A1-The Great North Road

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Roman Roads in Lincolnshire

Just north of Durobrivae, across the river Nene, in whose bed the remains of a wooden bridge have been found, the Roman road forks. We are near a little village called Upton a couple of miles east of Wansford .  From here the north-west branch heads for Stamford and is again taken up by the A1 north from Great Casterton, while the other branch turns north for Sleaford.  Both roads meet again at Lincoln. In Armstrong's  road book of 1776 the west fork is called the "Fortyfoot Way" while the eastern road is "Longdyke or Ermine Street"Defoe had used the name "40 Foot Way" fifty years earlier.  Despite Armstrong's map, the name Ermine Street is more often used for the western branch which takes the road past Grantham, through Ancaster and to Lincoln, while the eastern branch is known as King Street.

Thanks to Kevin Flynn for pointing out: ...what William Camden had to say about the same road junction 190 years earlier in his "Britannia":
"two rode-waies, whereof the causeys are yet evident to be seene, went from hence [*], the one could [=called] Forty-foot-way because it was forty-foot-broade, unto Stanford; the other named Long-ditch and High-streat by Lollham-bridges (bridges, I assure you, of great antiquity, whereof eleven arches are in sight, now chinking and chawning [=yawning] with age) through West Deeping into Lincolnshire."
* from "the corne fields adjoining [Castor] which they call [..] Normanton fields"
(Though, to be precise, those are the words of the first English translation. The author's original Latin text of 1586 read:)
"duae hinc militares viae conspicuis adhuc aggeribus duxerunt, altera Fortyfoote Way a quadringinta pedum latitudine ad Standfordiam, altera Longdich et Highstreet dicta per Lollham Briges vetustos sane pontes quorum undecim arcus aevo iam fatiscentes cernuntur, per West Depinge in comitatum Lincolniensem."

The text is available online.

Let's take the right fork first, the route that heads almost due north, keeping close to the fen edge and then turns slightly west of north to reach Lincoln.  North of Upton, the Roman line is used by minor roads to West Deeping where we cross the Welland and enter Lincolnshire.  After another three miles of minor road the Roman Road is lost under the rather wobbly A16 to Bourne, where the road divides again, the left fork leading King Street to Ancaster.  Six miles north of Bourne turn east off the A15 between Rippingale and Aslackby and we find the right fork, again followed by a minor road, known here as Mareham Lane taking a virtually straight course to Sleaford.  It crosses the east-west Salters Way (aka the A52) at Threekingham.

Lolham Bridge Back to West Deeping, we find the Welland flood plain is almost two miles wide and gave the Romans an engineering problem.  The road runs on a substantial causeway, presumably maintained throughout medieval times with the incorporation of several bridges known as the Lolham Bridges, close to where the railway crosses our road.  The photo shows a 17th century bridge spanning the Maxey Cut, one of the Welland distributaries. Photo by Rex Needle of Bourne Web Site.



This date stone, showing 1611, is on the upstream side of the bridge.

To either side of the Lolham Bridges are ponds formed from gravel extracted for railway building.  They now form the Bainton Pits, good for bird spotting.  These are now a private fishery, although non-fishing tickets can be purchased locally.  King street continues almost due north, now followed by an unclassified road, until it meets the A15, just north of Baston, at Kate's Bridge where we have to cross the River Glenn.  I don't know who you are, Kate, but thanks for the bridge.  

Here we meet the Car Dyke, a Roman canal skirting the western edge of the fens from Cambridge to Lincoln.  Just west of the Car Dyke on firmer ground off the fen, is a remarkable line of closely-spaced settlements from Market Deeping through Langtoft, Baston, Thurlby, and Bourne.  Then north of Bourne we continue with Dyke, Morton, Haconby, Dunsby, Rippingale, Dowsby, Millthorpe, Pointon, Sempringham, Billingborough, Horbling, Swaton, Thorpe Latimer, Helpringham, Little Hale, Great Hale, Heckington, Howell, Ewerby, and Anwick. Each village has its own Fen to the east with the Roman Carr Dyke marking the western boundary, the rather newer South Forty Foot Drain runs to the east.

On approaching Bourne from the south one is confronted by a grand example of early 21st century vernacular architecture and landscape design.  There are some interesting examples of 17th century vernacular architecture as one approaches the centre of Bourne.

I digress.  Back to Kate's Bridge.  Not only do the Roman King Street and the A15 cross the River Glenn but also the Macmillan Way.  This long distance footpath starts at Boston. Across the miles of fenland it runs (or walks) along the south bank of the River Glenn to Kate's Bridge, wobbles a circuitous route into Rutland, and then follows the outcrop of the Oolitic Limestone all the way to Abbotsbury in Dorset on the south coast.  Almost 300 miles.  A digression too far.  Here's a lovely piece of reminiscence by David Wynne of war time evacuation to Baston.  And John Stennett has a piece about working the Kate's Bridge water cress beds, fifty years ago.

Margary suggests that the not very straight route of Mareham Lane north from Bourn indicates a pre-Roman trackway that was later Romanized. Certainly there is plenty of evidence of prehistoric life in the area.  Bronze Age cremation urns were found Ruskington, just north of Sleaford and through the Iron Age Sleaford must have been an important centre.

The earliest settlement was at Old Sleaford, just east of the modern town, between Boston Road and the River Slea, where excavations begun in 1882 revealed a substantial Middle Iron Age palisaded enclosure as well as the remains of a massive pre-Roman mint, the largest of its kind anywhere in Europe.  An enormous quantity of mould trays was found during these excavations. The coin-moulds were in three sizes, denoting three denominations; Gold, Silver and Bronze.  Pottery was laso being made here.  There must have been considerable communication with other areas, presumably to the north and south along Mareham Lane, this early North Road, as well as westwards to the Iron-Age community at Ancaster and eastward, by boat, down the River Slea to the Witham.

North of Sleaford, Mareham Lane's continuation is sometimes followed by modern roads but more often as slightly raised tracks and field boundaries and sometimes just as bands of scattered metalling.  It is likely that another, almost parallel Roman Road took a more direct line from Sleaford to Lincoln, now more or less followed by the A15.  Both roads met the Ermine Street, coming from Ancaster, on Bracebridge Heath, just south of Lincoln

Ermine Street, the left fork from Durobrivae, is followed more closely by the Great North Road, passed Stamford, Stretton and Colsterworth, from where it leaves the A1 to head for Lincoln via Ancaster, leaving Grantham a little to the west.  The road deserves its own page.



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©Biff Vernon 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007