April celebrates World Heritage Day, a time to celebrate the history that connects us all. Just 2 miles from Linmere lies Watling Street, one of Britain’s oldest roads, dating back to the time of Roman Britain. Under Roman occupation, between 43AD and 383AD, Watling Street was considered one of the key Roman roads, connecting London to, as far as, Chester. Today it’s known as the A5.
Linmere’s proximity to Watling Street has provided good evidence of Roman occupation through the archeological surveys we carry out before each development phase. Being such an important road for the Roman army, Centurions, armies and everyday folk would stop in the area to rest on their journeys to and from London.
To take a peek into a history that connects Linmere to two-thousand years ago, we briefly explore the history of Watling Street, one of Britain’s most historic roads.
Watling Street was originally built by the Celts as a trade route connecting their settlements to various parts of the country. The origins of its name are unclear, with one theory suggesting the name comes from an Anglo-Saxon word “wæcelinga”, meaning “the field of battle.”
Once the Romans arrived in 43AD, building a vast settlement in St Albans, Watling Street was adopted by the Roman Army to move vital supplies between London and St Albans, joining their network of roads to move military supplies to tackled ongoing Celtic resistance throughout its occupation.
After the Romans fled Britain in 383AD, as the Roman Empire declined and the resurgent tribes of Angles and Saxons (becoming Anglo-Saxons), much of the road infrastructure was kept by the natives, including Watling Street. Throughout the Middle Ages, Watling Street remained a key part of Britain’s trading routes, moving animals, crops and occasionally armies, between the Northwest and Southeast. It played a crucial role in facilitating trade between London and other major towns such as Chester, Shrewsbury, and Birmingham.
Over time, various improvements were made to Watling Street, including paving with stone and construction of bridges over rivers. As more vehicles began using the roadway in the 20th century, it gradually evolved into its present-day form as part of Britain’s national highway system.
Over time, such an important road enjoyed its notoriety with hauntings and folklore. Sightings of Roman Centurions were reported for centuries, especially around St Albans, the location of a large military cemetery dating back from Roman occupation. The stretch around Markyate, south of Dunstable, often reported sighting of the ghost of Lady Katherine Ferrers, known famously as the Wicked Lady Highwaywoman (d: 1660).
Around 1800, the Act of Union between London and Dublin, saw a renewed investment in the road, firming up the links between London and Holyhead to improve the flow of travelers and trade. The original Watling Street route was kept intact up to Northamptonshire, and was then diverted to travel through the cites of Coventry, Birmingham, and Wolverhampton, before traveling onto Shrewsbury and North Wales.
During World War 2, the A5 was damaged by bombing raids, as the Germans sought to disrupt supply routes and the road then began to decline in importance following the war, as rail offered alternative means of moving goods. By 1959, Britain was welcoming its first motorway, the M1, following the route of the A5 closely, up to Luton and Bedfordshire. As the motorway, and others, expanded, the A5 declined as a key trading route to be replaced by commuters and leisure drivers.
2,000 years later, the latest A5 bypass north of Linmere
Over the years, the road has been re-routed through bypasses as towns expanded, the most current being the A5 link from M1 junction 11, routing across the northern boundary of Linmere to Dunstable, opened in May 2017.
The A5 has played a big role in Britain’s past and an ideal example of the history that connects us all. Whilst our motorways provide a more convenient journey north and south, a long drive up the A5, especially from Linmere, provides a much better window on Britain yesterday and today.
Linmere is designed to be a place for communities that embraces the natural environment, and where all generations can enjoy a great quality of life. This exciting new collection of leafy and walkable neighbourhoods, situated north of Houghton Regis Bedfordshire, located close to M1 Junction 11a. Nestled into verdant surroundings, its first homes completed and inhabited in 2021. The Land Trust will maintain and preserve these spaces on behalf of Houghton Regis Management Company.