Following The Great North Road Then And Now: a guide for the modern traveller

Follow in the wheel-tracks of the stagecoaches!

The Great North Road from London to Edinburgh was made famous by eloping couples, notorious highwaymen and the glamour and speed of the stage and mail coaches. This practical guide for the motorist, or the armchair historian, shows you how to follow the route today, visiting atmospheric coaching inns, picturesque villages, bustling historic towns and the sites of gruesome murders, romantic elopements, great battles and horrific accidents.


The road through Stevenage…

The hill begins to descend towards Stevenage through open farmland with the valley of the Stevenage Brook to the east. Broadwater (29½ miles) where there is now a roundabout at the foot of the hill, was a tiny hamlet, two miles from the small market town of Stevenage.

Continuing northwards along London Road the road passes, “…six large barrows lying in a row. These are generally supposed to be of Danish origin.” (Paterson’s Roads) They are actually prehistoric burial mounds, known as the Six Hills. It was a standard joke amongst coach drivers to wager with passengers on which two were the furthest apart – the first and the last, obviously, but it seems to have regularly baffled passengers and won the drivers a number of bumpers of brandy.

The Great North Road is lost under the new town from this point. Continuing north, Stevenage Old Town’s High Street lies to the east of the modern road. “Stevenage… consists of one large and several smaller streets, the houses of which are, however, indifferently built.” (Paterson’s Roads)

The High Street (31½ miles) is wide, marking this out as both a market town and one that needed room for stage and mail coaches. Its most famous ‘inhabitant’ is probably Henry Trigg who was so afraid of body snatchers that he insisted in his will that his coffin was placed in the rafters of a barn. He died in 1724 and the coffin remained there when the barn became the Old Castle Inn in 1774. In 1999 the inn became a bank and the company insisted the body was buried in the churchyard, but the coffin is still there. (NatWest Bank, 37, High Street).