Leeds and the Romans

Sitting grabbing a few minutes of bright sunshine outside a cafe the other day, I was watching one of my daughters revise latin. It set me reflecting on ancient languages and I was quite taken by the idea of her sitting reading a language which might have actually been spoken in the area around us a couple of thousand years ago. We were, after all, but a hundred yards from a road called Roman Avenue. But I didn’t think I could read too much into that; the adjacent streets were all Norman-something. I had heard somewhere some vague references to a Roman settlement near the river Aire, but didn’t know the details so instead of getting on with replying to work emails, I diverted for a happy half hour onto Google to find out a bit more.

I mentioned yesterday my interest in geography. That pales into insignificance when compared to my passion for history, and all things historical. As I began to google Roman Leeds, I wondered why I had never bothered to read up on the topic before. Of course, it’s all internet-related. In the past, if you had a question, it meant making a specific visit to a library to find out more. Now, a speculative whimsical query prompted by daydreaming in a pavement café can be explored and researched at the press of a few buttons. I still get excited by the reach of the internet in a way my kids just don’t understand. They simply have no concept of the way life used to work pre-Web.

A section of the 1857 Ordnance survey map of Leeds showing the Quarry Hill area where a Roman encampment may have existed

Anyway, it was a fruitful search. I came across a wonderful website called Secret Leeds with a couple of fascinating threads sharing information and speculating about Roman Leeds. There’s no clear-cut evidence of a permanent camp in what’s now the city centre, but there was an established camp out at Adel. I also found a very readable history of Leeds on the Yorkshire Post website. However, what really caught my imagination in the bits I saw were the references to the ancient early Middle Ages kingdom of Elmet. I came across a list of place names with the affix “-in-Elmet” and somehow found it extraordinary to think these little insignificant villages in the surrounding area had such a well-defined history stretching back 1500 years.

A few weeks back, I posted on Wyke Beck woods. The path I use to access these woods is a virtually invisible turning off a quiet old lane with very little traffic of any sort. I have often wondered how the path has survived in the face of encroaching development. It is now a hemmed-in wooded corridor from the lane to the beck. Of course, it must be an ancient right of way, and when I think about these paths established and used for centuries connecting villages still populated today, I am quite overcome by this continuing very tangible link to ancient history.

And so back to the present and the here and now and getting on with the stuff I should be doing…


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