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Waddesdon Greenway and the Roman road

This route linking Berryfields and Aylesbury Vale Parkway station with Waddesdon Village and Manor was constructed in 2018 by the contractors and volunteers of Greenways and Cycleroutes Limited, a charitable community benefit society. The work was funded by the Department for Transport through the Cycle Rail Working Group, with the assistance of Buckinghamshire County Council. The Greenway follows the route of Akeman Street, a Roman road, on land owned by the Waddesdon Estate, Rothschild Foundation, Thames Water and New College, Oxford.

Iron Age Aylesbury

Aylesbury itself never had a major Roman period settlement. However, four centuries previously there had been a substantial Iron Age hillfort here, built about 400BCE, which would have dominated the local countryside. Steel sculptures by Keith Hallett are designed to evoke Iron Age monoliths, as well as to protect Greenway users.

Before construction could start an archaeological survey was undertaken and revealed that much of the Waddesdon Greenway follows the line of a Roman road, called Akeman Street.

Akeman Street, the Roman road

You can see the line of the Roman road on the map. The Greenway is in green, the existing railway line to Bicester in black at the top right, and the line of HS2 in purple and brown.

Akeman Street linked Roman Verulamium (now St Albans) and Cirencester, and is one section of a through-route from Colchester near the east coast, to Gloucester and South Wales on the west. The local stretch of Akeman Street ran from near Aston Clinton, through the modern town of Aylesbury (approximately along the course of New Street) before heading for a Roman fort, later to be replaced by the Roman town Alchester near Bicester.

The road’s construction led to development of a roadside settlement that extended from the present Aylesbury Parkway station for some distance towards Fleet Marston. This settlement had several phases of development and no doubt many functions including supplying changes of horse for messengers carrying official documents, and probably taverns for travellers. Other roads branched off from the settlement including one heading north towards Thornborough, where there are two Roman burial mounds, and then on towards Towcester.

Much of the Greenway length of Akeman Street was probably abandoned before the end of the Roman period in favour of a more northern route, perhaps due to failure of maintenance. One deviation was to serve Fleet Marston, a former medieval village. Its surviving isolated church can just be seen through trees on the north side of the Greenway. The modern road would meet Akeman Street again by the Five Arrows Hotel in Waddesdon.

We have put up two stones to mark the sections of the Roman Road which we have incorporated into our Greenway. We found the stones abandoned on the route. They had been used as capping stones on the adjacent railway line.

How Roman roads were built

Following the Roman invasion of AD 43 under the Emperor Claudius many roads were built to help the Roman army to get around. It is likely that the conquered British would have made up much of the labour force although Roman engineers and soldiers would have been in charge. The Romans surveyed their roads from hill to hill, but modified straight lines to accommodate rivers, wetlands, and steep inclines.
Near the Waddesdon Greenway the Roman road was about six metres wide with a pair of ditches on each side. Many Roman roads had substantial surfaces but this stretch was surfaced only with a gravel spread about 10cms thick. It was only slightly raised above the surrounding low-lying clayey land so may have been liable to flooding.

Because of this settlement an archaeologist was brought in to check for Roman artefacts. He was disappointed: all we found were a handful of Roman coins and what might have been a Romano British pond.