Signs – as in metal plates on posts pointing us to places – are relatively new; a motoring age concept. Maps are barely much older, given the cost of early map documents. So, pre 19th century we would have passed on our own way of finding information by word of mouth, and maybe scratched out a hand-drawn simple pencilled map on a scrap of paper or piece of waste material.
Stand at the junction of Hatfield Road and Beechwood Avenue. There are also two other roads at this junction: Beaumont Avenue and Ashley Road. It is a busy intersection where the traffic is managed by twin roundabouts and a minor left-turn-only restriction. Turn the clock back two centuries or more and the same location would have been very different. Hatfield Road was there, as the link between Bishop's Hatfield and St Albans; arriving in the town centre we would find ourselves adjacent to St Peter's Church.
Intersecting with Hatfield Road was a trackway, at this point part of Beaumonts Farm but part of a much longer and probably ancient cross-country route linking a number of manors. Today the track is Beaumont Avenue and Ashley Road.
|York Road, facing west|
If, in 1700, you were standing at that intersection between Hatfield Road and the ancient track (now Beaumont Avenue), and you had a cart or carriage, your obvious route to St Albans would have been Hatfield Road, although, of course, it was nothing like the road we use today. On the other hand, if you were walking, you could still have travelled along the same route. So, why would you use the path across the fields to reach the same destination? It wasn't actually a short cut, and there were no cottages that we know of en-route. It seemed only to be a path which linked fields.
We love mysteries, and this particular one is to query the function of the original path across the fields. Will we ever discover a conclusive answer? Probably not, but who knows? Someone may have a plausible suggestion. Over to you.