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Roman Roads in Herefordshire

One feature that is immediately identified with the Roman invasion is straight roads with proper stone and gravel foundations and cobbled or metalled surfaces.

Roman surveyors would plot a route between point A and point B using a groma, four weighted strings hanging from a cross on a pole. The path of the road would then be cleared and a route cut into the earth. Foundations of chalk or gravel would have been laid and on top a layer of paving stones or cobbles would have completed the road surface. To prevent the build up of surface water the Romans often dug drainage channels either side of the road to carry the water away. Roman roads also had quite a pronounced camber (the curve of the road surface) to encourage the water to run off into the drains.  

Two roads passing through the county appear in the Antonine Itinerary. The route and origin of one are almost certain, but almost all traces of the other have disappeared.

The definite Roman road of Watling Street, which links Viroconium (Wroxeter) to Isca Silurum (Caerleon) ran due north and south from one end of the county to the other. Along different parts of its length it is known as East Street, Watling Street and Stoney Street.

From the north, the road enters the county close to Marstow near Leintwardine, after which it becomes difficult to trace for about a mile until just north of Leintwardine. After forming the main High Street of the village the road, known here as Watling Street, turns to the south-east towards Paytoe, where it becomes an almost obliterated track to about one mile beyond Wigmore, where it unites with the main road from Knighton to Leominster. The road then runs due south through Aymestrey and Mortimers Cross.

From here it splits with the modern main road and continues as a by-road, forming a parish boundary, for about a mile and a half, still keeping to the same southerly direction. At Brook Bridge it crosses the line of the Kington to Leominster Railway and again becomes barely distinguishable as a track. At Stretford it again joins a main road, which it sticks to as far as Canon Pyon. Here the two roads split and the Roman road runs past Tillington Court, sloping westwards round Credenhill Camp, to the Romano-British market town of Magna (Kenchester). 
From Kenchester the road diverges into two branches. The eastern branch of the road runs from what would have been the East Gate of Kenchester through Stretton Sugwas. In this area archaeologists have recently discovered the remains of the original Roman road surface while undertaking work for a new road system. The road then continues east from Stretton Sugwas, to the north of Hereford City through Holmer and across to Weston Beggard before turning north-east to the Newtown crossroads. From here it heads south-east to Stretton Grandison and Ashperton before going through Pixley (Trumpet crossroads) and Little Marcle. The road finally heads out of the county at Dymock.

The western branch from Kenchester continues westerly towards the Roman villa at Bishopstone. From this point it runs in a south-west direction until it comes to the River Wye, which it probably crossed at The Old Weir, Swainshill (now a National Trust property) via a ford or causeway.

From the Wye the road can be traced under the name of Stoney Street, past Eaton Bishop and over Worm Hill and Brampton Hill to Abbey Dore, where a section of the Roman road surface was revealed in the railway station yard in 1893, 18 inches below the surface. It is described as being 13ft wide, pitched with pieces of limestone larger than a man's head and with two distinct wheel tracks 4ft apart.    

The further course of this road is uncertain, but it probably ran past Ewyas Harold, Llancillo and Walterstone, where there is a Roman villa, and from here it most probably heads due south to the Roman town of Gobannium (Abergavenny).

Road from Blackwardine to Weston under Penyard

There is another possible Roman road from Blackwardine (north-east of Leominster) to Ariconium, Weston under Penyard (south-east of Ross). It is possible to trace the route of this road from Stretford to Blackwardine (marked on Ordnance Survey maps). After Blackwardine the road continues south to Saffrons Cross near Bodenham. The route of the road then disappears from Ordnance Survey maps. At Withington the road is picked up again as a straight line running directly south to Bartestree (we also have Roman remains in the Withington area). At this point the road would have also crossed the known Roman road from Kenchester to Stretton Grandison. From Withington the road appears to head towards Mordiford and then on to Fownhope before becoming the B4224 all the way to Fiddlers Cross near Weston under Penyard, which is believed to be the site of the Roman town of Ariconium.

Road from Mortimers Cross to Clyro

Another road has been suggested from Mortimers Cross, on the route of Watling Street, to Clyro where there was a Roman fort. In the Centenary Volume of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club (1951) it was proposed that the road split off south-west from Mortimers Cross past Shobdon, Staunton-on-Arrow and Lyonshall and almost all the way to Michaelchurch-on-Arrow. It is reported that in some places along this route the paved surface of the road shows up clearly.

Possible road from Blackwardine to Tedstone Wafer*

At its western end the road is presumed to have followed the present road west from Hatfield. East from Hatfield it is shown on the Ordnance Survey map as a footpath through Velvet Stone (grid reference SO 60 59) to Streetfield (SO 62 58). This alignment shows up quite clearly on aerial photographs. The road then passes across fields, where there are said to be remains of stone paving, to Thornbury Mill. It is then presumed to pass south of Wall Hills Camp (an Iron Age hillfort) to Hubbage, then down to the B4214 road which it follows for a short distance.

In June 1966 Mr. and Mrs. Roy Perry and Mathew Hale cut two trenches on the alignment at Hubbage (SO 64 59) on the line of a former road. In the first trench an uneven layer of sandstone was revealed, 3ft 6ins wide at a depth of 12-15ins. Large stones (8-10ins across) appeared to form a kerb on the south side. The second trench was 60yds to the east and showed a similar stone surface at a depth of 12ins. The width was 6ft with a marked depression 4ins deep in the middle and 3ins wide. A further test with an auger made at a point 60yds east of the second trench indicated stone at a depth of 12-15ins. The fact that a metalled surface extended in a direct line for 120yds rules out the possibility of it being the foundations of a building and points to the existence of a road. On the other hand the width of the metalling exposed is much less than that of the normal Roman road. So the evidence at this point cannot be regarded as conclusive.

In a large field at SO 6759, about half a mile south of the Roman fort site at Tedstone Wafer, there is a level terrace on a slope, running in an east-west direction for 300yds or more. Tests with an auger show a hard surface at depths between 9 and 15ins and at one point a trial trench showed a definite paved surface at a depth of 9ins. In the next field to the west auger tests showed a hard surface on the alignment but a small trench showed this almost certainly to be a rocky outcrop.

Possible road north-south at Tedstone Wafer*

Mr. Roy Perry and Mathew Hale (TWNFC, 1968) noticed a paved section at the entrance to a field at Green Farm, Tedstone Wafer, which looked somewhat like an ancient road. The present hedge runs north and south towards the Roman fort site on the north and the alignment would pass just to the west of the Roman fort. There is a paved road running close to the hedge in a northerly direction on a falling slope towards a stream bed where there is a paved ford. The paved road is about 11ft wide and 6-9ins below the surface. A small trial trench was dug and quite a definite paved surface exposed. On the rising slope beyond the stream the road reappears for a short distance but then is lost.

The course of this road to the south seems quite uncertain, though a slight clue may be found on the Ordnance Survey map with a section of modern road called "Green Lane" near Evesbatch, which is on a straight alignment running south-south-east for about a quarter of a mile.

* Information taken from Mathew Hale, "Roman Roads in Herefordshire", Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club, Volume XXXIX Part II, 1968, pp. 327-332.

[Original author: Miranda Greene, 2004]