Paddington Roman Roads

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Above: The routes of two Roman roads through Central London.

When we say ‘Paddington Roman Roads’ a few words of explanation may be necessary. The Romans laid out their roads long before there was a place called Paddington. What we really mean is that this article explains the layout of Roman roads in the area of London that later became Paddington.

Some of the boundaries in London are unbelievably old. In the case of the areas now known as Paddington and St Marylebone, parts of their modern boundaries are derived from the layout of Roman roads which started some time around AD 60. While parts of the London area are quite hilly, the land around Paddington was almost flat and quite featureless. The land at today’s Marble Arch rises very gently as you walk NW along what is now the Edgware Road. In Roman times the land was probably covered with small bushes of gorse in much the same way as other heaths that remain in London are today.

The Romans laid out two roads which crossed at a point we know as Marble Arch. The RED route was part of a very long road extending from Chester, via London, and ending at Dover. The Saxons gave it the name Watling Street and the route still exists in some form or other to this day – absorbed into modern roads. The exact route of the ancient Watling Street to the south of today’s Marble Arch is not fully understood. It might have followed the line of today’s Park Lane and it is likely that there was a ford on or near’s the site of today’s Westminster Bridge. The route ran almost SE along today’s Old Kent Road and up onto Blackheath – eventually reaching Dover. In spite of numerous archaeological digs the old Roman route shown dotted has never been found.

The second Roman road in the Paddington area is shown in ORANGE and ran almost east-west along what are now Oxford Street and Bayswater Road. Once the Romans had left England, the line of the roads remained and were used by the Saxons and those who came afterwards. The Saxons were farmers. Although they settled on a piece of land – to graze animals and grow crops, the farmers needed roads for moving goods or animals. Saxon settlements were often chosen to be on those roads or a short distance away.

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Above: The same two Roman roads shown in the context of other Roman roads crossing Inner London and also in relation to Londinium which has developed into today’s  ‘City of London’. ‘P’ marks the site of the manor of Paddington. ‘S’ marks the site of the manor that became St Marylebone.

By Norman times two settlements had been formed. One became Paddington, a settlement around what we now call Paddington Green. It would have been a good place for a farm because nearby was a stream – later to be known as the River Westbourne. On the east side of Edgware Road was another settlement – known as St Marylebone today – where another stream flowed, known now as the River Tyburn. Its ancient course caused the formation of a footpath beside that stream. Part of footpath became today’s Maryleborne High Street and Marylebone Lane.

What is fascinating is that the boundary between Paddington and St Marylebone is Edgware Road and the southern boundary of the two parishes was (and still is) a line which is now known as Oxford Street and Bayswater Road. The Romans could not have known that, by building their two roads across this land, they would influence the line of parish boundaries that would be in use one thousand years later (and continue to the present day). Their roads also influenced the line of Metropolitan London Borough boundaries that would be realised nearly two millennia later!

-ENDS-

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4 Responses to Paddington Roman Roads

  1. Terry Ratcliffe says:

    Adrian, The Edgware Road was frequently the main route to family ties in the Midlands in the 50s to late 70s from homes in Chelsea and Westminster. The A5,I believe. In several places many communities it is named Watling Street.
    Later, I came across a lane, in the City, with the Watling Street name between Eastcheap and Cheapside. Is this related to the original roadway, do you know?
    Have been following this blog for about a year and it is constantly enlightening and always enjoyable.

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  2. Many thanks for your comments and for your appreciation of my blogs. Your praise is gratefully received.

    I could have made further reference to Watling Street in the blog but I did not want to ramble on about the subject too much. As is stated in the blog, Watling Street extends from Chester in the north to Dover in the south – running across England and passing very close to old Londinium. There are modern street names of ‘Watling Street’ all over the place. Some derive from being on the line of the ancient Roman road – but some DON’T !!

    As a simple example, there is a ‘Watling Street’ name near Crayford in the the London Borough of Bexley. That street IS ACTUALLY ON the line of the ancient Roman Road. There is however a ‘Watling Street’ in the village of Thaxted, in Essex, that cannot possibly relate to the original Roman road (its at least 60 miles away). There is also (as you say) a ‘Watling Street’ in the City of London, near St Paul’s Cathedral. That is quite a thorny issue because it is so close to where the ancient Roman road is believed to have been. It raises a niggle that archaeologists might be missing something. Current opinion among archaeologists in London is that the street in the City is NOT connected with or on the line of the ancient Roman road. Nearly every ‘serious’ book on London’s history usually makes a comment about the little street in the City but the overwhelming opinion comes down on the same side – that it is NOT connected with the ancient Roman road. They are a few of the facts and I hope they help.

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  3. Oh yes, its a can of worms. Unfortunately there is nobody around from Saxon times to tell us why the street in the City was so named. There is, therefore, this 0.01% doubt in the minds of the archaeologists that they might have missed something. Don’t forget that we did not known that the Saxons lived in the Strand until about 1985. Now everybody talks about it as if we have known for centuries!

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