Leicester Chronicler

Tempus omnia revelat
Time reveals all


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Listening to the historic heartbeat of the City of Leicester and its environs in the English East Midlands

A reflection of past and present thoughts and aspirations
Design and text Stephen Butt 2006
Rev 30/08/08
Via Devana
Along the Roman Gartree Road


It is said that the road bearing the name Via Devana ran between Colchester and Chester, thus connecting, on its route, two other major Roman routes, the Fosse Way and Ermine Street.

The Fosse Way ran from the South West, through the Midlands and up to Lincoln, marking the northern boundary of the Roman occupation.  Ermine Street ran down the east coast, linking London to the Scottish border. 
Since Colchester was the site of a major British settlement it is likely that a road leading northwest existed in pre-Roman times. 

18th century antiquaries called it the Via Devana, implying that it led to Chester (Deva). It probably reached Godmanchester in Cambridgeshire, where it met the Ermine Street, later to become the Old North Road, just before this route crossed the River Ouse to enter Huntingdon.  

Prof F.J.Haverfield (writing in The Archaeological Journal Vol LXXV 2nd Series Vol XXV pp1046) concluded from his research that the Via Devana was only a local road.  Colin Ellis (History in Leicester (1948)) believed that possibly a trade route existed before and during the Roman occupation which connected south-east England with the north-west and passed through Leicester, but as this was of pre-Roman origin it did not conform to the typical undeviating Roman plan.  The Ordnance Map of Roman Britain (1928) certainly offers a cautious extension of the route from Medbourne towards Godmanchester and Cambridge.

Recent archaeological evidence has emerged at Bath Lane in the village of Moira, north-west of Leicester, which appears to prove the existence of a Roman Road known by local tradition as the Leicester Headland, which ran from Rycknild Street south-west of Burton to Leicester.  This passed through Linton, Moira, Willesley and Normanton le Heath, and south-eastwards towards Leicester.  It appears from its route to be part of the Via Devana.

This page surveys the confirmed southern track of the road, from the centre of Leicester to the village of Medbourne.



From the Roman forum to the north of New Walk

The Gartree Road left the south gate of the Roman town of Leicester (Ratae) in an east-south-easterly direction crossing the Fosse Way on that road's east-west route immediately to the south of the forum.

The road may have taken the route now followed by the New Walk, a pedestrian path from the centre of Leicester to Victoria Park. Some archaeological evidence supports this theory derived from excavations undertaken when Waterloo Way was constructed in a cutting under New Walk. A cemetery thought to date from the Roman period but also containing Saxon remains was discovered in the late 19th Century at the end of New Walk near to its junction with Granville Road.

The Images The route The Description
Gartree Road

From the southern end of New Walk, the presumed Roman route crosses Granville Road near the corner of Victoria Park and then the London Road at a point approximately 600 yards south (and uphill) of the railway station. A narrow footpath behind buildings fronting London Road respects this conjectured route.
Leicester South Gate
New Walk
Victoria Park
London Road
The Gartree Road in winter near 
Little Stretton
Gartree Road Stoneygate
Stoughton Road
Gartree Road
Stoughton Airport
For the next 800 yards the route is now lost in the residential development of the Stoneygate area, but reappears just to the east of the Stoughton Road/Stoughton Drive/Gartree Road roundabout where Kingsway Road joins Stoughton Road. The route - still known as Gartree Road - then continues east along the southern boundaries of the Leicestershire Golf Course, the CWS Stoughton Farm (formerly the Powys-Keck estate) and the Stoughton (Leicester) Airport.
The Green Bicycle Murder scene near Little Stretton
Gartree Road Stoughton Airport
Gartree Road
Having passed to the south of the airfield, a junction is reached with the road rising north from the village of Great Glen. The route of the Roman road can now be followed by turning left at this point and following the Great Glen to Little Stretton road around a sharp right-hand bend to join the original alignment. The modern road takes this course in order to cross a bridge at right angles over the River Sence.
The route eastwards towards the right angle turn after Stoughton Airfield. The original course is represented by a field entrance on the left immediately after the yellow road sign.
Gartree Road Gartree Road
Little Stretton
After about 100 yards, the turning into the small village of Little Stretton is reached, and immediately after this junction is the site of the murder of Bella Wright in 1920, a notorious case known locally as the Green Bicycle Murder.  The exact site is adjacent to a gated entrance into a field on the south side of the road.
The right hand curve near approaching Stoughton Airfield and the Great Glen road junction viewed looking west
Gartree Road Gaulby Road
Burton Overy Road


After crossing the Great Glen to Gaulby road, the Gartree Road tracks across farmland north of the village of Burton Overy, fording a stream after about half a mile, and crossing another Ilston to Burton Overy road after about one mile. 
The view to the north-west (towards Leicester) from the Ilston Grange to Burton Overy crossroads. The Gartree Road defines the northern boundary of a number of fields.
Gartree Road Burton Overy Road
Carlton Curlieu Manor House
Throughout this section the road provides the northern boundaries of several fields. At this point the route has a tarmac surface for a distance of two miles.
The view to the north-west at the crossing with Ilston Grange to Burton Overy road from tarmac road to field road
Gartree Road Carlton Curlieu Manor House After about 800 yards, the modern road detours south around the frontage of Carlton Curlieu manor house and farm. This view is to the east with the farm entrance, marking the probable course of the original route visible in the centre of the picture.
Detour near Carlton Curlieu Manor House
Gartree Road Carlton Curlieu Manor House Carlton Curlieu Manor House. Behind the house, the contours rise and fall sharply, and relatively recent landscaping has created a hanging garden with small ponds.
Carlton Curlieu Manor House
Gartree Road Carlton Curlieu Manor House Between farm buildings and sheds to the rear of the manor house can be seen tracks through two gates that appear to follow the original course of the road.  There is a tall hedge on the southern side of the farm track that respects the alignment.
Carlton Curlieu Manor House
Gartree Road Carlton Curlieu Manor House
Three Gates
Kibworth crossroads
The detour southwards around the Manor House is particularly noticeable when viewed towards the north west. In this picture, the manor house is to the right.
Neaar Carlton Curlieu Manor House
Gartree Road Three Gates
Kibworth crossroads
About 700 yards east of the Manor House, the Gartree Road crosses the Three Gates to Kibworth Harcourt road. This view is to the north-west. The road then continues in tarmac form into the parish of Shangton to cross the B6047 Three Gates to Tur Langton road.
Three Gates
Gartree Road Kibworth crossroads
Shortly after crossing the Three Gates to Kibworth Harcourt road, the tarmac section of the Gartree Road tracks north at a point where a field path from Turner's Barn farm crosses. It would appear that the course of road has been caused by the need to avoid a large tree, seen here on the left of the road, as the hedges seem not to be influenced.
Near Three Gates
Gartree Road Holt Farm After a further 200 years, the road is traversed by further field tracks leading from Holt Farm to the north towards a spinney and sheep wash to the south.
Junction at Holt Farm
Gartree Road Holt Farm
Northamptonshire border
The section from the crossing with the B6047 to the Leicestershire-Northamptonshire boundary has no tarmac.
Near Holt Farm
Gartree Road

Samuel Lewis, in his Topographical Dictionary of England (1831) wrote:

"The Via Devana, from Colchester to Chester, enters this county near Cottingham, and, crossing the Welland, passes Medbourne, near Slanston Mill, whence it is continued between the two Strettons to Leicester, where it joins the Fosse, which, however, it soon leaves to proceed to Grooby, whence it is carried by Ashby to Burton upon Trent."




The concluding section of the route of the Gartree Road (from the B6047 to the county border)
will be added in due course


Beyond Leicestershire

The Roman name for Colchester was Camulodunum. It is thought that The Via Devana ran south-east towards Colchester via a possible settlement and fort near Wixoe on the River Stour, and thence north-west to Godmanchester where it terminated, the route northwards continuing via Ermine Street through Water Newton towards Lincoln.


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