St Albans' Own East End

Old Camp track


LEFT: On the Dellfield side of Alban Way the embankment appears steep.

BELOW: The path takes a short diversion around the back of houses.

Where the City Station is today, the lane leading from the town (once known as Sweetbriar Lane) gave out, gradually becoming a footpath by which travellers to Camp and Tyttenhanger might reach their homes, possibly with goods purchased at the town’s market.

To check the viability of such a route for pedestrians – and possibly cart traffic – I walked from Grimston Road to the top of Breakspear Avenue.  From there the building of the residential estate in the 1930s forced a diversion of the earlier track along Breakspear Avenue until a re-built path led off the righthand side at right angles  The original route was picked up again, midway between Breakspear Avenue and Vanda Crescent; the path bending to the left here.  On the righthand side of Vanda Crescent the path continues until the former railway (now Alban Way) is reached.

ABOVE: the dog-leg leads between two houses.

ABOVE RIGHT: The gentle gradient reaches the Dellfield cul-de-sac.

LEFT: On the other side of Dellfield a new section of path is reached.

BELOW: The almost cliff-like ground has not been built on.

LEFT: The steeper gradient looking back from the top of the path.

BELOW: The path levels out across Springfield playing fields.

ABOVE: The path meets Cell Barnes Lane at the end.

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The alternative route to Camp

The alternative to the Camp Road toll house would have been to use what might have been field boundary paths to wear a route to Sweetbriar Lane (now Grimston Road/Victoria Street), to reach the town at the market end; which would presumably have been a more useful entry point on weekdays than the church end.

The question is, what was the advantage of Camp Road over the track, and was Camp Road older than the track?  We know that the Camp Road route existed for at least a century before the arrival of the railway, although the cutting at the blue bridge may have been created specifically to enable a road to exist under the railway.

The most obvious reason for the road was to create a less arduous route for wagons.  While not having measured the gradients, the distance of the incline on the old path is roughly the same as on Camp Hill.  And if there were only a few metres in it, the effort and expense would not have been worth it.

So, possibly, we have to search for another reason.

Along all of this way so far I have walked a gentle gradient downhill.  Although at the railway the path levels out, it continues downhill on the Dellfield side more steeply.  I think that before the railway was built the gradient would have been consistent with that which had been walked so far.

I then encountered a left/right dog-leg. This, I think, was created as a result of the building of the cul-de-sac which is part of Dellfield.  The path continues downhill between the houses and levels out at the main line of Dellfield beyond the cul-de-sac.

Almost opposite, the path continues uphill.  This is roughly parallel with Camp Hill, and like Camp Hill, is steeper.  In fact, to the left of the path the ground is almost cliff-like and has never been built on.  This section may not have been suitable for a horse and cart.

At the top the ground quickly levels out, taking a straight course behind what was the Rubber Works and is now Dexter Close.  This leads to the parking bays to the right of Park View Close.  As Cell Barnes Lane is reached the track would have taken a very gentle curve to the right to then follow the line of Cell Barnes Lane.

Upper Camp Road, that is, from the Vanda Crescent bend to Hatfield Road, would always have existed; it was the direct route to St Peter’s Church – and it could not be more direct, as upper Camp Road was in a direct straight line with Hatfiled Road leading towards the town.

There is another reason why the track from former Sweetbriar Lane to Camp Hill might have existed, whether or not it was with the permission of the landowner Earl Verulam.  From 1768 Hatfield Road became a toll road.  A small toll house existed at the very top of Camp Road (where Chilli Raj – the former Crown Post Office – is).  Travellers with animals, carts or wagons would have paid a toll to enter Hatfield Road, and so any opportunity would have been taken to avoid making that payment.  This is one reason why the Rats’ Castle Toll house was installed (rather late), as some users from Camp took a de-tour across Kinder’s land, via today’s Camp View Road and Sutton Road, to reach Hatfield Road. 

LEFT: The path from Breakspear reaches Vanda Crescent.

BELOW: From Vanda the path continues gently downhill to the  former railway.

On this 1879 OS map the Camp Hill settlement is at the top.  Field 434 was later used for the Rubber Works. Field 439 was absorbed into the Springfield playing fields.  The road from Camp Hill towards the bottom of the map is Cell Barnes Lane, routeing past Cunningham Hiill Farm.  The track, a double broken line crosses fields 439 and 438 just north of the farm.

Courtesy HALS.

St Albans' Own East End