|Cattle crossing The Great North Road in 1966
Image from Ron Kingdon, part of the Images of North Mymms collection
Although the ‘Old North Road’ was the road through Hoddesdon and Ware to Huntingdon, the road through Barnet, Potters Bar, Bell Bar and Hatfield was always an alternative and much used. In medieval times the tenants of the Manor were responsible for the maintenance of the highways within their parish and they served their turn as ‘Surveyor of the Highways’, when appointed by the Manorial Court.
Later this responsibility devolved to the parish Vestry and by the Act of 1555 every householder, with certain exceptions, was bound to give, each year, four days - later increased to six days - labour to the repair of the roads in the parish. Tenants of land valued at £50 rental had to supply a cart and team. This duty was particularly onerous on those parishes through which ran main, much used, roads.
Before the Reformation the maintenance of highways and bridges had a religious significance and people donated money for this purpose for the benefit of their souls. When Sir John More, the father of Sir Thomas More and owner of Gobions, made his will in 1526, (he died in 1530), he included:-
‘Also I will that £40 of money be bestowed and laid in reparation making and amending of the highway leading from Barnet towards Bishops Hatfield between Potters Bar and the Bell Bar in the town of Northmymes. Also I will that the sum of 40 marks which I received of Richard Clowdister be spent also in making and mending of the said way for the sould of me and of the same Richard and all Christian souls.’
Incidentally this is the earliest record of the name ‘Bell Bar’ I have noted.
By the 17th century wheeled vehicles were replacing pack - horses, and the unpaid labour under unqualified supervision, using unsuitable local materials could not maintain a satisfactory surface, particularly on the busy through roads. The increase in complaints to Quarter Sessions finally resulted in the setting up, by Acts of Parliament, of Turnpike Trusts. The first of these, in 1663, was for a section of the Old North Road as far North as Huntingdonshire.
The first of the Turnpike Trust Acts which concerned our Great North Road was enacted in 1712 to cover the section Highgate Gate House, Middlesex, to Barnet Blockhouse, Hertfordshire, and it was extended in 1720 through Hadley to ‘The Angel’, in Enfield Chase. i.e. Gannic or Galley Corner near the present ‘Duke of York’. Then in 1730, to commence on the 1st June, the Act [3 Geo.ll c.10] was passed, entitled:-
‘An Act for repairing the Road leading from Galley Corner adjoining to Enfield Chase in the Parish of South Mims in the County of Middlesex to Lemsford Mill in the County of Hertford.’ Then:- ‘That for the better Surveying, ordering, repairing and keeping in repair the Road aforesaid …’ [83 landowners are named] …‘shall be and are here by nominated and appointed Trustees for putting this Act into execution; …’
Included in the list of Trustees named in the Act were the following North Mymms landowners: - Gilbert Browne Esq., of ‘Skimpans’; Francis Bowyer Esq., of ‘Moffats’; Roger Coningsby Esq. of ‘Potterells’; Henry Fish gent. of Bell Bar; Robert Huntman gent. of Bell Bar; the Right Hon. Sir Joseph Jekyll Kt. Lord of the Manor of Brookmans; John Roberts gent.of Water End and Jeremy Sambrook Esq. of ‘Gobions’.
A very comprehensive history of this Turnpike Trust was written by Dr Arnold Lynch and published in 1986 by Potters Bar & District Historical Society, as No.2 in their ‘Potters Bar Historical Series’. In this short article I do not wish to repeat Dr Lynch’s paper, but only to comment on one or two points to make clear the route of the road through our parish, before discussing its effect on Bell Bar.
When Dr Lynch wrote his paper he was not aware of the precise location of the North Mymms Common, nor its delineation, and therefore thought that the road ran through ‘Brookmans Park’ and suggested that the road crossed ‘Leggatts Park’. In fact until the North Mymms Common was enclosed in 1778 - 82 the road ran through common land between Swanley Bar and Bell Bar.
Because the section of the road between Shepherds Way junction and Hatfield was diverted to a new route in 1850, by - passing Bell Bar, the simplest way to explain the original route is to describe a journey along the road through the parish shortly after 1730. Travelling north from Potters Bar, we cross the Parish and County boundary into Little Heath, a small part of which is unenclosed, where stands the Turnpike at which a toll must be paid.
The road follows the present route passing through enclosed fields until, about 200yds South. of Swanley Bar, we enter North Mymms Common; not to be enclosed until 1778. At the 16th milestone, which is about Shepherds Way junction, the road crosses a bridge over the small stream called Kitteresbourn and turns slightly to the left hand and follows a reasonably straight route to the southern end of Bell Bar, where it leaves North Mymms Common. We continue north through the hamlet of Bell Bar, crossing the parish boundary into Hatfield parish and through Woodside lane.
Enclosure: In 1711 Charles cocks Esq., Lord of the Manor of Brookmans, for a payment of £70 to the churchwardens and Oversees of the Poor, was given permission to ‘inclose’ about 4 acres of the Common, lying along the West side of the road, adjacent to Broolcmans House. When in 1778 a private Act of Parliament was obtained to enclose the whole or the common, the Enclosure commissioners, In their ‘Award’, had to set out the public and private roads. One of these was ‘an ancient road’ leading out of the Great North Road, at the bridge near the I 6th mile stone, into Kentish lane and towards Hartford. After the section of the Great North Road from the 16th mile stone to the town of Hatfield. was diverted to its present route in 1850, the Kentish lane junction was diverted to its present location.