Watling Street

Research Contributor: Louise Bremner (St Georges Community Group established December 2013)

The Roman Road

Painting: Kath Peel
Painting: Kath Peel

The history of Church Street and West Street, St Georges first inspired the idea for The Miner’s Walk Heritage Trail around parts of Telford. Having once been the route of Anglo-Saxon Watling Street, there is evidence that this route was possibly used by earlier communities.

Visitors and residents can imagine ancestors travelling this road and settling in and around St Georges (originally known as Pains Lane) and Oakengates.

Part of the main Watling Street route ran through the heart of St Georges and Oakengates. It was once an ancient trackway through England and Wales first used by the Celts before the Roman invasion. The Romans paved the route to make military transport easier, chasing Celtic Britons from the South. In recent times, road excavations in Oakengates have uncovered what are thought to be parts of the original Roman paving. This is now a feature in Oakengates town pathways.

With a Roman settlement identified at Red Hill (less than 1 mile from the centre of St Georges), and Roman coins found in various places in the local area in the 1930s, the road’s ancient history gives us a nostalgic connection to ancestors who may have travelled the route.

Past geographical study does give another explanation of the Roman road’s route around the St Georges area. Having reviewed the past geology of the area and the possibility that Oakengates was once a quicksand pit, the Romans may not have kept to their straight line road model. Instead, the Romans may have directed the Roman Wroxeter Road around the area of St Georges and Oakengates.

“… Traces of the great chasm which rent the valley in Twain, but which became filled with sand from the Glacial drift, may be found at Wombridge, where Walton Avenue is built upon……. at the old sand pit which formerly occupied the site of the Charlton Mound. (Rev J.E Gordon Cartledge (1935)The Vale and Gates of Usc Con or History of Oakengates and Surrounding District, p.2)

Whilst this may be true, it remains conclusive that the Romans settled here. Roman coins have been found as far back as the late 1700s and as recently as the 1930s. The Roman settlement watchtower at Red Hill was discovered in 1925 when the road was being widened and the type of coal dug from the Albion Pit has been found during the excavations at the Wroxeter Roman City.

Watling Street

Church and West Street were once known as Watling Street. This Anglo-Saxon road ensured that the main route went through what we now know as St Georges and Oakengates.

“….The ancient road (Pre Roman) by which this thickly wooded ravine was approached was in all probability the one which runs along the top of Ketley Bank, which entered the valley at its apex, for their roads, wherever possible, ran along the ridges and hills, in order to avoid the swamps of the low lands ………………. Provision for crossing the valley at a point lower than the apex was made when the Saxons constructed a bridge in the womb of valley, to which action we owe the present name of wombridge” (Rev J.E Gordon Cartledge (1935)The Vale and Gates of Usc Con or History of Oakengates and Surrounding District, p.6)

Watling Street derives from the Anglo-Saxon name Waecelinga Straet, meaning “street of the people of Waecel”. Waecel could possibly be a variation of the Anglo-Saxon word for “foreigner” applied to the Celtic people inhabiting Wales.

In the 9th Century, Watling Street was used as the partition line between the Anglo-Saxon and Danish-ruled parts of England. The separation took place on the north and east side of the road, so splitting the communities straight through the areas of what we now know as St Georges and Oakengates.

The separation of these communities can be seen in recent times with many different parishes having been linked to the communities of St Georges at one time. This included Shifnal, Wrockwardine Wood, Lilleshall and Wombridge.

Parish Map
Parish Map

Watling Street – London Holyhead Road

Watling Street, St Georges (Pains Lane) became a turnpike road in 1726 and remained the main transport route between communities and industries in the South, Midlands and Wales until Thomas Telford’s Holyhead Road was constructed.

Pains Lane Turnpike Court Receipt
Pains Lane Turnpike Court Receipt

From 1815 Thomas Telford re-routed parts of Watling Street, favouring to redirect the road away from Weedon, Northamptonshire and Oakengates.  Instead, he decided to link Coventry, Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Shifnal.

Thomas Telford’s London to Holyhead Road picked up the boundary of Priorslee (alongside The Lion Inn, Shifnal Road and the north side of Dark Lane) and progressed through the centre of the areas of Snedshill with Mumpton Hill and Coalpit Bank on either side (in and around the Junction of the Ketley Canal with The Shropshire Canal, Wellington to Coalport Railway and Canal, Shrewsbury and Birmingham Railway and Lilleshall Company Mineral Line).


It is believed that walls down this stretch of the Holyhead Road and surrounding Priorslee Church are the original walls that lined the road.

Church Street Walls
Church Street Walls

The road through St Georges has always remained a busy hive of activity for newcomers and travellers. Sadly it is also connected with fatalities.

The Wellington Journal of Saturday 31 May 1856 records how a miner’s young daughter was trampled to death by two horses pulling a cart owned by Woodhouse Farm.

Apparently connected with the Holyhead Road, a new road from St Georges (then known as Pains Lane) was constructed through Snedshill Coppice around 1817. The four-way junction remains today. The road (now known as Stafford Street) became turnpiked by 1831 and remained the main route for travellers from the East Midlands, picking up the Holyhead Road at St Peter’s Church, Priorslee.

To make way for the Holyhead Road connection back into the area, it is believed the relocation of Priorlsee Church (now the site of The Lion Inn car park, Priorslee) was needed to make the road wider. The church was demolished and relocated on Priorslee land at the top of Mumpton Hill.

Thomas Telford’s Holyhead Road was completed in 1826.

A5 / St Georges Bypass / Telford’s Way

The A5 has never entirely followed the original Watling Street. Instead it has picked up parts of the Roman Wroxeter Road, Holyhead Road and other roads collectively.

1922 Map showing A5
1922 Map showing A5

This is evident in the history St Georges Church and West Street before the new St Georges bypass was opened in 1933.

The construction of the new road took the route around St Georges, picking up Telford’s Holyhead Road again. This route travels over the site that was once Pains Lane Racecourse (a nationally famous racecourse attended by thousands of residents and visitors in the 1800s).

New Bypass
New Bypass

Now known as Telford’s Way, the research carried out for this write-up shows that Thomas Telford’s Holyhead Road in the area did not link into the Redhill Roundabout where Telford’s Mason’s Mark is sited. In modern times, Telford’s Holyhead Road joins the Priorslee Roundabout network which was opened in 1975.

Imagining the number of communities travelling through, visiting and/or settling in the areas around The Miner’s Walk Heritage Trail, even in the last century, it can be understood how the whole community today can identify with communities from the past.


  • Shropshire Archives
  • Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust Archives
  • The British Newspaper Archives
  • Heritage Lottery Funded The Miner’s Walk Memory Recording Events
  • Oakengates History Group
  • Cartledge, Rev J.E. G The Vale and Gates of Usc Con or History of Oakengates and Surrounding District (previous article just called it Vale and Gates of Usc Con???)
  • https://www.cs.mcgill.ca/~rwest/wikispeedia/wpcd/wp/w/Watling_Street.htm
  • https://www.sabre-roads.org.uk/wiki/index.php?title=A5/history
  • Conversations with Brian Savage (Wrekin Historical and Archaeological Group 1982. Now known as Wrekin Historical Group), Ken Lewis (Ketley History Group) Gordon Taylor (Greenways Farm, Ashley Rd, St Georges), Mary Hollingshead (St Georges Women’s Institute Archives, established 1930)

If you would like to contribute to further research on The Miner’s Walk Heritage Trail you would be really welcome.  Please get in touch through one of our contact links.

If at all you feel copyright is infringed in any way, shape or form, please let us know. We apologise in advance if this is the case and we will amend our write-ups and/ or accredit you if permitted. Many thanks!