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Watling Street (Barnsdale)

Coordinate 53.649391, -1.262758
Adm. div. West Riding of Yorkshire
Vicinity In Barnsdale; c. 4 km SSE of Pontefract
Type Thoroughfare
Interest Literary locale
Status Defunct
First Record c. 1500
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Barnsdale Bar where the Great North Road forks; both branches were
called Watling Street during the Medieval period.
The 639, Doncaster Road, the north-westerly Watling Street / Christine Johnstone.
The A1, the north-easterly Watling Street, at Barnsdale Bar junction / Robin Webster.

By Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2013-08-17. Revised by Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2015-07-21.

In the Gest of Robyn Hode, Robin Hood sends his men to "Watlinge Strete" to look out for wayfarers. 'Watling Street' is of course the name of the old Roman (and pre-Roman) road from Dover to Wroxeter, but during the Middle Ages and the early modern period the name was also applied, at least locally, to several other stretches of old Roman road. In Barnsdale, at Barnsdale Bar, the Great North road forks into a north-westerly and a north-easterly branch both of which were called Watling Street. The name is recorded for the north-westerly branch (now reincarnated as the A639, Doncaster Road) from the 13th century. It also occurs in a charter probably dating from the 14th century which concerns a piece of land in "the field of Wrangebroc near Watlingstret".[1] The north-easterly branch (a stretch of the A1), which arose during the 14th century, is recorded as Watlynge Streete or similar in the 15th to 16th centuries. Which of these brances is intended in the Gest depends on the exact location of Sayles, which is obvioulsy meant to be near Watling Street. If the Sayles were the locality now known as Sayles Plantation, the easterly branch of Waling Street was meant, but if instead the Sayles were located a few kilometers to the south, which is entirely possible, it would be close to both branches of Watling Street. Somewhat further north, between Castleford and Bramham, the Great North Road was called "Watlinge strete" from at least the early 13th century to the mid-16th century.[2]

The references to Watling Street in the Gest (see quotation dated c. 1500 below) add local colour, and there is little doubt its author knew the area well. Some regard the use of "Watling Street" to refer to roads other than the famous one from Dover to Wroxeter as mistaken, but this is in itself a mistake. Surely it is not for posterity to judge what people of a past age ought to have called their roads, and in fact the use was quite widespread. Thus the road from Catterick (in the North Riding of Yorkshire) to Corbridge in Northumberland went by the name of Watling Street. Other examples are the road from Manchester via Affetside to Ribchester, a stretch of the Roman road in Fewston (West Riding of Yorkshire) from Knaresborough to Ilkley, a road in Ossett and that from Slaidburn to Bowland Forest (West Riding of Yorkshire). A surviving example is the name Watling Street Road for a street in Preston, Lancashire, which connects the districts of Ribbleton and Fulwood.[3] John Leland in his Itinerary (see quotation dated c. 1535-43 below) applies the name to several stretches of road in the West Riding; the last of them seems to be the stretch of the Great North Road running through Barnsdale.[4] In 1407, the name "Watlynge Strete" was applied to "a street that led east from the south-east corner of the precincts of St. Paul's in London, becoming Budge Row after about half a mile".[5]


[gest; c. 1500:]
and walke up to the Saylis
and so to Watlinge Strete
and wayte after some unketh gest
up chaunce ye may them mete[6]

and walke up under the Sayles
and to Watlynge street
and wayte after such unketh gest
up-chaunce ye may them mete[7]

[c. 1535-43:]
     Thens [i.e. from Wetherby] over a stone bridge on Warfe to [...] Aberford [...] on Watheling-Streate a 6. miles, and or ever I cam to this thorough fare I saw by the space of 2. or 3. miles the very playn crest of Watheling-Streat.
     Thens by the strait crest of Watheling-Streat a 3. miles or more, and then leving it on the righte hond I went to Brotherton [...] a 3. miles: and then by a causey of stone with divers bridges over it [...] From Fery-bridge to Wentbridge . . . miles, and so to Dancaster . . . miles. I sawe by certaine miles or I cam to Dancaster the very mayne crest of Wathelynge strete.[8]





Also see


  1. Walker, J.W., ed., Abstracts of the Chartularies of the Priory of Monkbretton (Yorkshire Archaeological Society, Record Series, vol. LXVI) (1924), p. 185, item 12; left undated by the editor but probably dated in the MS (BL Lansdowne 405).
  2. Smith, A.H. The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire (English Place-Name Society, vols. XXX-XXXVII) (Cambridge, 1961-63), pt. VII, pp. 144-45; Mawer, A.; Stenton, F.M. The Place-Names of Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire (English Place-Name Society, vol. III) (Cambridge, 1926), p. xl; Dobson, R.B., ed.; Taylor, J., ed. Rymes of Robyn Hood: an Introduction to the English Outlaw (London, 1976), pp. 21-23.
  3. Smith, Albert Hugh (1961), pt. V, p. 123; VII, pp. 146, 49); Wikipedia: Watling Street. Also see Smith, A.H. The Place-Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire (English Place-Name Society, vol. 5) (Cambridge, 1928), pp. 1-2.
  4. For other examples see for instance Mawer, A.; Stenton, F.M. The Place-Names of Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire (English Place-Name Society, vol. III) (Cambridge, 1926), pp. xl, 7.
  5. Taylor, William; Thorpe, William; Hudson, Anne, ed. Two Wycliffite Texts: The Sermon of William Taylor, 1406 [and] The Testimony of William Thorpe, 1407 (Early English text Society, Original Series, vol. 301) (1993), p. 130 n. 1965.
  6. Gest of Robyn Hode, st. 18.
  7. Gest of Robyn Hode, st. 209.
  8. Leland, John; Smith, Lucy Toulmin, ed. The Itinerary of John Leland in or about the Years 1535-1543 (London, 1906-10), vol. I, p. 88.