We all know that Manchester was a pretty Roman-heavy city, what with constant reminders in the form of architecture and, of course, roads, especially around the Castlefield area. It might come as a surprise, then, that one piece of authentic Roman masonry remains in its original position in Manchester – a block of stone.
At about a foot high and a few wide, dating from around the year 200, the block of stone can be found turning left at the end of Collier Street under Arch 95 of the Manchester, South Junction and Altrincham Railway. How it has survived is a miracle, as nothing else similar has, although the Earl of Ellesmere did urge workmen to save what they could when the railway lines were built in the mid-19th Century.
According to New Manchester Walks, a great walking tour company in the city, the great historian A J P Taylor once described the relic as “the least interesting Roman remains in Britain”. For decades the block was enclosed in land belonging to a timber firm, and the owners would charge the curious “10 bob to see the Roman wall“.
When they moved out in the 1980s the site was locked up behind two sets of impenetrable barriers; the council was concerned people might damage it, might splice slivers away, like with the Berlin Wall, destroying it. Now, a car park has been built on the site and so the site is accessible although the block remains behind a sturdy metal fence.
On 12 April 2008 archaeology student Sarah Duffy found a well-preserved three feet high altar stone by the junction of Great Jackson Street and Chester Road, the location, ironically, where the newest, tallest tower blocks in Manchester history are being built.
In full, the inscription on the altar reads:
V.S.L.L.M [v(otum) s(olvit) l(aetus) l(ibens) m(erito)]
This translates as: To the mother goddesses, the Hananeftae and the Ollototae, Aelius Victor gladly, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.
This was the first time in nearly 400 years that archaeologists were able to put a name to a local Roman solider, and these discoveries are how we add to our understanding of the history and heritage of our city. If you want to find out more about the Romans, or endless other elements of Manchester’s history, check out New Manchester Walks for guided tours of every nook and cranny of the city.