What is known from records of the middle ages is that the Portway was very much a main thoroughfare taking traffic to the west from Old Sarum. It led down to a bridge, called the Kings Bridge, crossing the River Avon near Tadpole Island. The bridge was a vital river crossing for all types of traffic accessing Wilton and beyond. When the Harnham Bridge was built in 1244 travellers from the west to New Salisbury would have used it in preference to using Stratford’s Kings Bridge which as a consequence was falling into disuse by the end of the 15th century.
During the existence of the first city, which started on Old Sarum in the 11th century, space quickly became severely limited as the city grew in importance. A direct result was the building of suburbs outside the hill fort and a particular one stretched from Old Sarum either side of the Portway down to the river (Ref *). The land, which belonged to the King, was tenanted out as freehold plots to city burgesses.
* Reference: ’Where was Old Sarum’, John Chandler, Sarum Chronicle 4, 22-30, (2004).
Most people know the Portway as the unmade lane heading off in the direction of Old Sarum from the ‘dogleg’ bend in the Stratford Road. For those walking up it, after passing half a dozen houses, it quickly degenerates into a footpath, very overgrown in summer.
Some believe its origins date back to the early Roman Period when it was part of the Roman Road network built soon after their invasion of Britain in the 1st century AD. In fact excavations in the Salisbury Council sports field behind Farthing Cottage by John Stratton in 1977 showed that the line of the London to Dorchester Roman Road ran parallel to the Portway and at a distance of nearly 75 metres to the north-west. There is evidence that the Roman ‘small town’ of Sorviodunum (located either side of this main road as it passes through Stratford) had, by the 3rd century, become such a thriving town that a bypass had to be built. It is just possible that the Portway was that bypass or possibly another street in the Roman town.
Estate Map of 1818 (Wilts RCO)
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The article above was first published in the Friends of St Lawrence Church Spring 2012 Newsletter and appears on this website by kind permission of David James.
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