NGR: SD 58168 05667. All Saints parish church on Bishopgate, Wigan, Lancashire, houses part of a Roman altar-stone that is said to have come from the Roman station of COCCIUM (COCCIO) – Wigan, which was probably built in 70 AD, and was located on the hill where the parish church now stands. There is no trace of this roman fort or camp today – the parish church of All Saints taking its place. The altar-stone, which has curved, scroll-like features at each end, has a 17th century inscription on its visible side whereas a Latin inscription on the opposite side is ‘not visible’. It was probably dedicated to the Roman god Mithras. A “presumed” Roman road runs west from MAMVCIVM (Manchester), converging in the centre of the town and then running northwest to Walton-le-Dale, while another Roman road runs south from Wigan towards Warrington, Wilderspool and on to Northwich (CONDATE). A Roman bath-house has recently been excavated where the Shopping Arcade now stands in the town centre. All Saints church, a mid 19th Century building, is easy to find at the southeast corner of Bishopgate, just off Market Street, in Wallgate, and opposite the War Memorial.
The Church guide book says of the Roman altar, that: “Of special interest under the Tower are the window in the west wall which, though much restored, dates from the 13th century, and part of a pagan Roman Altar which is built into the splay of the east side of the modern window in the north wall. It was found in the rebuilding of 1845-1850 buried beneath the High Altar and was placed in its present position then. It is unfortunately only partly visible, so that it is impossible to tell whether it has a Roman inscription on the hidden side. On the exposed face is a half obliterated modern inscription, dated 1604. It was probably used in the Roman station of Coccium, which can almost certainly be identified with modern Wigan, and which probably stood on the hill now occupied by the parish church.”
D. C. A. Shotter (1973) tells about the Roman site of Coccium, saying: “The next site northwards in probably Wigan, although no structural remains of Roman occupation have been found there. The chief evidence for the existence of a Roman site under the present town comes from Route 10 of the Antonine Itinerary, which gives distances on a route from Ravenglass (Cumberland) to Whitchurch (Shropshire). The middle section of this route is given as GALACUM (probably Burrow in Lonsdale). BREMETENNACUM (certainly Ribchester), COCCIUM and MAMUCIUM (almost certainly Manchester). The distances given are too great to refer to any settlement between Ribchester and Manchester on the direct route, but they will fit a route that runs from Ribchester to the Coastal road at its junction in Ribblesdale, then south to Wigan, and thence to Manchester on the road attested by the 19th Century observers. Thus Wigan would provide an identification for the elusive site of COCCIUM, and in Roman times it will have been entered from the South, the East and the North respectively by Wallgate, Millgate and Standishgate.
“Further evidence comes from the finds made in and around Wigan. To judge from cinerary urns recovered from the area of the gas works, a cemetery appears to have lain on the South side; the Church has a Roman altar built into it; further, various coins have been found in the area, including a hoard of some 200 coins recovered in Standish in the late 17th Century; this hoard contained coins from the late 1st to the mid-3rd Century A.D. Another important find, this time from Dalton (five miles north-west of Wigan) is the headless statue of Cautopates………, one of the attendants of the god, Mithras.”
Joseph P. Pearce (2005) says that: “Here, on the rising land within a loop of the river Douglas, the Roman Conquerors of Britain have founded their camp and castlefield. The Roman road leading from Warrington to Preston and Walton-le-Dale, passed through the very centre of the town of Wigan, bearing the traffic of the Legions and the Guilds and Trades of old. Four streets radiate from the Market Place—Standishgate, Wallgate, Millgate, and Hallgate; all bearing a Roman stamp. A stone from a Roman altar has been found, embedded within the walls of Wigan Church. Here the Romans ruled until that day when Rome, herself, was beset by barbarian hordes. Then the Roman soldiers were withdrawn from Britain and the ancient British race was left to the cruel mercy of the Norsemen.”
Besides the Roman stone there are other interesting features in All Saints. In the Crawford Chapel is a tomb with recumbent and battered effigies of Lady Mabel de Bradshaw of Haigh Hall and her husband William, a now rather forlorn and somber monument that has stood here since the 14th century. Lady Mabel is the heroine of the famous Wigan Cross or Mab’s Cross in Standishgate, which dates back to 1338 when it was set up by Mabel, a saintly and charitable lady…… who endowed her chapel with property in Haigh and Wigan to enable a priest to celebrate divine service at the Altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Wigan Church, remembering especially the souls of herself after death, King Edward II, her husband, Sir William, her parents and all her ancestors, Roger, then Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, and all the faithful departed, says the Church guide book. The very ornate font in the south aisle is 14th-15th Century and its large gritstone bowl can be seen close-by. It has a band of quarter foils run-ning around its outer surface; apparently this was in use as a water butt in the gardens of the hall before being being restored to the church.
And finally, there was at one time in the past a school of thought indicating perhaps that the Roman station of Coccium was located on Castle Hill, 3 miles east of Wigan, at Hindley, in Lancashire (NGR: SD 62460485). However, this thought, account, or suggestion now seems to have been ‘completely discounted’, and is not the case with Coccium, which is nowadays considered to have been where the parish church of All Saints is now to be found in Wigan town centre. There was, however, a Medieval structure on Castle Hill, at Hindley, which was probably a timber castle.
The Historic England List Entry No. is:- 1384556.
Sources / References and related websites:-
Church guide book, The Parish Church of All Saints, Wigan — A Short History and Guide, 2003. The two images (above) are from this guide.
Pearce, Joseph P., Lancashire Legends, Book Clearence Centre, Wigan, 2005. (Originally published by The Ormskirk Advertiser, 1928. This edition is re-published with the kind permission of the Liverpool Daily Post & Echo Group).
Shotter, D. C. A., Romans in Lancashire, Dalesman Publishing Company Ltd, Clapham, Yorkshire, 1973.
© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.