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Watling Street

Central to the town’s origins and subsequent history are Watling Street and a stream that once crossed it. It was one of several along a large section of this road. Sittingbourne is a ribbon development town, meaning that its shops, etc are distributed mainly along one single road, Watling Street, the A2, a road said to have been constructed by the Roman army a short while after their invasion of Britain in AD 43. In true Roman fashion it was designed to link the Channel ports of Richborough and Dover to London, St Albans and eventually Chester by the shortest, most direct route possible. It has long been my, and I suspect many others’, misconception that after the Romans landed at Richborough, they began building Watling Street from scratch, but how wrong you can be. It is not quite as simple as that and following discussions with Alan Abbey, former chairman of the HRGS, the Historical Research Group of Sittingbourne I am now beginning to get a new perception on how our town evolved.

According to the on-line encyclopaedia, Wikipedia ( Watling Street was an ancient trackway that was first used, not by the Romans, but by the Britons mainly between Canterbury and St Albans long before the arrival of the Romans. This is supported by Charles G. Harper in his book The Dover Road (1895). When they arrived here, the Romans would not have found any metalled roads, just a number of dirt trackways which had been used by the Britons for many hundreds of years. The main section of the road is that from Dover to Wroxeter and was known as Wæcelinga Stræt by the Anglo-Saxons, meaning "the paved road of the people of Wæcel", Wæcel possibly being a variation of the Old English word Wealhas for 'foreigners' which was applied to the Celts who inhabited what is now Wales. This place-name element also gave us the name for Wæclingacaester, the early English name for Verulamium, or St Albans, 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. Wikipedia suggests the original alignment of Watling Street more or less followed part of the ancient Celtic route and part of the turnpike road to Dover, but although the Roman road initially followed the line of this broad, grassy trackway, improvements were made to it so that it followed a more direct course. The Roman alignment is not easy to identify and much of the original A2 does not exactly follow what is known of the Roman route; the straightness of many long stretches is misleading.