The Foxearth and District Local History Society

The Hysterical Hystorian

For occasional articles, snippets and announcements by the Resident Historians.These articles are presented in date order, but if you explore the back-catalogue, you may find much of interest. Historical information doesn't really go out of date! Any member of the F&DLHS may add an entry or make a comment to an existing entry once they have got their userID and password from the Webmaster.

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Thursday, December 23, 2004

Peddars Way and the Via Devana

Our intrepid airman, Mark Mathieson, has come up with a very fine
view of Long Melford, taken along the alignment of the Roman road, Peddars Way, as it meets the Via Devana, that went between Colchester and Cambridge, at a crossing point  possibly on Melford Green.

Long Melford from the air

Melford is actually to the north of the Roman crossing-point of the Stour. We won't know for sure where that crossing point was. I've always favoured Rodbridge as, before the mills were built, it was relatively shallow and stony just here. Signes of Roman and Saxon habitation were found at the gravel pit there. It would also place East Anglia's major roman road within Borley, which would be nice. We now know that Sudbury was occupied from Neolithic times, and was an important high-status settlement in Belgic times so it would seem possible that a spur road deviated there and so crossed at Ballingdon, as it did from the Dark ages onward.

You'll notice how wiggly the road is as it goes through Melford. Where the road actually went is still conjectural, though traces have been found to the east of Hall street and the NW corner of Chapel Field.  It is rare indeed to find a roman road in East Anglia, simply because there were few stones to build them with, and the few were soon robbed to be re-used for house-building. A well-excavated roman road at Flag Fen shows a surface more akin to 'hogging', a naturally-occurring mix of clay, sand and stone which gives a hard dry surface. The wearing surface was a very hard lime, almost akin to concrete. The foundation was made of pebbles. Towns built on roman roads tend to wiggle because, in Saxon times, the hard, well-draining surfaces were too much of a temptation for house-builders of the times who saw no harm in encroaching into a road that was much too wide for current purposes in order to take advantage of an excellent foundation. The road retained its general orientation but each encroachment caused a deviation as Saxon property rights became enshrined in law.

It has been stated that Melford was not occupied before Belgic times. As the Stour Valley was well-occupied from Neolithic times onwards, this seems highly unlikely. The few excavations that have taken place are not on the likely location of the earlier settlements, and there has been too much disturbance in the valley itself to enable bronze age burial sites to show up.

Undeniably, Long Melford was a town of some importance in Roman times, and surrounded by a number of farms and villas that owed their origins to the colonia at Colchester, the land being issued to retired soldiers.


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