Bomber Camp

This Romano-British site was excavated in 1939 by R C Musson. The purpose of the site has never been fully established as the excavations were not finished.

The Site

Bomber Camp is a square enclosure in a field near Gisburn, in the old West Riding of Yorkshire. As there was no local name, Musson named the site after the farm where it is located. The lane adjacent to the site is crossed by the Roman road that links the forts of Ribchester and Elslack. The road, parts of which are still visible today, runs west to east about a kilometer south of the Bomber Camp site.

The enclosure is an almost exact square, with rounded corners. It is surrounded by a ditch with an interior bank (both are still clearly visible) enclosing an acre of ground. The site field slopes gently downwards from west to east and lies directly on the watershed, with streams on each side. There is a break in the bank on the south-east side; a shallow hollow runs north from the break towards the centre. Other slight hollows or raised areas are visible in the field; a deep ditch runs down the west side of the field from north to south and can be seen continuing northwards beyond it as a double ditch and bank linear earthwork.

Investigations

In July and August 1939 Musson, with local help, dug several trenches inside the site with the aim of establishing its date. The excavation was, however, rapidly concluded on 31 August ‘owing to the critical international situation’. The situation, of course, resulted in the outbreak of war with Germany and the excavation never resumed. Musson published a brief report, with plans and section drawings, as a paper in the Proceedings of the Leeds Philosophical Society. The paper also included a report on the pottery finds and an additional note by Mary Kitson Clark, and a description of the linear earthwork by Musson.

The site plan shows ten trenches (numbered with Roman numerals), plus five small trenches along the bank and ditch, and one in the interior. Musson found that nearly all the excavated areas were covered in ‘rounded boulders’ lying below the turf and soil, directly on the natural subsoil. He assumes these stones have been ‘placed’ although he found no evidence of a turf line below them. All the pottery finds came from this stony layer, mostly from Site II (2). Based largely on these finds, Musson designates this part of the site as an occupation area. As expected, the entrance was found at the break in the bank. The road turned sharply left inside the entrance to avoid the shallow hollow which Musson tentatively assumed to be a pond; although he questions the need for a pond in an area with numerous nearby streams. Excavations found no further continuation of the road.

The Finds

The most important of these is the pottery; a collection of very similar early to mid 4th century AD ware. They include fragments of mortaria, cooking pot rims (with some signs of burning) and some fine ware including a copy of Samian ware. In her ‘Additional Note’, Kitson Clark relates the pottery to other 4th century AD finds in Craven and Upper Wharfedale. She speculates that the site possibly reflects a Roman system of controlling the northern upland area by establishing effective tribal government.

Other finds include the top stone of a quern, a stone spindle whorl, a stone pounder, two small pieces of metal, a twig found in a sealed context, two pieces of whetstone, and part of the blade of an iron sword.

Musson’s conclusion

The report concludes that the site was occupied at some time after AD300 and before AD375, and was not a fort. Musson also speculates that there might be some connection with the nearby linear earthwork.

More to be discovered…

Though brief, Musson’s report is remarkably informative and raised a number of interesting issues with the excavation findings: there was domestic activity but no dwelling or hearth were found; the nature and function of the pond area are unclear; there is fairly high status pottery; whetstones were found but no metal objects (except the sword blade) which itself raises questions about the function of the site.

These are other questions can only be answered by further investigation such as meticulous survey, geophysical techniques, further excavation and a wider study of the landscape. Apart from the Roman road and linear earthwork, there may be other features relating to the Bomber Camp site. Further investigation could provide some understanding of the function of the site, its occupation and duration. This could also contribute important information to our knowledge of the Roman period in Yorkshire.

Information compiled by Helen McKinlay.

Plan of the Bomber Camp site

Plan of the Bomber Camp site

Fragments of Roman mortaria (used to grind herbs), from Craven Museum & Gallery’s collection.

Fragments of Roman mortaria (used to grind herbs), from Craven Museum & Gallery’s collection.

Stone pounder found at Bomber Camp, from Craven Museum & Gallery’s collection.

Stone pounder found at Bomber Camp, from Craven Museum & Gallery’s collection.

Fragments of various types of Roman pottery, from Craven Museum & Gallery’s collection.

Fragments of various types of Roman pottery, from Craven Museum & Gallery’s collection.