Making Sense of the Roads

Harrow Road is a very old road indeed, predating Edgware Road by many centuries. This land lay just south of the last ice cap, so the surface was not scoured away. Lion and rhinoceros once walked here. The road grew: it was not planned. It is a typical English road which wandered from village green to village green, skirting the corners of large estates, following contours, avoiding ponds which have now been filled in for centuries, turning and looping for no apparent reason, passing from the village of Marylebone, through Paddington, Westbourne and Kensal, on the way to Harrow and beyond. It is the typical 'Rolling English Road' of G.K.Chesterton's poem The Rolling English Road.

The Rolling English Road

Before the Romans came to Rye, or off to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English Road,
A reeling road a rolling road, that rambles through the shire
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire,
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread,
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.

The poem might even be claimed as a local one for Chesterton was one of the local Chesterton estate agent family and he knew the area well. One of his novels is called 'The Napoleon of Notting Hill'.

The last verse of the poem reads:

My friends we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,
Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,
But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth
And see undrugged in evening light, the decent inn of death;
For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.

And Kensal Green is a local cemetery, conveniently on the Harrow Road.

Edgware Road, which runs in an almost straight line from the ford across the River Thanes near the Houses of Parliament, through Maida Vale, Shooters Hill, Edgware, St. Albans, and on to Holyhead, was the Roman Watling Street. The Romans needed to march troops rapidly from one place to another to put down revolts, so straight roads were the fastest. As the road builders had no compasses, they set out roads in straight lines from one hill top to the next. They cut one road (now called Oxford Street and Bayswater Road) straight from High Holborn to Notting Hill, and so to the west At Marble Arch this road crossed the Roman Watling Street (which we now call Edgware Road) at Hyde Park Corner.

In 1721, Edgware Road as far as Kilburn Bridge and Oxford Street as far as St Giles Pound, were converted into Turnpike roads, giving the Company the duty to improve the road and the right to charge tolls for its use.

Marylebone Road (called at first the New Road) was the first London bypass. It was built north of Piccadilly and Oxford Street, the congested roads nearer the river, in an attempt to solve their traffic problems. These were caused largely by sheep and cattle being driven from Hyde Park to Smithfield.


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