Watling Street

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Geography of Great Britain

The modern Watling Street crossing the Medway at Rochester near the Roman and Celt crossings
The modern Watling Street crossing the Medway at Rochester near the Roman and Celt crossings

Watling Street is the name given to an ancient trackway in England and Wales that was first used by the Celts mainly between the modern cities of Canterbury and St Albans. The Romans later paved the route, part of which is identified on the Antonine Itinerary as Inter III: "Item a Londinio ad portum Dubris" - from London to the port of Dover. The name derives from the Anglo-Saxon Wæcelinga Stræt, which has come to be understood as the A2 road from Dover to London, and then the A5 road from London to Wroxeter.



A Roman road known as Inter III went from London to Dover. The last section of the long Inter II route from Hadrian's Wall travelled through Viroconium (now Wroxeter in Shropshire), past Letocetum (modern day Wall), Manduessedum (modern day Mancetter - possible site of Boudica's last battle), Venonis (modern day High Cross), Lactotorum (modern day Towcester - near another possible site of Boudica's last battle)), then through Stony Stratford and Magiovinium ( Fenny Stratford) in modern day Milton Keynes, Durocobrivis (modern day Dunstable), Verulamium (near modern-day St Albans in Hertfordshire) and London (including the modern Old Kent Road) to Rutupiae (now Richborough in Kent) on the southeast coast of England. While another section of Inter II linked Wroxeter to Chester, and other roads went into north Wales and central Wales, these are not generally considered to be part of Watling Street. Thus the Roman routes which comprise Watling Street are all of Inter III and the middle southern section of Inter II.

Main section

Roman Britain, with the route of Watling Street in red
Roman Britain, with the route of Watling Street in red

The main section of the road is that from Dover to Wroxeter. It was named Wæcelinga Stræt by the Anglo-Saxons, literally "the street of the people of Wæcel". Wæcel could possibly be a variation of the Anglo-Saxon word for 'foreigner' which was applied to the Celtic people inhabiting what is now Wales. This source also gave us the name for Wæclingacaester (the Anglo-Saxon name for Verulamium) and it seems likely that the road-name was originally applied first to the section between that town and London before being applied to the entire road.

Subsidiary routes

Stone Street ran south for some 12 miles from Watling Street at Canterbury (the Roman Durovernum) to Lympne (Lemanis) at the western edge of the Romney Marsh. Most of it is now the current B2068 road that runs from the M20 motorway to Canterbury.

Another Stone Street from Magnae ( Kenchester) to Caerleon.

Battle of Watling Street

Part of the route was the site of the Roman victory at the Battle of Watling Street in 61 AD between the Roman governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus and the Briton leader Boudica.


In the 9th century, Watling Street was used as the demarcation line between the Anglo-Saxon and Danish-ruled parts of England. The Treaty of Wedmore required the defeated Danes to withdraw to an area north and east of Watling Street, thus establishing the Danelaw.

Pilgrims Way

Like most of the Roman road network, the Roman paving fell into disrepair when the Romans left Britain, although the route continued to be used for centuries afterwards. It is likely that Chaucer's pilgrims used Watling Street to travel from Southwark to Canterbury in his Canterbury Tales.


The road north of London became a Turnpike when in 1706 the section from Hockliffe to Dunchurch was paved. The road was re-paved in the early 19th century by Thomas Telford who brought it back into use as a turnpike road for use by mail coaches bringing mail to and from Ireland, his road being extended to the port of Holyhead on the Isle of Anglesey in Wales. At this time the section south of London became known as the Great Dover Road. The toll system ended in 1875.

Modern Road

Most of the road is still in use today apart from a few sections where it has been diverted. The stretch of the road between London and Dover is today known as the A2, and the stretch between London and Shrewsbury is today known as the A5 (which now continues to Holyhead). Through Milton Keynes, the A5 is diverted onto a new dual-carriageway and Watling Street forms part of the new town's grid system and carries the additional designation V4. The name of the town of Wellington, Shropshire, which lies just east of Shrewsbury, is believed to be a corruption of the word 'Watling town' as Watling Street supposedly ran straight through the centre of Wellington.

Continued use of the name along the ancient road

The use of the street name is retained along the ancient road in many places: for instance, to the south east of London in Kent (including the towns of Canterbury, Gillingham, Rochester, Gravesend, Dartford, and Bexleyheath). Similarly, north of London the name Watling Street still occurs in many places, for example in Hertfordshire (including St Albans), Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire (including Milton Keynes), Northamptonshire (including Towcester), Leicestershire, Warwickshire (including Nuneaton), Staffordshire (including Cannock, Wall and Lichfield), Shropshire and Gwynedd.

Other Watling Streets

A Watling Street still exists in the City of London, close to Mansion House underground station, though this is unlikely to be on the route of the original Roman road which traversed the River Thames via the first London Bridge. In Lancashire, Watling Street is the Roman Road through Affetside which leads from Manchester to Ribchester.

The Roman Road from Catterick (Cataractonium) to Corbridge (Corstopitum) and onto the Antonine Wall also came to be known as Watling Street, with perhaps a similar Anglo-Saxon etymology owing to its path into the foreign land of Scotland. This route is also known as Dere Street.

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