Context 138 - March 2015

32 C O N T E X T 1 3 8 : M A R C H 2 0 1 5 PHILIP MASTERS and SALLY STRADLING Protecting historic routes There is little policy and guidance on the network of historic routes, ranging from prehistoric tracks to turnpike roads. Cherwell District Council is remedying this. The English landscape is interwoven with a vast and complex network of historic routes, ranging from pre- historic tracks to turnpike roads. Although there is some excellent conservation guidance for distinctive regional types, such as the ancient lanes of the Kent and Sussex Weald, more general advice is in short supply. Cherwell District Council is taking a step towards remedying this with the publication of a new supplementary planning document. Following a public inquiry where a section of medieval salt way was the focus of attention, the council realised that it had very little information on the nature and significance of historic routes in its area, and no policy framework to deal with their protection. A study carried out in 2013 addressed this. The study began with two questions.Why protect the routes?Why has protection not been given greater weight at national and local level by heritage organisations and local authorities? We arrived at the following answers to the first ques- tion, which were endorsed by the Oxfordshire experts that we consulted. •• Routes are the oldest features of the man-made landscape and determined much of its later form. •• They are one of the main features that allow us make sense of the patterns and sequence of settlements and land use. •• In many cases they can be followed on the ground today, enabling experts and the general public alike to understanding historical land use and settlement locations. •• Their patterns of use, decline and survival provide evidence of the significance of particular settlements and past industries. •• They can have evidence of past construction methods and technologies, such as causeways and bridges. The answer to the second question is more complex: there seem to be three main responses. First, heritage protection is principally concerned with conserving the fabric of dated physical features. Thus medieval bridges and sections of Roman road can be scheduled monuments, and tollhouses and milestones can be listed buildings. But most routes are evident only as rights of way, hedge lines, documentary references or a sequence of place-names.Almost all are undateable.They can be traced in the landscape but sometimes do not even merit an entry in the county historic environment record. Second, most computer-based forms of historic landscape classification do not include routes as such, not least because of the difficulties of digitising the information. The English Landscape and Identities (EngLaID) project at the Oxford Institute of Archaeology specifically takes routes into account using a much wider range of sources than conventional characterisation.This is a pilot project due for completion in 2015 and deals with the pre-Domesday Book landscape only.There has to be some practical way of categorising and evaluating ‘The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road./ A reeling road, a rolling road that rambles round the shire.’ GK Chesterton ‘The constant tramping of droves of cattle, herds of sheep and pigs, and flocks of geese and turkeys; the incessant stream of walking pack horses; the galloping relays of post-horse and fish carriers, all tended to keep the track in a perpetual slough of mud.’ Sidney and Beatrice Webb, The King’s Highway This Roman road with its distinctive bank has remained in more or less continuous use as a route.