Ancient roads and trackways criss-cross Britain like a web connecting communities and places of trade across the centuries. Banburyshire is close to the well known Roman Fosse Way to the west which runs from York down to Devon; Akeman Street near Bicester and Watling Street to the east which connects London to Dover and Wroxeter on the Welsh border.
The pathways are difficult to locate after such a vast time since their inception but many roads have been discovered, with more still to find. The segmented portions and their names are often tricky to understand but for this feature we will look at the major and ancillary roads that concern Banburyshire and the inhabitants that used them for travel and trade.
To the south west of Banbury town sits Crouch Hill which is located at the intersection of two ancient roads; Salt Way and Banbury Lane. Salt Way (or Saltway) as it’s name suggests was a route for the trade of salt between Droitwich in the Midlands and the south. Salt was an expensive and important commodity at the time and was transported across large distances in communities all over the world. Banbury Lane was a drove road; a track for moving livestock across the community which runs east from the Cotswolds to Northamptonshire, connecting to the edge of the Jurassic Ridge that runs across the Chiltern escarpment on the Warwickshire border. The best place to visit to get an understanding of this natural feature is Edgehill, where you can see for many miles into Warwickshire and across the site of the civil war battle.
There are scattered placed of interest for anyone studying pre-Roman times. Iron Age settlers came from the European continent with a great westward migration. They brought with them new skills including the smelting and working of iron, which was absorbed the local populations they found. Over time and with increasing continental trade, a fairly high level of culture evolved in the area. An Iron Age settlement was unearthed by construction workers east of the town centre in 2002, where pottery, stone and circular buildings were found dated to 200 BC.
Before the Roman invasions, Banburyshire was the territory of the Dobunni tribe whose principal centre was in Cirencester. At the time of the invasion of A.D.43 the Iron Age tribes of southern Britain were split by many political conflicts. The Dobunni tribe welcomed the armed might of Rome where some tribes forcibly resisted their advances, but the Roman legions fought their way north until they finally arrived on the Jurassic ridge. In Banburyshire they found a number of Iron Age settlements defended by hill-forts, the inhabitants generally making a living from the land, particularly from corn which was at a premium after the decline of Rome’s Granary. The Roman legions quickly established fortresses at Glevum (Gloucester) and at Lindum Colonia (Lincoln) and between these a number of towns were established along the ridge. There is a high degree of hill forts in the area which may have been built to defend the Dobunni tribe from other more aggressive tribes from the midlands, the north and what is now Wales.
Yet the Romans stayed, built their roads, villas and communities and slowly changed the whole way of life of the area. Roman villas, coins, livestock bones, pottery and even statuettes have been found across Banburyshire over time, with much more waiting to be found under the fertile earth.
Of course the most impressive ancient legacy in the area is the neolithic Rollright Stones complex. Comprising of the stone circle called the King’s Men, the Whispering Knights dolmen and the large King Stone just over the road from the circle. The site lies on the top of a hill that straddles both Oxfordshire and Warwickshire, near Chipping Norton.
Many studies have taken place to try and solve the mystery of it’s purpose, but the true reason may not matter today. It is a hugely popular place to visit and soak up the unique atmosphere of the place, yet it never becomes too crowded. Kids love to count the stones to see if they get the same number twice, families use it as the starting place for a country walk and spiritualists come to connect to a time and mindspace long distant. We’ll be posting a dedicated feature on the stones this Spring, so stay in the loop by subscribing to our newsletter using the form below.