Who were the earliest Black settlers in Lancashire? An ancient skeleton of African descent was discovered in East Kent in 1953. The body dated from around 250 AD. The Roman Empire included ethnically diverse people and not all those with African links were slaves. Some lived high status lives.Advertisement
At its peak, the Roman Empire ruled a wide swathe of the known world, from Constantinople, in the East, to the Antonine wall in the North of Scotland. The North of Africa including Egypt was also in the Empire. Britain was first invaded by Julius Caesar in 54 BC, However, he did not occupy the country. Later, the emperor Claudius invaded in earnest and the occupation of Britain began. By 84 AD the conquering expeditions were largely over.
In the 70s AD, Agricola gradually moved North, passing the area that was to become Preston.
He established a military supply base close to the Ribble, at Walton-le-Dale. The area was ruled by the Brigantes tribe. Additionally, two forts were constructed at Ribchester and Kirkham. It is probable that some Africans were amongst the Roman settlers.
A large number of Roman skeletons have been excavated, dating from the third century, and a proportion of them have African links.
The occupation in the North did not affect rural life as much as in the South. Roman roads were used to rapidly move troops and goods to the forts and supply centres. Locals and merchants also used the roads to deliver food and luxury items to the civilian settlements around the forts.
The roads around Grimsargh at Red Scar were found to be in good condition under a thin layer of grass. For example, the camber and drainage ditches on either side can be seen in the landscape. Roman coins have also been found in the area.
Below, the map shows the route of the road along the Ribble Valley passing the supply base at Walton-le-Dale and passing what would later become Fulwood. Prehistoric roads tended to follow high ground and ridges in the landscape.
The Roman road from Ribchester to Kirkham is well preserved, in places. Especially around Grimsargh. Tantalisingly there are a few remains of what may have been signalling stations along the Ribble Valley.
Finds in Preston itself are scant, only a few coins have been found. Watling Street Road follows the course of the road to Kirkham Fort. No pottery has been located. Therefore it can be assumed that no Roman settlement existed.
Known as the Ivory Bangle Lady, a skeleton found in York proved to be of North African origin. She was buried in a sarcophagus with a mixture of jewellery and a mirror.
New Histories states: “She was nicknamed the ‘Ivory Bangle Lady’ due to her bracelets that epitomised the diversity of Roman Britain. One bracelet was made of Yorkshire jet and the other one was formed from African ivory. She was a young, rich Black woman who held a position of power in the city”.
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