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The Great North Road

The ancient road known as Ermine Street running through Ware and Royston was one of two routes leading to the north from the city of London, the other being that which ran through Potters Bar & Hatfield. By the time the name 'The Great North Road' came into use (around 1850 in Hertfordshire) it referred to the road through Potters Bar & Hatfield. The Great North Road was never meant to be a main route for travellers, this was evident by the amount of double corners through it, an example of this would be the former route the road took at the north end of Potters Bar prior to the construction of the direct Hatfield Road which I will explain later.

Turnpike System
Prior to the turnpike system local parishes who were unfortunate enough to have major routes running through them were responsible for their upkeep. This placed a heavy burden on the small hamlets along roads such as The Great North Road, Potters Bar being one of these. At this time roads were nothing more than wide paths, some of the better roads had gravel scattered about to provide a more sturdy surface, however this still required some form of maintenance.

The turnpike system was developed between 1663 and 1702, the system was simply for those using the road to pay for its upkeep. In the early years, the turnpikes trusts were set up to maintain roads which were already in place and proved a popular route amongst travelers. It was not until later on that the trusts started to make changes to the routes and construct new roads. Charges were very rarely imposed on local residents, nor was it applied to those traveling on foot or horseback as the damage caused by these persons were minimal. Gates which were known as Turnpike Gates were located at key points along the turnpike route. The gates were plotted at points which would 'capture' the most of the travelers using that route, the last thing the trust wanted was for travelers to bypass the turnpike by using an alternative local road and rejoining the road further along the route.

High Street, Potters Bar
Great North Road (High St), Potters Bar

The year 1730 marked the time where the Potters Bar stretch of the Great North Road came under the control of a Turnpike Trust. This trust, the 'Galley Corner Trust' was responsible for the Great North Road from Ganwick Corner (Duke o' York) through Potters Bar and up to Lemsford, a village which is located

just north of Welwyn Garden City. The road prior to Ganwick Corner had become a turnpike prior to this date

The Great North Road through Potters Bar remains fairly unchanged from its orgional route up until the north end of the High Street, junction with Cotton Road. Prior to 1804 the Turnpike Route continued north from the Cotton Road junction along The Causeway to the 90 degree right hand bend which would take you off towards Coopers Road. Here travelers would have found a T-Junction. Prior to 1804 Quakers Lane stretched from its current day junction with the Hatfield Road across what is now pasture fields to complete the T-Junction. Travelers would turn left down Quakers Lane to continue on the Turnpike.

A right turn further down Quakers Lane took travelers along a road now non-existent called Colliers Lane, leading to Little Heath and further onto Hatfield. This part of Quakers Lane was cut off and abandoned after the opening of the Hatfield Road in 1804 which is illustrated in the image shown here.

Great North Road 1804
New Turnpike
Old Turnpike
Old Route
New Route

When the turnpike trust was first established the turnpike gate was located at the end of what was then Colliers Lane at the juntion of Hatfield Road (indicated in green on the diagram above). Following the completion of the new Hatfield Road in 1804 the turnpike gate was re-located to the juntion of High Street and Hatfield Road where there are now traffic lights (indicated in red on the diagram above).

Acts of Parliment for the formation of Turnpike Trusts simply gave its start and end point, it did not detail the route between these two points and it would appear this was left to the trust to decide. This fact has caused differing views on the route of the road through the Potters Bar area.

An alternative route?
There was a theory that the turnpike road route went along The Causeway and into Coopers Road towards Northaw, finally turning left and joining the present day route near to the junction of Swanley Bar Lane, this theory is in fact incorrect according to a paper published by the Potters Bar Historical Society, written by A.C Lynch - A paper much of this piece is based on.

If we know the Turnpike took the route described above then why is there a Turnpike Oak at the side of Coopers Road and why according to The Story Of Potters Bar & South Mimms by KR Davies did the turnpike continue along Coopers Road, turning left and joining the present day route at the foot of Little Heath Hill? The answer can be found in the Parliament Act that set up the toll gates across the Turnpike. The Act goes as far to authorise a specific gate to be erected on Coopers Lane, the author of the above fore mentioned book is basing his alternative route on this factor. So the route he describes would have been the obvious route if the Coopers Lane turnpike was thought to be the main turnpike along the Potters Bar stretch.


I highly recommend the paper 'The Turnpike Road to Hatfield'by A.C. Lynch, published by the Potters Bar Historical Society. This paper is an absolute must for anyone interested in the Great North Road.
Click Here for details on where to purchase this and many more publications.