The Romans had merchant shipping around Britain and maintained a war fleet known as " the Classis Britannica", perhaps based on Dover .
The inland Roman fortress and town that we call York occupied sites on two sides of the navigable River Ouse, and there were jetties on the nearby river Foss. Brough on the tidal river Humber saw maritime activity and is thought to have been a naval base. The Romans were here for more than three centuries.
Roman shipping could harbour in bays as well as estuaries. The few natural bays, which offered asandy beach and shelter behind a headland, from north easterly winds, between the two great rivers, Humber and Tees, included those at Filey, Flamborough, Bridlington and Scarborough. Other forgotten havens existed along the changed Holderness coastline and there was the modest estuary of the River Esk. Each haven was well used in later centuries. Any one could have offered something to Roman shipping.
Roman use of the coast is a subject for speculation. Little is known. An underwater structure at theSpital rocks near Filey Brigg has been thought to remain from an early quay, but only folklore has attributed it to the Romans.The ancient name for a settlement that was seawards from Bridlington Quay was "Castle Burn". Such "Castle" names frequently memorialise Roman features. A coin hoard was once found at the Quay. A building believed to be Roman at a cliff site between Bridlington and Sewerby has vanished into the sea.
Many Roman finds have come from two sites at Kilnsea at the southern end of the Holderness coast. Such finds bear less weight than they used to. There are a few townships, coastal or otherwise, which haven't produced a Roman coin or two. That said, the scatter of coins and other finds from within Whitby, Scarborough, Bridlington Quay and Filey may yet prove significant.
Place names ending in "brough", sometimes indicatevanished forts or similar earthworks, named by earlypeople, who could see them better than we can. A whole township sometimes took the name of its most prominent or most ancient feature, and sometimesthis was a 'brough". Coastal "broughs" occur at Aldbrough and Ringbrough in low lying Holderness, and at Flamborough, Swarbrough, Scarborough, and Goldsborough along the cliff coasts further north. Within mediaeval Scarborough were Burgh head causeway, Burghbank and Burghwellgate, but they could refer to the mediaeval borough.
The Aldbrough in Holderness should not be confused with the Aldbrough in the vale of York which was made the civitas capital of the Brigantian peoples. Flamborough has the massive "dyke", which may offer a different meaning for the name. Scarborough also has the castle dyke, as well as the possibility that the its promontory rock may have been the hillfort, spoken of by Ptolemy. Swarbrough is in a playing field near the far boundary of modern Scarborough, at a relatively high point of the coast near Wheatcroft, but absolutely dwarfed by Weaponess hill behind it. It is given as Sharborow in 1522. It has never been explored.
When the Romans came under "barbarian" attack, southern coastal forts were made, in the 3rd and 4th centuries , from Portchester to Brancaster along the "Saxon shore". Further north, in the late 4th century, small signal station forts were built at intervals along the north east Yorkshire coast, to warn of attack from the northern Picts. Remains of the forts have been found at Huntcliff, Goldsborough,Ravenscar, Scarborough and Filey. They are widely believed to have existed at Whitby and Flamborough.Where the coastline has moved inland, between the Wash and Flamborough, signal stations mayor may not have existed. Some of their sites have borough names and some do not. It is not certain that the names Scarborough and Swarborough have anything to do with signal stations.
Ports need roads .The Roman road system has been little explored in east Yorkshire. Major roads called "streets" heading for coastal places occur in Holderness and inland from Bridlington, Flamborough, Filey, Scarborough and Whitby. The roads heading for Filey, for Bridlington or for Flamborough can be interpreted as major Roman roads crossing the entire country, for their continuation westwards leads to York, Manchester and Chester A number of extra, lesser roads, that have been thought to be Roman, have been found in Filey, in Bridlington and less convincingly behind Scarborough.
Scarborough is forty miles south of the River Teesa nd fifty miles north of the River Humber. Second century pottery, and roof tile, found along the Roman road called "stony causeway" at Scarborough has revised the opinion that the road existed to reach the fourth century signal station on Scarborough rock. If it is an open question what it did lead to. It certainly didn't lead to the sea. We know parts of it as Seamer Road, Londesborough Road, Victoria Road and Castle Road.
Roman coins have come from the Falsgrave hydro, the sands beneath Foreshore Road, from the harbour area, a 3rd century coin of Claudius Gothicus from southbeach, Herodian coins and an amphora from the bay. As Mary Kitson Clark wrote in 1935,
"there may have been a Roman occupation at other periods and in other parts of Scarborough. The finds are not enough to demonstrate Roman harbour activity but the possibility remains."
Seventy three years later, the judgment still stands. (.J.R.)
Articles by John Rushton MBE