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The Great North Road


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Those great highways, the Holyhead Road, the Manchester and Glasgow Road and the Great North Road, arc all measured from where the General Post Office stands in St. Martin's-le-Grand. But in these days the old ways out of London are somewhat qualified by the incidence of London's vast growth, and most road-users prefer to set forth along less congested ways than those which take them through the City and its immediate outlets. Thus it is that the motorist of the present time who wishes to travel the Great North Road regards the Marble Arch, in the West End of London, as a more suitable starting-point. From thence he would go along the Edgware Road to the Welsh Harp, past Brondesbury, and thence by Hendon, Church End, Finchley, and North End, Finchley, to the Tallyho Corner junction with the road, nine and a half miles from Marble Arch, and then, coming through Whetstone, up to Barnet. The steep way up into that town is by an embankment which marks an old road-improvement of 1825.

Although, in general, it was Telford who engineered the improvements along this line of roads, here the work was that of Macadam. Telford's plan at this point, for the purpose of easing the rise to Barnet, was to make a road-cutting at the hill-top, in the town of Barnet itself. In those days the road went steeply up into the town a little farther west than at present. p: We may easily trace the route of it. At the foot of the hill, under the railway bridge, a road is seen in the hollow to the left, with the Old Red Lion inn and a row of old cottages. That is the old road. Telford's plan did not commend itself to the authorities, and that of Macadam, of making an embankment on the approach to the town, was adopted. The cost of this improvement was only 17,000.

Up in Barnet the Great North Road goes straight ahead and emerges upon Hadley Common, at whose farther end stands an obelisk erected in 1741 by Sir Jeremy Sambrooke in memory of the Battle of Barnet, fought in 1470. Thence past Ganwick Corner, where the old Duke of York inn stands, with a bust of that not very glorious military commander looking forth from the first-floor level, on to Potters Bar By Bell Bar we come into Hatfield. Opposite the railway station is a seated bronze statue of that Marquis of Salisbury who was one of the leading statesmen of the Victorian era. It is situated by the entrance to Hatfield House, the seat of the Cecils, Marquises of Salisbury.

By Stanborough and Digswell Hill We come down into Welwyn, and bear right, past the Wellington inn and the church, and so on to Woolmer Green and Broadwater. Midway between these two, on the left, is Knebworth, the park and mansion of the Earl of Lytton, whose Victorian ancestor, the first Earl - the Bulwer-Lytton of a number of romantic novels - built here a residence equally romantic.

We are now well on our journey of 393 miles from London to Edinburgh. The road is clear and unmistakable: and if not precisely picturesque, it is rural; while the very name, the "Great North Road," is impressive. It seems to breathe romance: and romantic doings form a part of its story. Sir Walter Scott, however, although himself author of so many essentially romantic novels, oddly enough, saw nothing of the sort in the Great North Road He said it was "the dullest road in the world, though the most convenient." The truth of it is that, obliged as he was to travel it so often, the edge of his appreciation became blunted. A novelist much later than he, and one of not less romantic bent, found this great highway inspiring enough to plan a novel about it. Robert Louis Stevenson planned a romance to be called "The Great North Road," but he, unhappily, did not live to complete it.

As we approach Stevenage there will be noticed along the right-hand side of the road six grassy mounds, well known as the "Six Hills." They are thought to be prehistoric tumuli. A weird curiosity is still shown at Stevenage. This is the coffin of an eccentric, one Henry Trigg, who died in 1724, and by his will directed certain payments to be made conditionally on his body being placed in a coffin to rest in the rafters of his stable. His wishes duly were observed, and the coffin is to be seen in a stable attached to the Old Castle inn.

Passing Graveley, we come to Letchworth, the "First Garden City," close upon the left. On we go through Baldock to Biggleswade, amid the level Bedfordshire fields and potatoes and cabbages. This is a great region for that kind of agricultural product. Passing a number of hamlets we come, in fifty-five miles from London, to Eaton Socon. This is the pla.ce which Dickens meant, in his " Nicholas Nickleby," by "Eton Slocomb," where Squeers, taking his pupils down to Dotheboys Hall, breaks his coach journey. The old White Horse coaching inn remains, but its rival, the Cock, thought to be the one referred to by Dickens, has retired from business.

We come now into Huntingdonshire, on the way to Buckden. This old village wears an aristocratic air, largely by reason of the stately remains of the old palace of the Bishops of Lincoln. Here are two very large old coaching inns, facing one another, the George and the Lion. Buckden once was great in the coaching way. On the road between this and Brampton cross-roads we pass an insignificant bridge, well known locally as "Matcham's Bridge." This was the scene in 1780 of the murder of a drummer-boy by a soldier, one Gervase or Jarvis Matcham. Matcham ran away to sea. His confession, six years later, forms the subject of Barham's "Ingoldsby Legend" of the "Dead Drummer." Matcham was hanged August 2, 1786, his body being afterwards gibbeted on Alconbury Hill.

At Brampton cross-roads is the Sun inn. To the right is Brampton village, where the house still stands that was the home of Samuel Pepys' father. Here it was that the famous diarist hid his gold in the garden, when it was feared the Dutch would invade this country. Rising Alconbury Hill, the road comes to a junction with the Old North Road from Huntingdon. In a further seven and a half miles we are at Stilton, long a village of coaching inns. Here is the old Bell, with a wonderfully elaborate wrought-iron sign. It was from this house that "Stilton" cheese first became known, the landlord, Cooper Thornhill, placing it upon the table for his guests, the passengers by coach. It was never made at Stilton, but at Wymondham, in Leicestershire, by a Mrs. Paulet. At Norman Cross, beyond Stilton, is the once exclusive Norman Cross inn. The road on the right leads to Peterborough. Here were the great Yaxley or Norman Cross barracks, for prisoners of war taken in the Great Napoleonic conflicts. On the left-hand side of the road we see the memorial pillar, crested by the French eagle, erected to those prisoners who died here. It was unveiled at the close of July 1914.

After Water Newton and Sibson, we come to Stibbington. The handsome old mansion on the> right was once a celebrated inn, the Haycock, so named.in allusion to the legend of "Drunken Barnaby" who, sleeping on a haycock, was taken down by the River Nen, which was in flood, to Wansford Bridge. This we now cross to Wansford, on the way to Stamford. Approaching that town, the mansion of Burghley is seen, seat of the Marquis of Exeter. This historic Burghley House was begun by the great Elizabethan statesman, Cecil, created Lord Burghley. It is the "Burleigh House by Stamford town" of Tennyson's poem, "The Lord of Burleigh," in which, with some poetic licence, is told the story, which is a true one, of that Henry Cecil who, masquerading as "Mr. Jones" at Great Bolas in Shropshire, sought as a stranger the hospitality of a farmer, and eventually married the farmer's daughter, Sarah Hoggins. Shortly after he succeeded unexpectedly to be tenth Earl of Exeter, and took his wife to Burghley and told her how she was now Countess of Exeter. She died young, but not as Tennyson suggests, of the burden "of an honour unto which she was not born." Unexpected accessions to the peerage never have fatal results.

In S. Martin's church is the stately tomb of the great Cecil, first Lord Burghley. The George, Stamford, is one of the historic inns of England. The town itself, wholly stone-built, is of great architectural beauty and stateliness. S. Mary's church has a lofty and noble spire.

On the way to Grantham we pass Colsterworth. Near by, at Woolsthorpe, is the house where Sir Isaac Newton was born, in 1642. Four miles on we come to Great Ponton, reaUy a tiny village, with a great church beside the road. One of the pinnacles of its tower has a vane in the shape of a fiddle. The legend that it was placed there in accordance with the wish of an itinerant fiddler who was given hospitality, and so left money to the parish, is untrue. Down Spitalgate Hill we enter Grantham, whose chief interest lies in that picturesque old inn the Angel, originally a hostel of the Knights Templar, but rebuilt in the fourteenth century. In the room over the archway Richard the Third signed the death warrant of the Duke of Buckingham. S. Wulfram's church has a beautiful crocketed spire rising to 280 feet. A great rivalry for appreciation rages between this and the spire of Newark church. Gonerby Hill, on the way to Newark, referred to by Sir Walter Scott in his "Heart of Midlothian," in which Jeanie Deans' journey to London is told. The Saracen's Head at Newark is the inn where she stayed. Newark Castle ruins stand beside the road on leaving that town. Here it was that the evil King John died, in 1216. That ancient road, the Fosse Way, here runs right and left. Crossing the Trent, and past North and South Muskham, Cromwell, Carlton-on-Trent and Tuxford, followed by Markham Moor and Gamston, we enter Retford town. Here is the old White Hart, another coaching inn. Beyond the town, on Barnby Moor, is a yet more famous inn, the Bell. This old house was closed when railways ruined its trade, and was for over sixty years a farmhouse. In 1901, in this new motoring age, it was reopened, and is a half-way house between London and Scotland.

The little decayed town of Bawtry is now reached. On the right is Scrooby, with some remains of a palace of the Archbishops of York, and the Manor Farm, closely associated with the Pilgrim Fathers. Crossing the Yorkshire border we come, in nine miles, to Doncaster, past the racecourse where the St. Leger is annually run. Doncaster is equally renowned for its races and its butterscotch. Beyond the town there is a choice of ways; to the left by Ferrybridge and Wetherby for Northallerton, avoiding York, sixty-three miles; to the right, through York to Northallerton, the same distance. The first-named route is the more picturesque, but the way through York is the true Great North Road. It is, however, of an unrelieved flatness. The places on the way to York are Bentley, Askern, Whitley, Brayton, Selby town, with its fine Abbey church and a toll-bridge across the Ouse; Barlby, Riccall and Gate Fulford.

The grand old city of York has a majestic appearance and a metropolitan air. It has long since outspread its original bounds, but the ancient fortified city walls and gateways remain, more completely than elsewhere in England. York is Roman in origin, and the Emperor Constantine the Great was born there. A complete circuit of the ancient walls may be made on foot. The impressive towered gateways of Micklegate, Walmgate and Bootham Bar are grand examples of medieval military architecture. In midst of the ancient city is the Cathedral, of great dignity. Its length is 524 ft. 6 in. Exceptionally for England, it is situated in a paved close.

We leave York by Bootham Bar, and so proceed by the suburbs of Clifton, through Rawcliff, Skelton, Shipton and Easingwold, to Thormanby, Birdforth and the old-fashioned town of Thirsk, which lies chiefly off to the left. Thence by Thornton-le-Street to Northallerton, a long, long village-like town whose place in history is associated with the Battle of Northallerton, in 1138. This, however, took place on Cowtan Moor, three miles away.

By Lovesome Hill, Little Smeaton and High Enter-common, we come to the crossing of the Tees at Croft, and enter the county of Durham. In a further four miles the modernised town of Darlington is entered. Beyond it are Coatham Mundeville and Aycliffe. The last-named is a village on a height overlooking a vale busy in coal-mining and quarrying. In six miles we are at Ferryhill. Here, in the last years of the coaching era, a company was formed to make an embanked road across the succeeding deep valley to ease the difficulties of the gradient. It was proposed to charge tolls for the use of this road. But before the works could be completed railways came and abolished road travel. So the incomplete works remained for some eighty years. Then work was resumed, and the road was finished and opened in 1923.

To this scene follows a very charming interlude in the deep hollow of Croxdale, where the river Wear rushes over a rocky bed. Crossing another stream at Browney Bridge, the road rises to Elvet Bridge, where the Wear is again crossed, and enters Durham. The city is almost made an island by the Wear. It is a place of curiously dual interests: industrial with its coal-mining in one direction, and in another aloofly ecclesiastical and historic. As the road descends again and leaves the city, crossing the Wear once more by Framwellgate Bridge, the grandly picturesque grouping of Cathedral and Bishop's castle and palace makes a picture not easily forgotten. The stern Norman Cathedral, "Half House of God, Half Castle 'gainst the Scot," stands high on its rocky bluff overlooking the river. The lovely Norman "Galilee" is famous, and most travellers make a point of seeing the grotesque Sanctuary Knocker on the door of the north porch.

From Durham the road in all the fifteen miles to Newcastle-on-Tyne traverses the Durham coalfield. We pass the colliery village, oddly named, of Pity Me, and Plawsworth, Chester-le-Street and Low Fell. To the right is the hill of Penshaw with its monument, in the form of a Greek temple, to the first Earl of Durham. Gateshead, the approach to Newcastle-on-Tyne, leads on to Stephenson's High Level Bridge, which carries alike the railway and the road, high above the Tyne.

An alternative way is to descend to the Swing Bridge, and thence, from the opposite bank of the river, to rise steeply by Sandhill and The Side to the main street of the city. For Newcastle is now a city and the beautiful old church of St. Nicholas has become a Cathedral. The corona that completes the lofty tower of St. Nicholas is exceptionally fine work, and of the same kind as those of St. Dunstan-in-the East, London, and Faversham church and St. Giles's Cathedral, Edinburgh. The Black Gate of the old castle of Newcastle is close by St. Nicholas.

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Pictures for The Great North Road

ON THE GREAT NORTH ROAD: BOOTHAM BAR, ONE OF THE CITY GATES IN YORK'S ANCIENT WALLS
ON THE GREAT NORTH ROAD: BOOTHAM BAR, ONE OF THE CITY GATES IN YORK'S ANCIENT WALLS >>>>
HADLEY HIGH STONE
HADLEY HIGH STONE >>>>
THE BEACON OF MONKEN HADLEY
THE BEACON OF MONKEN HADLEY >>>>
GATEWAYS TO THE HERTFORDSHIRE HOMES OF TWO HONOURED ENGLISH FAMILIES
GATEWAYS TO THE HERTFORDSHIRE HOMES OF TWO HONOURED ENGLISH FAMILIES >>>>
'THE BIGGIN' AT HITCHIN, AND THE BISHOP'S PALACE, BUCKDEN
'THE BIGGIN' AT HITCHIN, AND THE BISHOP'S PALACE, BUCKDEN >>>>
HUNTINGDON'S OLD CHURCH AND THE NORTH ROAD CROSSING THE RIVER NENE
HUNTINGDON'S OLD CHURCH AND THE NORTH ROAD CROSSING THE RIVER NENE >>>>
NEWARK'S ANCIENT MARKET CROSS
NEWARK'S ANCIENT MARKET CROSS >>>>
MEMORIES OF SAMUEL PEPYS IN HIS FATHER'S HOUSE
MEMORIES OF SAMUEL PEPYS IN HIS FATHER'S HOUSE >>>>
THE INN THAT FIRST 'BOOMED' STILTON CHEESE AND THE ROAD THROUGH STAMFORD
THE INN THAT FIRST 'BOOMED' STILTON CHEESE AND THE ROAD THROUGH STAMFORD >>>>
WAYSIDE REMINDERS OF OTHER DAYS: NORTHALLERTON, DURHAM AND CROFT SPA
WAYSIDE REMINDERS OF OTHER DAYS: NORTHALLERTON, DURHAM AND CROFT SPA >>>>
NEARING THE BORDER ON THE GREAT NORTH ROAD: NEWCASTLE AND BERWICK
NEARING THE BORDER ON THE GREAT NORTH ROAD: NEWCASTLE AND BERWICK >>>>
NEARING THE BORDER ON THE GREAT NORTH ROAD: NEWCASTLE AND BERWICK
NEARING THE BORDER ON THE GREAT NORTH ROAD: NEWCASTLE AND BERWICK >>>>

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