The Gout Track
A curious name for a road, one might think, especially a turnpike road.
Until authorisation by an Act of Parliament, responsibility for the repair of the roads lay with the parishes through which they ran, whether local roads or long-distance ones. The Overseer of the Highways, appointed by the Vestry, had the unenviable task of raising a rate to pay for repairs and finding the men to do the work. The Turnpike Acts made the users of the roads responsible for their upkeep, by the tolls which they had to pay at each gate they passed through. The tolls varied from 1/2d for an unladen horse up to 10d for a drove of livestock, with variable rates for carts, coaches and other wheeled vehicles, depending on the load and the width of wheels.
The Hatfield and Reading Turnpike was a turnpike road created in the 1760s to provide a route that connected the Great North Road (the modern A1) with the Holyhead Road (A5) and the Bath Road (A4). It had the advantage of making it possible for travellers to avoid congested London and was shorter in distance.
The Founding of the Road
It is said the the Marquis of Salisbury, who lived at Hatfield House, wanted a route to the Great West Road avoiding central London, for onward travel to the spa towns of Bath and Cheltenham where, as a sufferer of gout, he often took the waters. This would also spare him the discomfort and congestion of London's cobbled streets. With others, including the Earl of Essex, who suffered from a similar affliction and who lived at Cassiobury House close to Watford, he sponsored an Act of Parliament passed in 1757 for the building of a road from Hatfield to Reading. The Reading and Hatfield Turnpike Trust was set up by a further Act passed in 1768 to improve the route between the two towns.
It ran via St Albans, Watford, Rickmansworth, Amersham, High Wycombe and Marlow, with two alternative routes south and west from there, one to Knowl Hill (on the Great West Road between Maidenhead and Reading) and the other to Reading itself via Henley-on-Thames. In Watford the turnpike was known as Hagden Lane or colloquially as Ricky Road.
For many years this route was known as the Gout Track given its raison-d'etre.
In 1881 it was the last of the turnpikes to have its tolls removed, being on the last surviving Turnpike Trusts in the country.
Photograph By Ian Capper, CC BY-SA 2.0,
Watford, A History - Mary Forsyth