"Footsteps Along the Fosse "

October 2009 Meeting Report

Speaker - Sue Clayton


The October 2009 meeting of The Keyworth & District Local History Society was held in The Centenary Lounge, Keyworth, on Friday 2nd October. The guest speaker for the evening was Sue Clayton and her subject was “Footsteps Along the Fosse”. The proceedings had only just commenced when they were rudely interrupted by the sound of the fire alarm for the room going off. The room was then evacuated in an orderly fashion. It was not until the evening’s proceedings were able to continue that the Society’s Chairman was able to inform those in attendance that they had just taken part in a fire drill. It is a new requirement of the Society, as hirers of the Centenary Lounge, that we have an approved evacuation procedure for the room in the event of an emergency.

Sue Clayton was then able to give her presentation on ‘Footsteps Along the Fosse’. Sue began by explaining that she lives at Flintham, which is just off the Fosse Way, whilst her parents lived at Leicester, some miles further south, along the Fosse. Sue continued to explain that her late husband had been a professional photographer and between them they had put together a presentation of that part of the road that they were most familiar with. Hence tonight’s talk would concentrate on that stretch of the road from Lincoln (somewhat further north than Flintham) down to Leicester. The presentation was in the form of a slide show accompanied with a talk.

The Fosse Way, or as it is more commonly referred to nowadays, the A.46 is famous as one of England’s many Roman Roads. Its long, straight stretches bearing evidence of its ancestry. However, well before the Romans invaded these shores there was an established track between the ancient settlements at Lincoln and Leicester. The Fosse was one of the first roads that the Romans build in this country. Sue’s journey began at High Cross at Leicester. At this location there was an important crossroads that probably had some form of monument there. The monument would be dedicated to the Roman god Mercury who was their god for protecting crossroads. Her trip took her northwards passing sites of interest along the way. One of the surprising aspects of the Fosse Way is that it doesn’t actually go through many towns or villages at all. There are a great many settlements close to the road but very few that the road actually goes through.

Sue then showed a variety of colour slides that her husband had taken showing views along the A.46 taken at various times of the years. Trying to trace the original route of the Roman road was very problematical; there has been much development in medieval and modern times, covering the actual old road. Sue’s journey took her from High Cross into Leicester itself. In the town centre there is a large clock tower. This clock tower was in the Haymarket part of the town, just outside the medieval town walls. Close to this clock tower is a memorial on a building commemorating the founder of the package holiday, Thomas Cook. Thomas Cook, though actually born at Melbourne in Derbyshire, lived just outside Leicester. Thomas Cook was a member of the Temperance movement that had a considerable following in Victorian times. The legend goes that Thomas Cook was responsible for organizing a trip for the Temperance Society from Leicester to Loughborough. To do this he hired a railway train and all of the other things that were necessary to make the day a success. In fact the day was so successful that Thomas decided to continue organizing trips for various groups and people. From that small beginning the world famous Thomas Cook travel organization developed.

Sue continued to take a look around Leicester showing churches, shops, markets and people. Sue’s theme then took a turn towards the location of various battles that have taken place near the Fosse Way. Her first stop was at the village of East Stoke, the site of the last battle of the Wars of the Roses. There is little there to show that at this site around 6,000 men lost their lives trying to oust Henry Tudor from the English throne. Newark was the next place visited; the town was an important stronghold for Royalist troops during the English Civil War. A less obvious location was Syerston. In the spring of 1939 the land around the village was verdant pasture. A year later thousands of tons of concrete had been laid to establish the airfield at R.A.F. Syerston and assist in taking the war to Hitler’s Germany.

Sue then concentrated on the town of Newark for a while. The castle is a dominant feature of the town and is famous as the place where King John died in 1216. Another notable Newark resident that Sue mentioned was John Aderne. John Aderne lived for most of the 14th Century and is considered to be one of the founding fathers of modern surgery. Indeed, many of his techniques are still in use today. Sue then went on to extol the virtues of the market place in the town’s centre and the impressive church located close to it. The church spire stands at 236ft high and can be seen from miles away in the surrounding countryside. In one corner of the market place stands a public house named The White Hart. The building was standing at the time of the Battle of East Stoke.

Sue then went on to show a variety of slides depicting various buildings of interest that can be found on, or, adjacent to the route of the road.  Sue’s trip finished at Lincoln and she illustrated some of the many places of interest to be found there including the castle, the cathedral, the market and other interesting building. With the current road works that are taking place, along parts of the road that Sue illustrated, the nature of the old road will change considerably but that will only add to the fascinating history of one of England’s oldest roads. All in all Sue gave a very interesting illustration of one of the most famous roads in our region.