Would you like to go strolling with the Romans, along the road from Noviomagnus to Londinium? Stane Street, the Roman road that ran from Chichester (Noviomagnus) to London, was originally up to ten metres wide. Much of it is buried under modern roads following the same route. The exact date of construction is uncertain; however, on the basis of archaeological finds, it was in use by 70 AD.
Stane Street shows that Roman roads were not always as straight as we used to believe. A straight line alignment from London Bridge to Chichester would have required steep crossings of the North Downs, Greensand Ridge and South Downs and so after the first section, the road was designed to exploit a natural gap in the North Downs cut by the River Mole and to pass to the east of the high ground of Leith Hill, before following flatter land in the River Arun valley to Pulborough. Although at no point does the road lie more than 6 miles from the direct line.
There is something special about walking along a route that was constructed by Roman soldiers so long ago. Along the way you get a great view of the Channel on the horizon, which seems to be remarkably close and at one point the Roman road cuts through an earlier, prehistoric linear earthwork . The path descends into woodland and at the lowest point can be quite muddy until you start uphill again through the trees. Its a moderate stroll but if you would like to extend it, the route connects to both the Monarch’s Way and the South Downs Way.
Bignor is also the location of a Roman Villa of domestic proportions where you can really get the feel of how people lived. There are some good mosaics, a bath house and an example of a hypocaust (underfloor heating system). The site was discovered by George Tupper in 1811 when he uncovered the Summer dining room water basin after striking it with his plough.
Today the Villa is still managed by the Tupper family under the control of Trustees. It is open in the spring/summer months and has a tea room. (check website for 2021 opening times). It well worth a visit and needs support, as it is an ongoing battle to preserve the site from the elements and damp etc. You can see why the wealthy family who built it, chose the location, as it stands in a beautiful valley. Nowadays there is a vineyard right next door and as it is thought that the Romans introduced wine making into Britain, that seems very fitting.
What did the Romans ever do for us? Take a trip to this area and see for yourself.
Caroline Douglas, Trustee