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An alternative to Watling Street

Home / History / The History of Sittingbourne / An alternative to Watling Street
Despite there being two important reference points to consider when trying to locate the town’s original site, the stream and Watling Street, there are two other possible sites, each situated on a main road crossed by a stream. There is another ancient trackway that passes through this area a few hundred metres to the north of Watling Street in an area known as Bayford that is worth considering. It was first brought to my attention by Sidney Twist in his book Stock Bricks of Swale (1984) and later by Lesley Feakes in her Woodstock: An Archaeological Mystery (2001). Twist described the road as ‘a long-lost Roman road’ whilst Feakes called it ‘an Iron Age trackway’. The route of this trackway can still be seen to this day and is known as the Lower Road. It runs at least between Reculver, Herne Bay and Rochester, and it too was bisected by the stream. Bayford is said to be a corruption of Babbe, the tribal leader, and ford; it was therefore, a ford controlled by Babbe or Babbe’s people. Nineteenth century antiquarian George Payne alludes to this in an article in ‘Archaeologia Cantiana’ Vol. XVI in which he refers to Bayford as ‘Badford’, and Judith Glover in her book The Place Names of Kent, (1992; 13) traces the origins of the name Bayford from the Old English, Babban ford, to Babbeford [1292], to Babeforde [1347] and eventually Bayford. She too suggests ‘it was the site of a ford, a shallow crossing over Milton Creek where the tribe of Babba lived’. Such was the importance of the Lower Road that in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries there was an ancient archiepiscopal palace at Teynham but today only subterranean evidence of it remains. Furthermore, the trackway appears to head directly to Milton, a trading hub. As well as being an important market centre, Milton was also the principal port for this area although Faversham was always bigger with better access for boats. It does seem a little odd though that there should be two ancient trackways running parallel with each other, just a few hundred metres apart.

Alan Abbey casts doubts on the history of this trackway, asking, what if it isn’t pre-Roman, and what if, for arguments sake, it is really late-Roman or even early medieval? He agrees that it does follow a route between certain known and assumed points but to what end? And, what evidence is there that it is that old? That it follows the coastline is fair enough but he believes that parts of the road could have been under water or were at least marshy in the Roman period. He questions why we assume the Lower Road to be so early and what is the evidence? Given the foregoing, Alan believes it would make more sense to use the trackway that was later to become Watling Street. Roman field boundaries running from the A2 north to the coastline have been identified, forming lateral estates, so does the trackway cut across them or is it perhaps later when those estates had collapsed and the old boundaries dissolved? A Lower Road that then linked some of the areas left over from the estates in the early medieval period might then make more sense. It is most certainly an area that is ripe for further research.