The Oldest Road in Chaddesden

Which is the oldest road in Chaddesden? You can work out the answer by considering how the road network has developed. First of all, eliminate the estate roads of the 20th and 21st centuries to leave just the roads that existed at the beginning of the 20th century.

All of the above existed in some form at the time of the Enclosure (1791-93).

With one exception, all the roads listed start from a junction with another road. Unless the road under consideration once existed in isolation, the road from which it starts must be older. The exception is Nottingham Road, eastward from the Fire Station, but known as Derby Road east of Eden Road as that part was formerly in Spondon Parish.

Nottingham Road, which relies on no other road as a starting point, is easily the oldest road in Chaddesden, having been built by the Romans before Chaddesden existed. It ran in a near straight line from the Roman fort at Derventio, which we know as Little Chester, to a fort on the bank of the River Trent at Sawley. As evidence of Roman occupation in that area, when Red Hill tunnel was being excavated on the railway to Leicester around 1839, two Roman coins, several skulls and the remains of a Roman camp were found near the south end of the tunnel.

Nottingham Road down Cemetery Hill to the modern city centre is of more recent construction, the course of the original road being through the Cowsley estate. No remains of a road were reported when the estate was being built in the 1920s so it is likely that the stone had been salvaged for re-use once the old course of the road fell into disuse.

How did the Romans set out the line of the road without maps and modern surveying equipment when several hills make it impossible to see one end from the other? Most likely they cut down tall trees to make flagpoles that were erected at intervals on the approximate line of the road and then moved from side to side until they were all in line.

Once the line of the road had been determined, any trees were cut down, other vegetation was removed as was the topsoil. A bed of large stones was laid, topped by smaller stones and finally a layer of gravel. The stones would have to be brought from some distance as there is no quarry in or near Chaddesden. A lot of manual labour was involved and it is likely that local British people would have been pressed into helping the Romans do the work.

Although the road was built primarily for military use - to enable the Roman army to move rapidly from place to place - civilians were allowed to use the road as long as they moved aside to let marching soldiers pass. A journey between Derventio and Sawley was not one that you would undertake lightly. There were no intermediate settlements and you would have to carry food and anything else needed on the journey. Britain was sparsely populated at the time so the journey might have been done without meeting anybody on the way. Imagine travelling on an empty road today, if you can!

With most of the Roman road being under a modern road (under water at Church Wilne Reservoir) archaeological investigation is out of the question. In October 1910 William Smithard had the opportunity to dig a trench in a field between the Derby Canal and the racecourse directly in line with Old Chester Road. He discovered the remains of a road 12 feet (4 metres) wide and running east - west. The bed of the road consisted of heavy coarse sandstone boulders covered with a layer of smooth gravel.

A few historical features may still be seen on the road, notably the turnpike road mileposts and the bridge over the Chaddesden Brook (widened in the 1930s). More recent road signs have been removed and we have to refer to old maps to remind ourselves that Nottingham Road was once the A52, the main road between Derby and Nottingham, before the by-pass opened in May 1980.

Peter Barnes

Milepost Nottingham 14, Derby 2 miles at Chaddesden Lane End.

The end-on junction between Nottingham Road and Derby Road at an apparently random location near Eden Road marks the pre-1968 parish boundary between Chaddesden and Spondon. The electoral ward boundary now runs along the middle of Acorn Way.