“Lo there!” quod he, “cast
up your eye,
Se yonder, lo! the Galaxie,
The whiche men clepe the Milky Way,
For it is white, and some, parfay,
Y-callen han it Watlinge-strete.”
At Dover it still retains its name, and so it does in one part of its course through London (which it enters as the Edgware Road, and leaves as the Old Kent Road).
A. 4.—This name, like that of the Ermine Street, is most probably derived from Teutonic mythology; the “Watlings” being the patrons of handicraft in the Anglo-Saxon Pantheon, and “Irmin” the War-god from whom “Germany” is called. There is no reason to suppose that the roads of Britain had any Roman name, like those of Italy. The designations given them by our English forefathers show how deeply these mighty works impressed their imagination. The term “street” which they adopted for them shows, as Professor Freeman has pointed out, that such engineering ability was something quite new to their experience. It is the Latin “Via strata” Anglicized, and describes no mere track, but the elaborately constructed Roman causeway, along which the soft alluvium was first dug away, and its place taken by layers of graduated road metal, with the surface frequently an actual pavement.
A. 5.—For the assignment of the name Ermine Street to the Great North Road there is no ancient authority. All we can say is that this theory is more probable than that set forth by Geoffrey of Monmouth. That the road existed in Roman times is certain, as London and York were the two chief towns in the island; and direct communication between them must have been of the first importance, both for military and economical reasons. Indeed it is probably older yet. (See p. 117.) But, with the exceptions already pointed out, the nomenclature of the Romano-British roads is almost wholly guess-work. Some archaeological maps show additional Watling Streets and Ermine Streets branching in all directions over the land, presumably on the authority of local tradition. And these traditions may be not wholly unfounded; for the same motives which made the English immigrants of one district ascribe the handiwork of by-gone days to mythological powers might operate to the like end in another.
A. 6.—The origin of the names Ryknield Street and Akeman Street is beyond discovery; but that of the Icknield Street is almost undoubtedly due to its connection with the great Icenian tribe, to whose territory it formed the only outlet. By them, in the days of their greatness, it was probably driven to the Thames, the more southerly extension being perhaps later. It was never, as its present condition abundantly testifies, made into a regular Roman “Street.” The final syllable may possibly, as Guest suggests, be the A.S. hild = war.
A. 7.—Besides these main routes, a whole network of minor roads must have connected the multitudinous villages and towns of Roman Britain, a fact which is borne witness to by the very roundabout route often given in the ‘Itinerary’ of Antoninus between places which we know were directly connected. Moreover this network must have been at least as close as that of our present railways, and probably approximated to that of our present roads.