Saturday, 12 September 2009

Stane Street

The Roman Stane or Stone Street runs through Surrey

Stane Street, sometimes called Stone Street (Stane is simply an old spelling of "stone" (norse: steinn) which was commonly used to differentiate paved Roman roads from muddy native trackways), is the modern name given to an important Roman road in England that linked London to the Roman town of Noviomagus Reginorum or Regnentium renamed Chichester by the conquering Saxons. Stane Street probably continued beyond Chichester to the Roman Palace on the coast at Fishbourne.
Stane Street is especially interesting as it shows clearly the principles of planning that the Romans used. The overall alignment is based on an accurate line "sighted" from London Bridge to Chichester, with subtle local variations to allow for not only the nature of the intervening terrain (gentle slopes are used to climb the line of the South Downs) but also the underlying geology (the preferred line stays on chalk ground and avoids London clay as far as possible).

Stane Street

There are two known posting stations or mansiones along Stane Street, where official messengers could change horses and travellers could rest. These are at Alfoldean and Hardham. These stations were normally rectangular fortified sites of about 1 hectare (2.5 acres). The station at Alfoldean has been excavated. Two more stations at Merton Priory and Dorking have been postulated as being at suitable intervals, though they are now hidden under modern development. No stations have been detected on other undeveloped parts of the road.

Mansio at Alfodean

The Alfoldean site is just south of the River Arun and partly covered by the A29 road. It was excavated by the Channel 4 Time Team, revealing the remains of a two storey mansio built around a courtyard and also many other buildings. The site was enclosed by massive ramparts and ditches four metres wide and as deep which were dated by pottery finds to 70 AD. The ditches were filled in by the mid-third century. The team's view was that the site had been an administrative and taxation centre for the Wealden iron industry. The western side of the Hardham station was destroyed by construction of the Pulborough to Midhurst railway, but most of it including north and south gateways remains.

London Bridge to Ewell
The line of the road runs south west from London Bridge, closely followed by the Northern Line through Clapham and Tooting up to Colliers Wood and Merton. Clapham Road and Kennington Park Road lie on top of Stane Street.

River Wandle

It then crosses the River Wandle at the site of what later became Merton Priory, and is then closely followed by the A24 from Morden to Ewell. This is the only section of the road that is on the true line from London Bridge to the east gate of Chichester.

Ewell to South Holmwood

Box Hill Dorking Surrey

At Ewell it bears to the left slightly, avoiding wet difficult alluvial soils by moving onto the chalk, to cross the North Downs near Langley Vale, then crosses the River Mole and passes through Dorking which was almost certainly a Roman station. This route takes the road east of Leith Hill, one of the highest hills in southern England at 294 metres (965 feet).

Pulborough Church

South Holmwood to Pulborough

South Holmwood High Street

South of Dorking, near South Holmwood, Stane Street takes a line sighted from London Bridge to Pulborough with most of this section still in use as the modern A29 which follows the line very closely through Billingshurst as far as Pulborough. This line to the east of the middle reaches of the River Arun is mostly free of steep gradients, although the modern road does avoid the hill at Rowhook. Just to the south of the steep descent from Rowhook through Roman Woods, where the road bridged the River Arun, some of the timber piles on which the bridge was built are still present in the river bed. Scattered Roman tiles and squared stone in the river bed show that stone bridge piers were built above the piling. The Alfoldean station is some 30 metres (33 yd) south of the bridge site.

Pulborough to Chichester

Stane Street at Eartham Woods

The alignment turns west at this point to make a beeline for Chichester, and passes the notable Roman villa at Bignor, before making a slight detour from the line where it climbs the escarpment of the South Downs. At Hardham south west of Pulborough there was a junction with the Greensand Way Roman road to Lewes and a posting station near the junction. Up on the open heath of the downs the line of the road can be followed very well on foot and is free of modern roads and paths. Walking south from Bignor Hill one soon comes to open sheep-grazed pasture at Gumber farm where the scale of the agger of the road can be clearly seen.

Chichester Cathedral

The spire of Chichester cathedral can be seen above the distant trees, slightly to the right of the road line as the road heads for Chichester's east gate. Further on at Eartham Woods where the Monarch's Way long-distance path follows the route, the flint surface of the well-preserved road is exposed, the trees are mostly cut back to the boundary ditches, and the road seems little different from the time when the Legions left Britain. Although the invading Saxons made Chichester the capital of the South Saxon kingdom only the southern 7 kilometres of this superbly engineered road into the western Weald have remained in use, as the A285.

The average width of the paved road is 7.4 metres (24 ft),or 25 Roman pedes. This is wider than the average 6.51 metres (21.4 ft) or 22 pedes for Roman roads in Britain. The overall width between the outer ditches, which can still be seen on aerial photographs taken over the South Downs, is 25.6 metres (84 ft) or 86 pedes. The actual width of metalling varies from place to place, and the outer ditches were found to be 27.4 metres (90 ft) apart at Westhampnet.

Westhampnet Church

Sections of intact road that have been excavated in several places show a variety of local materials, with the agger often being constructed of alternating layers of sand and gravel paved with large flint nodules, or sandstone, surfaced with smaller flint or sand and gravel. The metalling was generally about 0.3 metres (0.98 ft) thick at the centre with a pronounced camber. Near to the Alfoldean station the metalling was constructed from iron slag in a solid 0.3 metre thick mass.

Dating evidence
A number of first-century pottery fragments and coins have been found along the road, including Samian ware of Claudian date at Pulborough. The earliest coins found are of Claudius (41-54 AD), with others of Nero, Vespasian, Titus, Domitian and Nerva (96-98 AD). This is consistent with the road being in use by 60 to 70 AD, possibly earlier.

Tilburstow Hill Godstone

Branch roads
The London to Brighton Way road diverged from Stane Street at Kennington Park, passing through Croydon, Godstone, Haywards Heath and Burgess Hill to cross the South Downs at Clayton.
From Rowhook a road went northwest to Farley Heath at the foot of the North Downs where it passes through a Roman temple site.

Greensand Way at Stretham

The Sussex Greensand Way branches from Stane Street at Hardham waystation, following a well drained sandstone ridge east to Lewes.
To the north of Pulborough another road branched off in a southeasterly direction, crossing the Greensand Way at Wiggonholt.

Wiggonholt Church

It is unclear whether it continued beyond this towards Storrington.
At Westhampnett, near the Rolls-Royce works, the Roman coastal road which became the A27 road, branches from Stane Street at the mini roundabout. The Roman road continues via Broadwater, Sompting, Lancing (along a road still named The Street) and part of the Old Shoreham Road (the A270) through to Novus Portus (around modern Portslade).
Further reading
Margary, Ivan D (1973). Roman Roads in Britain (3rd edition ed.). London: John Baker. pp. 64–67. ISBN 0-212-97001-1.
Belloc, Hilaire (1913). The Stane Street : A Monograph. London: Constable (re-issued by Kessinger 2005). ISBN 1-4179-5459-0.

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