Bridging the Gap


One of the more interesting buildings at Watford Gap, between Shenstone and Sutton – the Tin Tabernacle. Image by Anthony Dixon and posted on Geograph under a creative commons license.

Here’s a quick question, asked of me today by the redoubtable Linda Mason. On the border between the modern counties of the West Midlands and Staffordshire, right on the edge of Little Aston/Hill Hook, is a junction on the Old Birmingham Road. This junction is where Blake Street and Watford Gap Road intersect. It’s called ‘Watford Gap’.

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Current Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger mapping, showing the position of Watford Gap on the very edge of the West Midlands Connurbation. Click for a larger version.

There is, of course, a more famous namesake, more popularly known as being the location of a motorway service station, in Northamptonshire. The one we’re interested sits right on the new border, but was once in Warwickhire.

The question is, how did it get its name? There don’t seem to be any Watfords nearby; but this is an old, old place that was mentioned on coaching routes and Victorian maps. Mile posts and markers mention it repeatedly; it was clearly considered a significant place.

The question is why, and how did this place get it’s name? Does anyone know?

1884 1:2,500 Ordnace Survey map of Watford Gap. Click for a larger version.

1884 1:2,500 Ordnace Survey map of Watford Gap. Click for a larger version.

Cheers, everyone. That’ll be BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com, or comment here, please.

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7 Responses to Bridging the Gap

  1. Pedro says:

    Well established by 1830 as the Staffs Advertiser gives notice of proposed gates there at the toll road

  2. Andy Dennis says:

    The Gap part looks fairly straightforward from the OS 1:50,000 contours, which show a v-shape to the west of the hill where the TV masts are, effectively a gap between that hill and the north east slopes of Barr Beacon.

    The Oxford Dictionary of British Place Names (OUP 2003) describes the origin of Watford as “ford used when hunting, [old English] wath + ford”. The next entry has “Wath, the ford”, from [old Scandinavian]. If that is the true origin of Watford I would expect there to be more examples, especially in an area associated with royal chases.

    Nearby are the headwaters of the Footherly Brook. I wonder if a ford on that stream is the origin, but that the name is now associated with the crossroads. One local example of a name that has moved in mapping is Brownhills, which old maps placed further south.

    There appears to be no reference to the place in the Domesday Book, but it may not have had any value at the time. My gut tells me this is, nonetheless, a very old name.

  3. ziksby says:

    There are one or two older references to Watford Gap if you search Google Books. It was where the Lichfield turnpike ended at the county boundary. The Birmingham-Lichfield Road may also have had a tollgate here. There was a ‘ford’ a short distance away at Blake street. Blake Street mentioned as early as 1200s. Also a short reference here ….

  4. pedro says:

    For the record..

    Notice is hereby given, that a special meeting meeting of trustees of the Turnpike Road leading from “Birmingham in the county of Warwick, to Watford Gap in the parish of Sutton Coldfield, in the county of Warwick, and of other roads communicating therewith,”…for the purpose of ordering and directing that there be erected upon the sides of the said Turnpike Road such and so many Toll Gates, Side Bars and Chains, with houses and other convenience for collecting Toll.

    Staffs Advertiser 24 April 1830

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