Above: Outline map showing the route of the Roman Road to Silchester (in RED). It was joined by a second Roman road (shown in BLUE).
One of the most remarkable features of today’s main roads out of London is that, in many cases, the routes still follow the lines of the ancient Roman roads that were laid out by the legions during the second half of the first century AD. That is certainly true for the Roman Road to Silchester.
If you have not heard of Silchester, then it should be explained that it was an Iron Age and Roman settlement – known to the Romans as Calleva Atrebatum. It lies in the north of the County of Hampshire, roughly mid-way between the modern towns of Basingstoke and Reading. Silchester is remarkable because, unlike most Roman towns in Britain, it was completely abandoned between AD 550 and AD 650 – which was well over a century after the Romans had lived in the town. The defensive walls survive but, within the walls, there are now just fields, a 12th-century church and a house which was once a farm. Evidence for the Roman town was uncovered in the 1890s but serious archaeological excavation of the site did not begin in 1997. It has continued ever since.
Silchester was an important town in Roman times and a road ran from what is now the City of London and Central London. It is likely that the road was established about AD 60 and its route led west via Staines, where there was a bridge over the Thames. It was known as the ‘Devil’s Highway’. The road continued SW from Silchester to Dorchester. From Londinium (now the City of London), the route led approximately west via today’s Holborn, High Holborn, Oxford Street, Marble Arch, Bayswater Road, Notting Hill Gate, Holland Park Avenue, Shepherd’s Bush Green, Goldhawk Road and continued west to Chiswick in Outer London.
It will be noted that the route passed through Holborn, along the south side of St Marylebone and Paddington, through Kensington and finally through Hammersmith before reaching Chiswick.
The route led out of Londinium via Newgate (Gate). After passing through today’s thoroughfares called Holborn and High Holborn, it met a fork formed by another Roman road (shown in BLUE on the map).
Those who drive in London’s traffic today probably never realise that today’s congested streets go back to being laid out nearly 2,000 years ago by the Romans. In those day’s, however, the roads were for pedestrians and the horse and cart!