Monday, 29 July 2019

Right of Way

A few followers of St Albans' Own East End may recall reading of an application to St Albans Council around 1900 to divert part of  the footpath between Princes Road (Woodstock Road South) and Brampton Road so that homes could be built in Burnham Road.  This was agreed to since walkers would have a network of paths they could use on the new road network.

A current footpath through what remains of Chandlers
Grove wood
T F Nash, the company which developed Marshalswick Estate, encountered a similar problem, imposing a new road network on an existing network of public footpaths and tracks, which is why gaps between homes have produced St Mary's Walk and an un-named path between Pondfield Crescent and Queen's Crescent, which had previously been part of the edge of Chandlers Grove.  The narrow band of woodland accommodating a right of way footpath is also preserved parallel to Chiltern Road before it forms the boundary between Malvern Close and Sandringham School.

Path between homes from Pondfield Crescent
and Queen's Crescent
So, it is unsurprising that a public right of way issue has arisen once more on the site of Sandringham School.  For the roots of the story we must wind the clock back to the days before the school existed and a network of paths linked the farms and other rural habitations on the substantial Marten estate focusing on the former  Marshals Wick House.  One such path linked St Albans Road, Sandridge at St Helier Road and Jersey Farm; another branched southwards towards the House from Sirdane, a dwelling seemingly in the middle of nowhere but which came to be at the T junction of these two paths.

When the County Council purchased land for the Marshalswick Boys' School it clearly understood the problem as the north-south footpath, which had been allowed for by Nash on the south side of The Ridgeway, becoming St Mary's Walk, intersected the new school site.  The path was therefore diverted west-east along the northern boundary of the school before joining the path mentioned above near Malvern Close.  Walkers could then use The Ridgeway and pick up the  St Mary's Walk path.  

Later, when Sandringham Crescent was driven through, the County acquired more land for the school (only half of the school had been constructed in 1959 due to a restriction of cost availability), it had neglected to adjust the footpath to the new boundary further north.  Hence today's problem as the school plans for new facilities on the north side of its site.

Marshalswick Boys' School when new, fronting The Ridgeway.  The newly-posted fence forms the northern boundary
of the school and the diverted footpath.  Previously the path had followed a route from the house known as Sirdane
(background left) towards The Ridgeway (foreground left).  The future Chiltern Road is the neck of woodland
to the right of the playgrounds.  Sandringham Crescent, also in the future, will cross the light coloured field north
of the original school boundary.  PHOTO COURTESY ANDY LAWRENCE.

But it does pose an interesting question.  What does the current path through the school grounds provide which the alternative – the original west-east extension of Helier Road towards Chiltern Road – does not?  One seems to be a duplication of the other for a few hundred metres.  If you were going to choose which path to follow, surely you would walk the path on the north side of Sandringham Crescent, where there are alternatives within Jersey Farm Woodland Park.  What would be the benefit of using the straight-line path along an educational establishment's boundary – or rather inside it – other than because the law allows us to.  Which is not a very strong argument on its own for so short a distance.

Of course, a precedent had already been set at the site of Samuel Ryder Academy, formerly Francis Bacon School, where extensions to the original boundary enveloped the lower end of Hill End Lane on its way to London Road.  At one time it had been a traffic route, but the lane had been allowed to "re-wild" along its edges and became a footpath, but as this passed inside the boundary of the school a risk was perceived to exist.  The authority therefore stopped up the path and authorised a diversion via Drakes Drive.  Drakes Drive had, after all, been constructed to replace Hill End Lane.

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