Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Watling Street was a Roman road which went from Dover on the southeast coast of England and is generally believed to have terminated at Viroconium (now Wroxeter in Shropshire). It was also the site for the Roman victory at the Battle of Watling Street in 61 AD between the Roman governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus and the Briton leader Boudica.
It went via London, Verulamium, and the English Midlands. The road was an important part of the road network that the Romans constructed during their occupation of Britain. It was named Wæcelinga Stræt by the Anglo-Saxons during the Dark Ages, literally "the street of the people of Wæcel". Wæcel could possibly be a variation of the Anglo saxon word for 'foreigner' which was applied to the Celtic people inhabiting what is now Wales. This source also gave us the name for Wæclingacaester (Verulamium) 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. In this era, "street" simply meant a paved road (Latin: "via strata"), and didn't have the modern association with populated areas.
Like most of the Roman road network, the Roman paving fell into disrepair when the Romans left Britain, although the route continued to be used for centuries afterwards. It is likely that Chaucer's pilgrims used Watling Street to travel from Southwark to Canterbury in his Canterbury Tales.
The road was finally re-paved in the early 19th century by Thomas Telford who brought it back into use as a tollpike road for use by mail coaches bringing mail to and from Ireland, his road being extended to the port of Holyhead in Wales.
Most of the road is still in use today apart from a few sections where it has been diverted. The stretch of the road between London and Dover is today known as the A2, and the stretch between London and Shrewsbury is today known as the A5 (which now continues to Holyhead).
A Watling Street still exists in the City of London, close to Mansion House underground station, though this is unlikely to be on the route of the original Roman road which traversed the River Thames via the first London Bridge. The use of the street name is retained along the road in Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire (including St Albans), Northamptonshire (including Towcester), Warwickshire (including Nuneaton), Leicestershire, Staffordshire (including Cannock and Lichfield), and Kent (including the towns of Dartford, Gravesend, Rochester, Gillingham, and Canterbury).
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