Counting on the Romans

Winslow church clockThe clock face at St Lawrence's church, Winslow. Note how the '4' is shown.

Roman numerals can be seen in nearly every village and town on the church clock. Sometimes you’ll see them on milestones or you’ll have a clock at home or a watch that uses them.

Many films have their copyright notice with the year written in Roman numerals, and the BBC used to do it too. Let’s have a look at what these numerals mean, and how to read them. Unlike our Arabic numerals the value of a numeral doesn’t depend on where it is in a number. If we write 511 we know it’s 5 hundreds, 1 ten, and 1.

The Roman numerals for 5 and one are V and I. Write VII, (a 5, a 1, and a 1) a Roman will read it as 7, they’d be right.

They had no numeral for zero, so where we might note down 500 for our 5 hundreds, no tens, and no units, they couldn’t. Instead, they’d write 500 as C. This example is simpler to write, but often their system of numbers was far more difficult to use.

First let’s see what their numerals mean.


































But there’s a problem. Not every number we use has a Roman equivalent, so to write those numbers Roman numerals have to be combined. To make 6, a Roman would write VI; 6 + 1.

But to write 4, they would usually write IV; to put the I before the V means to subtract it, not add it.

Here are a few examples.

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Water Mistake

Thornborough Medieval bridgeThornborough bridge from the downstream side. The bridge is not quite eleven feet wide and there are plenty of scrape marks on the parapets, from the days the bridge was on the main road. The bridge was bypassed in 1974.
This is where the Roman ford isn’t. The ford is quite a few yards downstream, on the right and way out of shot.

I confidently took the photo above, thinking this was the site of the Roman ford, right next to Thornborough’s 14th Century Medieval bridge.

The shallow slope on each bank looked like a ford, the brook is shallow and wide, I was on the correct side of the bridge; what could possibly go wrong? I made assumptions and didn’t check first, that’s what; the ford is actually a bit further downstream.

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Armchair Exploration 1

Horn Street  WinslowSheep Street, Winslow.

Part 1
Armchair exploration? No, I don’t mean putting your arm down the gap at the side of the chair and finding a fluff covered peanut, a biro that doesn’t work, and a bit of that mouse the cat brought in last year.

What I mean is, we can explore North Bucks without leaving our front rooms. The county is full of things to go and see, but until we can do that freely again we can explore it in other ways, and not just online.

I’ll show you how to look back in time, explore tiny back lanes and rural villages, and even find Roman roads. There are many more than you might expect, and I was very surprised to find that one minor Roman road goes through my back garden!

There’s lots to see, but don’t forget to take notes of what you’ve found; one day it will be okay to go and see things for yourself again.

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The Year in Pictures

Here we are in 2020, a new year but not a new decade, no matter what they tell you! Today we are having a look at some of the highlights from the last twelve months, and a few photos from the archives.

The HighlightsWeeding on the allotmentNew Year’s day last year was a fine day for a motorcycle ride. Though not too warm, it was dry and sunny. I rode up to the classic vehicle show at Stony Stratford, and when it finished just before lunch time I took to the back roads and ended up in Olney.

On the way I stopped at Stoke Goldington when I saw this fellow working on his allotment. I think he was starting the year as he meant to go on...

Detail  Earthly Messenger statue 03The only statue of David Bowie in the whole world is in Aylesbury, and it was a year old in March. There were strong links between Bowie and Aylesbury’s Friars music venue, and when David Bowie passed away in January 2016 there was a memorial event that drew over 3,000 people. A petition to create a Bowie statue was started that day…

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The Two thousand Year Old River Crossing

Side arch  Thornborough BridgeThe four side arches are fairly plain. The Roman ford lay beyond the bridge, on the North side.

Medieval Thornborough Bridge is the oldest bridge in the county, but this East to West river crossing is at least 1,200 years older; it dates back to Roman times.

Three Roman roads met and crossed each other here, and by the North side of this six arch medieval bridge over Padbury Brook was a Roman ford, made from limestone blocks held in place with wooden stakes. These were found during excavations in the 1970s.

Also found were three oak pilings on the East bank, and the ends of a road over thirty feet wide on both river banks.

Ribbed arch  Thornborough BridgeTwo of the arches are more ornate, with four chamfered ribs.

One of these roads came North from Akeman Street (the A41) at Fleet Marston near Aylesbury. Part of it is still used as a road, and it was once part of the old turnpike route to Buckingham. After the river crossing it went through modern Akeley and beyond.

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