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The mystery of Pompocali – a former Roman settlement or an honest mistake?

A friend of mine who lived in Scarcroft took me on a lockdown dog walk a few weeks ago and knowing that I have an interest in history was keen to show me the Roman site of Pompocali.

I was intrigued, having never heard of it before but was looking forward to taking a look and finding out more.

Pompocali is a strange series of earth workings situated between Thorner and Bardsey near to Hetchell Woods, not far from the A58.

The banks of the earth workings form almost horse shoes type shapes with conical mounds and ridges which can be climbed. I took a few pictures of the site which you can see here but on returning home and trying to find out more, there seemed very little information about the site.

Various theories had been posted online. That it was a Roman Fort, A Roman Quarry or a former Roman Burial Ground. The Roman connection did seem logical as there is a quarry nearby where magnesium limestone was quarried a favourite building material of the Romans and used for their city walls in York (Eboracum). There was also a Roman Road which followed the course of a local bridleway nearby, so we knew the Romans had passed by the area.

Having not got very far online with my research, I posted the images onto Facebook on the Leeds History site. Asking if anyone could shed any light on the subject. This is a great little online community and I received some really useful information.

Initially the confusion grew when local historian Mark Stevenson send me an old map showing Pomocali named as Supposed Roman or Danish remains. Maybe it wasn’t roman after all but Viking in origin?

It was obviously a popular place as many people responded with stories of camping there as children or having family picnics there in their youth.

The majority of people informed me that they understood the area was a Roman Quarry or the spoil heaps of one.

Mark Stevenson contacted me again with a theory that Pompocali was dreamt up in more recent history by local antiquarians and another group member Mark Hopkinson also suggested an 18th Century hoax. The mystery grew…

Mark also explained that the Roman Road running close to the site was one which ran from Tadcaster (the Romans also quarried here and called the town Calcaria) to Adel and passed beside Hetchell Wood. Apparently aerial photos show marks nearby Holme Farm that suggest possibly a small Roman garrison next to the road here which is about a quarter of a mile from the Pompocali site.

One group member David Stephenson explained to me that the name should actually be Pompocalia – which meant “field of need” which would be a good name for a quarry’s vital contents for building materials.

But finally, the mystery was put to bed when Lisa Goddard sent me a note with a number of photos of pages from the book - Scarcroft Then and Now by Olav Arnold and Lionel Scott.

In this book they confirm that the Roman’s may have quarried there although there is no proof of this bar the nearby Roman Road.

They also explain that the name was only given to the site in 1720 after a series of errors.

The reasoning behind this was that the Roman Empire used to make lists of places within the Empire. These were copied and recopied with varying degrees of accuracy. Two locations originally listed were on the Manchester to York Road (which joined the local Roman Road we have mentioned running near our site). These two locations were Calcaria ( or Tadcaster) and Campodunum a fort close to Leeds.

The task of compiling the master document of Roman locations fell to Ravenna and his finished work was known as the Ravenna Cosmography. Documents versions show at various stages of copying the two names got corrupted and confused, then combined, first of all into Campocalia and then by Ravenna himself changing the wording to Pampocalia.

This ancient document was finally printed an published in 1688 in Paris and came to the attention of Ralph Thoresby – perhaps Leeds first and most well known historian. Thoresby and his friend the map maker John Warburton were keen to locate the site of Pampocalia and had no reason to doubt the accuracy of the published version of Ravenna’s Cosmography.

Ralph Thoresby always thought the site was at Adel, but working on his own John Warburton published a map in 1720 with Pompocalia at the quarry site just outside Hetchell Woods, and what’s more he had dropped the “a” from the end of the name. There was never any firm evidence for this and it looks like Warburton took this decision by himself.

The place name stuck and with the first Ordinance Survey map covering the area published in 1850, the site of Pompocali was shown and remains to this day.

So after the grand title given to the location and the images of ancient Rome it conjures, sadly there is not much evidence to it being nothing more than a “series of mistakes” and “poetic license”.

Whether the Romans were there or not ,or whether the quarrying took place later, the site has beautiful views and is a great place to get some exercise, indulge in mindfulness or just walk your dog!

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