Back on the road today, starting at Rochester bridge. It’s an apt spot as I’m spending the morning walking with Cath Hoggarth, a University of Kent PhD candidate specialising in bridges. We head down the high street of Durobrivae (‘fort by the bridges’), past the Guildhall Museum and memories of yesterday, out of town and onto the road.
The road here is incredibly straight, pushing through Medway and up and over hills. Cath says that the Romans tended to go straight over hills, rather than divert around – so that’s the way we go too, climbing Chatham Hill until it turns once again into Watling Street. The last time I was on Watling Stret was in Bexley, and I’ll find it again on this road.
Bridges prove to be a rich source of inspiration: Cath tells me about how we mostly take them for granted now, passing over them in cars and trains. I remember getting the train from Welling to London proper, and how people would stop reading and look out of the window as we passed over Hungerford Bridge with its views of the Thames’ banks, Westminster Palace, a Big Ben, London Eye…
Bridges still hold a power over us. As well as their functional aspect in travel and communication, they are highly symbolic. They go against Nature by crossing a river – which were sacred to many people, with the Romans throwing votives and offerings into the waters. Rivers are natural boundaries, so a bridge links two different places and people and makes them one. Communities spring up around bridges – including under the bridge, where illicit things may happen. Bridges display power, technology, and wealth – especially to the Romans, going into less advanced placed and conquering them. They are propaganda and legacy – Romans hung banners and put statues of the Emperor near them, and they were funded by rich locals. They are also a last resort: if an invading army gets too near to your capital, you tear the bridge down to stop them – many battles are fought on and near bridges.
Last thing before I get back to walking. Here’s a photo Jeremy from the Guildhall sent me of George Payne – a meticulous Victorian archeologist who set up the Museum – excavating Darenth Villa in 1900. Lovely piece of history.