A LOOK AT THE STREET AND PLACE NAMES OF HEMEL HEMPSTEAD
AND THEIR DERIVATIONS
I think it only right to begin by paying homage to the people without whose foresight and skills, I would probably not be here tonight to speak to you. I refer of course of the Romans, the people who were responsible for the first ‘proper’ roads, which came to replace so many of the pathways and tracks used by so many of our ancestors.
It has been estimated that it took 3 – 4 days to make one mile of road. A quite remarkable feat, especially when you consider that 30 yards breadth had to be cleared, even through woodland. Embankments had to be provided along both sides of the road, each with accompanying ditches.
The road itself consisted of large stones, covered with smaller stones, flint and gravel, which had then to be ‘worked’ to provide a suitable camber which allowed for proper drainage, something I think we could have learned a little more about today !
Of course, the Hemel Hempstead area is rich in Roman remains, with successful excavations at Box Chapel in Boxmoor (1837), Hemel Hempstead Railway Station forecourt (1967), and of course Gadebridge Park twice, once in 1963, and latterly the highly successful dig by David Neale’s team. These excavations all showed signs of Roman villa’s, which of course meant that there must be local Roman Roads.
One of these roads runs from St. Albans (or Verulamium to give it’s Roman name), through to important crossroads at Nash Mills. It ran past the edge of Blackwater Wood, crossing the Leverstock Green to Bedmond Road between Well Farm, and Highwoodhall Farm. We can then follow it down towards Nash Mills, around 400 yards south of Bunkers Lane on a, slightly merging, course with the southern edge of the Long Dean Plantation, along to the North side of Abbotts Hill School to a point between the Lodge and the Bunkers Lane / Belswains Lane junction.
Here the road continues across the Gade Valley. Although the route is unclear, it re-emerges at the bottom of the Shendish House driveway, some 27 yards towards Kings Langley, and then joins the current driveway for around 300 yards, before going straight across the Shendish House gardens, and on to the south side of Phaesels Wood.
It had been traced as far away as Flaunden, and this gives rise to the possibility that it could easily have gone on through Amersham and High Wycombe, and on to the Thames.
There are other known roads, for instance Leverstock Green Road itself is on the line of a Roman road that ran from Elstree to Eaton Bray, running locally through Leverstock Green, High Street Green and St. Agnells Lane.
Another example runs from that same Bunkers Lane / Belswains Lane junction, this time along the residential boundaries on the east side of Belswains Lane to, roughly, the area of the Magic Roundabout, then on through Boxmoor and Chaulden Lane crossing the Gade at Pix Farm, and continuing on through Berkhamsted High Street, and on towards Tring.
Naturally, there are connections to our road names that derive from these times, for instance Cold Harbour, which along with it’s variants Cold Arbour, Windy Arbour and Caldecott were a sure sign of Roman occupation, and would always be found in the vicinity of Roman roads.
As you can see the Romans were very much the forefathers of our road systems today, which brings me quite neatly back to the main theme of my talk.
(Above illustration courtesy of Clip ARt Heaven http://www.clipartheaven.com/)
(Above illustration courtesy of Clip ARt Heaven http://www.clipartheaven.com/)
The power to name roads was given to District Councils and Commissioners in 1847 under the Towns Improvement Act, and the duty to do so was imposed on Urban Councils under the Urban Powers Act of 1948.
Why our roads and streets have to be named at all is something of a mystery. Certainly the ever increasing population and the need to pinpoint dwellings for the purposes of census, and possibly the introduction of the Penny Post in 1840 may all have had made some contribution to the introduction of the concept.
So, having been given the power to name our roads, the next step was to decide just exactly what we could or should call them, and here begins the quest to discover just where the names of Hemel Hempstead’s many roads, streets, area’s and buildings came from. The project was initiated by Mike Stanyon some time ago now, when he made the comment that it would be nice to trace the origins of the road names of the Town.
Work has continued to this day, and we are still collaborating with our contacts within the Council to finish the investigations into the existing roads. I am delighted to say that the Council has requested that the project be looked at as ‘ongoing’, as they have been so impressed with all the work done to date, and after all, the faster we trace the origin of a handful of roads, then so they go and build more, hence this little poem penned by my Wife, Margaret :
It’s Never Ending –
There’s loads of roads, heaps of streets,
And memorials by the score,
And just when we think we are getting there,
They go and build some more.
We have all travel around by means of the roadways of the town. To attend a history meeting, I myself leave my home in Winifred Road, travel down Storey Street, onto London Road, right into Two Waters Way, onto Two Waters Road, around the Magic Roundabout, into Leighton Buzzard Road, right into Coombe Street, then left onto Marlowes before turning into the car park outside the Methodist Church.
BUT, who was Winifred?, what is the story with Storey?, what or who were Coombe and Marlowes? – We shall find out later.
Now we can begin to take a look into the origins of the road names themselves, and we have to go back as far as the early 16th century. At this time there existed ‘’open’’ or ‘’common’’ fields which were smallish, cultivated area’s of land which all had names, some of which we still see around the Town today, such as Berefield, Typleden, Layhill, Boxhill, Rowley Walk, Sharpcroft, Wheatfield, Ritcroft (sometimes called Pitcroft), Robinsfield, Homefield, Longfield, Chaulden (derived from Chalden), Smithfield (derived from Smythfield), Holtsmere End, Broadfield, Thriftfield, Hillfield, Peascroft, Crouchfield, Broadcroft and White Hill.
Many of those names are still very much in existence some two hundred years later, within the field names contained in the Tithings of 1840-1844, from where so many of our road and street names derive, and it is at this point that I want to quote from an article written by William Crook J.P. former Mayor of Hemel Hempstead, and Chairman of this Society, who referred to the contribution of the Tithe Maps to road naming as:
‘’Serving to cement the new with the old, and integrating the good earth with the good home’’
An appropriate sentiment !. Indeed, Mr. Crook’s keen interest and immense knowledge of Local History led to his being requested to put forward suggestions for names for the roads of the new town, many of which still remain today.
Amazingly, almost two hundred roads have been named from the tithe records. These have been in direct form, such as with Ross Gate, Stoney Croft, Wood Farm, Turners Hill Spring, Winding Shot or any one of many, many more.
We should always remember though, that the translation may not always be quite so obvious, for instance Quendell Walk in Adeyfield, actually gets it’s name from the field name ‘Queens Dell’, so you can see we have to be a little careful at times.
To digress a little, the tithe maps and the tithing itself, form a fascinating insight in how things were run in the mid nineteenth century, and would, no doubt, make a very interesting talk in itself. We could see names taken from the actual shape of the fields, such as Hammerfield, and Three Corners. Furthermore the constituent parts of the name also lead to the name, for instance ‘’Yott’’ was a gate or entrance, so we know that Lower Yott in Adeyfield, would have been sited at the lower end of the field where the entrance to it would have been. Another good guide was the use of the word ‘croft’ which literally meant a piece of land for tillage or pasture, usually arable, NEAR A HOUSE, which again could aid location, and naturally farm names also played some part in the naming of the roads, such as Wood Farm Road, etc.
Moving swiftly along we now come to the singular, most commonly used, and probably the largest source of road naming used by Councils the length and breadth of the country and that is Themes and / or groups.
Here, as we have seen for example on the various sites in Apsley, is a means of establishing new developments, and not having to spend an eternity pondering over what road and building names to apply. The history of these sites, ably presented by our President Peter Ward, provided a wealth of possibilities. Now we see names such as Dickinson, Evans, Fourdrinier, Donkin and Longman remembered as they should be, supported by other ‘’mill’’ terminologies, in such names as Millwrights Walk, Mulready Walk, Crown Walk, Imperial Way and of course Stationers Place.
In Boxmoor we see the ‘meads’ of Bayley, Castle and Haybourn, which were heavily involved in the disputes of 1499, which surrounded the pasture rights in Boxmoor. It was some years later when Boxmoor itself was purchased for the princely sum of £75.00, as a ‘secret trust’, by John Rolfe, William Gladman, both yeomen, and Richard Pope, then Landlord of The Cock Inn in the High Street.
The deed document read ‘One meadow called or known by the name of Castlemead, and appurtencies, otherwise Haywarde Mead, otherwise Bayley Meade, otherwise Haybournes’. This was, of course, the beginning of what we know today as The Boxmoor Trust.
Interestingly two further names were added in a later deed of 1594, ‘The Common Mead’ or ‘The Two Waters Moor’.
Elsewhere in Hemel themes and groups are of course rife, in the Old High Street area for instance we find the names of some of those old cultivated area’s mentioned earlier, such as Berefield, Sharpcroft, Wheatfield and several others.
Adeyfield remembers the Conquest of Everest, Second World War Commanders, and in Vauxhall Road and Ranelagh Road, the two London parks, where Brocks Fireworks held their firework displays, no doubt using fireworks made by the residents of the specially built roads themselves.
Over in Gadebridge we find connections with ‘Poetry’ and ‘Plant life’, in Chaulden there are yet more ‘plants’, and a selection of ‘flowers’ as well! And in nearby Fields End there is an appropriate selection of ‘field and meadow’ connections.
In Highfield, of course, we find the Heavens and Mythology, together with ‘the Dales’ and ‘Hill Ranges’, and across in Corner Hall there is a goodly number of ‘former Mayors and Alderman’ accompanied by ‘wood types’ and ‘British Castles’.
Leverstock Green gives us ‘British Islands’, ‘The Lake District’, and even a flock of ‘birds’.
Finally to Grovehill, where we find ‘Scottish Lochs’ so named because the then Local Council Architect spent his holidays there and had such a good time ! there are also ‘Cornwall Connections’, more ‘Scottish Connections’, Connections to ‘Robin Hood’, other ‘New Towns’, ‘British Rivers’, more ‘British Castles’, ‘Hertfordshire Villages’ ‘Literary Connections’ and all six of the ‘Wives of Henry the VIII’ are alive and kicking as well!. It is interesting though to note that Catharine Howard and Jane Seymour are represented here by Christian name only, as the names of Howard and Seymour are used elsewhere in the town in very different contexts.
Of course the environment also provides us with names, for instance millions of years ago, this whole area was covered by the sea, which when it receded left the gravelly residues of the beaches, and these gravel connections of the town are remembered in Boxmoor to this day. Another part of our heritage is the Brick Building industry of the area, which are remembered so well in Leverstock Green and Bennetts End.
Other roads are named purely from ‘brain storming’ sessions within the Council, Autumn Glades is just one example.
The local Council of course, are generally associated with having no sense of humour. However, we can see from certain road names that they have, after all who else would name roads after Laurel and Hardy, or put Nightingale walk in the middle of Berkeley Square?, and, on a far more serious note, where else are there roads named after a murder victim.
I refer to Quartermass Road, which was named after one Katharine Mabel Quartermass of Bodds End, on which site the road is built. She left Her home on the 16th July, 1896 to go to Boxted Farm to collect the milk for the day, and never returned. Her body was found by one William Ginger, who was later arrested for the crime, but released due to lack of evidence. Katharine had been just twelve years old.
Interestingly, the Inquest was presided over by one Walter Grover, Son of Charles Ehret Grover, Solicitor, and it was after the Grover Family that Grover Close was named.
Current events have always been a driving force in road naming, and Hemel is no slouch in that area, with the Conquest of Everest, as we heard earlier, also The Investiture of the Prince of Wales commemorated in Caernarvon Close, the advent of supersonic speed remembered in Concorde Drive, the moon landing remembered in Armstrong Place, and the 350th Anniversary of the Pilgrim Fathers voyage remembered in Mayflower Avenue.
Naturally local families also contribute readily, and such names as Catlin, Coombe, Deacon, Ellingham, Waterhouse, Collet and Varney are all well known. Also famous and local personalities are also remembered, such as Sir Astley Paston Cooper and Nicholas Breakspeare, the only English Pope.
However, let us not get too carried away thinking that our Council run away with idea after idea from current affairs, indeed suggestions are frequently rejected such as Maastricht Way, thought a little too politically sensitive, Jubilee Drive was thought to be too down market, and can anyone tell me the only planet not to get a mention in Highfield?
Yes Venus, thought to be too good a target for the towns graffiti experts !
Apart from the aforementioned group of Mayors and alderman in Corner Hall, there are many others remembered all over the town, such names as William Crook, Frederick Stratford, Alfred Selden, Arthur Mayo, Olive Taylor, Phylis Courtenage, William Randall, Lovel Smeathman, Maurice Alston and Henry Fletcher all readily come to mind.
Also of course, up there in the Holiday Inn lurks the room named after our very own Secretary John Buteux.
Many of you who know me well will be able to testify that I have what some might call an unhealthy interest in the licenced premises of the town, but here again is a great source for road names. The Anchor Brewery and Inn in Boxmoor is recalled in Anchor Lane, The Brickmakers Arms stood at the end of Brickmakers Lane, before the dual carriageway separated the two of them. It is unthinkable that the Crabtree Public House actually stood on Crabtree Lane, but before the greater part of the road was built over or redeveloped, that is exactly what it did. Furthermore, how many know that the genus of the Crabtree is called a ‘Malus’, hence Malus Close alongside the pub today.
The Masons Arms, is remembered in Masons Road, where the Pub once stood, at the junction with Arundel Close. The Fishery Inn reminds us of Fishery Road, The Saracens Head reminds us of course of Saracens Head where it once stood, The Sun Inn in the High Street gives us Sun Square, as The Half Moon also gives us Half Moon Yard.
The Sebright Arms that once graced the Cheapside area of Marlowes, reminded us of Sir John Sebright who provided £13,000.00, of his own money, for the provision of a hospital in the Town, which today we know as Cheere House, The Red Lion at Nash Mills gives us Red Lion Lane, provided you enter it at the right end!, The White Lion in Apsley gives us White Lion Street, and the Midland Public House, reminds us of Midland Road. Finally, the most up to date example is that of Princes Place, named after the old Princes Arms, which of course today has just gone from being The Hooden in a Box, to being The Indian Hut.
While I am personally delighted to see such names as Dickinson, Evans, Fourdrinier etc now remembered, I wonder how long we shall have to wait before other names, such as Cranstone and Crook are once again remembered more permanently on the name plates of our town.
Perhaps some of the older road names, no longer in use, could make a comeback. They had such nice names, such as Rabbit Hutch Row in Boxmoor, Chimney Pot Lane (former name of St. Johns Road), Do Little Meadow, Elephant Farm (which gave rise to Ivory Court), Grassy Bottom (only Grassy Close remains today which was part of Grassy Bottom), Llanaba Road (for the welsh among us. This was a candidate for the shortest road of the Borough, being the tiny piece of Road between Winifred Road and Storey Street in Apsley), Moses Amos Bottom (the dip at the end of Belswains Lane), Nanny Goats Lane (former name of Fernville Lane), Noahs Ark (A Piece of land near Chaulden), and who knows, perhaps even Cut Off Head Lane (former name of Lockers Lane).
To quote, yet again, from William Crook we have yet to have recourse to Snook’s Avenue!
Before finishing I should return to the questions raised by my own journey earlier, well Winifred was Winifred Gold, daughter of Thomas Gold who built the houses in Winifred Road, Storey Street is named after James Hamilton Storey of London, a very wealthy local landowner, London Road, was of course purely the Road to and from London, although it had many other important facets to it, such as it’s Sparrows Hearn Turnpike connections, Two Waters is of course sited at the convergence of the rivers Bulbourne and Gade, Moor End Roundabout, to use just one if it’s names, was roughly on the site of Moor End Meadow, Leighton Buzzard Road, is again purely the road to and from Leighton Buzzard, Coombe Street remembers the well known local Coombe Family, and Marlowes was another field name.
If anyone would like to know more about their own road or street name, please feel free to contact me via the Hemel Hempstead Local History & Museum Society website on www.hemelhistory.bravehost.com
Thank you for taking the time to read my article, and do have a safe journey home around all this history, or to put it another way – Watch Them Roads!
HEMEL HEMPSTEAD LOCAL HISTORY & MUSEUM SOCIETY