ONE of the most exciting Roman finds of recent years is about to be lost forever under a housing development in Cheshire.
Work to make way for 34 luxury homes on a site in Middlewich has yielded one of the best-preserved sections of Roman road ever discovered in the region, as well as artefacts including a variety of coins, two timber-lined wells and a fountain.
Now, a team of archaeologists, funded with a £100,000 grant from builders Fairclough Homes, are working against the clock to rescue finds and record as much of the site as possible before the houses go up.
Ironically, the site, off Kings Street, could disappear just as the town gets ready for the Roman Middlewich Festival, a major event which will see the town celebrating its Roman heritage for the first time.
The decision to continue with the housing development has outraged local people who insist the 2,000-year-old site should be preserved.
Despite objections by councillors, planning permission was given following a hearing by a Government inspector.
A representative from English Heritage has visited the site but said they were powerless to intervene.
George Twigg, who has been involved with the Northwich Salt Museum for 30 years, said: "The area is most probably a salt-making site. It was important for the Romans to have salt because it preserved their meat in winter.
"It is the only significant salt-making site in Cheshire and a very important find for Middlewich but we are now in the process of losing it, if it is not already lost."
He added: "The town does not need this estate. The builders will just clear off when they have finished and leave Middlewich with housing it does not want and we will have lost our family silver."
A Fairclough Homes spokeswoman said: "The development of 34 homes on the site is being carried out under an archaeological watching brief which ensures that adequate protection of any archaeological interests are provided in accordance with national planning guidelines."
The spokeswoman said part of the Roman road would be retained by covering it with a protective membrane, adding: "Where preservation is not possible on site, archaeological deposits are preserved through archaeological record."
Meanwhile, full details have been unveiled of the programme of events for the Roman Middlewich Festival, which takes place over the weekend of September 15 and 16 on the site of the King Street Roman fort.
The festival will be officially opened by the Italian Consul for the North West, Senor Marcello Cavalcaselle, who will accompany Britain's foremost re-enactment society, the Ermine Street Guards and local schoolchildren on a grand parade to the site.
People will be ferried to and from the site in a Roman galley decorated with colourful shields made by local schools.
The festival will feature displays of Roman military manoeuvres and battle reenactments in full costume and Roman regalia.
Middlewich was a Roman settlement for up to 300 years and recent excavations have unearthed a wealth of archaeological discoveries to rival Chester, which is Cheshire's main Roman stronghold.
Roman Middlewich originated in the late 1st century AD as a military base on the main route from the Midlands to the North.