway that follows the original Roman Road has been funded and designed and was completed in summer 2019. Also, using MCC Neighbourhood Investment Fund, the reconstructed North Gate has been cleaned using specialist heritage cleaning contractors and a lighting scheme for the North Gate has been funded will be installed in 2020.
A Friends of The Roman Gardens group is in place and works together with the Council to maintain the existing Gardens. Neighbouring businesses, have been very supportive under their Corporate Social Responsibilty plans, providing volunteers to support the Friends group carry out weeding, planting and tidying works.
Greater Manchester Archaeology Advisory Service and the University of Salford carried out a number of test pits in summer 2018 with a view to advising a wider community excavation in areas of the Gardens that were not included in previous excavations on the site.
It became clear that the significant funding required to complete the all the works in the masterplan would not be achievable in a single grant. We are therefore carrying out the works on an incremental basis.
Further fundraising is now required to continue to deliver this project. The initial draft costings at the outset was £2m. However the masterplan was changed in parts to satisfy planning and it was agreed not to incur further costs for a detailed costing exercise at this stage.
Updated October 2019