Roman Legacy in Felbridge

Roman Legacy in Felbridge


At first sight it would appear that anything ‘Roman’ bypassed the area we now know as Felbridge, but like most of its history you have to dig deep to find it, literally in this case. There are no surviving documented details of the area relating to the Roman period, no census records or schedules of property sales and maps to help piece together its history. The only evidence that survives lays buried beneath the ground and, probably in many cases, yet to be discovered.

To put into context the Roman influence in Felbridge and its surrounding area, we first need to look at life in Britain before the Roman invasion and understand the changes that occurred as a result of it. Then look at which feats of Roman engineering were introduced to, or expanded in the Felbridge area, and finally, what happened to these after the withdrawal of the Roman influence.

Armed with this information you begin to realise the extent of the Roman influence in the area and begin to wonder what else is out there waiting to be revealed.

Life in Britain before the Roman Invasion

The inhabitants of Britain at the time of the first Roman invasion belonged to a mixture of races, some native to Britain and some that originated from Central Europe, all of whom were collectively known as Celts. They lived in tribes or large groups, which often fought each other for the lands they settled, and because of this they had the reputation of being a nation of fierce fighting, ignorant barbarians. However, evidence suggests that this was far from the truth as they had skills in a large range of technologies. They were accomplished workers in bronze and iron, and knew how to mine metallic ores, smelt them, and then use then to make weapons, everyday items and fine jewellery. They lived in large roundhouses that required great carpentry skills to build and their hill forts were impressive constructions with ramparts and ditches that required massive feats of earth moving. They traded with Europe, supplying grain and metals, in particular tin, and imported products such as wine from Spain. They were skilled horsemen and charioteers, farmers and craftsmen, and they lived in well-organised local kingdoms and even had their own coinage. They shared a common language and religion but were otherwise divided in their economy, customs and political allegiance.

The first attempted Roman invasion of Britain was in 55 BC under the command of Julius Caesar. He had recently expanded the Roman Empire by conquering Gaul and had set his sights on Britain for several reasons. Firstly for the grain, cattle and metals, this made Britain a potential source of wealth for the Romans. Secondly, Britain had helped fight with Gaul against the Roman army and was sheltering many rebel Gauls including Commius, a Gaulish leader, who had established himself as the ruler of the Atrebates tribe in central Southern England. Thirdly, Caesar wanted to end any alliance between the Britons and the Gauls by expanding the Roman Empire to include Britain. This expedition ended in failure, but Caesar made a second attempt in 54 BC and this time succeeded in taking British hostages and tribute (a yearly tax), before retreating back to Gaul.

In 8-9 AD, most of the kingdom of Atrebates passed to Verica who was a pro-Roman king. In 41 AD, a new Emperor came to the throne, Claudius who was the only imperial male heir left after Caligula had been killed. Claudius had little support in Rome, except with the army, and therefore needed a major victory to give himself prestige, backing and revenue. A chance to prove his worth occurred in 42 AD, when Verica fled to Rome and asked Emperor Claudius for support against the expansion of the Catuvellauni tribe back in Britain. In 43 AD, a third expedition, this time of over 40,000 troops, set sail to conquer Britain. It is now believed that they landed at Richborough, Kent, where a section of the invasion force headed Northwest towards London, and another section headed along the South coast to Chichester, or even landed there. The section that headed towards London defeated Caratacus, one of the British kings, at a battle on the river Medway; this was to be the first of many defeats suffered by the British kings. Within a few weeks it was clear that the organisation and discipline of the Roman army was far superior to the small bands of British warriors. After the battle on the Medway the Romans marched on to the river Thames, where Claudius joined his troops to march on to the British capital of Camulodunum now known as Colchester in Essex. At Camulodunum eleven British Kings surrendered, and Southern Britain submitted to Roman rule. Claudius returned to Rome leaving Aulus Plautius as governor of the new Roman province of Britannia, the start of Roman rule that was to last until 406.

Recent re-evaluations of archaeological evidence by eminent authorities on the Roman period, like Richard Hingley and Joan Alcock, suggest that the population of Roman Britain was between four and six million, with communities, even in sparsely populated areas like Felbridge, no more than two miles apart. This density of population is comparable to that later found in medieval England. There is also evidence to suggest that the population peaked around the 2nd century, and then declined, probably due to the initial influx of the military, estimated to have been about 55,000 later dropping to about 20,000. During the invasion there is evidence to suggest the Roman army did not enter the Weald and that, unlike many other areas of Britain, no force was needed to Romanise the area. The Weald is a clearly defined area lying between the North and South Downs. It is composed of Upper and Lower Greensands and Gault clay in the North and Weald clay and Hastings sand in the South, and the whole area was covered with forest that the Romans named Andredsweald, (Andred’s Wild or Forest), later being shortened to the ‘Weald’. The Weald was divided between the kingdoms of the Cantiaci that encompassed the area of Kent and part of Sussex, the Atrebates that covered part of Surrey and Sussex, and Regni that covered the rest of Sussex. Then as now, the Felbridge area appears to have been located across at least two of these kingdoms, that of the Cantiaci and Regni. The area of the Atrebates and Regni was constituted as a client-kingdom whereby it was given formal independence subject to Roman authority, with their seat of power probably located at Fishbourne. The Cantiaci also formed part of a client kingdom that may have been the same one as the Atrebates and Regni.

Fishbourne provided a deep-water anchorage and lay at the heart of the Atrebates territory, a tribe with a long history of allegiance with Rome. Between 43-75 AD the area was used as a military base in the early stages of the invasion. Following its abandonment as a military site, work began on the construction of a Flavian Palace. It is not known for whom this palace was built, but he had to be a man of wealth, well versed in Roman culture and sufficiently accepted by the Romans to be allowed to live in such splendour within the Province. The most likely man was called Tiberius Claudius Togidubnus who lived in the area and had helped the Romans at the time of the invasion and it is thought that he was probably the grandson of Verica the king of Sussex. Togidubnus was certainly a native king who was allowed to retain his position, serving as a client king on behalf of Rome, continuing to rule his people within the framework of the now Roman Province. The extent of his land is not known but it centred on Chichester, Noviomagus Regnensium. The name Regnenses, sometimes called Regni, means the inhabitants of the kingdom (regnum). The kingdom probably also included the Atrebates, centred on Silchester, the Belgae, centred on Winchester and Salisbury, the Durotriges of Dorset including the Isle of Wight, and possibly the whole of Britain, South of the Thames, including Surrey and Kent. This area of land certainly encompasses the Felbridge area. At a later date he was given the title of legatus augusti (legate to the Emperor) which implies that he was eligible to sit on the Roman senate, a very rare honour for a client king. It would therefore seem reasonable to assume that Togidubnus was the creator of the Palace at Fishbourne.

The Palace at Fishbourne shows signs of being extended and altered several times, but in the 3rd century it would appear to have been severely damaged by fire and evidence suggests that a decision was taken not to rebuild. During the 4th century building materials were removed and reused, leaving nothing but heaps of rubble and the whole site gradually reverted to permanent pasture. It was not until 1960 that it was rediscovered and excavations began, financed, ironically, by the generosity of a man from the Felbridge area, Ivan D Margary.

There are several reasons why there was little resistance to the Roman invasion in the Southern area of Britain. Firstly, a pro-Roman British king governed the area, and secondly, the fact that the South had long established trade links with Europe and was probably well aware of the benefits of the Roman way of life. They would also have been well aware of the consequences that would occur if they did not accept Romanisation. The relative ease in which Romanisation was accepted and adopted would indicate that to begin with life changed very little from pre-Roman Iron Age for the common population within the area, save a gradual tickle of Roman influence. Roman benefits included relative peace and stability, particularly in the South, which had experienced endemic warfare during the Iron Age. Romanisation also opened up wider markets and boosted trade, in particular, through the increase of a coin-based economy that was rooted in the countryside where the majority of the population lived. Unlike today, towns offered little employment, though they were the focus of local administration and imperial administered power. The rural areas supplied towns, the army and the export trade with basic foodstuffs, like grain, meat and salt, raw materials like, iron, gold, timber, stone and slate, and supported numerous essential industries like tile making and pottery production. For the Romans the underlying aim of any conquest was strong and simple, to use the wealth of the country in land, labour and resources to enrich the Roman state and support its legions.

The Roman Legacy in Felbridge

The ‘wealth’ found in the Felbridge area, as for the Wealden area in general, came primarily from the iron deposits that had been found and worked by the Iron Age inhabitants, along with the associated woodland required in the smelting process. The whole Wealden area was heavily wooded and the Felbridge area, in particular, was also quite wet. This meant that land in the Wealden area was of poor quality and was therefore unlikely to produce wealth in the form of grain and much of the Weald appears to be devoid of Roman farms. This may be due to the poor soil and woodland, or perhaps the existence of an Imperial Estate designed to control the valuable iron works, or because of the lack of archaeological field work that has been carried out in the area. The only other area of England devoid of Roman style buildings is the Fens that was known to have been an Imperial Estate. There is evidence that the Felbridge area was inhabited by small pockets of settlement that would not have produced an excess of labour apart from subsistence farmers and ironworkers, little changed from the pre-Roman Iron Age. One area that shows signs of habitation, both in the Iron Age and during the Roman period, is located at the Southern end of Felbridge near the East/West Ridgeway that runs through Imberhorne and Gulledge Farms. Although no archaeological excavations have been carried out, field walking has produced pottery dating to both periods.

Wealth, in the form of iron, needed a suitable transportation system to be able to move the heavy products to their required destinations. Based on the resource of iron, there were two major legacies of the Roman era in Felbridge. The continuation and possible expansion of the local iron industry, and a road with an all weather surface suitable for carrying the heavy products in a North/South alignment, to London and the coast for the export market.

The Roman Iron Industry in the Felbridge Area

There is evidence of pre-Roman iron smelting in the Weald, probably introduced by the Belgae who settled in Southern England in 250 BC, although native Britains may have already known about the technology. The iron industry would have been small scale and disorganised with no central control. Under Roman management the iron industry expanded greatly but there is limited evidence of major Roman period occupation in the area. It is suggested that the work may have been seasonal, with the workforce returning to the same area each year to smelt iron and therefore not requiring major settlements. The Wealden area has 538 known bloomery sites and, although only a quarter of them have been accurately dated, it is evident that the vast majority were of Romano-British origin, amounting to 60, with only 11 being attributed to the Iron Age. The Roman expansion and increased trading of iron between London and the coastal ports required a suitable road system that was implemented by the construction of the London to Lewes Way and the London to Brighton Way, both of which skirted several iron smelting sites. The London to Lewes Way runs about a mile from the major bloomery site at Cansiron Lane in the Hartfield area and the London to Brighton Way passes bloomery sites at Ridge Hill in the Kingscote area and at Smythford and Easterly along the River Fel in the Felbridge area.

To understand why the iron industry developed in the Weald, including the Felbridge area, it is important to look at its geology and landscape. It is believed that for the first 20 million years of the Cretaceous period, the Weald was a vast fresh water to brackish swamp or estuary. Rivers drained into this area bringing with them deposits of mud, silt, sand and iron leached out of the soil on route. These became compressed to form layers of clay, siltstone and sandstone, with nodules of iron in seams of no more than nine inches thick. In the area of Felbridge, sandy deposits built up and gave rise to the Tunbridge Wells Sand followed by an accumulation of Weald Clay. The sea then broke into the swamp or estuary and the clay beds were buried beneath marine sands and the clays of the Lower Greensand, Gault and Upper Greensand. This was later overlain with Chalk that slowly accumulated over 35 million years.

At the end of the Cretaceous period, 65 million years ago, there was an uplift of the central Weald. This emerged above sea level during the Tertiary period, some 1 million years ago. Subsequently water has eroded the surface of the Weald and its rivers and streams have transported the debris of weathering out to sea. A consequence of this action is that deeper and deeper layers of the Weald structure have been revealed. The remaining outcrops of harder rock, notably sandstone formations and chalk, stand out and form ranges of hills, while the softer Weald Clay formation, formed vales or valleys. Weald Clay includes thin layers of sandstone, clay ironstone and shelly limestone. The latter being formed from the fresh to brackish-water snail shells left behind in the swamps and estuary of the Cretaceous period. The streams of the Weald have incised into the soft, narrow steep-sided valleys. These deeply cut streambeds exposed iron ore that made prospecting easier and it is for this reason that all known Roman iron workings in the Felbridge area are located near the River Fel.

Historically, Wealden clay was the ideal habitat for heavy oak cover. Evidence suggests that in pre-history, up to 8300 BC, the area was covered by dense woodland with boggy patches and outcrops of sandstone. Being heavily wooded meant that the Felbridge area, not only had the raw material for making iron, but also an abundance of wood that could be made into charcoal to produce the fuel required for smelting the iron. In addition to the two smelting raw materials, ore and charcoal, a third raw material was needed for smelting, namely clay, for building hearths and furnaces. The Felbridge area also had an abundance of this in the form of Weald clay and Wadhurst clay. The latter is especially plastic and refractory, which means that it could be used for building furnaces that would withstand the thermal stresses resulting from the high temperatures involved in smelting without undue distortion or disintegration. Stone was also occasionally incorporated into the structures of the Wealden bloomery furnaces.

There is very little difference in the technique of smelting iron between the Iron Age and the Roman period. Whilst there is evidence of iron working that has been dated to the Roman period in the Felbridge area, there are no sites as yet attributed to the Iron Age. However, it would seem likely that the Roman iron working was a continuation of the process that had been carried out during the Iron Age. This is borne out by the fact that artefacts dating to the Iron Age have been found in the vicinity of the iron working sites. The Felbridge area had all the requirements for making iron, the ore, wood for fuel and clay for the furnace. There was also a road system that pre-dates the Roman road through Felbridge with ancient track ways running both East/West and North/South that would have been used to transport iron from the area, either in the form of raw iron or as artefacts.

These trackways were located along the ridges for relative dryness and observation purposes. The main ridge in the Felbridge area lies along the Northern flank of the upper Medway valley, and provides a good East/West passage between Tunbridge Wells and Crawley Down. This was crossed by at least two North/South trackways, one at Imberhorne and the other at Thornhill, to the East of Ashurst Wood, and at a later date by two Roman roads leading to the Downland areas near Lewes and Brighton. The ancient North/South trackway that crossed in the Felbridge area travelled from the North Downs, near Oxted, through Blindley Heath passing Shawlands, and then to the East of Wire Mill Lake. It entered Sussex in a field behind Whittington College and continued Southwards by Imberhorne Lane to Tilkhurst, and on to Kingscote. Here it joined the East/West R Ridge Way to Tuners Hill, on to Selsfield Common, Ardingly and finally the South Downs. Ivan Margary established the routes of these ancient trackways in the 1920’s and he believed them to have little significance after the advent of the Roman road system. However, since the 1920’s, several pre-Roman and Roman iron working sites have been located close to the ancient East/West Ridge Ways suggesting that they may well have been used to link North/South roads constructed in the Roman period and had not been abandoned. Four Roman coins have also been found in fields either side of the East/West Ridge Way within the bounds of Imberhorne Farm. The coins were found between two and eight field boundaries away from the Roman road and between ½ km (546yds) and 1.5km (1640yds) away. However, the coins were all found in fields adjacent to the Ridge Way and up to ½ km (546yds) away. Being that the coins were found, in general, closer to the Ridge Way than the Roman road would imply that the Romans were possibly using this Ridge Way on a regular basis. Unfortunately, none of the coins were in good enough condition to be dated.

The process for smelting iron that was used in both the Iron Age and Romano-British period is called the direct or bloomery process, which was small scale, requiring few tools and labour. The bloomery process produced small quantities of iron that had to be beaten to remove cinder to convert the bloom into wrought iron, often away from the bloomery site. Requirements for the bloomery process were basic, consisting of a hearth, furnace, some form of blowing apparatus, iron ore, fuel, invariably charcoal, and water. All the early iron working sites in the Felbridge area have been found located a short distance from the River Fel in a line between Imberhorne Farm, Ascotts and Smythford. The most likely reason is because the river has exposed the ore indicating its location and therefore giving easy access, although some water could have been used in troughs or boshes for cooling tools.

A typical hearth was a circular platform some seven to nine feet in diameter and slightly concave. This was formed of rough sandstone or other hard material, or beaten clay. This was used to roast broken pieces of iron ore in a wood fire to remove some impurities and render the ore easier to smelt. The furnace consisted of another hearth, constructed as above, surrounded by a surface of beaten soil that was gravelled with fine broken material, frequently burnt clay from former smeltings. This made a standing place for the workmen and a floor for the bellows. It also received the cinder when tapped off. It had been thought that alternate layers of charcoal and ore were piled up on the hearth to form a conical mound and then covered with clay. However, there is now evidence to suggest that a furnace was constructed out of clay, either in the form of a coiled pot or as a framework of wattle onto which a layer of clay was applied. This was then dried to prevent it exploding during the firing process and meant that the furnace could be reused. The structure had an open top with an arched opening, called a draw hole, at the bottom at hearth level, and a small hole, generally opposite the draw hole, to take a tuyere that connected the bellows to the furnace. During firing the draw hole was bunged up with damp clay or turf so that it could easily be removed to draw off unwanted cinder. The furnace was first warmed up by lighting a wood fire in it over night then filled with charcoal in the morning and then air was pumped in with the bellows to allow the correct temperature to be reached. The top may have been temporarily covered during this process to enable the furnace to reach temperature quicker. When temperature was reached the furnace was filled with a mix of charcoal and roasted ore that had been broken into pieces no bigger than one inch across. Hot charcoal acted more efficiently on smaller pieces of ore than larger pieces but ore dust was likely to block the furnace. Around the hearth were placed several sets of bellows, an airtight bag made from the skin of an animal, that were worked by hand or feet. A clay tube, called a tuyere, was fitted into the neck of each set of bellows that then projected into the furnace. Alternate working of the bellows provided a continuous blast of air.

To smelt iron the bellows were kept at a gentle blast for many hours. As the charcoal and iron ore burnt down so more was added. Eventually, the purer iron settled in a spongy mass near the tuyere at the bottom, whilst the other constituents of the ore, mostly silica with a lower melting point was able to slowly drip through the spongy mass to gather at the very base of the furnace. During the 16th century cinder became known as slag. It should be noted that the iron was at no time a fluid, as it was impossible to reach a high enough temperature. Cinder was drawn off at intervals through the draw hole to allow a clear air passage through the tuyere and prevent a build up of cinder on the floor of the furnace. The cinder extracted still contained a percentage of un-extracted iron. When cooled, the cinder was very hard and inert making it an ideal material for metalling the Roman roads in this area. When firing was complete the remaining charcoal and cinder was drawn off and the spongy mass of iron, known as a bloom, was removed either through the top or the draw hole, whichever was easier. It is estimated that the whole operation of smelting took about five hours to make about a 2kg bloom, but smelting could continue for longer to make a greater bloom as long as the cinder was drawn off and the tuyere kept clear. If the bloom was to be worked on site the hot charcoal removed was transferred to a forging hearth that was warmed up by a wood fire before the end of the smelting process.

The iron was then forged to become malleable and became known as wrought iron that could be fashioned into everyday articles and weapons. This process started by gently hammering the heated bloom to remove more impurities and cinder. The bloom would have been reheated on the hearth and re-hammered several times before wrought iron was produced.

To date there has been three bloomery sites located in the Felbridge area, Smythford, Ascotts and Felbridge Water. Excavations were carried out on the site at Smythford, located near the ‘S’ bend on the Crawley Down Road, situated to the West of the moated site near Ascotts, and adjacent to Bottle House Field, through which runs a section of the Roman road. The Smythford site revealed three locations of interest, a cinder heap, re-heating or forging hearth (where the bloom would have been consolidated and forged into wrought iron) and a smelting hearth. There was also an anomaly in the vicinity that may have been a possible roasting hearth, although unconfirmed. Evidence would suggest that this was a relatively small site from the amount of cinder found, although it is possible that the cinder was used to metal the Roman road that passes through Felbridge. It is believed that this site dates to the 1st century with a sample of fired clay giving an archeaomagnetic dating of 70 AD, give or take twenty years. The Ascotts site was not fully excavated but a visual survey and test pit was dug that showed evidence of a bloomery activity. Recently, to the East of this site, further along the River Fel, evidence was found of a late Romano-British iron-working site. This site, the Felbridge Water bloomery, is adjacent to a field that has evidence of settlement dating from the Mesolithic period to the 19th century. Unfortunately, the site has been virtually ploughed out and the only signs of iron working activity was a quantity of iron rich cinder and darkening to the colour of the soil in a circular area. The cinder was consistent with late Roman tap cinder that dated to the 3rd century.

The Roman Road through Felbridge

It is believed that rivers were the main trading arteries in pre-Roman Britain being that pre-Roman roads were generally mud tracks that became impassable during bad weather. With the invasion of the Roman army in 43 AD there was an obvious necessity for solid all-weather roads to be constructed to carry military traffic, supplies and messages. The first of these roads to be built was between London and Dover, known as Watling Street, with an extension to Richborough. This is not to say that the waterways were abandoned, far from it, they were well used in the Roman economy for transporting bulky, low priced goods like corn. However, the Northern area of the Wealden had few navigable rivers and a system of roads had to be used, especially in the Felbridge area.

In the 4th century a document was published called the Peutinger Table that was used as a guidebook of the Roman Empire detailing maps and general information useful for travelling around the Empire, although now lost, a surviving 12th century copy still exists. Unfortunately, the only surviving section of Britain is the Eastern side, the remainder being damaged or lost. However, there is a 3rd century document that survives called the Antonine Itinery, which details fifteen routes in Britain. The study of these two documents has identified over 6,000 miles of major Roman roads in Britain, as well as over 4,000 miles of minor roads and local trackways that linked towns or tribal capitals, and possibly many more yet to be discovered. A major authority on Roman roads, particularly in the Weald, including the Felbridge area, was Ivan Margary. He established the route of many Roman roads and pre-Roman trackways, and is best known in this area for his excavation of the Roman road at Holtye, part of the London to Lewes Way, and the road that ran through Felbridge itself, part of the London to Brighton Way. The London to Brighton Way is sometimes called the London to Portslade Way, as it branches at Pyecombe and one section heads to Brighton and the other to Portslade, and it has not yet been established which was the major port during the Roman period.

The construction of Roman roads was a totally military affair. Army surveyors plotted them and army engineers oversaw the construction of them, generally using local labour and building materials that were available in the vicinity. They were engineered with a cambered surface of rammed stone, gravel or cinder, a waste product from the iron industry, and had drainage ditches either side. Widths of roads varied, early roads, like the Dover to London Way, were 20-23 feet wide, later roads could be as wide as 43 feet, although some of these were earlier roads that had been widened to accommodate increased traffic. The road that passes through Felbridge varied from between 12 feet wide at its narrowest point and 27 feet at its widest, and in the opinion of Ivan Margary and James Dunning, was probably of late construction. Being of fairly narrow width but of a late construction may imply the road was not one of the major roads of Roman Britain. Since the publication of their findings the Roman iron workings at Fen Place and Smythford have been discovered and dated to the early Roman period. It is now proposed that as the road passes immediately adjacent to these two sites that it was routed to serve these sites and is much earlier than previously believed, also conforming to Margary’s belief that narrow roads were early.

The straightness of the Roman roads was a consequence of the Roman surveying techniques, efficient but simple. The instrument used for surveying was called a groma and consisted of a pole driven into the ground with four equal crossed arms resting on a pivoted bracket attached to the vertical pole. A plumb-line hung from the ends of the crossed arms that provided a sighting on a straight line or at a right angle. Repeated sightings from high ground with the groma by the surveyor or gromatici, enabled lines of ranging poles to be positioned by field measurers or agrimensores, over long distances to mark the base line of the road. The surveyor then walked the line to select the actual route dependent upon the physical features of the land, making angled adjustments to skirt marshes or cross rivers at their narrowest point, or pass round obstacles such as hills, to avoid the extra effort needed by heavy wagons to negotiate the rise. The London to Brighton Way has two angled changes of direction within the Felbridge area alone and there are many minor deviations along relatively straight sections, particularly noticeable locally at Fen Place and also Tilburstow Hill. It is also not known from which end the construction of the road started and may have been constructed from both ends by two surveyors who met along its alignment.

In the opinion of Margary there were four main alignments or diversions along the London to Brighton Way:1) Clayton Hill to Selsfield Common, extended to Hophurst Farm, Felbridge. 2) Hophurst Farm, Felbridge to Rowlands Farm, Lingfield. 3) Blindley Heath to Godstone Hill, and 4) Croydon to Streatham. Alignment (2) was adopted because if the line of the road from Selsfield Common had continued Northward to Blindley Heath, it would have involved crossing the marshy valley that lay where Hedgecourt and Wire Mill lakes are now situated. To overcome this problem a short alignment of 2¾ miles was implemented and the road was laid 11° more to the East on high ground. With this new alignment a correcting alignment was made at Eden Brook so that the road could continue back on course to Blindley Heath. The outcome of this diversion was that a major change in direction occurred unusually in low ground.

Roman roads in Britain were built up of a foundation of large stone, the statumen. Firstly a trench about three feet deep was excavated, this was then filled with the large stones that were packed as compactly as possible to avoid movement and so lessen the risk of the road sinking. Over this a layer of smaller stones, the rudus was laid, bound by a cement-like material that just covered the stones. The final layer, the nucleus consisted of gravel, small pieces of flint, crushed stone, or iron cinder compressed as tightly as possible. In the Felbridge area the stone used was sandstone with iron cinder generally used as metalling or strengthening for the surface. The middle of the road was cambered so that the centre was about one foot above the sides. This allowed for the drainage of rainwater to wash away the build-up of deposits that formed on the surface over time. The road was built upon an agger, which was a 30-40 foot wide flat-topped ridge. At the edge of the agger was the drainage ditch that collected the excess water and moved it further along the length of the road. Further outwards was the zone limit ditch that defined where the road ended. This also served as a limit for the construction teams to fell trees and uproot bushes within this zone.

In the late 2nd century, for the benefit of the traveller, particularly the messenger, the traffic law that banned all vehicled traffic from the roads during the hours of daylight in towns, was extended to cover all roads. Milestones and staging posts or mansiones were set up along the roads at interval, of between ten and fifteen miles, about the distance that oxen could effectively pull a heavy load. These provided stopping points for vehicled traffic, enabled the traveller to rest and the messenger to change horses. It has been suggested that one of the staging post sites may have been located close to the moated site to the South of Felbridge. The land here has many unexplained undulations and the Roman road runs through it. The field name may also give an indication to the existence of one of these sites here, being known as Bottle House Field or Botley’s. This is believed by some to be a corruption of Botulph, the Saxon saint of travellers, associated with briggs and gates, Saxon names for a bridge or a street. As a point of interest there is a bridge crossing the Fel at the bottom of this field. Unfortunately, there have been no excavations and only limited fieldwork carried out here to prove or disprove the theory. The local civitate, authority or tribe for the area would have erected the milestones, of which there have been none found in this area, and would have borne the cost of maintaining the road. They also had to bear the cost of constructing and maintaining fords and bridges. Bridges were constructed over a narrow point in the river and would have been made of simple wooden beams supported on stone or gravel abutments, and fords were placed at a shallow point and were often paved for ease of crossing. As yet there is no evidence as to which options were adopted in the Felbridge area when crossing the River Fel, to the South or the Eden Brook to the North.

The London to Brighton Way, along with all Southward roads to Lewes, Seaford and Chichester, were aligned on the bridge at Londinium, now known as London, and were therefore probably not built until after the erection of the bridge. The bridge was located at Southwark, possibly on or near the site of London Bridge, and most of these roads were probably constructed in the first year or two after the conquest. The route of the London to Brighton Way, as established by Ivan Margary, branched from Stane Street, the London to Chichester Way, at Kennington Park, and passed through Streatham, Croydon, and the Caterham gap in the North Downs to Godstone. It then travelled over the flat lands of the Eden Valley to Felbridge, across the Weald through Ardingly, Haywards Heath, Burgess Hill, and Hassocks to Clayton and then down to Pyecombe. Here the road divided and headed towards Portslade, a Roman settlement, in one direction and Brighton, possibly a sheltered harbour, in the other. It is believed that although the road was used for transporting iron from the Weald to London and the coast, its primary use was to connect the rich corn-growing area of the South Downs with London and the rest of Britain.

Remains of the road were first noted in 1779 when builders robbed the flint metalling to incorporate into the Burgess Hill to Hassocks turnpike road. Major James Dunning did further work on trying to establish the line of the road in 1925, and concluded that the road ran to Portslade, which he believed to be the location of Roman Portus Adurni. However, it is now believed that Portus Adurni refers to the location of Portchester and not Portslade. Dunning wrote a book called ‘The Roman Road to Portslade’ in 1925, in which he presented all the available evidence, at that time, and his speculations, clearly stating that he was not an authority on the subject but laying down a challenge for someone to ascertain the correct route. It is from this point that Ivan Margary takes over, publishing his findings in 1948. Based on the findings of Ivan Margary, the London to Brighton Way entered the Felbridge area on the boundary of Lingfield and Tandridge, to the East of Newchapel, having headed South from Godstone over Tilburstow Hill, through Blindley Heath following the line of the A22 until South of Stanton’s Hall where it travelled to the East of Gate House Farm, Newchapel Green and then Shawlands on the Newchapel Road.

Having entered the Felbridge area, the road travelled along the line of the Lingfield/Tandridge boundary until it crossed the Eden Brook where it entered Felcourt Wood. Margary believed that it then took an angled turn to the South West, running through Green Wood and crossing the old trackway that linked Shaws Farm at Newchapel with Hodgehorn Farm in Felbridge. Margary did not excavate this section but did ascertain where the road crossed the Eden Brook, suggesting the deviation was to avoid the marshland found in the area. The road then continued along the new alignment through High Wood, a meadow not a wood. Then through Wire Mill Wood, which produced stone and cinder finds and the clearly visible agger. Through Cooper’s Moors, where the line of the road was not excavated but projected. Then it crossed the A22 at the bottom of Woodcock Hill and entered Park Farm, where excavations revealed parts of the road buried but still intact. There was also evidence that part of the agger had later been used as a pond bay. The road then left Park Farm and ran through the rear gardens of some of the houses in Mill Lane before clipping the corner on the Westerly boundary of 2 Park Cottages, before it crossed the Copthorne Road. The road then ran almost parallel to Rowplatt Lane, entering about 130 feet to the East of the junction with Copthorne Road and then converging with Rowplatt Lane at the other end, where it crossed the Crawley Down Road on the junction with Rowplatt Lane. This section was excavated and the agger was found to be visible, along with stone and cinder.

Having crossed the Crawley Down Road, the Roman road clipped the front garden of the right hand Victorian Villa in Crawley Down Road, cut across the corner of the field behind Rose Cottages in the form of a hollow showing signs that the surface had been robbed out. It then ran through the corner of the grounds of Walnut Marches and Ascotts, before crossing the River Fel near the moated site. From here the Roman road headed up hill through Bottle House Field before it entered Greenfield Shaw. The section in Bottle House Field was not excavated but the section entering and leaving Greenfield Shaw was, and signs of sandstone and iron cinder were found. On exiting the wood the road crossed the pre-Roman East/West Ridge Way and at this point there were visible signs of the agger. There is also evidence of settlement to the East of this junction, with finds ranging from the Mesolithic period to the 19th century, including a fragment of Roman pottery, although no in-depth study of the area has yet been completed. Having crossed the Ridge Way, and leaving the Felbridge area, the road changed direction and headed South East through Hophurst Farm where distinct stone layers were found, still intact. The road then continued through Rushetts Wood, Burleigh Farm, along Lean Shaw towards Fen Place, where three Roman coins have recently been discovered, and on to Selsfield Common.

After the fall of Rome and the withdrawal of the Roman army based in Britain, many trunk roads became little used for a variety of reasons. The invading Saxons built their settlements clustered around a supply of water and as Roman roads were generally built on high ground they became unused by local traffic. Sections of the roads were robbed out and their materials used else where, as at the field behind Rose Cottages where the road appears as a hollow, the cinder was probably used to strengthen the tracks on Hedgecourt Common at some time. Sections of the road became submerged due to the damp and soft nature of Wealden soil as can also be seen at Park Farm where the road is buried intact under the top soil. Here too, a section of the road has been used as a pond bay by blocking up the culvert at the bottom allowing the stream to build up to form a pond. Other sections became obstructed, as it was quite common to use the surface as a strong floor for a barn or farm building. Evidence for this can be found in Bottle House Field where Matthew’s Barn (no longer standing) was depicted, on the Gardner and Gream map of 1778, on top of the alignment of the Roman road. The access road from the River Fel past Matthews Barn to the East/West Ridge Way follows the field boundary to the West, running parallel to the Roman road alignment. Other sections were later used to define county or parish boundaries as can be seen between the Eden Brook and Newchapel Road where the London to Brighton Way is aligned with the parish boundary between Lingfield and Tandridge. However, not all Roman roads have been abandoned and if heading North out of the Felbridge area you will be travelling along a section of the London to Brighton Way. The road takes the alignment of the A22 just South of Stanton’s Hall in Blindley Heath to the Garden Centre to the North of Blindley Heath. Take the left fork at this junction and head up over Tilburstow Hill, formerly known as Stanstreet, through Godstone village on the B2235, finally leaving the alignment at the roundabout for the M25. So after nearly 1600 years the legacy of the Roman London to Brighton Way is still with us today.

A recent study of the accessible route of the Roman road through Felbridge shows that much has been lost since it was established by Margary. The parish boundary between Lingfield and Tandridge is still evident, as is the layer of road located in the banks of the Eden Brook where it crossed the river. The road currently lays about two feet above the level of the water and about five feet down from the surface of the topsoil. The section that runs through Green Wood and High Wood shows no visible signs at all. The hollow described in the field behind Rose Cottages is barely visible and there is no sign of it crossing the Fel near the moated site at Ascotts. There is a distinct hollow running up Bottle House Field, although no excavations were carried out to ascertain the cause. There is also a hollow still visible running through Greenfield Shaw and at Hophurst Farm recent ploughing has brought to the surface some of the metalling and sandstone.

The Decline of the Roman Era

Roman control at the fringe of the Roman Empire was not sustainable for very long, neither did the Romans succeed in taking control of the whole of Britain. A solution to this problem was to build Hadrian’s wall, therefore imposing a definitive edge to their Empire. Not only were they under constant attack from the extreme North of Britain outside their control and the occasional rebellion from within, but there were also skirmishes along the South coast when the Saxons became interested in expanding their territory. To add to these, there was an internal power struggle in 280-290, amongst the ruling Romans, which resulted in Roman Britain being re-organised into four provinces. Britannia Prima, ruled from Cirencester, Maxima Caesariensis from London, Britannia Secund from York and Flavia Caesariensis from Lincoln. There is no evidence to suggest that any of these troubles had any impact upon the Felbridge area.

Between 364 and 367 there were large scale raids by the Picts and Scots to the North, and by the Saxons to the South of Britain. To add to this Rome was put under threat and in 401 Roman troops were withdrawn to defend Italy. The result of this was a complete breakdown of government in Britain, which effectively led to Britain no longer being part of the Roman Empire by 410. This was confirmed when an appeal to Rome for help against the increasing Anglo-Saxon raids went unanswered, and in 457 the Saxon king Aelle and his three sons, Cymen, Wlencing and Cissa, arrived in Sussex. As a point of interest, Cissa gave his name to Regnensium, Cissa’s Ceaster or Chichester as it is now known. The Anglo-Saxon invaders came from the lowlands of North Germany and Denmark and included Franks, Frisians, Saxons, Angles and Jutes. Over the next fifty years land was gradually lost to the Anglo-Saxons so that by 500 the Romano-British only held land in the West whilst the Anglo-Saxons had complete control in the South and East. The advancing Anglo-Saxons were eventually halted in Dorset by the main leader of the Britons, a warrior later to become King Arthur. The Saxons then set about settling the South of England and formed the kingdoms of Sussex (South Saxons), Wessex (West Saxons), Essex (East Saxons) and Middlesex (Middle Saxons). The Angles settled in East Anglia, the Midlands and Northumberland. The Jute from Jutland in Denmark settled in Kent, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. The Frisians and Franks who also joined in the invasion appear not to have gained their own kingdoms. The North of the country was under the control of the Picts and Scots, and the Irish had invaded the North coast of Cornwall and South coast of Wales. There is no evidence to suggest that the advancing Anglo-Saxons interrupted every-day life in the Felbridge area even though it was on a road from the South coast to London, and the advancing Saxons may well have passed through.

However, in the intervening years the once flourishing iron industry of the Weald declined, with some sites, particularly those located at the East end of the area, totally abandoned. The Roman system of roads although useful for advancing Saxons soon became disused. The main reason for the disuse of the road system was that the Romans kept to high, dry ground avoiding water when building their roads. The new settlements of advancing Saxons, as already stated, were located close to a supply of water and if the Roman road did not suit local traffic it was abandoned, if not destroyed or robbed out for its materials.

For any inhabitants of the Felbridge area life would have continued with only minor interruptions. The iron industry would have been scaled down to supply the demands of the area as opposed to the wealth of the Roman Empire, and eventually abandoned until the 16th century when it started up on a much larger scale in the area. The road that passed through Felbridge became abandoned and stretches of it were robbed out for alternative use. To date there is no firm evidence of Saxon occupation in the area, this may be because Saxon influence took time to filter into the area, or, as is more consistent with the Wealden area, there has been little archaeological fieldwork carried out to find the appropriate evidence. Which ever, gradually over the years the iron working sites and the road became covered with the debris of time, and hidden from sight. Who knows what else there is in the area waiting to be discovered and recorded.

Roman Britain by B Williams
Roman Britain by K Branigan
The Decline and Fall of Roman Britain by N Faulkner
Art and Society in Roman Britain by J Laing
Britain and the End of the Roman Empire by K Dark
Londium by J Morris
Life in Roman Britain by J Alcock
Food in Roman Britain by J P Alcock
Historical Atlas of Sussex by K Leslie & B Short
Roads & Trackways
What the Romans did for us by P Wilkinson
Roman Road to Portslade by J Dunning
Roman Ways of the Weald by I D Margary
Early development of tracks and roads in and near East Grinstead, by I D Margary
Godstone by U Lambert
Vanished ways in the Weald, article by A S Lidiard
Roman Roads in Sussex by A Vincent
Romans in Sussex by Sussex Past,
Roman Roads by Romans-in-Britain,
Discussion of the Groma,
Roman surveying,
Roman Britain O/S map
St Botulph from the Catholic Encyclopaedia
Iron Working
Iron Works and Communications in the Weald in Roman Times by E Straker & I D Margary
Wealden Iron by E Straker
The Iron Industry of the Weald by H Cleere & D Crossley
History of the Wealden Iron Indusrty, article by P Adams.
Romano-British Iron Working Site, article from Wealden Iron Bulletin 2nd Series no. 5
Iron Age, article by I D Margary
Time Team Site Report on Beaufort Park
Wealden Iron Industry, Adult Education Course 2001 by J Hodgkinson
Archaeological Findings at Imberhorne/Gulledge Farm by D J Skinner (1986/7)
Archaeological Findings at Imberhorne Farm by West Kent Metal Detectors (1994-2001)
SJC 11/01