Blackheath

THE ROMANS

The Romans first landed in Britain in 55 BC. They failed to conquer our ancestors and tried again in 54 BC, where they failed for a second time. It’s quite possible that the first landing by Julius Caesar was a scoping exercise rather than an attempt to overthrow the Britons. 

Roman Invasion Briton

Our successes didn’t last, though. In AD 43, the Roman Emperor, Claudius, ordered four legions to conquer Britain, which they did, far too successfully.

It’s believed, from Julius Caesar’s own account and from archaeological digs, that the Roman’s first landed at Richborough (Rutupiae)[1] near Sandwich. Why they chose to land in Kent is a mystery, but historians have suggested the coast could have been the closest, most expansive and open landing site for such a large army (each legion would have had around 4,000-6,000 men and four arrived in AD 43).[2]

There is also a suggestion that the Romans knew before they tried to conquer us that land around Kent was rich in ragstone, which they used to create their incredible buildings and structures.[3]

Battle after battle was fought, and Britons tried to use the Thames, our great river, to their advantage. What they didn’t account for was that the Romans not only swam across the river in full armour, but they had shipped with them – across the Channel – big imposing war elephants. The locals, who had seen nothing larger than a cow before, must have been pretty freaked out by the sight.[4]

Roman War Elephant

THE ROMAN ROAD TO VICTORY

Around AD 85, a 25-metre-high marble-clad arch was erected overlooking the harbour of Richborough – a declaration of conquest and an imposing sight for new arrivals. The road now known as Watling Street began its journey under the arch, passing through Canterbury (Durovernum) and Rochester (Durobrivae) on its way to London (Londinium).[5]

Romans Roads England

Watling Street’s name comes from the Anglo‐Saxon Wæcelinga Stræt, meaning ‘the street of the people of Wæcel.’[6] However, the original name given by the Romans and Britons is unknown. 

 

The trackway that the Romans used, wide and grassy, had been in use by the Britons for centuries, so the Romans can’t claim ownership of it. During Sir Christopher Wren’s rebuilding of St Mary-le-Bow in 1671–73, following the Great Fire, the London portion of Watling Street was rediscovered. However, there is still debate about how close the original road came to Blackheath and whether it really did come down over Shooter’s Hill.

Watling Street Route Through Blackheath

THE ROMANS IN BLACKHEATH

There have been quite a few artefacts found in Blackheath. 

 

In 1710, several Roman urns were dug up on the Heath; two were made from red clay – one was of a spherical form, and the other was cylindrical. The first one contained ashes and was badly inscribed with the words 'Marcus Aurelius IIII.' The latter one also contained ashes.  With the inscriptions too worn to read, six or seven coins were also found, although two bore the names of the Emperors Claudius and Gallienus. 

 

In 1803, several urns were discovered about a foot below the surface of the ground in the garden of the Earl of Dartmouth, which was presented by his Lordship to the British Museum.[7] ‘Within them were ‘fragments of bones which had been submitted to the action of fire but imperfectly burnt’ and other ceramic vessels.’[8] These vessels were given to the British Museum and were probably dated from between the mid-first to early second centuries.

 

Evidence shows that the Romans had a base in Blackheath, although much of the archaeological evidence comes from the digs at Greenwich Park, which you can find here.

The Romans left Britain in AD 405, and their departure brought a new threat and influence to our history. 

Citations

[1] https://webapps.kent.gov.uk/KCC.ExploringKentsPast.Web.Sites.Public/SingleResult.aspx?uid=Tke1062

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/topics/zwmpfg8/articles/zqbnfg8

[3] Elliott, Simon. Ragstone to Riches: Imperial Estates, Metalla and the Roman Military in the South East of Britain during the Occupation. Oxford, 2018. Print. BAR British Ser; 638.

[4] Crane, Nicholson. The Making of the British Landscape: From Ice Age to the Present. p.193

[5] https://bitaboutbritain.com/roman-place-names-and-sites/

[6]  A Dictionary of British History (3 ed.) John Cannon and Robert Crowcroft Publisher: Oxford University Press, 2015

[7] The History of Kent. Vol. I. By John Harris, D. D. and F. R. S, Author: John Harris [1719] D. Midwinter, at the Three Crowns in St. Paul's Churchyard (London) p.83

[8] Roman Greenwich, Brown, Gary. Kent Archaeological Society, p.306