A1-The Great North Road

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Baldock, or Bagdad as the Knight Templars used to call it, grew where the Great North Road crossed the Icknield Way.  And a rather untidy crossing it was with the Great North Road turning right onto Icknield for a couple of hundred yards, before turning left to resume its proper direction again. 

The earliest settlement in Baldock was to the east of the present town centre by the junction of the Icknield Way and Stane Street. Excavations have revealed an extensive Iron Age and Romano-British settlement with houses, enclosures, wells and roads. There were also extensive burial grounds nearby dating from the second to the fourth century A. D. The earlier burials contained a wide variety of grave goods and many finds can be seen on display in Letchworth Museum.

Although these finds determine the earliest settlement on this site, the first recorded evidence came in mediaeval times, and consisted of a charter by William, Earl of Pembroke, which confirmed a grant of land by his ancestor during the reign of Stephen (in about 1142) in favour of the Knights Templar. This document referred to the place as Baudac.

When, in later years, the Templars fell from grace, the property was transferred to the Knights Hospitallers. The town grew slowly through the centuries and perhaps gained most importance in the coaching days when it was the first main halting stage on the Great North Road out of London.

The town's greatest feature is its parish church of St. Mary, a spacious building in the town centre with its large 14th century west tower capped by a small and typical Hertfordshire 'spike' (or steeple). The main part of the church is of the 14th century, although some windows are later, and the quite splendid screens which extend right across the chancel arch and aisles are of the 15th century. The wood carving of the screens is superb and the rood screen is more ornate. Monuments include a 13th cent ury marble coffin lid, and several brasses of the 15th century including one depicting a man with a hunting horn. More ornate is a typically Victorian memorial to Georgiana Caldecott, who is shown backed by an angel carrying her soul up to Heaven.

Baldock's town centre boasts some handsome 16th, 17th and 18th century houses. The four main streets meet at the junction of the earlier Roman routes, although the Roman town itself was a short way distant.

The Great North Road actually ran past both the church and the market place, and part of this famous road, lined by grass banks and trees, forms the High Street.

Although there are newer buildings in this thoroughfare - including the former Council Offices of 1897 - its charm is in the several Georgian houses with their pilasters and pediments. Even older are Wynne's Almshouses, a pleasing group dating from 1621. Also of interest are the Brewer's House of the former brewery (pulled down in 1967), a late Georgian residence, and nearby, a restored much older timber framed house.  In the 1930s the RAC described Baldock as "Malting and brewing town with fine church. Important horse fairs."

Georgian buildings are found in other central streets, both on a grand scale and in the form of small terraced houses. Close to the church is the rectory designed by Butterfield in 1870, and in Church Street is the former Quaker Meeting House, a 17th century building now used commercially.

Baldock gets an eye-brow raising mention in Pepys's diary for August 6th 1661: "Took horse for London, and with much ado got to Baldwick.  There lay, and had a good supper by myself.  The landlady being a pretty woman, but I durst not take notice of her, her husband being there."

On a more contemporary note, here is some stuff on the new Baldock by-pass.  This will allow traffic to move between the A1 and the A505 by-passing south-east of Baldock.  The A505 follows the route of the ancient Icknield Way in this area.

The TOLL HOUSE AT SHEFFORD FORK, drawn in the Dunlop map is now the site of Junction 10 of the A1(M).  This is the northern end of the motorway section of the A1 that bypasses west of Stevenage and Baldock.  The old  Great North Road, built on a Roman road, became the B197 from Junction 8 on the A1, through Gravely, to Junction 9.  From here northwards to Baldock it is the A6141, one of the shorter A-roads in the country.  North of J10 the A1 rejoins the old Roman route though is is no longer motorway standard.


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©Biff Vernon 2001, 2002, 2003