Byways and Highways


This is a preliminary article on the topic of ‘Byways and Highways’ – whether footpaths, bridle ways, drift or droves, lanes, roads – both classified and unclassified – and also includes the railway.  More research is needed to describe their usage and evolution across the centuries.


In and around Rowlands Castle, Byways have changed with the times arriving today at the current road network. The most significant road within the Parish itself the B Road ‘B2149’, leading south from the heavily trafficked A3M motorway intersection at Horndean, past the Village by The Harvester, then southwards to the A27 dual-carriageway in Havant – which then routes along the South Coast. Fortunately, this road is way from The Green at the centre of the Village, which is reached by the next level of roads, ‘C’ roads with the bridleways and footpaths that feed into them. The railway with its Victorian, listed station building, is a major facility for journeying to London or Portsmouth, and elsewhere along the South Coast. To this extent, the Village has escaped the traffic and pollution suffered by other attractive rural towns like Midhurst or Petworth, for example.

The extensive network of footpaths – both statutory and permissive – is today a major recreational attraction, leading to beautiful countryside complete with deer and buzzards! Cyclists also enjoy the quieter country lanes, stopping for coffee at The Bumblebee Café in the Village or over the hill in Compton. Three of the footpaths are regarded as strategic footways: The’ Sussex-Border Path’, the ‘Shipwrights Way’, both of which lead up to the South Downs Way, plus the Monarch’s Way.

Archaeologists have explored the Neolithic ‘field systems’ on The Downs, and the primitive tracks associated with them. The Romans built at least three ‘villas’ in the parish which would have linked with the major Roman road between Chichester and Portchester, for example. A medieval field system with tracks has been identified by a Lidar Survey (for the recently formed South Downs National Park), capable of interpreting landforms (humps and hollows) regardless of the forest cover. In the eleventh century, the Normans erected a series of Motte and Bailey Castles (Arundel and Lewes being the most prominent) to pacify local tribes. These would have some links to the similar castles in present Rowlands Castle, at Deer Leap and nearby Motley Copse.

But the arrival of the railway built in the mid nineteenth century, and routed down the Lavant Valley, beginning in London and going to Portsmouth, was a major intervention. It caused the rerouting of lanes and paths, and even the rebuilding of Idsworth House, one of our gems, from one side of the valley to a hill above the valley on the opposite side! On the other hand, without the railway station and associated sidings, Rowlands Castle would not have emerged in the twentieth century as a new and expanding village. So far, the separateness and community spirit has been maintained, setting it apart from urban encroachment from Havant and Portsmouth in the south.

From primitive unmetalled paths to the modern bitumen roads now heavily trafficked by cars and lorries, it will be interesting to describe this evolution. Evolution continues too, with separate footpaths in the settled areas, and extension of speed limits often with white and yellow lines, increasingly reflect the housing developments and traffic which now uses them.

Editorial; This interim article was first issued in late 2020

Bridleway 24, Brickworks to Whichers Gate Road

This path dates back from the 10th century as does the Magan (bank and ditch) to its right hand side which was the boundary of the Saxon parish of Warblington. This was 100 years before the Norman conquest of 1066. For the next 600 years it was a main route into Rowlands Castle which was at that time just a meeting point of similar ‘highways’. Their main purpose would have been for the movement of cattle to pasture. It was a Drift or Drove road.

By the 17th century the movement of cattle was more controlled and at the Whichers Gate road entrance to the bridleway is the site of Whichers Gate, which was exactly that – a gate where a toll was payable for access to Emsworth Common for the grazing of such cattle.

Up to the end of the 18th century there was a twice yearly market at Rowlands Castle, by then a sizable village. Why this route remained a path and not a road as we know it may be due to other roads becoming more popular with housing along them.

Today it serves as a bridleway and is a beautiful, scenic alternative route for access into Rowlands Castle from Whichers Gate Road.  Look out for the boundary stone marked 1871.

Information supplied by Hants and WS Borders Bridleways Group and Veolia Environmental Trust in conjunction with Hampshire County Council.

Editorial: Click to scroll through all the images and enlarge them. November 2020

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