We know little about the prehistoric road map of Britain, but it is clear that there was communication across long distances and there was trade in key commodities such as flints and tin. With the advent of wheeled vehicles from the late Bronze Age it is conceivable that ancient tracks and drove ways would have started their evolution to what we might regard as a road. During the Iron Age there were regionally based tribal groups, with territories often delineated by rivers. “Roads” would have reflected this regional structure.
After the invasion of AD 43 the Roman army pushed north and west securing “bridgeheads” as they crossed major rivers. They brought with them new road and bridge building technologies – and they were able to marshal the local labour necessary for large scale civil engineering projects. The Romans were in Britain on a mission and they needed fast and reliable communication over long distances. The growth of towns, the exploitation of resources and the ongoing need to reach disputed borders all helped stimulate a comprehensive road network over the next 350 years.
The route north from London to Lincoln, York, Hadrian’s Wall and beyond was well established. We have retrospectively come to know the southern section as “Ermine Street” and the northern section, “Dere Street”.
As Roman influence waned in the 5th century so use of the road network diminished and key elements such as bridges were no longer maintained.