Ermine Street is a major Roman road in England that ran from London (Londinium) to Lincoln (Lindum) and York (Eboracum). The Old English name was Earninga Strǣt (1012), named after a tribe called the Earningas, who inhabited a district later known as Armingford Hundred, around Arrington, Cambridgeshire, and Royston, Hertfordshire. “Armingford”, and “Arrington” share the same Old English origin. The original Celtic and Roman names for the route remain unknown. It is also known as the Old North Road from London to where it joins the A1 Great North Road near Godmanchester. Other spellings of the name include ‘Earninga Straete’, and ‘Erming Street’.
Ermine Street, was built soon after the Roman conquest of southern and lowland Britain, was a principal supply route conveying troops and provisions northwards in the mid 1st century AD. It was carefully planned to head to a ferry crossing of the Humber estuary and thence on to York, although that section may have come later by following the eastern edge of the limestone ridge that runs north from Lincoln to the Humber, avoiding the lowest and the highest ground.
The journey on foot will take a minimum of about nine days – that’s assuming you walk eight hours a day, travelling an average of 32 to 33 miles per day. It is interesting to note that the longest distance between any two points on this journey is the 27 miles between London and Braughing. This is less than one day’s travel for foot soldiers, although wagons and carts could be as slow as eight miles a day.
Course of Ermine Street
Ermine Street begins at Bishopsgate, where one of the seven gates in the wall surrounding Roman London was located. From here it runs north up to Braughing Roman Trading Post. Braughing was 27 miles from Londinium. This section of Ermine Street is now largely part of the A10. Braughing was an Iron Age settlement built by the Catuvellauni as the capital of king Tasciovanus before the Roman invasion. The town’s situation close to the Icknield Way made it well placed for trade, with access to the sea being provided by a small port on the River Rib that served the town. The town was built as a defended settlement with earth and timber ramparts and a ditch, and by the era our journey is set in, the town lay alongside Ermine Street in a prosperous agricultural area and was a market town with shops and warehouses. The settlement covered 36,000 square metres, and consisted of timber-framed and stone-built houses4 and a few stone municipal buildings. The streets in the town were mainly paved, and five cemetery enclosures have now been found near the town.
Little is known about this small settlement of Wimpole Lodge which was 43 miles from Londinium. It was situated on either side of Ermine Street. It was a settlement of flint, stone and timber-framed housing with tiled roofs and a few trade buildings and shops. There is evidence of trade and iron working in the town. Roman iron was not cast; it was forged red hot with hammer and anvil. Sheet iron was joined with rivets or welded while white hot. The iron trade was very sophisticated and spanned the Empire. The smelted raw material was traded as rods or bars and broken or worn out iron items were recycled as scrap iron, this was a major local source of supply for the blacksmith.
Godmanchester (Durovigutum) – A Thriving Strongpoint
Godmanchester or Durovigutum was 77 miles from Londinium. Originally a fort, this settlement was situated across Ermine Street on a crossing of the River Great Ouse. Forts holding between 800 and 5,000 men were often the first stage of a settlement, after which a town or vicus grew up to serve the fort, and then developed as a self supporting economy. Durovigutum was a settlement with a mansio and a bath house along with a fine Basilica and three temples. The housing was built from quality stone or was timber-framed, and there were paved streets and a busy commercial area with trade buildings, granaries, shops and warehouses. At this time the town’s walls enclosed an area of 9,000 square metres.
Water Newton –Durobrivae – The Bridge by the Fort
Durobrivae (Water Newton) was 77 miles from Londinium. Originally a fort, this town was situated across Ermine Street on a crossing of the River Nene. A strongly defended settlement with earth and stone ramparts and ditches, access to the town was by three strong gateways. Durobrivae was one of the wealthiest settlements in Britain and one of the centres of a prosperous pottery trade. The housing was built from quality stone or was timber-framed, and there were paved streets a fine Basilica and several temples and alters along with a mansio and a bath house. A milestone was found one mile from the town, details below:
RIB 2235 - Milestone of Florian
For the Emperor Caesar Marcus Annius Florianus Pius Felix Invictus Augustus, one mile.
P F INVICTO
M P I
The town centre was a busy commercial area with trade buildings, pottery workshops, shops, granaries and warehouses. As mentioned, the settlement was the trading centre for the pottery industry in the area. Roman pottery was classified into either fine ware and course ware. The best-known fine ware was samian ware but there are examples of marbled stamped and glazed wares. Course wares were plain and generally undecorated, cooking pots, storage jars, and kitchen ware were the most common types in every day use.
Great Casterton was located 88 miles from Londinium. Originally a fort, this settlement of around 8,000 square metres, which had stone walls after 320 AD, was situated across Ermine Street in a bend of the River Gwash. It was a settlement with a mansio, a bath house, a Basilica and a temple. The housing was built from quality stone or was timber-framed, and the town had paved streets, a busy commercial area housing ore-smelting and the pottery trade, and related buildings, granaries, shops and warehouses. There was a cemetery to the south of the town.
Saltersford – Durobrivae – ‘The Walled Town of Bridges’
Saltersford or Durobrivae is located 106 miles from Londinium. This was a small and relatively unimportant settlement that was situated on Ermine Street. Little is known and it was likely that it was a settlement of timber-framed housing with a few trade buildings and shops. The settlement was likely to have been involved in the trade from the Woolsthorpe iron mines. The iron trade was very sophisticated and spanned the Empire. As a raw material iron was traded as rods or bars, which would have been produced at the mines for trade distribution.
Ancaster is located 111 miles from Londinium. There was originally a British tribal village here before an auxiliary fort was built. This settlement, one of five tribal sites known to have been re-used after the invasion, was situated alongside Ermine Street and grew to 10,000 square metres to serve the fort. The housing was built from quality stone or was timber-framed, and there were paved streets and a busy commercial area that served the ports on the Wash along with related buildings, granaries, shops and warehouses. There was a large villa a short distance to the north of the town on the eastern side of Ermine Street.
The route from Colsterworth, through Ancaster, to Bracebridge Heath is known as High Dike. It runs roughly parallel with and to the east of the A607 between Carlton Scroop and Harmston. High Dike takes to the level, open, dry country of the Lincolnshire Heath while the A607 wanders through the villages on the spring line below.
Lincoln (Lindum) was located 129 miles from Londinium. The town was founded with good connections to Londinium via Ermine Street, and so trade flourished. A colonia was founded in 98 AD, by which time served legionaries and thair families. It was also at this time that the town walls were built. The town eventually gained a basilica, forum, temple and baths; these were followed by a larger temple complex.
From the Antonine Itinerary there is known to have been a Roman Settlement on the road in South Lincolnshire, called Causennae which has been variously identified with Ancaster Roman Town or Salterford , south of Grantham. Running north out of Lincoln, the road arrives at Owmby.
Owmby was located 139 miles from Londinium. Little is known about this settlement, except that it was of course situated on Ermine Street. It is likely that Owmby was a settlement of timber-framed housing with a few trade buildings and a local market.
Hibaldstow is located 150 miles from Londinium. Just like Owmby, this minor settlement was situated on Ermine Street, but little else is known about it. Again, it is likely that it was a settlement of timber-framed housing with a few trade buildings and shops.
Winteringham was located 139 miles from Londinium. Roman Winteringham was the terminal for the ferry to Brough-on-Humber (Petuaria) on the north shore of the Humber. From there, the road curved westwards to York.
This landing place on the south shore of the Humber is significant because Winteringham translates as “the homestead of Winta’s people”. Apart from Woden, the god, the first leader on Lindsey’s list of kings is Winta. Clearly, the end of the Jurassic limestone ridge at the Humber was significant in the English settlement of Lincolnshire. Winterton is a little further inland. Ermine Street and the River Trent together were evidently an important early route of entry into early post-Roman Britain.
Brough on Humber (Petvaria)
Established as a legionary fort of the IX Legion in 71 AD, Petvaria had previously been a tribal city of the Parisi, a Celtic tribe. The town had a wide variety of quality housing, several temples, a good theatre, stone municipal buildings and mainly paved streets, and was a crossing point for the Humber ferry.
York (Eburacum) – Place of Yew Trees
York was 193 miles, 190 miles on Ermine Street and 3 miles across the Humber. Founded in 71 AD, York was originally a fortress for the Legion IX. It was constructed at a suitable point near the Rivers Fosse and Ouse where a bridge could be built, and had a ready supply of timber for construction work. Positioned on a sandstone outcrop and protected by the river Fosse to the south and the river Ouse east, and with substantial walls and the legionary fort, York thrived. The houses were mostly built from stone, and the town had many fine stone municipal buildings, including a governor’s palace. The streets were mainly paved and the town was prosperous.
Alternative courses of Ermine Street
The author Thomas Codrington proposed a more westerly route for “Erming” Street north of London, going via what is now Theobalds Park. This route is marked on many maps.
The Roman Map of Britain above shows a sector of Ermine Street for which there was an alternative route. As Ermine Street extended north out of Lincoln and past Scampton an alternative course of Ermine Street curved left and formed a semicircle on a wide heading west of the Humber Estuary. The straight northerly route, traced in red on the map, between Lincoln and York was the shorter, but was not passable over the Humber Estuary during adverse weather conditions. Thus an alternative route was established. This ‘alternative’ route is detailed in the Antonine Itinerary and linked York (Eboracum), Castleford (Lagecium), Doncaster (Danum), Littleborough (Agelocum) and Lincoln (Lindum). Beginning at the modern Lincolnshire Showground the portion of this route in Lincolnshire is known as Till Bridge Lane, the modern A1500. The route in the Doncaster area, and again north of Castleford, is known as the Roman Ridge or Roman Rigg.
A large section of this road formed for many later centuries the Great North Road between Nottinghamshire and West Yorkshire.
Where can you see Ermine Street
The raised banks and side ditches of the old Roman road (that later became Ermine Street) are still visible on this short section near Stamford in Lincolnshire. Within the Town of Stamford the old ford, once used as a crossing point for the road, can still be identified on the banks of the river, where an information plaque marks the spot. Large flat stone slabs are still visible below the water, which must have once formed the metalled surface of the road.
Sites near Ermine Street
- Caesar's Camp (Sandy) (13 km)
- Gayhurst Villa (20 km)
Roman-Building and Villa
- Irchester Roman Settlement (21 km)
- Magiovinium (Fenny Stratford) (23 km)
Cemetery and Minor Settlement
- Bancroft Roman Villa (24 km)
- Hardwick (25 km)
- Baldock Settlement (26 km)
- Durocobrivis (Dunstable) (28 km)
- Godmanchester (Durovigutum) Roman Fort (28 km)
Claudian Auxiliary Fort (AD 43–54) and Vicus
- Wimpole Lodge (28 km)