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Banburyshire’s Ancient Trackways:

Banbury Lane

A Medieval and possibly pre-historic route, Banbury Lane traces a straight-ish north-east/south-west route following the form of the landscape through Northamptonshire, to the crossing of the Cherwell in Banbury.

Landscape image: ‘The Millstream Bridge Arches’, 5th August 2022
The Medieval Millstream Bridge arches carrying Banbury Lane across the River Cherwell.

Running over hilltops and ridges, this ancient highway links the crossing of the River Nene in Northampton with the crossing of the River Cherwell in Banbury – a continuation of ‘The Cotswold Ridgeway’ towards Lincolnshire.

Banburyshire’s Ancient Trackways: ‘A Map of Banbury Lane’
A Map of Banbury Lane (click for a larger image).

Summary for ‘Banbury Lane’:

Location: Ancient route/drove road from Banbury to Culworth, Moreton Pinkney, Cold Higham, Pattishall, amd Northampton.

Type: ‘Ancient Roads and Trackways’.

Condition: A few off-road sections in Northamptonshire, but otherwise surfaced roads.

Access: Public roads and byways. The sections at either end can become very busy around rush-hour; one short off-road section from Moreton Pinkney to Blakesley.

Further information: Local Drove Roads.

Walks posts or videos: {none yet}

Within a 14 by 8 miles rectangle of land between Banbury, Daventry, Northampton, and Brackley, bounded by major roads, is a area of rolling rural land with many small ancient villages – without any major roads. Through the heart of this area runs ‘Banbury Lane’, which, by the coming of the turnpike roads in the 18th Century, had ceased to be an important highway; and with the coming of the modern roads programme in the early 20th Century it was never upgraded from the small rural road it had become by that date.

How far north this route extends, beyond Northampton, is debatable. Before the Medieval period ‘The Fens’ – which had been a rich living place for hunter-gathers until the Iron Age – extended into the Nene Valley upstream of Peterborough. This is where the Roman Ermine Street crossed the river.

In Medieval times Banbury Lane was probably important for the export of wool from the Cotswolds to Europe, via inland ports around The Wash. That traffic reversed in the 18th Century when it became more important as a drove road bringing livestock south to markets in the South Midlands.

From the Nene Bridge in Northampton, past the Iron Age settlement at Hunsbury Hill, Banbury Lane goes south-west towards Rothersthorpe, crossing Watling Street at Pattishall. Then it meanders through the rolling South Northants landscape, occasionally off-road along byways, or narrow surfaced roads running between broad verges.

This is where the only significant stretch of unmade trackway remains today, near Moreton Pinkney. Here it crosses Oxford Lane, which runs south from the Iron Age site at Borough Hill near Daventry towards Brackley, and then on to Oxford.

At Culworth the landscape changes to the steeper ridges of ‘The Irondowns’. Past Lower Thorpe and its Bronze Age bowl barrow (where the ancient hamlet itself is currently being erased by HS2), at Thorpe Mandeville the route tangles with both The Portway and Welsh Lane either side of the village.

Descending Thenford Hill, past the Late Bronze Age settlement buried in the woodland, the route crosses the clay plain past Middleton Cheney and enters Banbury from the east. The way across the flat plain is not entirely clear: The current road route bypasses Middleton to the top of Blacklocks Hill; the route may have gone through Middleton, marked by a parallel footpath across the fields from Thenford Hill, past the edge of old Middleton, then curving past Overthorpe toward Nethercote; and it’s possible some traffic may have taken the more gentle downhill route west through Chacombe, entering Banbury from the north on Daventry Road; or quite probably, all three.

Landscape image, ‘Hazy Sunset View of Banbury’, 15th February 2019
‘Hazy Sunset View of Banbury’, 15th February 2019 (click for a larger image) – where one of the possible routes of the ancient Banbury Lane descends the hill into Nethercote.

Today the A422 road down Blacklocks Hill is the course of the Nineteenth Century Buckingham to Banbury turnpike route. Before that road was constructed around 1800, Banbury Lane may have gone past the village of Overthorpe and through Nethercote – where the marks of a broad lane can be seen running down between the ridge-and-furrow of the Medieval fields (see picture above).

The route from Nethercote to the town is more vague. The Causeway, later turning into Overthorpe Road, is an older track which follows a low ridge towards Overthorpe (see picture below). This could have been one route from Nethercote to the river crossing, or a Medieval short-cut to the Roman road that runs south from Warkworth Castle to Kings Sutton, Aynhoe, and ultimately Bicester. Middleton Road (now chopped in half by the M40) is the route of the Banbury to Buckingham turnpike road, which probably cut a new course around the hamlet.

Landscape image, ‘Looking over Nethercote’, 28th November 2021
‘Looking over Nethercote’, 28th November 2021 (click for a larger image)
Banbury Lane today passes over Blacklocks Hill on the left; the older route past Overthorpe and through Nethercote is in the centre; and the Roman road to Waterworks Lane comes from the hill on the right across the middle of this scene.

The crossing point on the River Cherwell is more certain. This has been the crossing on the river since Saxon times. Today two stone arches of the Medieval bridge can be seen buried beneath the Victorian brick bridge, which crosses the Mill Stream in Bridge Street. Before this, the Roman crossing point was on the northern side of Banbury along Waterworks Lane – which crosses Banbury Lane in Nethercote, from where it runs south-east towards Warkworth.

The Cherwell valley is where this route transitions from the more Medieval ‘Banbury Lane’ into the probably prehistoric ‘Cotswold Ridgeway’.

What’s really interesting about the route, though, is that it shows how over time priorities, and hence the literal and metaphorical direction of travel, change: Today England is London-centric, and certainly since Medieval times travel routes have reflected that priority – radiating out from the London area. Banbury Lane represents an earlier priority, during the time of the Saxons and Danelaw, and later the Medieval wool trade – towards the East Anglian coastline, and beyond to Europe and Scandinavia.

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