A journey down London’s oldest road

by DANIEL DAWSON

The capital’s oldest functioning road once transported people and goods across Roman Britannia.

Watling Street was composed of two viae romanae, one running north to south and the other east to west, bisecting the Roman city of Londinium.

The road originated in Canterbury, Kent, before entering London by way of the southeast. The present-day A2 follows the old route, which ran through Greenwich and Southwark before crossing the Thames at London Bridge. On the northern bank of the river, it veered off at a crossroads, near where St Paul’s Cathedral now stands.

The road then travelled northwest from London to St Albans in Hertfordshire, then the second largest city in Roman Britain. From there, Watling Street follows the present-day A5 to Wroxeter in Shropshire, which was the fourth largest conurbation in the country.

The two sections of Watling Street are still around; one is two minutes east of St Paul’s by foot, while the other is south of Burgess Park in Southwark.

Archaeological evidence suggests that both date back to at least AD 47/48. However, some historians argue that the section of Watling Street south of the Thames could have been built as early as AD 43.

Some believe that Watling Street was originally built by the Britons and paved over by the Romans, but there is no concrete – or tarmac, if you will – evidence of this.