Thursday, 4 April 2013

The Chalk Cutting, Houghton Regis, 1762

Puddle Hill was just that, a hill, until the need to travel through it, rather than over it, was deemed a necessity.  The Beaker People settled there, and farmed the land to the west of the modern cutting. In those days you could walk across from Houghton to Seywell. The cutting was gradually reduced and now is a major route on the A5 between Dunstable and Milton Keynes. 

AD 43: Roman Emperor, Claudius, invades forcing locals to build hardened road of Watling Street, cutting away the summit of Puddlehill, cutting the hill off from Maidenbower.

1765: Thomas Jefferys' map shows Puddlehill and Maidenbower divided by Watling Street.

1706: Pike or pole is placed across Watling Street near Sewell Turn. "Puddlehill Trust" starts to administer road between Bull Inn, (in Houghton until boundary changes in 1907) and Hockcliffe.

1782: An alternative coach road is opened on the west side of 'Chalk Hill', around the hill, at a cost of £16,000, thereby avoiding Puddlehill's steep incline that had required seven or eight horses to pull a coach up it. 

Sketch map shows "Old Coach Road"

The new route followed the curve of the old Soch (salt) Way. The toll gate at the northern end of the route, also served the route over the hill. There are signs of this old road remaining today. A footpath from the northern most corner of Suncote Avenue leads north westerly towards Sewell Lane. This pathway is in part bricked to provide a firm surface. Away to the east of this footpath is a gulley, very overgrown, and almost certainly where the old road used to go. Where this alternative road ran across Sewell Lane is today fenced off.

From Sewell Lane can be seen this old iron post marking one side of the southern entry to the old road.

This iron gate marks what was quite probably the northern entry point to the old road from Sewell Lane.

Another view of the southern entry to the old road.

A little to the east of the southern entry point to the old road can be seen this iron bar which a tree has grown around, together with an old drainage point, which needs further explanation.


By 1815 work had started to lower the height of Puddlehill.

1820: The circuitous route around Puddlehill is sold off to Henry Brandreth for £20; tollgate is moved to "Kate's Hill" near Toddington turn-off.

Much of the farmland to the west of the cutting, known as "The West Field" in 1762, was quarried in the 20th century and is a now a Site of Special Scientific Interest. 


From the 1762 survey map, as copied in 1766, and held at the PRO in Bedford. No commercial copying.

Seywell Green Way runs across  the top of this section of the map, just as it does today (Sewell Green Way).  From Plaiters Way walk through Blue Waters Woodland towards the A5.

Sewell Green Way, 2011, © Alan D Winter
Leading off the Seywell Green Way to the north are "Upper Grindell", "Lower Grindell", "Chalk Hill Furlong" and "Holloway pitt Piece". To the South from the east side there was "Townsend Furlong" (out of shot in this image), "Five Acres", "Middle Furlong", "Puddle Hill Furlong" and "The Road Furlong".  Below that there is "Scotch balk Furlong" The Duke of Bedford's name appears on the majority of the strips of land.


Apart from the Duke, I can make out these names; Three Acres - Eleanor Lee, Thomas Hawkins, Richard Parrett, Thoswth Brandreth Esq, Chris Towers Esq, William Folsey, M_ Cumberland, Robert Cook, John Hawkins, Nathaniel Bigg, M_ Dickinson Esq., John Edwards Esq., 

The pathway at the foot of this section of the map is labelled "Mist Way". This is a public footpath that ran from Houghton Road, near the junction of today's Millers Way, to a point almost opposite French's Avenue. The footpath was modified and diverted due to house building, and today really begins at a point in a corner of Lake View. 



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