To walk down parts of the A10 today is to take a tour through two millennia of British history. Though it may not always seem the case from the pavement, the A10 is a road rich in history, having witnessed the rise and fall of the Romans and endured the Great Fire, the Industrial Revolution and the Blitz.
The A10 spans from London Bridge, in the bustling centre of the capital, to the port town of King’s Lynn, in Norfolk. Its path from London to Royston, in Hertfordshire, passing the towns of Ware and Cheshunt, largely retraces the route of an ancient Roman road: Ermine Street.
Sometimes also referred to as Erming Street, the ancient pathway led all the way to York in its prime, but has now been weathered by time, turmoil and redevelopment. Nonetheless, portions of Ermine Street can still be traced today.
Here are the ancient origins of the A10, one of London’s oldest Roman roads.
Roman Britain lasted from 43 AD, when Claudius oversaw the invasion of the British Isles, to 410 AD, with the retreat of the Romans under Honorius.
In those 4 or so centuries, the Romans built some 3,000 kilometres of roads and tracks in Britain. These paths allowed the flow of imperial troops and supplies, as well as assisting trade, industry and civilian travel.
Many of these paths were destroyed, hidden and augmented in the ensuing millennia. But some of the routes carved out by the Romans can still be followed today, marking the arteries of former Roman Britain. There’s the Fosse Way, for example, which once connected Roman Exeter with Lincoln and now follows portions of the A46, A37 and A30.
There’s also one of London’s oldest Roman roads, Ermine Street, which can be retraced today through and out of London, along the A10 and beyond.
This important Roman road started in Londinium, as the capital was then known, headed north through Hertfordshire and eventually arrived at Eboracum, or York.
After the Romans established a settlement on the banks of the Thames in around 47-50 AD, and constructed a narrow bridge over the river, London was born. Wharfs received goods along the waterway, while roads soon followed, connecting the capital with towns and forts across the country and the wider Roman Empire.
Records suggest that Ermine Street ran from the River Thames up towards a large forum and then onwards to the defensive boundaries of the old city. From there, the route headed north, into the pastures and eventually to York.
Retracing the Roman road
Today, this former Roman route can be followed from Bishopsgate (named for a gateway in London’s former defensive wall) up through Shoreditch High Street and through Stoke Newington.
You can still steal glimpses of London’s former Roman life along the A10. A fragment of the old city wall still stands nearby, in the shadow of skyscrapers, having survived the Great Fire of London, the Blitz and the modern city planners’ axe.
A stroll down London’s A10 today is, inescapably, a tour through centuries of history. Nearby, the East India Company’s former headquarters stands as a relic of Britain’s old imperial might. There are Huguenot churches, established by the silk weavers who settled in Spitalfields in the 17th century.
Warehouses, built during the rapid industrialisation of the Victorian era, now house trendy flats and offices. A litany of ‘blue plaques’ scatter the surrounding buildings, odes to the countless Londoners who earned fame and acclaim in the city.
Beyond the capital
From London, you can trace Ermine Street along parts of the A10 and the A1, taking in the former Roman settlements of Royston and Lincoln, known to the Romans as Lindum.
The New River, built in the early 17th century, lines some of the former Roman road, and in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, Ermine Street runs past the 16th-century Theobolds estate.
The nearby town of Ware marked, for the Romans, a sort of ancient service station on the route out of London.
From there, Ermine Street darts north to Royston where it crosses paths with the ancient Icknield Way. In Royston, Ermine Street breaks away from the path of the modern A10, instead following portions of the A1, B6403 and the A15, passing Lincoln and eventually arriving at York.