The Attic Self Storage History Tour: Part I – The Roman Years

This month is ‘Local History Month’, and we’ve been digging up some stories from the past, focusing on the area surrounding our Bow branch.

With so many of us still living at a distance from one another, it’s easy to forget that other more community-minded events are still happening. May, for instance, has been designated ‘Local History Month’.

With that in mind, and with all of us in need of a bit of a diversion from the rather depressing daily news, we’ve been doing a little research into the history of the area around Attic Self Storage HQ in Wick Lane, Bow, E3.

Photography by Julian Dyer

Let’s start just across the A12 and around the corner from our base…

What Have The Romans Ever Done For Us?

Photography by Julian Dyer

The original highway that connected Londinium (London) with Camulodunum (Colchester) ran roughly parallel to the North side of the modern Roman Road before heading out across the River Lea and on towards Stratford.

Remains of the buried original were first discovered by archaeologists back in about 1845, but more extensive digging was carried out in 1980 and then again in 1995-96 around Lefevere road which is about 5 minutes enforced march from our original Bow branch.

Contemporary street names like Garrison Road and Legion Terrace give a nod to the strategic importance of this whole area.

Photography by Julian Dyer

When the Romans began their conquest of Celtic Britain in 43 AD/CE, they set about revamping the entire transport network. It’s estimated that they built around 10,000 miles of roads in the first 100 years of occupation. (Grant Shapps take note).

Contrary to popular opinion, Roman engineers didn’t build their roads straight, and only straight, at any cost – they were sensible enough to divert them around natural features like hills, mountains and, erm, bottomless pits.

Excavations have revealed that the full width of the road, including two side ditches, was as much as 26 metres in some places. No doubt designed to prevent early (cart) traffic congestion, which funnily enough still seems to afflict the A12.


Taking Back Control

The area around the Attic end of Roman Road would have led out into the marshy land beyond the river Lea which is now the home of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Whether this was a ford or a bridge (more on this in a moment) you can bet the crossing was of huge strategic importance and would have come under attack from Boudicea (Boudica or Boudicca if you prefer) when she led a rebellion against the Romans in around AD/CE 60.

The legendary Queen of the Iceni and her rebel army burnt Colchester to the ground before marching on London to do the same. Digs right across the capital have revealed a burnt layer of archaeology that marks the flaming destruction they wreaked on the ancient city. Boudicea obviously really liked a good bonfire, as she went on to torch Verulamium (St. Albans) before being defeated by the Roman army at the battle of Watling Street. It’s believed she either fell on her own sword or took poison to avoid capture.

Was Old Ford an Old Ford?

We’re not talking rusty Cortinas, Capris or Escorts here. We mean old ford, as in a river crossing point. In this case, the aforementioned Lea. The area has a pattern of human settlement that extends back to prehistoric times and includes substantial activity during the Roman period. It has been conjectured that the crossing point was at Old Ford (near today’s Old Ford Lock).

Old Ford itself was first recorded as Eldeford or Oldeford in the 13th century. It’s assumed that a settlement with such a name would be close to the ford itself, probably around the bend in Wick Lane, but very little is actually known about it, although there is evidence of timber structures, possibly wharves, along the riverbank. The remains of a substantial Roman building were also identified at No. 419 Wick Lane, which may have been a possible mansion or posting station situated in close proximity to the crossing of the river.

Bridge Over The River Lea

An excavation in advance of development at Crown Wharf near Dace Road, revealed approximately 40 large oak piles driven into the layers of peat and alluvial clay – many trimmed to points with axes in typical Roman fashion and four have been radiocarbon-dated to the early Roman period. The timbers continued beyond the edges of the excavated area and appeared to form roughly parallel lines which have been interpreted by some as the sub-structure of an early Roman bridge. In fact, although the case is unproven, it seems likely that the road may have been carried across the marshy river channels on two timber bridges.

Pottery, roofing tiles, bricks and multiple funeral artefacts have also all been discovered. In 1844, several urned cremations were unearthed, while an inhumation in a lead coffin was also found in Wick Lane at about the same time.

Without scaring away our more nervous customers, there is evidence that there was once an extensive Roman burial ground in the area, although you’ll be pleased to hear that Attic Self Storage is not built on top of it, and we are not haunted at night (we’re open 24 hours) by cohorts of Roman skeletons rattling their battle armour.

Bow Bridge

However early inhabitants of the area got across the river, it wasn’t until the around 1110 AD/CE that Bow Bridge was built – a short swim downstream.

The revolutionary construction was attributed to Matilda, the wife of King Henry I, and was the first stone arch ‘bow’ bridge in Britain, thus giving the area its current name.

Photography by Julian Dyer

To be continued…


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