Friday, 8 February 2019

How many miles?

Find a drawing of of Dick Whittington, probably with cat as part of the story, and the picture will probably include a milestone  "How many miles to London?"  Our mind's image of any open road, in the days before motor vehicles, will probably include these stones.  Although they were likely to have been placed along some highways before the days of Turnpike Trusts in the 18th century, when it became a legal requirement to install them, it is the turnpike roads we most associate them with today where they still exist.

Here are three brief references to them on the Turnpike Road, now Hatfield Road, as it passed through Fleetville.  


From Fleetville: four miles to Hatfield, and
later 13 miles to Ware.
You have, no doubt, spotted the mile marker at the corner of the recreation ground at Royal Road.  When it was first manufactured in the 1760s it wasn't planted in this spot; it first measured the fourth mile from Hatfield about a hundred yards further east, roughly where Simmons, the baker is today in Bycullah Terrace.  Even after the shops were built c1900 the marker was tolerated in its rightful place until the 1920s – we're not sure exactly when.  It was then deemed to be "in the way" and languished in a storage depot somewhere until it saw the sunlight once more in a more convenient location.





An extant mile marker on the road to Ware,
manufactured by a different trust.
You may have thought that someone, at some time, defaced the surface of the Fleetville mile marker on the east facing panel.  Since Hatfield was the next town it is probable that this panel had always been blank.  At some time during the lifetime of the Trust it probably took over responsibility for the road onward to Hertford and Ware, and provided helpful mileage information beyond Hatfield.  Painting the details on was much cheaper than casting completely new markers, but whatever paint was used, the handwritten characters have certainly lasted much longer than the metal paint on my garden railings!

Today, it is difficult to imagine the true width of these old roads, and when we boast about the modern width of Hatfield Road it has only been engineered that way in modern times.  So here is an example of an unwidened section, although it is not in the East End of St Albans.  Almost no-one drives along the Old Watford Road today to reach that town; we have a wonderful dualled-carriageway nearby which better serves our needs.


Old Watford Road where a toll gate had been located.
In turnpike days this WAS the Watford road, and on the right in this image, where modern homes have been constructed, had previously been sited a turnpike gate, where travellers paid for the right to use the next section of road as far as Hagden Lane, Watford, or in the other direction, the Peacock PH.  There is no evidence that the road width has been narrowed since the 1880s when the Old Watford Road became a public highway.

To hear more facts, urban myths and – as Dr Lucy Worsley likes to playfully suggest – "fibs",  Fleetville Diaries has an illustrated presentation about the Reading & Hatfield Turnpike Trust on Wednesday 27th February at Fleetville Community Centre; coincidentally one hundred metres from the Fleetville mile
marker!  Further details on the Welcome page of www.stalbansowneastend.org.uk


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