On this day … 29 April 1885

The Preston Guardian carried a report on a further discovery of antlers during the Ribble excavations. Barron in his history of the dock described the finds that were made then and earlier, and the lost forest they revealed:

The great number of large trees – mostly oaks – removed from the river bed between the “Willows” and the “Savick Brook” from 1850 onwards formed part of this forest, and when the dock was excavated there were found … over 60 antlers of the red deer (almost all royal); nearly 100 fragments of antlers; 43 horned skulls of the urus [an extinct large ox, also known as an auroch]; 5 horses heads with many horses bones; skulls of sheep, skulls of the pilot whale, 1 skull of the bottle-nosed whale, and about 30 human skulls …

… a few implements of the Basque Age were found in close proximity, as well as an adze [an axe-like tool] of greenstone of a still more ancient character. Some of the heads of the urus were surmounted with horns measuring 30 inches across, and belonged to a species which was quite extinct in Britain when the Romans made their first appearance here. The human skulls … give no evidence of death by violence or in warfare, and they certainly were not part of the contents of some ancient burial ground.

Two ancient dug-out wooden boats, which were also found in the excavations, probably belong to a later date. The most perfect of these boats was found in October, 1887, 200 yards to the east of Castle Hill at a depth of 14 feet below the surface and 130 feet from the bank of the river. It is 8 feet 8 inches in length over all by 2 feet 8 inches at the widest part, with a flat bottom and scooped out—probably burnt out—of a single log of oak.

The second boat is about a foot shorter and 2 feet 8 inches wide, and bears traces of clean cutting by sharp metallic tools. It was found at a depth of 13 feet about a quarter of a mile east of Penwortham Church. These canoes may be as early as the Bronze Age and the oldest in the county.

Traces of a lake dwelling were also found on the dock site. A floor, 50 feet long by 20 feet wide of brushwood, 2 to 3 feet thick laid on the tops of piles, which were roughly pointed and driven 8 to 15 feet into the gravel, was found in a marsh about 100 yards from the bed of the river, but no weapons or implements were found near, probably because the navvies had no instructions to look out for anything of that kind during its removal.

The finds were taken to the Harris Museum, where the human skulls were carefully measured by the Rev .J. Shortt, honorary curator and vicar of Hoghton.

Excavated items from the construction of Preston Dock
‘Excavated items from the construction of Preston Dock. This was how the old display looked at the Harris Museum, minus the human skulls.’

A more recent excavation, in 1976, on Riversway and inside the Preston Dock gates, was described in the journal of the Lancashire Archaeological Society. It revealed a possible Roman road made of squared stones:

‘The excavators had cut across it at an angle and below the stones were gravel, cobbles and red sandstone overlying grey clay and the natural clay. The road seems to have been running in the direction of Walton-le-Dale.’

J. C. Plummer, who wrote the item, suggested that if it was a Roman road, it was probably heading for Kirkham. Ben Edwards, the former county archaeologist, added a comment, ‘The choice of Walton-le-Dale as the destination of the road which was discovered there tends to imply a Roman connection for which no evidence so far has turned up.’


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