The Romans on the Wirral

Chester and Wirral

The Roman invasion of Britain in 43AD began in the south and the invading forces spread their influence throughout the country, overcoming tribes, taking control, and handing power back to the local cooperative chieftan. Within two years of the invasion, the Romans were established in the North West of England where their main military base and town was Chester and the Wirral peninsula was used as a conduit from the sea for supplies.

As discussed in the fanciful article on the positioning of Portus Setantiorum, Dove Point and Hilbre Island on the Western tip of the Wirral afford protection and a natural harbour around the Hoyle Lake. Meols became a Roman port from 45 AD and for at least the next thirty years but had undoubtedly been un use for a long time before hand. A known Roman Road suriving only as the short stretch of Hargrave Lane near Raby cuts a clear line down the centre of Wirral leading out of Chester towards the port of Meols.

No evidence of any Roman road has been found higher up the Wirral than this, but this may be due to the fact the road was not paved. Contrary to the typical view of a Roman Road this was not a huge commercial highway with cities along its length, but simply a necessary route to the coast. The road will have been an Iron Age trackway (probably dating back earlier) which the Romans simply used because it was already in use.

Modern LIDAR analysis and Least Cost Path Analysis of the peninsula by Dean Paton has demonstrated that the theoretical easiest route from one end of the Wirral to the other draws a line roughly from Chester, through Willaston (the known course of the Roman road) and then terminates in Meols. (Very approximate route shown right).

Hilbre Island has been in use since the stone age with finds including barbed arrowheads and Roman pottery. After the Roman period the site was used as a burial ground by the Anglo Saxons and continued into the medieval. In 1081 Chester Abbey established a monastic house on the island which was in use until circa 1540. Judging by the name of the island, the monastery may have been dedicated to St Hildeburgh, with the earliest known version of the name being Hildeburgheye in 1388.

Similarly, Meols has been used since the Neolithic and over five thousand artifcats have been discovered along the shore covering millennia of occupation. Development of the port began in the Iron Age, around 400 BC.

A silver coin called a tetradrachm, minted in Syria from the time of Tigranes I of Armenia who reigned between 55 BC and 95 BC, plus a Roman coin of Augustus dating from 27 BC to 19 AD, show that the Wirral was trading with the continent at least a hundred years before the invasion.

Meols was a busy trading community, as born out by the 120 coins discovered, and 70 brooches. Prior to the Roman invasion, the locals would have lived in typical Iron Age roundhouses but no doubt the Roman influence in time brought the familiar modern reclinear shapes.

There is evidence of Roman military occupation prior to the Flavian dynasty (befor 69 AD) which pre-dates the foundation of the fort at Chester and with it's position on the river giving access to all the north west sea ports, it is easy to see how Meols was the largest settlement on Merseyside, eclipsing Chester which came later which is the more significant connurbaiton in the modern day.


1 Hundreds of Roman, and pre-Roman coins and artefacts have been found at Meols.

2 Third or fourth century Roman pottery sherds were found during excavations on Hilbre Island.

3 A farmstead which dated from the Iron Age but was in use through Roman times was in Irby.

4 Two Roman coins, one dating to the late 4th century, have been found at Barnston.

5 Roman pottery has been found in Thornton Hough.

6 East of Raby was a settlement which no longer exists, called Hargrave. However the name is still preserved today in Hargrave Lane which is a Roman Road. This road points directly to Chester and continues on a line through Street Hey Lane and Heath Lane. Coins have also been found in Raby Mere to the east.

7 A small bronze cauldron has been found in Woodchurch and attributed to the Romans.

8 Possible 3rd century Roman coins were found in Arno Hill, Oxton, in 1834.

9 Prenton provided a Bronze Roman coin.

10 Roman pottery and a Roman coin was found in Tranmere, an area on high ground overlooking the Mersey.

11 Central Park in Wallasey yielded a Romano-British coin.

The Earliest Britons  | The Romans and Hadrian's Wall  |  The French Rule of Britain