Marching or Temporary Camps
This suspected Roman marching camp was observed from the air just north of the A25 at Westcott outside Dorking, and first reported in the J.R.S. for 1953 (see below). The site is known only from two short lengths of ditch set at right-angles, with a rounded corner-angle connecting the two; the military precision of the observed ditch is typical of Roman work. Although the identification of this site is tenuous, Stane Street, the main Roman road between Chichester and London (Margary #15, pp.58-61) crosses the ancient trackway of the North Downs Way just to the north-east (see O.S. Landranger #187).
Elsewhere in the south evidence of early Roman military sites is of the slightest. It has long puzzled air observers why more early temporary forts and camps have not come to light … Only near Dorking (TQ 143492), in Surrey, and at Wighton in north Norfolk have enclosures been seen that may be small temporary camps. A ditch forming two straight sides 180 and 120 ft. long, which lie at right angles, is visible at the first site. The ditch is interrupted for some 30 ft. as for a gate, and the angle of the enclosure is rounded. … Excavation is needed to reveal the nature of these sites.” (JRS 1953 p.82)
Given the sparse evidence, it is, however, possible that the Westcott site represents the temporary overnight camp of a Roman military force en-route along the Mole Valley. There are at least two documented instances of Roman military activity in this area; the camp may date to late Summer A.D. 43, when Vespasian in command of Legio II Augusta was known to have been on campaign in the south-west (Suetonius VIII.iv; Webster p.107 ff.), alternately, the camp could date to the summer of A.D. 296, when emperor Constantius wrested the province of Britannia back from the hands of the rebel general Allectus. During this campaign the imperial invasion army was split into two divisions; the first, under the praetorian commander Asclepiodotus, landed in the natural harbours around Portsmouth and Chichester during a thick fog, and immediately attacked and defeated Allectus near Silchester, while Constantius himself commanding the second division, used the shorter English Channel route and marched westwards through Cantium along Watling Street to ‘liberate’ Londinium from the survivors of Allectus’ defeated army which was busily ransacking the capital (Ireland #224, Panegyric on Constantius Caesar 13-20, pp.132-5; Salway p.305 ff.). It is quite possible that Asclepiodotus would have sent a force to defend against attack arising along the Stane Street while he dealt with the rebel forces around Winchester and Silchester, and there are few places better than the point where this major Roman road emerges from the Mole valley through the North Downs just north of modern Dorking.
References for Dorking
- The Roman Invasion of Britain by Graham Webster (Batsford, London, 1993);
- Roman Britain – A Sourcebook by S. Ireland (Routlege, New York, 1986);
- Roman Britain by Peter Salway (Oxford 1981);
- Roman Roads in Britain : Volume I South of the Foss Way – Bristol Channel by Ivan D. Margary (London 1955);
- Air Reconnaissance of Southern Britain by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. XLIII (1953) pp.81-97;
- De Vita Caesarum by Suetonius Paulinus, translated by J.C. Rolfe (Loeb, Harvard, 1914);
Map References for Dorking
NGRef: TQ1449 OSMap: LR187
Roman Roads near Dorking