To beyond Londinium
On Britons’ own track
n.b. I was delighted to find myself standing on a section of Watling Street yesterday lunchtime.
I was in the heart of the city of London, to the east of St. Paul’s cathedral, (free entry to worshippers, tourists pay a hefty fee – but increasingly good value as the £ continues to fall on currency markets).
Watling Street was a route used by the Britons connecting Dover with the area that is now known as Hertfordshire, particularly to the site now known as St. Alban’s.
The route laid out for peaceful trading was fully exploited by the Roman Army as they set up the military domination of England and Wales. The track’s route remains vital for trade links with the rest of Europe, but now via parallel motorway and rail lines that keep the ancient track company.
The Roman invaders probably knocked off a few bends, no doubt with the help of woad painted local slaves. They laid down paving and set about brisk, purposeful marching back and forth for the normal exploitative imperial reasons for the next 300 years, before making a celeris exitus (‘scuse me grammar any Latin scholars reading this).
The Romans built “Roman Roads”, but they followed the pathways of the people who went before them. A busy route must lead somewhere busy; busy places mean business; business means wealth; wealth is something to acquire; a powerful army is able to take what it wants; invade rather than trade is a well-proven economic growth strategy. Once installed in power all business is carried out on the terms of the imperialist.
The period of time the Romans held England and Wales enthralled was about as long as the British empire lasted. However, it took a while for the imperial elite to grasp that their time had passed and so Rome battled on desperately through its death throes for centuries, as those whom it had visited reclaimed their space, with the occasional excursion to see what the Romans had built on the backs of the workers. It is interesting to note that Italy remains a nation that struggles with fascism; a political position defined by aggression and violence – essentially a militaristic political stance.
In England and Wales today, failure to accept that the recent imperial past of Great Britain is history has developed into a mentality of confrontation, rather than cooperation; a post-imperial petulism encapsulated in the phrase, “No one is going tell us what to do.” when in fact it is never this way unless military force is deployed, (as was the case in Northern Ireland until The Good Friday Agreement).
Despite having been part of the EU for over 40 years, the idea of cooperative, mutually beneficial working has not ever been fully embraced by the UK’s political elite and hence I am led to Brexit.
When I took a moment to stand on Watling Street, I was reminded that the islands of Britain have always traded with the continent and they always will. It just seems a bit eccentric to vote to do that on terms that are worse than previously agreed.
This is a moment in history that will pass, as all moments do. It is a moment that will give historians plenty to muse on in years to come; rising sea-levels, glacial retreats and extreme weather events permitting.