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A major Roman road runs north-west from Speen to Cirencester. It is now known as Ermin Street (Margary 41), and it links Silchester to Newport via Cirencester. It was constructed not long after the Roman conquest as a military supply route for the legions in south Wales.
A branch off this road near Wickham was built to link Silchester to Bath (Margary 53). It probably carried predominantly administrative and commercial
traffic, but it was busy enough to support a 24-room stonebuilt mansio at Mildenhall (Cunetio). Since a temple at Bath is first referred to in AD 76, we may assume that the road to Bath was built c. AD 50 – 75.
Hungerford lies just to the south of this Roman road from Speen via Cunetio (now Black Field, Mildenhall) to Aguae Sulis (now Bath).
The following text gives an interesting account of how to follow an apparently lost Roman road, and in particular, the Roman road from Speen to Bath.
Tracing the Roman Road from Speen to Bath (Hungerford - Wickham)
Start at the Policemen's Crossroads, Eddington. "Traces of the agger remain in a shaw just by the crossroads". Alignment follows the hedgerows to the north-west corner of Oaken Copse, the northern edge then marks it, a stony strip showing in the field beside the copse. It is visible as a wide agger in Heath Hanger Copse and across the combe bottom. A slanting terrace ascends the downside to Stubbs Wood where it can be seen, as an agger 27 feet wide (pass Radley Farm with buildings on the left). It is then visible as a fine agger 24 feet wide clearly seen in Three Gate Copse east of Radley Farm.
Speen - Mildenhall (to Bath 40 miles):
This, the main western road, branched from the Speen-Gloucester road at three-quarters of a mile to the south of Wickham, but for the first mile there are no visible traces, although the alignment is certain. It is first clearly seen in Three Gate Copse east of Radley Farm as a fine agger 24' wide, right through the wood and again in Stubbs Wood beyond as an agger 27' wide, becoming a slanting terrace as it emerges from the wood and descends the steep downside to cross the combe to Heath Hanger Copse. It is visible as a wide agger across the combe bottom and in the copse beyond. The northern edge of Oaken Copse then marks it, a stony strip showing in the field beside the copse, and then the hedgerows follow the alignment till it reaches a crossroad just north of Folly Farm, Eddington. Traces of the agger remain in a shaw just before the crossroads is reached. From this point the course lies across cultivated land, and little trace remains for some miles, but signs of the flattened ridge are perhaps visible just west of the Hungerford-Chilton Foliat road and west of Cake Wood, where it is visible crossing the avenue of the same line. The route must have followed the higher ground on the north side of the Bath Road and about quarter of a mile from it. The road is certainly visible again just before it reaches the Roman station Cunetio, in Black Field, Mildenhall, as a fine agger 30' wide and 2' high just north of the farm buildings at Hill Barn. It is here pointing northwest-southeast on the steep hillside above Mildenhall and traces have been seen in Oxlease Copse to the southeast and in Hens Wood where the woodland ride marks it to near the southeast corner towards the line previously described, No trace can now be seen across Black Field on the line shown but at this point it crossed the Winchester-Cirencester road now represented by the course of Cock-a-trip Lane and the exact route of the western road onward to and through Marlborough is not known.
Onward to Bath:
West of Marlborough the course is not certainly known for three and a half miles but it is probably followed by the present road for on Overton Down a fine piece of agger still remains, 40' wide and about 2-3' high, crossing the down a little to the north of it in a direct line between West Kennet and North Farm, West Overton, where the modern road curves a little southward. An interesting point here is that the agger can be clearly seen to cross the ancient main Ridgeway of the downs, which is proceeding in a southerly direction at this point, with scant regard for the convenience of traffic upon it, suggesting that the Ridgeway was then considered of little importance and probably not used by wheeled traffic.
From West Kennet the present road follows the course again to the foot of the gigantic Silbury Hill, artificial mound, which was used as a sighting point in laying out the next position of the road westward. It was laid on an alignment to the top of a southern spur of Calstone Down, two and a half miles on, and at first there is no trace of it in the ploughed land though its course has been noted in the crops previously, but just before it crosses the Beckhampton-Devizes route.
Roman Roads (Breakdown) contd:
standards required, a process which we now see carried a stage further in the greatly increased widening of our arterial roads such as Watling Street. The effects of all this activity have usually meant the destruction of much of the Roman work along those parts of the roads that remained in use, where very often it is only the arrangements of the alignments that can still be observed, and thus the archeologist will generally find more interest and instruction in those parts that have become derelict, but still retain substantial traces of the original work.
Many of the original roads which remained in use were left as broad strips between the hedges of the original enclosed lands on either Side. The effects of this are usually seen in a series of narrow plots, or perhaps an old cottage and its garden, tucked into the roadside space, and in the course of time these encroachments have often caused the road to wind a little in passing these strips. Such roads often appear much more winding as one goes along them than they look on the map, for the general line is still maintained and the windings are very slight although often sufficient to block the view ahead.
Tracing the Remains of the Roads:
Now that we have seen the processes by which the roads fell into decay we can more readily appreciate the remains of I them that still exist and the features by which they can be recognised. Evidence of the alignment is, of course, the fundamental characteristic, and it is the rigidly straight length of the modern road ending suddenly far no apparent reason, and continuing only as a winding road that directs us on the map to many a Roman line. A word of caution is necessary however, for straight lengths across commons or the enclosed land of former commons, often show very similar features, the straight length terminating at the end of the area with which the enclosure surveyors were dealing, but a little experience will soon enable such roads to be easily recognised.
Where substantial remains of the agger still exist, even if derelict, overgrown, or under plough, the road can generally be recognised fairly easily, but in many cases the typical indications are very inconspicuous, although really very definite, and call for some observational experience in recognising them, Most often the agger will then appear as a very slight broad ridge, hardly more than a gentle swelling in the ground; there may be indications of the metalling if ploughing has scattered it and the hard surface may be felt on probing just below the filth. Or the road may have been removed, either for the sake of the stone which could be usefully employed elsewhere, or to clear the land for better cultivation; in these cases a wide shallow hollow may mark its course, especially on a hill where water action would tend to deepen the original slight excavation. If the road is running along a hillside a slight terracing may remain even when it is crossing a field long under plough, but the break in the slope may be so slight that it will perhaps only be apparent when viewed in certain lights arid from a favourable angle. The ditches of the road frequently disappear by silting and the resultant increase in the top soil depth may result in excessive growth of the crop at that point with consequent "lodging" in wet weather. These are the kind of signs which necessarily show most clearly from the air and can be studied on air photos when these are available.
The road when derelict is nearly always covered in soil, awing to an accumulation of fallen leaves and weed growth, and when it is under grass this may become parched in dry weather owing to the stony layer underneath, and appear as a brown or light coloured strip, recognisable as one walks over it and showing very plainly indeed from the air.
Hedgerow lines, sometimes of considerable length, and. lanes or minor roads with footpaths and tracks, often mark parts of the course, and are very significant if a long line of them can be traced across country, even when in discontinuous lengths upon the same alignment. Parish boundaries, often of very early Saxon origin, follow Roman roads very frequently and are sometimes a useful indication that the line is really old.
In some places, however, especially in forest areas upon soft soil, the road will be entirely invisible, not even a hedgerow marking its course, but it does not follow that the road is not there, Experience has shown that it may have survived with its metalled surface intact, but entirely buried below the level of cultivation. Such roads are necessarily hard to trace and indeed this can only be done by probing along the line.
Another indication of Roman origins on a road still in use is its behaviour when an obstacle in encountered, The road will negotiate it by short straight lengths, resuming the original line upon the far side, and if a steep hill has be climbed the road may do so in a distinct zig-zag course which will very likely been modified in later times to ease the gradient and hairpin bends, but may still be traceable in its original form, now partly abandoned, as terraces on the hillside.
Place names are, of course, very useful evidence for the existence of a Roman road. To the Saxon a "streat" was a road with a paved or metalled surface, and since the only examples of these which he could meet were Roman it follows that Streathas, Stratford, Stratton. Stretton, Streatley, Old Street, etc indicate Roman roads with much certainty. Similar names derived from "Stane" or "Stone" such as Stanford, Stanstead, Stone Street, Stane Street, are also significant, The name High Street where it occurs in open country and does not mean the village street is another, referring possibly to the raised roadway, as do such names as Ridgeway, The Ridge, Causeway, Long Causeway, Devil's Causeway etc., while a derelict length of road may bear the name Green Street. Names such as Street Farm and Street Field in country areas are very significant as the name almost certainly refers to such a road and in the case of a field may establish its likely position very closely.
British Roman Road System:
The Roman roads in Britain form an impressively complete network. They radiate from all the chief tribal capitals, but London was the principal centre and it is very remarkable to notice now the main routes are followed very frequently by our main railways today, for the same problems of ground and the same terminals governed the choices of the engineers in both ages. The roads give a striking indication of planning by a well organised central authority, although no doubt they were laid out by different surveyors and not at all one time. The routes chosen often followed high ground, probably from military consideration in the first instance, and since in some districts this.