Friday, 29 May 2020

Roy k. Battson, The Land Beyond the Ridge

 ...reading this motorcycling classic. 

Battson's first motorcycle

"It was a little Sun V.T.S. (not to be confused with the Vitesse engine, which was a bit different; the V.T.S. merely stood for Valveless Two Stroke) of about 1915 manufacture." (p.15)
Sun VTS 1916
In 1916 it has been claimed that the Valveless Two-Stroke company was taken over by the Sun Motorcycle company and certainly in their brochure for that year detailed a lightweight motorcycle fitted with a VTS engine with a separate oil feed and a two speed cog box fitted with a cork clutch and they continued to use these engines until the mid 1920`s.

Battson's second motorcycle

"The machine in question was a 31/2 h.p. (500 c.c.) racing Singer, once the property of the famous Stanley, slightly detuned for road use..." (p.18)
31/2 h.p. (500 c.c.) racing Singer 1910
Battson's machine might have been the Singer which held the world one hour record of 75mph at Brooklands in 1912 when ridden by George E. "Wizard" Stanley.

Battson's third motorcycle

"This Norton was the Model 9, one of the last direct-drive models the firm ever made; and I regret to say, at this late stage, that Norton Motors were guilty of great duplicity in the matter. I knew, of course, that by 1923 the belt driver was on its way out, and, not wishing to be stuck with an obsolescent machine, I wrote to them asking if the Model 9 was likely to be discontinued in the foreseeable future. They replied promptly and courteously, that they had no intention whatever of dropping it, and would be happy if I would place my order.

On the strength of this assurance, I made them happy; and they dropped the model that same year. It was never catalogued again." (p.36)

Norton Model 9
At first glance, the unwitting observer could be fooled into thinking that the Model 9 is an early example of the well known 16H. Although using the same engine, the frame differs markedly from that of its contemporary. The belt drive Model 9 is without both a clutch and a gearbox, though it does have a slight variation of drive ratio by means of the automatic Philipson governor pulley on the crankshaft.

Owing to the non-auto carburettor, the throttle and air levers have to be juggled with at the same time when riding! The brakes are of a rudimentary bicycle design. Even in 1920, this machine was well out of date and it was to remain available until 1922.

All this just goes to show how conservative a buyer Battson was. 

Battson's fourth motorcycle

"There was little difficulty in making a choice. The Model 18 Norton of 1925, o.h.v. at that, was almost the spitting image of the machine on which Alec Bennett had won the Senior T.T. of 1924, and, unlike today, when T.T. machines are costly freaks, this year’s winner was next year’s standard sports model. So, not without the odd tear, I parted with my faithful old belt-driver and, bursting with pride, wheeled my new machine out of the showroom." (p.39)

Norton Model 18 1925
The model 18 was the top of the range bike at this time and the first to use a new ohv valve engine, the large 500cc capacity giving plenty of performance through the Sturmey-Archer 3 speed gearbox.

Battson's fifth motorcycle

“In 1928, I got married; and, in a paroxysm of generosity, the the bridegroom’s gift to the bride was a new Model 18 Norton; maybe not quite what she expected, but, as I hastened to point out, fur coats only gather moths and are quite unsuitable for motorcycling anyway.” (p. 44)

Norton Model 18 1928 (virtually unchanged from the 1925 model)
The Model 18 retained its essentially vintage characteristics until 1931 when the range was extensively redesigned, the most obvious external alteration in its appearance before then being the adoption of a ‘saddle’ tank for 1929. Today the Vintage Model 18 enjoys landmark status as Norton’s first overhead-valve roadster and is highly prized by discerning enthusiasts. 

Battson's sixth motorcycle

"Feeling a bit fed up with Nortons - the last being a bitter disappointment - my next mount was a Model E Ariel, a five-hundred with, and quite new to me, dry-sump oiling and a saddle-tank. It was a handsome machine, with a neat instrument panel in the tank top, holding the speedometer and oil pressure gauge, and space, if you wanted it, for a clock." (p.47)
1928 Ariel Model “E”  497 cc  OHV single
The 5 basic models ( A,B,C,D and E) that were produced in 1927 were continued for 1928, but with many improvements.

The most noticeable was the adoption of Brooklands-type fishtail silencers, the use of enclosed valve-operation gear on the ohv machines and redesigned frames on all models.

The models A and B were 557 cc side valves, C was an ohv Standard machine, D was the De Luxe version of the C and E was a Super Sports machine.

Battson's seventh motorcycle 

“I had to go and buy her (his wife) an Ariel Colt. This was a very rorty little o.h.v. two-fifty, not to be confused with the post-war Colt, which was a feeble thing. It was a pretty little bike, with a surprising performance, almost the equal of my five-hundred except in sheer top speed, and I rode proudly home to make the introductions.” (pp.47-8)

1930 Ariel Colt ohv single cylinder 250cc twin exhaust port
This 1930 Ariel Colt is one of those early Ariel singles that would point the way for Ariel in the future. Overhead valve 250cc Colts were essentially created to fall under Britain’s tax rules for larger displacement motorcycles.

Battson's eighth motorcycle

“Our next machine was another Ariel. I forget its model letter, but it was like the Model E, only more so, twin-port, much chrome, and, this time, electric lighting, with a separate dynamo. There was also, and new to me, twistgrip throttle control, which made the hand-change considerably easier;…” (p.54).

Ariel Model G 497cc Twin Port

My guess is that Battson was referring to the Model G twin-port 497cc

It was Val Page who laid down the basics of Ariel's four-stroke singles range in 1926. Page moved the magneto behind the engine for '27 and thus established the form in which the engine would survive for the next 30 years. The model shown above is from 1930.

Battson's ninth motorcycle

Coventry Eagle lightweight, Villiers 147cc. p.56

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Buckingham and Towcester Turnpike (A413)

The road was turnpiked in 1824; in 1875 it was decided that it should continue to be turnpiked until the 1st November 1878. 

Toll Gates Buckingham to Towcester (South to North)


1/4 mile S.W. of Akeley (A413) at the junction with the side road to Stowe, marked with a separate side bar (SP 702 373).


The Lillingstone Dayrell gate was at the junction of another side road in the direction of Stowe
(SP 700 397). Presumably with side bar.  At the White House.

Notice of auction of tolls for both the above gates appeared in the Bucks Herald in July 1842 and
August 1844.


Lillingstone Lovell side

Mentioned in Gulland

At the junction with the lane leading to Lillingstone Lovell.
SP707 407


Whittlebury (Forest Side)

OS 1st Series

Upon entering the village of Whittlebury, at the bridleway just before the hotel entrance. Presumably there was a side gate across the former footpath or track.      SP 693 434


Whittlebury (Lord's Field)

OS 1st Series

On leaving the village, at the right turn to Heathencote. SP 693 446
Presumably there was a side gate across the road to Heathencote.

From along the turnpike
Old Gaol, Buckingham. Turnpike start

Turnpike through Maids Moreton
Turnpike milestone at Buckingham Arms, Maids Moreton (see also below)
Turnpike through Akeley

Turnpike through Whittlebury

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

A422 at Stagsden, by-passed in 1992

An old section of the A422 at Stagsden, by-passed in 1992, photgraphed whilst I was out cycling on St George's Day, 2019.

You are looking West along Newport Pagnell Road, down what was the right hand side of the road, the central white lines being on the left and the road edge white line being on the right.  

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

A507 The West-East route


The route to the A1 through these small towns and villages became an important West-East route once the M1 was built and Milton Keynes was developed.

Formerly, the route ran as the A418 through Ridgmont as far as Ampthill, before the A418 turned abruptly North towards Bedford.

The A418 designation was applied to the old Bedford and Woburn turnpike route, which passed through Ampthill and Kempstone.  There is a record of a toll gate at Flying Horse Farm near Ridgmont on this turnpike. (Woburn Bedford Turnpike 1777-1872.)

After Ampthill the West-East route ran through Maulden, Clophill and Shefford as the A507, onwards to the A1 at Stofold, then on to Buttingford after passing through Baldock.

The Ampthill-Shefford stretch was never turnpiked as far as I can tell, indicating its lack of importance until relatively recent times.

However, the pre-First World War Bartholomew’s map for tourists and cyclists (pre-tarmac and largely pre-motor car) shows the West-East route to be of first class quality throughout, even before the motor car era, which suggests something of its embryonic importance in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, possibly because there was no immediate railway rival to the route.

When the M1 was constructed, the A418 was not given a motorway junction. Instead, junction 13 was allocated to the nearby B557 (later A412), which offered a more direct route to Bedford through Marston Mortaine than the old turnpike A418 with its constrictions at Woburn and Ampthill.

Nevertheless, increasing traffic demands were placed upon the West-East route by traffic generated by the M1 and the growing Milton Keynes.

The West-East route in its entirety was re-designeated as the A507 when changes were made in the 1980s to cope with the increase in traffic.

The route was reconfigured to by-pass all the towns along the way, forming a road made up of these by-passes, existing lanes and newly constructed sections.

The Ampthill-Maulden Bypass opened in 1983. I would guess that Clophill was by-passed around the same time.

Ridgmont was by-passed in 2008.

Along with the Ridgmont by-pass work, a new series of complicated roundabouts gave the A507 a connection to the M1 at junction 13.

Ampthill pump and signpost
The Town Pump is located in the centre of Ampthill and lies within the Ampthill Conservation Area.

It is a grade II listed building and a designated Scheduled Monument.

The Pump also serves as a milestone, each of its four faces being identified by the name of the towns to which the four roads of the Market Place lead. Bedford (VII miles; north), Dunstable (XII miles, south), London (XLV miles;east) and Woburn (VII miles, west).

The Pump is constructed of Portland limestone and was erected in 1785 by John Fitzpatrick, the 2nd Earl of Upper Ossory (1745-1818). It is said to have been designed by the architect Sir William Chambers (1722-1796) who had in 1768-72 worked on Ampthill Park House and formed part of a programmed of public-spirited improvements initiated and paid for by the Earl.*

The route through Ampthill from Woburn to Bedford was already a turnpike by the time this pump and milestone was erected. (Bedford and Woburn Turnpike Trust was established in 1777.)
 © John Dunn.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

To Buckingham with Ogilby

There's a stretch of road on the 1675 Ogilby road map route from London to Buckingham that deviates from anything we would think of as a main route today. The stretch I'm writing about runs from Quarrenden, North of Aylesbury, to Buckingham. It tells a story of Romans, drovers and bridges.

Section of John Ogilby's 1675 road map - London to Buckingham

I followed the route by bicycle, starting at point A on the Ogilby and Ordnance Survey map, which is the site of a Gypsy King's gravestone on the old Roman road known as Carter's Lane. Weather-beaten, with markings illegible, the stone marks the death of one Edward Bozwellin 1640, who was executed for horse-stealing. His last wish was to be buried in Carter’s Lane.

(A) The Gypsy King's gravestone

(A) The Gypsy King's gravestone

So why did Ogilby's route pass this way? The surveyors will have left Aylesbury for Quarrenden to pass over the River Tame at the stone bridge built there. They will have asked the locals about the best route to Buckingham who replied with the way they knew best - by the drovers' roads. The drovers sought out bridges and dry high ground wherever possible to get their cattle from Wales to London, via Banbury, Buckingham and Aylesbury. They will have followed established routes where possible too, and where more established than a clearly defined Roman road?

The unmetalled section of the Roman road, which continues through fields as a bridleway after leaving the rough tarmac of Carter's Lane. 


There is evidence of the old raised agger of the Roman road even after centuries under the plough of the medieval ridge and furrow field systems.

At ‘Dead Man’s Gate’ there was a huge elm, which blew down in the 1987 gales.  In its youth it had been a hanging tree.

The drovers' road is now a bridleway that picks up again after the short stretch on the metalled road.

The drovers would direct their cattle to crossing points at brooks and rivers. That this has been a crossing point for many years is shown by this crumbling old bridge. Now no-one is suggesting that this is an actual bridge used by drovers, it is nowhere old enough. However, it is a well made blue brick construction from early to middle of last century, and it is substantial enough to suggest that it might have replaced earlier constructions at an established bridging point on the old route to Buckingham.

A point of interest is where an old railway used to cross the route here. Its hard to believe these days, but this was once the northern extension of the London Metropolitan line, isolated and miles out of its comfort zone. The old railway track is followed for a short distance here by electricity pylons.

We enter here the village of East Claydon, down what at one time would have been its main road. Now it is a cul-de-sac that culminates in the bridleway and track to a farm.


The road beyond East Claydon, which follows the Ogilby and drovers' route, shows evidence of former importance by its width. Forget the modern narrow strip of tarmac and consider the distance from hedge to hedge. Those responsible for mapping out the field enclosures left a very wide trackway.

A section of Herman Moll's map of Buckinghamshire of 1724 showing the route from Aylesbury to Buckingham passing through East Claydon. Moll had depicted Ogilby's route.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Ancient monuments

Most UK roads have been around in some form since at least the Middle Ages. Were these ancient monuments not so ubicquitous, they would be talen in hand by English Heritage, which to my mind should be called upon to protect some cherished stretches of road, as well as more recent ones under threat, such as the grid system of Milton Keynes.

Galley Lane crossroads on Watling Street, near what is now Milton Keynes. Looks like just before the tarmac age.
 'Many of our roads are hand-me-downs, reused routes and leftover bits of tarmac stuck together in ad hoc fashion.'* In this lies not only their cause of anguish, but also their enduring appeal. In England especially, the oligarchy defeated the repeated efforts of the kings to cetralise planning. The road system and the joy of pathways, tracks and lanes to be pursued by foot and awheel reflects the history.

'Between the first London-Brighton car race in 1836 and the semi-nationalisation of the Trunk Roads Act of 1936... the total British road network grew by only 4 per cent.'* The more recent additions, of course, have been the motorways. However, the motorways apart, we are driving and cycling over an endless, tangled ribbon of archaeology. And even the motorways are becoming a part of the historic fabric of the land.  
 *Jo Moran, On Roads.
 © John Dunn.

Friday, 22 March 2019

British road timeline

I found this of interest. It’s a chronological timeline of British road development and maintenance. Due recognition must be given to the website ‘Old Hampshire Mapped’ ( ) for its collation, even acknowledging the odd few errors. What it does tell us is that the road system of England and Wales in particular is ancient, with few additions across the centuries until the advent of the motorway era.

The point is made too by Jo Moran in his great little book, On Roads, where he wrote, ‘between the first London - Brighton car race in 1896 and the semi-nationalisation of the Trunk Road Act of 1936… the total British road network grew by only 4 per cent’.


From the first in 1663, and with a great expansion in the 1750s-70s, there were thousands of trusts and companies established by Acts of Parliament with rights to collect tolls in return for providing and maintaining roads; turnpike trusts. A General Turnpike Act 1773 was passed to speed up the process of setting up such arrangements. Just how trustworthy and effective was the provision and maintenance can be imagined.

Railways had a serious impact on long distance road traffic from the 1830s, and many turnpike trusts were discontinued. The Local Government Act 1888, establishing county councils, gave these new authorities, answerable to an electorate, the responsibility for most of the existing turnpikes. Most turnpike trusts were wound up; roads were more reliable provided and maintained.

The following chronological notes are culled from various sources; do not take them as a definitive list of events.


Highways Act 1555
First highways act, beginning of state control of roads. Responsibility for maintenance placed on parishes.
Fails: national traffic overwhelms the resources of local parishes.
Remained in force for 250 years.


Amendment to Highways Act 1555 increases the labour for roads.


The magistrates court at Cirencester heard a case in which:-
Each end of the High Street ... was secured against a horse, with a strong straight boom which our men call Turn pike. A barrier with short metal spikes along the upper surface, placed across a road to stop passage till the toll has been paid.


Highways Act 1663
Justices of the Peace for Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire, and Cambridgeshire enabled to levy tolls for their part of the Great North Road.
First turnpike erected at Wadesmill, north of Ware, Hertfordshire, and others along this road.
The first turnpike act. Up to 1706 turnpike trusts involved local justices.


Sherfield to Harwich road turnpiked.
Wymondham to Attleborough road turnpiked.


An act aloowed magistrates to erect signposts at crossroads.


Comment by Celia Fiennes:-
... the road on the Causey was in many places full of holes, tho' it is served by a barr at which passengers pay a penny a horse in order to the mending of the way.


By 1700 there were 7 turnpike trusts.


About 10 turnpike trusts set up each year.


The trustees for turnpiking the Fornhill to Stony Stratford road were independent people, not local justices. This pattern was copied for the next 130 years.
Trustess were empowered to borrow capital for road mending against the expected income from tolls.
Turnpike trusts took responsibilty for road repair. They improved alignments, eased gradients, etc. They were only partly effective.


The trustees for turnpiking the Fornhill to Stony Stratford road were independent people, not local justices. This pattern was copied for the next 130 years.
Trustess were empowered to borrow capital for road mending against the expected income from tolls.
Turnpike trusts took responsibilty for road repair. They improved alignments, eased gradients, etc. They were only partly effective.


An act made milestones compulsory on most turnpike roads.


Three late 18th century engineers developed improvements in road building:-
John Metcalfe
John Loudon MacAdam (1756-1836)
Thomas Telford (1757-1834)
They all realised that good drainage was essential factor for good roads.


About 40 turnpike trusts set up each year.


General Turnpike Act 1766.
Milestones became compulsory on all turnpike roads.


General Turnpike Act 1773.
Smoothed the way for setting up turnpike trusts.
Required turnpike trusts to erect distance signs to nearest towns along the turnpikes.


About 50 turnpike trusts set up each year.


By 1821 there were 18000 miles of turnpike roads in England.


General Turnpike Act 1822.
Marker posts required where a turnpike crossed a parish boundary.
Many turnpikes also had terminus markers.


From the 1830s onwards the development of railways caused a reduction in road usage for long distance goods and passenger traffic.


Highways Act 1835
Set up districts, composed of a groups of parishes, to look after roads. Not successful.


The last turnpike trusts set up.


From the 1860s disturnpiking was actively pursued.


Highways and Locomotives Amendment Act 1878
Set up Highway Authorities.


By 1881 only 184 turnpike trusts remained.


The last turnpike trust ended 1885.


Newly formed county councils took over responsibility for main roads.


Rural district councils accepted responsibility for local roads.


The last tollgate, on the London to Holyhead road, on Anglesey, ceased in 1895.


Central government began to give grants to local authorities for road maintenance.


Ministry of Transport set up.


County councils accepted responsibility for all roads.


Trunk roads became a financial responsibility of the Ministry of Transport.


The motorway system was begun.
First new road system since roman times?