Ironically, the land on which our gardens are built probably saw its busiest human activity long before the town of Stamford existed, for Waterfurlong follows the exact route of ancient Ermine Street, the main Roman road from Londinium (London) to Eboracum (York). Beginning in modern-day Bishopsgate, Ermine Street ran along the western edge of the Fens and up through Lindum Colonia (Lincoln).
No trace of Ermine Street remains visible in central Stamford but archaeological digs have revealed it was 21 feet wide and constructed on a limestone base,
We don't know the road’s name in Roman times. The Saxons called it ‘Earninga Straét’ – after a tribe living near the Cambridge- shire/Hertfordshire border. This became corrupted into 'Ermine Street' after the Norman Conquest.
topped with three feet of lime-cement and surfaced with a layer of pebbles or chippings. There was a central carriageway for wheeled or foot traffic, whilst the sides were used by oxen and horses. The road was flanked by a wide, shallow embankment.
Building by Roman troops began in AD 45 and progressed at the rate of about a half a mile a day, passing through what is now Burghley Park and fording the River Welland before heading up modern-day Waterfurlong and Roman Bank towards Great Casterton. The large, flat, stone slabs of the old ford are still visible in the river and it is this ‘stoney ford’ that was to give the future town its name.
The road's primary function was to allow rapid movement of troops and military supplies, but it also provided vital infrastructure for commerce, trade and the transportation of goods. Ermine Street was one of the four busiest routes in Britain; along it travelled
chariots, carts, foot-soldiers, government officials, merchants, artisans and livestock.
'These ancient roads, trodden by Britons, Celts, Romans, Saxons, Danes, and Normans are history beneath our feet.' Patricia Bracewell
The full 192 mile journey along Ermine Street would have taken about nine days on foot; travel by cart four times as long. There were 14 settlements en route, from the grand to the basic, some of which existed solely to serve the garrison of a nearby fort or to provide overnight shelter for travellers. Travel on Roman roads was not free and each of these towns had a toll-house. The nearest settlements to us would have been at modern-day Water Newton to the south and Great Casterton to the north.
Every mile along the route was marked by a milestone dedicated to the Emperor of the day.
One has been found close to Durobrivae (modern-day Water Newton) inscribed :
IMP CAES M ANNIO FLORIANO P F INVICTO AVG M P I
Imperator Caesar Marcus Annius Florianus Loyal and Unconquered Augustus. A thousand paces.
Florianus (Florian) was Emperor for only 88 days, dying in September 276 AD.
Disappointingly, the local legend that Queen Boudica of the Iceni pursued the legion up modern-day Waterfurlong in AD 61 seems to have no historical substance to it.
A ROMAN BURIAL
On 17th October 1868, a stone coffin of the Roman period, containing two skeletons, a bone pin and fragments of pottery, was found on the farm of Mrs Gilchrist, between Stamford and Tinwell, about half a mile from Waterfurlong.
Nearest Settlements Along the Route
Durobrivae (modern day Water Newton) was one of the wealthiest settlements in Britain and centre of a prosperous pottery trade. Access to the town was via three strongly-defended gateways and at its heart lay a busy commercial area with shops, workshops, granaries and warehouses. Most buildings were of fine stone, the streets were paved and there was a mansio, several temples and a bath house.
The basilica was a large public building where business or legal matters could be transacted. It was centrally located, usually next to the main public square.
The Roman mansio was a stopping place on a main road for the use of government and other officials whilst travelling. These substantial structures, normally in the form of a villa, were dedicated to the travellers' rest and refreshment. Guests were expected to provide a passport to identify themselves.
We do not know the name of the settlement at what is now Great Casterton. Situated in a bend in the River Gwash and originally a fort, the housing was built from quality stone or was timber-framed and the town had paved streets and a busy commercial area for the ore-smelting and pottery trades. There was also a mansio, a bath house, a basilica and a temple.
The Fall of Rome
After the Romans left Britain in AD 410 the roads quickly began to fall into disrepair, although many continued to provide fundamental transport links right through to the late Middle Ages. Once the Ermine Street ford across the Welland collapsed, people started using the bridge to its east and the Saxon and Danish town of Stamford
eventually grew around this, probably leaving our gardens to return to woodland for some 700 years.
SOURCES AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:
- The Royal Roads of England Part IV by Patricia Bracewell
Copyright © Karen Meadows 2018