Burbage the Centre of England

The parish border of Burbage lies some one and a half miles north west of the crossroads of the A5, the Roman Watling Street and the Fosse Way. One of those busy roads which speeding past the cluster of buildings on the way to the M1 you would rarely give a second glance too.Registered trade mark for the Venonae Range - Aktins Brothers, Hinckley

The centre of Roman England at the cross of two main Roman roads and strategically placed 440 feet above sea level, Venonis, a Roman fort was built.

Though now only a pleasant country B road the Fosse Way was a main Roman Road linking Exeter to Lincoln via Bath, Cirencester and Leicester and marked the western frontier of Roman Rule in Britain. It is believed the route was used long before the Romans adopted it into a main artery in its empire. 

The Watling Street runs from London to Wroxeter near Shrewsbury and originally carried on to Chester. After the Romans left Britain the roads ran into disrepair although still widely used. It was not until the 19th century that they were repaired for use on main coaching routes.

There is some historical debate that in this area Boudicca leader of the Iceni tribe was defeated by Suetonius Paulinus in 61AD.

In the first half of the 20th century an amateur archaeologist Mr Lees lived at High Cross House. He had a small collection of Roman rings, broaches, coins and pottery which were on display in an outbuilding. These were given to Leicester Museums on his death in the 1960's.

English Heritage has the site listed for excavation but it could be many years before there are resources to undertake the work.

The Monument

Illustration c1748, History and Antiquities of Leicestershire, Nichols, 1787Near the intersection of the two roads in what appears to be the grounds of High Cross House, although there is a pathway from Bumble Bee Lane, stands the pedestal some 15 feet high of what must have been an imposing monument when first erected.

A cross may have been on the site for many centuries. In Nichols History and Antiquities of Leicestershire, 1787, a wooden High Cross is illustrated.

In Nichols, there is the only known illustration of the complete monument in 1748. The monument built of local stone probably stood some 40 – 50 feet high and would have been visible for many miles.

Basil Fielding, 4th Earl of Denbigh and 3rd Earl of Desmond, (1668 -1717), whose family seat is nearby at Newnham Paddox erected the monument to mark peace being restored by Queen Anne in 1712.

The peace was after the Anglo French Wars of the North Americas when peace negotiations were began in 1712. An Anglo French armistice was also agreed in this year and brought to a close the War of Spanish Succession which resulted in the treaty of Utrecht in 1713, one clause of which was the recognition of the Protestant right of succession to the English throne and British sovereignty of Gibraltar!

The Monument only stood complete for 79 years until it was damaged by lightening in 1791. The top cross piece was given to the Leicester museums after lying for many years in the grounds of the High Cross House.

The pedestal now with much graffiti has two Latin inscriptions, on one side;

"Countrymen and Gentry. Ornaments of the neighbouring counties of Warwick and Leicester. At the instances of the Right Honourable Basil Earl of Denbigh, have caused this pillar to be erected in grateful as well as perpetual remembrance of peace at last restored by her Majesty Queen Anne. In the year of our lord, 1712".

The second inscription;

"If, Traveller you search for the footsteps of the ancient Romans. Here you may behold them. For here their most celebrated ways, crossing one another, extend the utmost boundaries of Britain, here the Vennones kept their quarters, and at the distance of one mile hence Claudius a certain commander of a cohort, seems to have had a camp, towards the street, and towards the Foss a tomb".

The Monument - January 2009In the 1930's, there was a renewed interest in High Cross when the Atkins Brothers built the High Cross Factory and arcade of shops on Regent Street, Hinckley. An illustration of the High Cross was adopted as a registered trade mark for their Venonae range of goods.

Illustrations over the past 150 years show the monument has deteriorated, although some attempts have been made to patch with both bricks and stone but this has been eroded with weather and graffiti.

In the 1980's the road junction was widened and the monument became less visible, the fast growing conifers will soon obscure the view from the A5. The early milestone at the beginning of the slip road on the side of the A5 is barely visible especially in summer, although on close inspection the lettering can be read – London 95 miles, Lutterworth 6 miles and Hinckley 5 Miles.

In 2002, a beacon was lit to celebrate the Queens Golden Jubilee, it well illustrated what an excellent position the Romans must have had of the surrounding country.

In 1827, The Mirror of literature wrote of High Cross - "The ground here is so high, and the surrounding country so low and flat, that it is said; fifty seven churches may be seen from this spot by the help of a glass".

In 2009, I doubt one could see fifty seven churches but the view is still excellent and well worth a visit to this ancient site.

Sylvia Whitworth (BHG 2009)

Burbage Heritage Group would like to thank Margery Hampson, John McNaughton and Margaret Osborne for information supplied.
References: The Cradle and Home of the Hosiery Trade, A J Pickering - The History and Antiquities of Leicestershire, John Nichols - Article: The Mirror of Literature, Amusement and Instruction, 1827 - Notes on Leicestershire, 1957 Hastings High School.