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Roman Britain, with the Fosse Way in red


The Fosse Way was a Roman road in Englandmarker that linked Exetermarker (Isca Dumnoniorummarker) in South West England to Lincolnmarker (Lindum Coloniamarker) in the East Midlands, via Ilchestermarker (Lindinismarker), Bathmarker (Aquae Sulismarker), Cirencestermarker (Coriniummarker) and Leicestermarker (Ratae Corieltauvorummarker).

It joined Akeman Street and Ermin Way at Cirencester, crossed Watling Streetmarker at Venonis (High Crossmarker) south of Leicester, and joined Ermine Streetmarker at Lincoln.

The word Fosse is derived from the Latin fossa, meaning ditch. For the first few decades after the Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43, the Fosse Way marked the western frontier of Roman rule in Iron Age Britain. It is possible that the road began as a defensive ditch that was later filled in and converted into a road, or possibly a defensive ditch ran alongside the road for at least some of its length.

The Fosse Way is the only Roman road in Britain to retain its original Latin name. Most others were named by the Saxons, centuries after the Romans left Britain.

It is remarkable for its extremely direct route: from Lincoln to Ilchester in Somersetmarker, a distance of 182 miles, it is never more than six miles from a straight line.

Today's route

Many sections of the Fosse Way form parts of modern roads and lanes, and parish, district or county boundaries.

Several place names on the route have the suffix -cester or -chester, which is from the Latin castra meaning military camp. Some settlements are named after the road itself, such as Fosse-, or -on-Fosse, while others have a more generic form, such as Street, Strete, -le-Street, Stratton, Stretton, Stratford, and Stretford, from the Latin strata, meaning paved road.

Lincoln to Leicester

Between Lincoln and Leicestermarker the A46 follows the route of the Fosse Way. The A46 deviates from Fosse Way at East Goscotemarker, to follow the Leicester Western Bypass. The original alignment is still visible, as an unclassified road called Fosse Way passes through Systonmarker, continuing as the minor road Melton Road through Thurmastonmarker, before merging with the A607 (the old A46), continuing into the city centre on the old alignment, first as Melton Road then Belgrave Road and Belgrave Gate. The alignment terminates at the Clock Towermarker, and picks up again at Narborough Road (the A5460), on the other side of the River Soarmarker.

Leicester to Cirencester

south of Leicestermarker, apart from a short deviation near Narboroughmarker where the original course is no longer visible, the B4114 (the A46 until renumbered on the building of the M69) follows the route. A couple of miles north of the A5, the B4114 diverges from the line of the Fosse Way to pass through the village of Sharnfordmarker. For two miles the route of the Fosse Way is followed by a minor road which, although single track, runs along a much wider and slightly domed strip of land with deep ditches either side (the agger).The modern road ends at a picnic site car park, and a further mile and a half southwards can be explored on foot.

The junction with Watling Streetmarker, now the A5, is at High Cross (Roman name Venonis). Watling Streetmarker is the county boundary between Leicestershiremarker and Warwickshiremarker.

The Fosse Way follows the B4455 across Warwickshiremarker, through Street Ashton, Stretton-under-Fossemarker, Brinklow, Bretford, Stretton-on-Dunsmoremarker, Princethorpe and the site of a Roman town near Chestertonmarker , until it joins the A429 near the boundary with Gloucestershiremarker. The route then follows the A429 through Stretton-on-Fosse, Moreton-in-Marshmarker, Stow-on-the-Woldmarker, Northleachmarker and Fossebridge, to Cirencestermarker, where it crosses Akeman Street and Ermin Way.

Cirencester to Bath

Section of the Fosse Way as a byway north of the M4
of Cirencester the Fosse Way follows a short section of the A433, then goes cross country, following the county boundary between Gloucestershire and Wiltshiremarker, across the old airfield at RAF Kemblemarker, then follows fragmented sections of country lanes; two sections on this stretch are byways rather than maintained roads, and at points on these routes it widens to as much as 60 ft.

It passes near the Iron Age hill fort of Bury Camp and another section of the county boundary, crossing first the South Wales railway, next the site of an old chapel and spring at Fosse Lodge in Dunley, and then the M4. Thereafter it passes through The Shoemarker and Netteton Shrub where remains of a posting-station have been found, and arrives at Batheastonmarker. Thereupon it turns due west to follow the river Avon into Bathmarker.

Bath to Ilchester

Between Bath and Shepton Malletmarker the line of the Fosse Way follows parts of the A367, through Radstockmarker and Stratton-on-the-Fossemarker. It runs across open country and farm tracks parallel to the A37 north of Shepton Mallet, near the Iron Age hill fort of Maesburymarker. At Beacon Hill south of Oakhillmarker, it crossed the Roman road along the Mendipmarker ridgeway from Old Sarummarker to the lead and silver mines at Charterhousemarker. The Fosse Way passes through the eastern suburbs of Shepton Malletmarker on a short stretch of the A361 to Cannard's Grave, where it picks up the A37.

The Fosse Way follows the A37 through Street-on-the-Fosse and Lydford-on-Fossemarker on a direct route to Ilchestermarker. The route leaves the A37 at the A303 junction just north of Ilchester, and follows a small track, before picking up the B3151 through the town.

The Roman road from Ilchester to Dorchester, Dorsetmarker continues on the line of A37 through Yeovilmarker to the south east. Other minor Roman roads lead from Ilchester and Lydford-on-Fosse towards Streetmarker and the A39 route along the Polden Hills, leading to Roman salt works on the Somerset Levels, and ports at Combwichmarker, Crandon Bridge and Highbridgemarker.

Ilchester to Exeter

After Ilchester the Fosse Way follows a section of the A303 under the ramparts of the Iron Age hill fort of Ham Hillmarker, occupied by the Second Legion after conquest of the Durotriges in Dorset.

The alignment leaves major roads after Petherton Bridge over the River Parrett, and follows country lanes to Over Stratton and Dinningtonmarker, where in 2002 members of the Channel 4 television programme Time Team uncovered a mosaic next to the road.

The route crosses a stream called Stretford Water, climbs the ridge, and follows a short section of the A30 at Windwhistle Hill. Then it turns on to the B3167 through the hamlets of Street and Perry Street, joins the A358, crosses the River Axemarker at what used to be called Stratford (now called Weycroft), and on to Axminstermarker.

Now we come to the difficult question of where the Fosse Way ends. There are further alignments on the A358 at Ball's Farm and Musburymarker south of Axminster, which imply a Roman road did continue along the River Axe toward Axmouthmarker and Seatonmarker. These sections are labelled Fosse Way on Ordnance Surveymarker maps.

However, the main route for Exetermarker would have followed the Dorchester road west from Axminster to Honitonmarker.The crossroads in Axminster was controlled by a Roman fort at Woodbury Farmmarker, now on the southern edge of the town. The route to the west crosses the Rivers Axe and Yarty to Kilmington, continuing on segments of the A35 and minor local lanes to Honiton.

From Honiton the route leads south-west along the old A30, to Strete Ralegh, where there is a short break, then a clear alignment along a minor road towards Exeter.

It is also likely that one or more side roads split from the Fosse Way at Lopen Head or Dinningtonmarker, passing around Ilminstermarker, then following the line of the current A303/A30 from Horton to Honiton. For example, there are villages called Crock Street and Street Ash on or near these routes. So in the later years of Roman occupation, there would probably have been a choice of routes from Ilchester to Honiton.

See also



Notes

  1. Warwickshire Scheduled Historic Monument Chesterton
  2. G M Boumphrey, Along the Roman Roads, Allen & Unwin, London, 1935
  3. Petherton Bridge


References

  • Aston, M. and Burrow, I. (Eds) (1982) The Archaeology of Somerset : a review to 1500 AD, Taunton : Somerset County Council, ISBN 0-86183-028-8
  • Margary, I.D. (1955) Roman roads in Britain: Vol.1, South of the Foss Way-Bristol Channel, 1st Ed., London : Phoenix House, 255 p.


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