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Watling Street

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Watling Street
Watling Street.png
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From:  Dover (TR317413)
To:  Wroxeter (SJ564090)
Via:  London
Old route now:  A256, A2, A2050, A296, B2500, A226, A207, B211, B210, A200, A3, A5, A5183, B4116, B5404, B5061
Primary Destinations
Traditional Counties

Kent • Middlesex • Hertfordshire • Bedfordshire • Buckinghamshire • Northamptonshire • Leicestershire • Warwickshire • Staffordshire • Shropshire

Watling Street (RM1) was the main Roman Road from Dover to Wroxeter, Shropshire. The earliest London Bridges were a part of this road.

The road was described by Ivan Margary in his book 'Roman Roads in Britain' (3rd edition 1973). It's numbered Road 1 and divided into sections 'a' to 'h'. Its length is 213½ miles.

Roman names for the settlements passed through by Watling Street are listed in the Antonine Itinerary Route II, an official document describing one of the 225 major roads across the Empire. The Itinerary also gives Roman mileages between settlements that are accurate to within 15%. Watling Street is listed Urioconio (Wroxeter, list no. 20) to Ad portum Ritupis (Richborough, no. 38). These route place-name numbers are given in the text below.

Section 10:  Richborough to Canterbury  11½ miles

Section 10

Although Margary gives Dover as the start of Watling Street, one of the earliest Roman roads went from Rutupiae (Richborough, place name no. 38) to Canterbury (Durovernum). The Richborough port was one of the main points of entry from Gaul. Its origins begin as an invasion fortress. The Roman road sets out from here due south west to east of Ash where it changes direction to align with the modern A257 to Canterbury. The road is straight throughout except for using the old road through Ash and the A257 veering south for 4 miles from Wingham to Littleborough. It enters the city by crossing the A28 relief road. Durovernum, place name 37 was the civitas capital of the Cantiaci (Cantii) tribes.

Section 1a:  Dover to Canterbury  14½ miles

Section 1a

Once the invasion period was over, the Roman authorities settled on Dover as Britain's main exit to the continent and the road back to Rome. Archaeological excavations in the 1960s to 1980s provide good evidence for the fort and town of Portus Dubris (Antonine Itinerary Route III, place name no. 4). Strictly speaking the roads from Richborough and Dover to London are not Watling Street. The name was given in the Anglo Saxon period only to the route from Hyde Park Corner to Wroxeter, but it has extended to the entire route in recent centuries.

The road leaves Dover as the A256, climbing up the valley floor to a roundabout just short of Kearsney, when the A road turns north to meet the A2 and the Roman road passes through the village on the old A2 alignment and up past Lydden Hill. Here it joins the A2 dual carriageway, passing Lydden Hill motor racing circuit on the left. Five miles further on the A2 bypasses Bridge while the Roman road passes through the village and, after a GSJ with the A2 at Renville, continues as the A2050 into Canterbury.

Section 1b:  Canterbury to Rochester  25½ miles

Section 1b

Leaving Canterbury by the A2050, the road crosses the Great Stour and up the hill to meet the A2 at Upper Harbledown. After passing through Broughton Street as a declassified road the road is represented by the A2 all the way to Roman Rochester on the river Medway. On its way is passes through Sittingbourne (Durolevo, place name no. 36), - making a little loop in the town centre - and crossing the A249 Maidstone to Sheerness road at Key Street. The Roman road and A2 goes directly through Gillingham and Chatham to Rochester (Durobrivae, place name no. 35) and crossed the Medway near the cathedral.

Section 1c:  Rochester to London  28¾ miles

Section 1c

Having bridged the Medway at Strood, the Roman road climbs out of the valley (still as the A2) to be met at Park Pale by the M2. The road underlies the modern dual carriageway to the settlement of Vagniacis (Springhead, place name no.34) just to the east of the GSJ serving the A2260. Shortly after this the A2 veers south while the Roman road continues as the A296 and then the B2500 and the A226 through Dartford to Crayford (Noviomagus, place name no. 33).

After crossing the river Darent the road continues, as the A207, past Bexley, through Eltham Common to a point at TQ400773, on the high ground east of Greenwich Park. Although the route of the ancient road is largely obscured by London's buildings, it's generally believed to follow, or be close by to, The Old Kent Road (still the A2) to the London to Lewes Roman (Margary no. 14) road at Asylum Road, Peckham (grid ref TQ346775). The Old Kent Road is followed another mile then at this point Margary's route 1c turns north and head via Southwark to the Roman Thames bridge and Londinium (place name no. 32).

Although there is no direct evidence, it is probable that the original Roman route going north west headed for a river crossing near Vauxhall Bridge. After crossing the Thames the road passed along the east edge of Hyde Park (A4202) to join the A5 at Marble Arch.

Section 1d:  London (Marble Arch) to St Albans  19 miles

Section 1d

At Marble Arch, Watling Street crosses the Silchester Road (Margery no. 4) - now Oxford Street, Bayswater Road, and westward (the A40). It then strikes on a direct alignment north west along the Edgware Road (A5) through Maida Vale and Cricklewood to the Roman settlement at Brockley Hill (Sulloniacis, place name no. 31).

At this point the road make two changes of alignment within two miles, crossing the M1 junction 4 and the A41, and making a new alignment to St Albans as the A5183. It passes trough Radlett and Park Street to come to a large roundabout at St Julian's Wood serving the A405 and the A414 (west of here formerly M10). It then continues as far as the parish church at St Stephens where the A road veers of to St Albans city centre. The Roman road, however, carries on along the alignment across the Park to arrive at the east gate of Verulamium (place name no. 30).

Section 1e:  St Albans to Towcester  38½ miles

Section 1e

The Roman road resumes the other side of Verulamium Park, running alongside and then crossing the river Ver. Here it is rejoined by the A5183 to the edge of Redbourn. The A road bypasses the town on the east side while the Roman road passes straight through along the High Street and Dunstable Road. At Friars Wash (junction 9 of the M1) the A5 returns to the line of Watling Street, passing through Dunstable (Durocobrivis, place name 29) and on up to Little Brickhill, where a bypass removes the A5 from the village, while the Roman road passes through. At the north end of Little Brickhill bypass, Kelly's Kitchen Roundabout, and a litle further on the road passes through the small settlement at Dropshort (Magiovinium, place name no. 28). Watling Street becomes part of Milton Keynes' grid road system, taking the number V4 (the A5 passes through the new city on an offline dual carriageway). In Central Bletchley the grid road system turns Watling Street into a back street, to send traffic via Denbigh Roundabout, but the diversion of traffic is short lived. After crossing into Northamptonshire just north of Stony Stratford, the A5 returns to the Roman road's route, entering Towcester (Lactodorum, place name no. 27) from the south east.

Section 1f:  Towcester to High Cross  28 miles

Section 1f

Watling Street leaves Towcester by continuing north west along the A5. After crossing the river Tove it comes to the busy roundabout junction with the A43. It then climbs the hill past a former transport cafe on left and heads for Weedon. This fast road then sweeps down into Weedon to a set of traffic lights controlling the former A45 intersection, before crossing the A45 at a roundabout on the Weedon, Flore and Upper Heyford bypass. From here the Roman road is almost entirely rural to Atherstone, Warwickshire, encroached on only by the occasional small settlement or business park.

From Weedon the road is shadowed for the next four miles by the M1 to its east, and passes through the Roman settlement of Bannaventa (Whilton Lodge, near Buckby, place name 26). Shortly we reach the Northamptonshire locality known – like the nearby farm (and former inn), as well as the M1 Service Area of the same name a little further to the southeast – as the Watford Gap, after the relatively low-lying cleft which cuts through the ridge of hills running south west to north east at this point. Roman road, turnpike, canal, railway, and motorway have all in their turn made for this undramatic but strategically vital gap in the hills.

The A5 swings off to the left down into Kilsby (A361 here) and out the other side to rejoin the Roman predecessor by DIRFT (Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal). Just prior to this the road is crossed by the A428 Rugby to Northampton road. The original line of the Roman road here can be followed as a byway open to all traffic (BOAT) from OS grid reference SP582706 to SP567735.

The road then passes the site of the former Rugby Radio Station on the left before climbing over Dunsmore hill and then diving under the M6 motorway. A little further on it passes trough the settlement of Tripontium at Cave's Inn (place name "25a" - 25a as it wasn't listed in the Antonine Itinerary but elsewhere in the Roman evidence). From here it makes a steady climb up to Gibbet Hill - A426 - and then on to the roundabout at Magna Park - A4303 (a link to M1 Junction 20 and B4228. Five miles further it reaches the Roman settlement at High Cross.

Section 1g:  High Cross to Wall  25½ miles

Section 1g

Britain's two longest Roman Roads cross at this (formerly) quiet place in Leicestershire. The Fosse Way approaches High Cross from the south along the B4455 and leaves by a long track - part of the Leicestershire round - to be met by the B4114 at Stoney Bridge. The Road continues then to Leicester (Ratae).

The Romans built a small fort at Venonis (place name 25) to supervise traffic at this important junction, later developing a small civic settlement.

Watling Street leaves the settlement as the current A5, and heads towards another settlement at Mancetter (Manduessedum, place name 24) near Atherstone. From here it continues through Atherstone, rejoining the A5 near the railway station, and on to the the M42 junction at Quarry Hill, Tamworth.

At this point the A5 travels along the Tamworth 'bypass' while the Roman road continues directly along the B5404 though Fazeley to Bonehill. Here is crosses the A453 Birmingham to Nottingham Road. Half a mile further on is small roundabout with the A5 westward slip-road off. Going straight on, Watling Street is followed by an unclassified former A5 through Hints to the M6 Toll junction T4, A5, and A38 interchange at Weeford Interchange.

From here the road is below the A5 as a former three lane road to the interchange with junction T5 of the M6 Toll, the A5148 coming south from the A38, and the A5127 Sutton Coldfield to Lichfield road. The Roman road went straight though this modern contrivance, but today you have to turn north onto the A5127 and, after half a mile, turn left onto the unclassified road to Wall (Letocetum, place name 23). Half way along this short length of lane (the former A5) in the fields to the south is where Watling Street was crossed by Ryknild Street at grid ref SK106062. An account of the fort and settlement may be found here. You can rest awhile at the Trooper Inn.

Section 1h:  Wall to Wroxeter  33¾ miles

Section 1h

Now refreshed, you can embark on the long trek across Staffordshire into Shropshire. The Roman Road is followed for the most part by the A5, except for a digression around Telford and further west. From Wall the road it met by the modern A5 dual carriageway to its junction with the A461 at Muckley Corner. From there is continues straight on north of Brownhills passing the A5195 and B5011 at New Town and passes Brownhills West to a large roundabout where it's joined by the Chester Road (A452). It changes alignment slightly north and sets off for the B5154 roundabout near Norton Canes. From there the road is shadowed by the M6 Toll at its northern side to the messy interchange at Churchbridge. Here it's met by the M6 Toll (again), the A34, and the A460. Having negotiated three roundabouts within ½ mile the road dives under a railway bridge and into the Cannock urban area through Bridgtown. At the roundabout with the A4601 which heads towards Wolverhampton the road breaks into the countryside and through the hamlet of Four Crosses to junction 12 of the M6.

Beyond the M6 the road passes through Gailey and crosses the A449 roundabout before reaching the Roman settlement of Pennocrucium, place name 22 at Water Eaton. For the next twelve miles the road has a straight alignment to Redhill, intersecting with the A41 near Weston-under-Lizard. Further on it crosses the B4379 and - passing through the Roman settlement of Vxacona (place name 21) near Redhill - along to a roundabout that marks the edge of Telford, with the A4640 running north and south and the A5 off left to ultimately meet the M54 at junction 5. On this long stretch the road passes under Stretton Aqueduct, built by Thomas Telford in 1832 to carry the Shropshire Union Canal.

Actually, Watling Street carries on directly as local roads through Oakengates, Ketley, and south Wellington to beside junction 7 of the M54. (To find your way on to the old road you must turn right at the A4640 and then first left through the housing estate. Turn right at the end and you're back on track.) Once through Oakengates you can pick up the road again as the B5061. The B road takes a swing around Overley Hill whereas the Roman Road went over the top! It then goes under the modern A5 dual carriageway. The B5061 is the renumbered A5 along this stretch. Three mile on you come to Norton hamlet when you turn left onto the B4394 and set down ½ a mile along on the left - Wroxeter Roman City (Viroconium, place name 20).

Watling Street
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