Stratford sub Castle and the oldest road in Britain

by Kerry O'Connor

Stratford sub Castle lies on one possible route of a possible road that would pre-date it by a thousand years and is, possibly, the oldest road in Britain.

The Icknield (Icenhilde, Icenhylte, Icenilde, Icenhilde, Rykeneld, Hikenilde, Hicknel, Hecknal) Way is a pre Roman and perhaps even pre Iron Age route from (Old) Sarum (and perhaps from Exeter) to East Anglia, the territory of the Iceni who may have given their name to it. A Mid 13th C map (Mathew Paris, Scema Britannie, British Library) shows it running from (Old) Sarum to Bury St Edmunds. A different and later Icknield route appears in 14th C sources and includes a Roman section called Icknield Street. It runs north south in Worcestershire and Warwickshire. Some authors call the Icknield Way the oldest road in Britain, others call it a mediaeval myth erroneously linking shorter probably younger tracks together. The Iceni did trade with the south west so a trade route is possible and where a choice is available ridgeways seem more sensible than valley floors and multiple river crossings.

“It keeps along the edge of Groveley Woods and within sound of the nightingales until it bends down to Salisbury ; once probably it or a higher parallel course went over a ford to Old Sarurn, and evidently it is vastly older than the eighteenth-century mile-stones, (The Icknield  Way. Thomas, Edward 1916 pages 20 -21). South west of Old Sarum it may be the same route as the Ackling Dyke to Badbury (Origines Celticae, Guest, Edwin 1883 Vol II page 230)

King Edgar (10th C) introduced “The King’s Peace”, revived by Edward The Confessor, confirmed by William the Conqueror (both 11th C) whereby offences committed on the four principal roads “Watlinge, Fosse, Hikenilde and Erming” were tried by the King’s own officers rather than the local court, before this was extended to all highways (12th C). Breach of the Saxon Pax Regis was a far graver crime than the same act as a breach of the homestead’s or church’s or manor’s or Sheriff’s peace. It was a crime against the King. Crimes were originally tried as accused versus injured party, fines then being payable to the injured party. When all crimes became against the King’s peace, trials became accused versus Rex and all fines payable to him. These four roads were then privileged places under the King’s protection in the 10th to 11th C.

The Icknield Way is unmarked on the ground and on maps around Old Sarum, and forgotten. Elsewhere in the country this and its various alternative routes, the Icknield Street, as part of a seemingly unrelated Icknield Way and an Icknield Way Long Distance path are mapped and marked.

The Icknield Way from Sarum and Wilton in the west to Norfolk in the east.
Matthew Paris' map of Great Britain, Cotton MS Claudius D VI 1200-1259 British Library.

                                                                             

Glovernia is Gloucester. Diulf is Devizes. Planic is Salisbury Plain. Sarefb is Salisbury. Beneath it in red Wiltefir is Wiltshire. Beneath this and the blue line of Icknield Way, Witu is Wilton. Marleb is Marlborough. Neuwerc is Newark. To its south Bealwar is Bevoir. Notigh is Nottingham. Legrecest is Leicester. Stampf is Stamford. Norhamt is Northampton. Graha is Grantham. Burg is Peterborough. Len is is King’s Lyn. North Folk is Norfolk. Spa ud is Spalding. http://historiacartarum.org/annotated-claudius-map/

1834 Plan of Old Sarum, Benson and Hatcher, showing The Icknield “Street” (sic) ©Salisbury Museum

The (possible) Icknield Way alongside Hudson’s Field, labelled The Icknield Street on map above
Image: KMOC

Webpage added July 2020

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