A map of the Saxon Watling Street overlaid on the Roman road network
A stretch of modern-day Watling Street in Buckinghamshire
|Length||276 mi (444 km)|
|Time period||Roman Britain|
|From||The Kentish ports|
|Canterbury, London, St Albans|
Watling Street is a route in England that began as an ancient trackway first used by the Britons, mainly between the areas of modern Canterbury and St Albans using a natural ford near Westminster. The Romans later paved the route, which then connected the Kentish ports of Dubris (Dover), Rutupiae (Richborough), Lemanis (Lympne), and Regulbium (Reculver) to their bridge over the Thames at Londinium (London). The route continued northwest past Verulamium (St Albans) on its way to Viroconium (Wroxeter). The Romans considered the continuation on to Blatobulgium (Birrens) beyond Hadrian's Wall to be part of the same route, leading some scholars to call this Watling Street as well, although others restrict it to the southern leg.
Watling Street was the site of Boudica's defeat by the Romans and was later the southwestern border of the Danelaw. In the early 19th century, the course between London and the Channel was paved and became known as the Great Dover Road: today, the route from Dover to London forms part of the A2 road. The route from London to Wroxeter forms much of the A5 road. At various points along the historic route, the name Watling Street remains in modern use.
The original Celtic and Roman name for the road is unknown and the Romans may not have viewed it as a single path at all, dividing it amongst two separate itineraries in one 2nd-century list. The modern name instead derives from the Old English Wæcelinga Stræt, from a time when "street" (Latin: via strata) referred to any paved road and had no particular association with urban thoroughfares. The Waeclingas ("people of Waecla") were a tribe in the St Albans area in the early medieval period with an early name of the city being "Waetlingacaester", which would translate into modern English as "Watlingchester".
The original Anglo-Saxon name for the section of the route between Canterbury and London was Casingc Stræt or Key Street, a name still borne by a hamlet on the road near Sittingbourne. This section only later became considered part of Watling Street.
Watling Street has been used as a boundary of many historic administrative units, and some of these are still in existence today, either through continuity or the adoption of these as by successor areas. Examples include:
The broad, grassy trackway found by the Romans had already been used by the Britons for centuries. The main path led from Richborough on the English Channel to a natural ford in the Thames at Thorney Island near Westminster to a site near Wroxeter, where it split. The western continuation went on to Holyhead while the northern ran to Chester and on to the Picts in Scotland.
There is a longstanding tradition that a natural ford once crossed the Thames between Thorney Island (modern Westminster) and the Lambeth\Battersea boundary. Its location means it that it is possible that Watling Street crossed it.
Several factors may have slowed the river here, leading to the deposition of sufficient sedimentary material to allow fording:
The Romans began constructing paved roads shortly after their invasion in AD 43. The London portion of Watling Street was rediscovered during Christopher Wren's rebuilding of St Mary-le-Bow in 1671–73, following the Great Fire. Modern excavations date its construction to the winter from AD 47 to 48. Around London, it was 7.5–8.7 m (25–29 ft) wide and paved with gravel. It was repeatedly redone, including at least twice before the sack of London by Boudica's troops in 60 or 61. The road ran straight from the bridgehead on the Thames to what would become Newgate on the London Wall before passing over Ludgate Hill and the Fleet and dividing into Watling Street and the Devil's Highway west to Calleva (Silchester). Some of this route is preserved beneath Old Kent Road.
The 2nd-century Antonine Itinerary gives the course of Watling Street from "Urioconium" (Wroxeter) to "Portus Ritupis" (Richborough) as a part of its Second Route (Iter II), which runs for 501 MP from Hadrian's Wall to Richborough:
The two routes of the Antonine Itinerary immediately following (Iter III & IV) list the stations from Londinium to "Portus Dubris" (Dover) and to "Portus Lemanis" (Lympne) at the western edge of the Romney Marsh, suggesting that they may have been considered interchangeable terminuses. They only differ in the distance to Durovernum: 14 and 17 Roman miles, respectively. The route to Lemanis was sometimes distinguished by the name "Stone Street"; it now forms most of the B2068 road that runs from the M20 motorway to Canterbury. The route between Durovernum and the fortress and port at Regulbium (Reculver) on Kent's northern shore is not given in these itineraries but was also paved and is sometimes taken as a fourth terminus for Watling Street. The Sixth Route (Iter VI) also recorded an alternate path stopping at Tripontium (Newton and Biggin) between Venonis (High Cross) and Bannaventa (Norton); it is listed as taking 24 Roman miles rather than 17.
The more direct route north from Londinium (London) to Eboracum (York) was Ermine Street. The stations between Eboracum and Cataractonium (Catterick) were shared with Dere Street, which then branched off to the northeast. Durocobrivis (Dunstable) was the site of the path's intersection with the Icknield Way. The Maiden Way ran from Bravoniacum (Kirkby Thore) to the lead and silver mines at Epiacum (Whitley Castle) and on to Hadrian's Wall.
By the time of the Saxon invasions, the Roman bridge across the Thames had presumably fallen into disrepair or been destroyed. The Saxons abandoned the walled Roman site in favour of Lundenwic to its west, presumably because of its more convenient access to the ford on the Thames. They did not return to Lundenburh (the City of London) until forced to do so by the Vikings in the late 9th century. Over time, the graveling and paving itself fell into disrepair, although the road's course continued to be used in many places as a public right of way. "Watlingestrate" was one of the four roads (Latin: chemini) protected by the king's peace in the Laws of Edward the Confessor.
A number of Old English names testify to route of Watling Street at this time: Boughton Street in Kent; Colney Street in Hertfordshire; Fenny Stratford and Stony Stratford in Buckinghamshire; Old Stratford in Northamptonshire; Stretton under Fosse and Stretton Baskerville in Warwickshire. (The three adjacent settlements of All Stretton, Church Stretton, and Little Stretton in Shropshire; and Stretton Sugwas in Herefordshire have a Watling Street but they are not on the route).
The first turnpike trust in England was established over Watling Street northwest of London by an Act of Parliament on 4 March 1707 in order to provide a return on the investment required to once more pave the road. The section from Fourne Hill north of Hockliffe to Stony Stratford was paved at a cost of £7000[a] over the next two years. Revenue was below expectations; in 1709, the trust succeeded in getting a new act extending the term of their monopoly but not permitting their tolls to be increased. In 1711, the trust's debts had not been discharged and the creditors took over receivership of the tolls. In 1716, a new act restored the authority of the trust under the supervision of another group appointed by the Buckinghamshire justices of the peace. The trust failed to receive a further extension of their rights in 1736 and their authority ended at the close of 1738. In 1740, a new act named new trustees to oversee the road, which the residents of Buckinghamshire described as being "ruined".
The road was again paved in the early 19th century at the expense of Thomas Telford. He operated it as a turnpike road for mail coaches from Ireland. To this purpose, he extended it to the port of Holyhead on Anglesey in Wales. During this time, the section southeast of London became known as the Great Dover Road. The tolls ended in 1875.
Much of the road is still in use today, apart from a few sections where it has been diverted. The A2 road between Dover and London runs over or parallel to the old path. A section of Watling Street still exists in the City of London close to Mansion House underground station on the route of the original Roman road which traversed the River Thames via the first London Bridge and ran through the City in a straight line from London Bridge to Newgate. The sections of the road in Central London possess a variety of names, including Edgware Road and Maida Vale. At Blackheath, the Roman road ran along Old Dover Road, turning and running through the area of present-day Greenwich Park to a location perhaps a little north of the current Deptford Bridge. The stretch between London and Shrewsbury (continuing to Holyhead) is known as the A5 (between Elstree to just north of Dunstable (where the A5 naming resumes), the road is numbered A5183). Through Milton Keynes, the A5 is diverted onto a new dual carriageway while Watling Street proper remains and forms part of the Milton Keynes grid road system.
The name Watling Street is still used along the ancient road in many places, for instance in Bexleyheath in southeast London and in Canterbury, Gillingham, Strood, Gravesend, and Dartford in Kent. A major road joining the A5 in northwest London is called Watling Avenue. North of London, the name Watling Street still occurs in Hertfordshire (including St Albans), Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire (including Milton Keynes), Northamptonshire (including Towcester), Leicestershire (Hinckley), Warwickshire (including Nuneaton and Atherstone), Staffordshire (including Cannock, Wall, Tamworth and Lichfield), Shropshire (including in Church Stretton along the A49), and even Gwynedd in north Wales.
Dere Street, the Roman road from Cataractonium (Catterick in Yorkshire) to Corstopitum (now Corbridge, Northumberland) to the Antonine Wall, was also sometimes known as Watling Street. A third Watling Street was the Roman road from Mamucium (Manchester) to Bremetennacum (Ribchester) to Cumbria. Preston, Lancashire, preserved a Watling Street Road between Ribbleton and Fulwood, passing the Sharoe Green Hospital. Both of these may preserve a separate derivation from the Old English wealhas ("foreigner") or may have preserved the memory of the long Roman road while misattributing its upper stages to better-preserved roads.
The A5 London Holyhead Trunk Road is a major road in England and Wales. It runs for about 275 miles (443 km) (including sections concurrent with other designations) from London to the Irish Sea at the ferry port of Holyhead which handles more than 2 million passengers each year. In many parts the route follows that of the Roman Iter II route which later took the Anglo-Saxon name Watling Street.Akeman Street
Akeman Street was a major Roman road in England that linked Watling Street with the Fosse Way. Its junction with Watling Street was just north of Verulamium (near modern St Albans) and that with the Fosse Way was at Corinium Dobunnorum (now Cirencester). Evidence suggests that the route may well have been an older track, metalled and reorganised by the Romans. Its course passes through towns and villages including Hemel Hempstead, Berkhamsted, Tring, Aylesbury, Alchester (outside modern Bicester), Chesterton, Kirtlington, Ramsden and Asthall. Parts of the A41 road between Berkhamsted and Bicester use the course of the former Roman road, as did the Sparrows Herne turnpike between Berkhamsted and Aylesbury. A minor road between Chesterton and Kirtlington also uses its course. Other parts are in use as public footpaths, including a 6-mile (9.7 km) stretch between Tackley and Stonesfield that is part of the Oxfordshire Way.
The origins of the road's name are uncertain but certainly date back to the Early Middle Ages. Some have suggested that "Akeman" derives from the Anglo-Saxon words for "oak-man". Others have suggested a connection with Bath, which the Anglo-Saxons called Acemannesceastre (Acemannes apparently being derived from the Roman name Aquae Sulis). It is unclear how this might have become associated with the road, but one possibility is that the name was originally used for the longer stretch of road from Bath.The name "Akeman Street" is also given to the Roman road that ran from Ermine Street near Wimpole Hall northeast to the settlement at Durolipons (Cambridge), where it crossed the Roman road known as the Via Devana. Within north Cambridge, the road followed the present-day Stretten Avenue, Carlton Way and Mere Way running northeast past Landbeach before joining the present A10 and on towards Ely and The Fens. It then reached Denver and the coast at Brancaster.Brownhills Watling Street railway station
Brownhills Watling Street railway station was a station on the Midland Railway in England. It was opened in 1884, closed in March 1930 for passenger use and the track was closed in 1960.It opened as simply Brownhills railway station, which was also the name of the other station within the town, which was operated by the London and North Western Railway on the South Staffordshire Line. The station was renamed in 1924.The branch line that the station was situated on was planned to access the colliery traffic in the Cannock area and to link to the Cannock Chase and Wolverhampton Railway, and passenger traffic was a secondary consideration. The station was the terminus of passenger services on the line but freight traffic continued northwards to serve the collieries in the area.
The line to the north of the station is now in use as part of the Chasewater Railway.Defeat of Boudica
The decisive battle ending the Boudican Revolt took place in Roman Britain in AD 60 or 61 between an alliance of indigenous British peoples led by Boudica and a Roman army led by Gaius Suetonius Paulinus. Although heavily outnumbered, the Romans decisively defeated the allied tribes, inflicting heavy losses on them. The battle marked the end of resistance to Roman rule in Britain in the southern half of the island, a period that lasted until 410 AD.Historians are dependent on Roman historians Tacitus and Dio Cassius for the only accounts of the battle.The location of the battlefield is not known, most historians place it between Londinium and Viroconium (Wroxeter in Shropshire), on the Roman Road now known as Watling Street. This name for the road originated in Anglo-Saxon times, thus the alternative modern name of the battle (Battle of Watling Street) is anachronistic and in the absence of evidence, speculative. However the road that became known as Watling Street was clearly a significant strategic element in the campaign that led to the battle.Denbigh Hall railway station
Denbigh Hall railway station was a temporary terminus station on the London and Birmingham Railway in the Denbigh area of what is now Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, England. It was situated about 1 mile (1.6 km) north of Bletchley railway station, near a point where the railway crossed Watling Street. It was open for less than six months, between April and September 1838.Hints, Staffordshire
Hints is a small village and civil parish between Lichfield and Tamworth in Staffordshire, within Lichfield local government district. The village is on the line of Watling Street, which was formerly the A5, but the A5 now runs in a cutting north of the village. The name of the parish council is Hints with Canwell. The parish church is dedicated to St Bartholomew.The name Hints appears to derive from the Welsh word hynt, meaning 'a road' (referring to Watling Street). This suggests that the area was occupied by Welsh speakers until at least the late 6th century, when most of the Midlands had been occupied by the English.Physician and author Sir John Floyer (1649–1734) was born in Hints.Lactodurum
Lactodurum was a town in the Roman province of Britannia. Today it is known as Towcester, located in the English county of Northamptonshire.
Towcester lays claim to being the oldest town in Northamptonshire and possibly, because of the antiquity of recent Iron Age finds in the town, to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the country. There is evidence that it was settled by humans since the Mesolithic era (middle stone age). There is also evidence of Iron Age burials in the area.Loughton and Great Holm
The civil parish of Loughton and Great Holm includes Loughton, Great Holm, the National Bowl and Elfield Park, West Rooksley, Loughton Lodge, and Knowlhill. It is bordered by H4 Dansteed Way to the north, V4 Watling Street to the west, a tiny stretch of H8 Standing Way to the south, and the West Coast Main Line to the east. It was renamed from Loughton to Loughton and Great Holm in 2013Norton, Northamptonshire
Norton is a village in the district of Daventry in the English County of Northamptonshire. The population including Brokhall and Norton at the 2011 census was 434. The village is about 2 miles (3.2 km) east of Daventry, 11 miles (18 km) west of Northampton. Junction 16 of the M1 motorway is about 7 miles (11 km) south-east and the nearest railway station is at Long Buckby 3 miles (4.8 km) to the east. Near the village, on Watling Street, is the Roman settlement of Bannaventa.Radlett
Radlett is a settlement in the county of Hertfordshire, England, between St Albans and Elstree on Watling Street, with a population of 8,042. It is in the council district of Hertsmere and is covered by two wards; Aldenham East and Aldenham West. It is located inside the M25 motorway.St Antholin, Budge Row
St Antholin, Budge Row, or St Antholin, Watling Street, was a church in the City of London. Of medieval origin, it was rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren, following its destruction in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The 17th-century building was demolished in 1874.St Augustine Watling Street
St Augustine, Watling Street was an Anglican church which stood just to the east of St Paul's Cathedral in the City of London. First recorded in the 12th century, it was destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666 and rebuilt to the designs of Christopher Wren. This building was destroyed by bombing during the Second World War, and its remains now form part of St Paul's Cathedral Choir School.St John the Evangelist Friday Street
St John the Evangelist Friday Street was a church in Bread Street Ward of the City of London. It was destroyed in the Great Fire of London of 1666, and not rebuilt, the parish being united with that of All Hallows Bread Street.Stretton, South Staffordshire
Stretton is a small, dispersed village in South Staffordshire, England. It is just north of the A5 road in the civil parish of Lapley, Stretton and Wheaton Aston
The A5 is Watling Street, a notable Roman road, and another Roman road passes through Stretton from Mediolanum (Whitchurch), forming a junction with Watling Street near the bridge over the River Penk. On the other side of the river was the now-deserted Roman settlement of Pennocrucium. The village's position on the road from Mediolanum gives it its name, the Old English for "street town" ("street" meaning a paved or Roman road). Stretton Bridge today carries Watling Street over the Penk.Stretton Hall is in the village.
The Church of England parish church of St John's Church, Stretton has a 12th-century chancel.
The Shropshire Union Canal passes to the west of the village, and there is a Stretton Wharf. The Stretton Aqueduct carries the canal over the A5 road.
Vernon Lodge Preparatory School was a small coeducational non-selective independent school in Stretton for children aged 2 to 11. It was founded in 1981 and closed in March 2015.The Puritan
The Puritan, or the Widow of Watling Street, also known as The Puritan Widow, is an anonymous Jacobean stage comedy, first published in 1607. It is often attributed to Thomas Middleton, but also belongs to the Shakespeare Apocrypha due to its title page attribution to "W.S.".Towcester
Towcester ( TOH-stər) is a market town in Northamptonshire, England. It is the administrative headquarters of the South Northamptonshire district council.
Towcester lays claim to being one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the country. It was the Roman town of Lactodorum, located on Watling Street, today’s A5. In Saxon times, this was the frontier between the kingdom of Wessex and the Danelaw. Towcester features in Charles Dickens's novel The Pickwick Papers as one of Mr Pickwick's stopping places on his tour. The local racecourse has hosted many national horseracing events.Walsall Wood railway station
Walsall Wood railway station was a station on the Midland Railway in England. It was opened in 1884, closed in March 1930 for passenger use although the odd DMU would serve the station from Birmingham New Street and Walsall.
The line from Walsall Wood to Brownhills Watling Street closed first along in 1960 and the section from Walsall Wood to Aldridge closed five years later in 1965 at the same time as Aldridge railway station closed. The station building was later demolished after falling into derelict condition.
The trackbed from Walsall Wood to Aldridge has since become a landfill site although the original road bridges near Coppice Road and Queen Street/Vigo Road are still in place and take the roads over the old trackbed. The section towards Brownhills Watling Street has become a housing estate. Oak Park also occupy sections of the old trackbed for leisure use and the original station is now a playground.Watling Street (Dartford)
Watling Street was a football ground in Dartford, England. Located adjacent to Watling Street, it was the home ground of Dartford F.C. from 1921 until 1992, and was also used by Maidstone United during their time in the Football League.Watling Street (horse)
Watling Street (1939–1953) was a British Thoroughbred racehorse and sire. In a career which lasted from spring 1941 to September 1942 he ran nine times and won four races. Having been rated the third best British two-year-old of his generation he went on to greater success as a three-year-old the following year when he won a wartime substitute version of The Derby and finished second in both the 2000 Guineas and the "New" St Leger. At the end of 1942 he was retired to a stud career of limited importance. He was eventually exported to the United States where he died in 1953.