Brexit ‘like the War of the Roses’

Britain’s history proves that the nation will pull together after Brexit just like it did after The War of the Roses, author John Higgs believes after researching his new book, Watling Street: Travels Through Britain and Its Ever-Present Past.

John, who will be speaking at Buxton International Festival’s Book Weekend on November 24, takes a short-cut through Britain’s past by looking at the history of Watling Street, which links Dover and Holyhead along a route so old that it might have been started by migrating animals.

Murder in the Cathedral, Oliver Cromwell, Dick Turpin, and James Bond turn up along the way in the story of how Watling Street’s often bloody but always fascinating story has shaped the world in which we live now.

One lesson from history which John found reassuring when he wrote the book in the wake of the 2016 EU referendum was how the Tudor Rose helped heal the wounds of a murderous civil war by combining the red and the white of the two sides in a symbol of unity still used today.

“Our sense of history helps us to make sense of where we are now,” he said. “2016 was a good example of that, when our sense of ourselves wasn’t quite up to the job, when there was all that anger and division,” he said.

“I feel much more positive about coming from this island now. We will get over this division. We always have.”

The 370 miles of Watling Street, now bits of today’s A5 and A2, touch on places which define the country’s history and change your perception of it. Dick Turpin used it as a highway for robbery, James Bond was named 007 after the bus which ran along it, Oliver Cromwell defeated the king beside it and Thomas Becket was murdered in his cathedral on it.


The Book Weekend, which runs from November 24 to 26, includes talks by the BBC’s Jeremy Vine, Time Team’s Tony Robinson and The Archers Timothy Bentinck. For more details and to book tickets, go to


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