John Dunn

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Oxford to Cambridge

The Oxford to Cambridge Arc 6

Herman Moll on Dr John Dunn. Alternatives to the Oxford to Cambridge arc

The Icknield Way

Herman Moll, England and Wales, 1710

Herman Moll by William Stukeley (1723)

The key to Herman Moll’s map of England and Wales shows that he used a solid double line for Ogilby’s ‘Great or Direct’ roads, and a slightly thinner equivalent for the ‘Principal Cross Roads’. Intriguingly, he also used a single line to indicate ‘Roads not to be found in Mr. Ogilby’s Book’.

It is not known exactly to what extent he has filled in Ogilby’s omissions, nor is there any indication of the status of these roads. Were they as important, or as frequently used, as Ogilby’s roads or do they represent a set of less important roads? He indicated them as a single thin line, which, pictorially, might suggest a lesser road; but he also needed a way to distinguish his own contribution from Ogilby’s.
Moll offered a single thin line which is a very servicable route from Oxford to Cambridge.

This route is ancient in origin, as for most of its length Moll followed the Icknield Way. (I have indicated Moll’s single line route with the red arrows)

Many modern roads follow the Icknield Way, for example the B488/B489 from Aston Clinton to Dunstable and the A505 from Baldock to Royston.

Moll’s Icknield Way route passed through:

. Tame (Thame)

. From Thame, Moll headed straight for the Chiltern Hills, most notably cutting out Aylesbury.

In the pre-turnpike era this probably meant passing through Towersey, before crossing an area of marshland in the Aylesbury Vale to reach Richborough (Princes Risborough), situated on the chalk of the Chilterns.

. Richborough (Princes Risborough)

. Wendover

. Tring

. Ivingo (Ivinghoe)

. Dunstable

. Luton

. Hitching (Hitchin)

. Baldock

From Baldock the direct route to Cambridge would be via the Icknield Way through Royston. Why Moll did not make this connection is open to speculation. It could be that his Icknield Way thin line was not specifically a connection between Oxford and Cambridge, or that the roadbetween Baldock and Royston was unusable in his time.

Whatever the reason, Moll’s thin line route broke off from Baldock to join the Ermine Way at Buntingford. Travellers to Cambridge could proceed north along this road to Royston, where the road forked north-eastwards to Cambridge.

© John Dunn.

Wheatley Bridge on Dr John Dunn. Wheatley Bridge

Alternatives to the Oxford to Cambridge arc

The Icknield Way

John Cary's route from his 1815 New Itinerary (part 1 Oxford to Thame)

As an alternative to the Buckingham and Bedford route, Cary offered the Icknield Way option from Oxford to Cambridge.

Unlike Moll, however, he headed to the Chiltern Hills via Aylesbury, probably in order to avoid the marshy land between Thame and Princes Risborough. Also unlike Moll, Cary had the newly established turnpikes to follow.

Cary left Oxford from its eastern side, passing through Headington to Wheatley on the Stokenchurch, Wheatley and Begbroke Turnpike (1719).

The road originally took the Old London Road across Shotover Hill, but in 1773 the Trustees of the Stokenchurch, Wheatley and Begbroke Turnpike resolved to apply to Parliament “for power to divert the Road, and entirely avoid Shotover Hill”, and in 1788 sought “to impower the Trustees to compleat a Road from the Bottom of Cheney-Lane, upon Headington-Hill, to Forest-Hill…, to be used instead of the present Road up Cheney-Lane and Shotover-Hill”. The new route is the one we recognise today as the A40, albeit with a number of by-pass amendments.

Cary crossed the River Thame at Wheatley Bridge. A ford here was first recorded in 956, but the first Wheatley bridge was constructed in the reign of Henry II 1154-1189. The bridge was rebuilt in 1286. The bridge was again reconstructed in 1800 and remains largely the one we know today, which served as a crossing of the River Thame for the A40 until 1964. The road it carries now is by-passed and declassified.

After Wheatley Bridge the route took a left turn along ‘Thame Lane’ (the modern A418) towards Thame, passing just to the North of Albury and through North Weston. This road was not turnpiked at the time of Cary's 1815 Itinerary, though it was later marked as ‘intended’ on Bryant’s 1823 map of Oxfordshire. It was not until 1838 that the road between Wheatley Bridge and Thame was turnpiked by the Aylesbury, Thame and Shillingford Turnpike Trust (1770), 68 years after the trust was established .

The route passed along the northern end of Thame's High Street, to leave via Bell Lane and Aylesbury Road.

The Icknield Way

John Cary's route from his 1815 New Itinerary (part 2 Thame to Aylesbury)