Ermine Street

C.E. Carrington describes how, from London to York, and under a succession of Roman Governors, the great road to the north was built during the first century A.D.

Medieval chroniclers, enlarging upon the legal status of the Ring’s Highway, commonly refer to the four ancient roads specified in the Laws of Edward the Confessor: Watling Street, Ermine Street, Icknield Street, and the Fosse; two running lengthways, and two crossways through England. Watling Street, one of the most famous roads in the world, is pre-eminently the Roman Road, with its continuation to Dover, and beyond the Channel in as straight a path as rivers and mountains will permit, over the Alps until it reaches the Eternal City.

But Watling Street does not go to London; from Tyburn (the Marble Arch) it by-passes the Roman town by two or three miles, on the west, crossing the Thames from the Horseferry Road (significantly named) to Lambeth, which is ‘Lamb-hythe’, where Kentish lambs were shipped for sale.

Watling Street picks up the line of the Dover Road at the crossroads we call ‘the Elephant’, from the sign of a public-house that was ancient in Shakespeare’s day. The general plan of the road-system in Roman Britain does not radiate from London Bridge, nor from any central feature within the walls of Roman London, but from a starting-point near the Elephant.

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