MARGARY

Ivan D Margary is a name well known to the researchers of Roman roads. He wrote the two-volume Roman Roads in Britain – first published in 1955 by Phoenix House, London. It is beautifully letterpress printed, using 12/14pt Monotype Garamond, the capitals of which are so like classical Roman inscriptions.

His book is essential for the understanding of the British Roman road network, and it is recommended to all students. Good condition copies can be expensive. Volume one covers all the roads south of the Fosse Way and the Bristol Channel. Volume two covers everything north of this, including Wales and Scotland. If you are on a budget, just find the relevant volume, though be warned that there are some excellent sections in Volume two that cover the whole of the British mainland, for example the Appendix covering the Antonine Itinerary, or a section about ‘Finding and Recording Roman Roads’. The Addenda and Corrigenda for Volume one is also in the second.

Each Roman road that had been discovered up to 1955 is documented, and its route described. He personally checked all the roads, and his descriptions are fascinating to read. As some of these descriptions are more than sixty years old, they are historically valuable in their own right: a lot has changed on some of the routes in the meantime. He was a cautious man, and never wrote about a route until he had witnessed evidence of its existence. Occasionally he gets it slightly wrong in some details, but this is only to be expected in a tome of this size and breadth (the two volumes cover the whole of the British mainland). And he did his best to correct mistakes. In the second volume, there is an Addenda where he lists the errors found in volume one. He did all this before mobile phones, the internet, the construction of the modern motorway system, GPS and the 25,000:1 scale of Ordnance Survey maps!

Margary is responsible for the numbering system that is used for British Roman roads. These numbers are still used. The system he uses is similar to the modern British road system, where major roads get single number labels, for example Watling Street is numbered 1, and B roads get double digit numbers. Minor roads have three digit numbers. Minor roads are numbered after their parents – the roads they feed onto. For example, road 130 (Bennenden-Ashford-Canterbury) connects to 13 (Rochester-Maidstone-Hastings) which itself is connected to Watling Street (1), here running between Canterbury and Rochester. Occasionally the numbering system falls over. The book by the Viatores called Roman Roads in the South-East Midlands, published in 1964 (Victor Gollancz, London), extended the numbering system which Margary had pioneered. The Viatores found so many new minor Roman roads that they soon had to start using letter suffixes to discriminate between the huge number of different roads they discovered (and documented in the book), for example – at random – 170b – Marston Mortaine – Ruxox – Limbury.

Margary will be constantly referred to and referenced thoughout the creation of these web pages. I owe a vast debt to him for first setting the Roman road system down in print – a modern Itinerary, if you like.

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