R S Brown, 1976
pages 31, 32
For many scores of years Marsh Lane has provided a highway link between The Great and Little Stanmores. In the very distant past it was merely a track across the fields worn by the passage of many tired feet. As the community slowly developed, tall trees formed an avenue, offering cool shade on hot days or leafy shelter when it rained. At night it was like a quiet, dark tunnel, and not a suitable place to linger. In the right conditions - when the meadows on either side were carpeted with buttercups - the Lane was a starting place to ramble across country to Edgware or Brockley Hill.
Habitations were few and far between; Dances Farm spread out on the corner with Church Road (now The Broadway) and a few large houses were sited well back behind the hedges; one later became an independent school for 10 to 12 year-olds. There was also a Pound where lost animals, such as horses, cattle or pigs were held until claimed.
As long ago as the late 18th century, farm animals which ambled at will on parish highways were regarded as a public nuisance and offending livestock would be impounded. At that time a handbill circulating in Great Stanmore announced that "Notice is hereby given that all Hogs, Pigs and Swine found in the Public Roads or Highways of the Parish from and after 27th Day of August, 1790, will be impounded, and that a reward of one shilling be paid by the Surveyor of the Highways for every such hog or pig which any person or persons shall from and after the time aforesaid Seize and Impound".
Towards Whitchurch Lane was a lodge entrance to Canons Park, beyond which the old Stanmore Gasworks, built in the 1890's, still functions as a unit of the North Thames Gas Board. The Gas-Works Cottage which has housed the residential valveman for many years was once occupied by Harold Parks, well-known as a local grower of chrysanthemums; he was also a pigeon fancier and his loft was on land adjoining the gasometer.
Beyond the gas works was a watery area known as Marsh Pond and at the junction with Whitchurch Lane was a spinney, much of which still remains. The marshy condition of the land has deterred developers from building on what otherwise might be regarded as a desirable site.
During the first quarter of this century, the Lane was given a metalled surface and widened, but there were no pavements and street lighting had not yet been installed. A deep ditch ran alongside the Lane but has long since been culverted.
As the building of the Ideal Homes Estate began (see page 25 of volume three) the area on the western side of the Lane became churned up by the movement of building equipment and lorries; new residents found the estate in a very muddy condition. There was no access to Marsh Lane at that time from either Lansdowne Road or Old Church Lane.
St Thomas's Convent School retains a prominent site in Marsh Lane but is now flanked by houses built between the wars and several residential cul-de-sacs have branched out and grown in the post-war era. The lonely old Lane is lonely no longer and as heavy traffic leaving Stanmore builds up, there are frequent vehicle queues at the Whitchurch Lane crossroad. An accountant who has lived for over forty years on one of the estates adjoining Marsh Lane provided some interesting figures about relative costs in this area over nearly half a century. They are set out below.
|Cost of House||£1,075||£20,000 (large semi-detached)|
|Repainting of house||£12||£250|
|Redecorating of Lounge||£12||£172|
|Total cost of fuel annually||£14||About twenty-fold. (Coke and coal 2/- (10p) per cwt)|
|Rates, annually||£15.12.0, (15.60)||£287|
|Water Rate annually||£3.13.2, (3.66)||£29|
On average, household costs have risen by about twenty times - but so have salaries and wages - in the 'thirties, two or three pounds made up the weekly pay packet, but in this age of inflation, the figures are nearer to fifty or sixty pounds. We have apparently gained very little, relatively; and yet no one can deny that living standards today are infinitely superior. Cars have replaced carts; central heating has superseded coke and coal - and the 'concrete jungle' has engulfed the cottages.
Before we pass on to the Honeypot Lane narrative, it is worth mentioning an interesting combination of circumstances which occurred in the 1930's in fields adjoining Marsh Lane. It was the custom, half a century or more ago, for neighbouring farmers to cart their hay and straw to fields adjoining Watery Lane (off Marsh Lane) where it was dumped in readiness for conveyance to London. In the city it was taken to stables, located in mews behind the houses of the gentry.
For the return trip to Stanmore the carts were loaded with manure from the London stables which on arrival, was stacked in fields where Abercorn Road is now situated. Over a period of many years, a mixture of enriched soil, together with deposits of surface dust eroded from the surrounding high ground, produced a top soil almost 12 inches in depth, compared with the normal thickness of not more than 5 or 6 inches.
When this land was cleared for building, the developer sold the top soil for 2/6d (17.5p) per load to Henry J Burns, a nurseryman from Leicestershire (who preceded F C Courten), whose yard was only a hundred yards away. Burns also obtained surplus peat (mixed with manure) used to bed down sick horses at Elstree Stables; the final compound provided an excellent tilth for horticultural purposes.