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Doles to Hardwick

Marston Doles stands on the canal, at SP 465 583, and used to be a droving inn.  It looks a late one: 1830’s, after the canal was built?  In #1 the pattern of blue bricks above the loft door reads: DOLES  INN  GOOD  STABLING.   The name has always struck me as appropriate because it’s a doleful place.  Perhaps it’s always rained when I’ve been there.


Now we come to one of the loneliest and loveliest stretches of old road in the country.  It was never turnpiked so is often single-track, with the verges each side as wide as the tarmac in the middle (#2). 


The Welshmen were anxious to keep their stock separate from the locals', so the road bypasses all the villages; but the long views on either side made it possible for them to show their herds to local farmers.  The opportunity to buy, sell or swap stock was important and the frequent laybys on the route are probably there for these commercial reasons.  (Actually, the noise of the plates, or cattle shoes, on the metalled road in that quiet countryside would have attracted business more effectively than anything1.)


Two of the villages, Priors Hardwick and Aston le Walls, have streets called ‘London End’ leading on to the drove road.  The villagers  may have been keen to tempt drovers to use their fields as an overnight stance.


Priors Hardwick must have been a busy livestock centre: there is a Goose Green in the middle of the village and a delightful wedge-shaped gap in the church wall to stop the four-footed, and the wrong kind of two-footed, animals joining the congregation (#3).


The locals used to say there was an inn on average every four miles on this stretch, much needed when the road was busy in spring and autumn. 


#4 shows the often-quoted ‘cowpool’ just north of Priors Marston.  Instead of ‘pool’ (corruption of Welsh pwll) one would expect the English ‘pond’, even ‘pit’.  But how many Welshmen went through Priors Marston?

A lot, is the answer.  Many droves would have veered off the Welsh Lane on to the P.M. road and taken the old salt road through Badby to Northampton2.  The Roebuck Inn (#5) in PM was so busy with Welshmen that some entrepreneur decided to build a brothel next to it - where the modern house is in the picture - to relieve some drovers of their cash.  Trade has always been brutal!


You can follow the trail south by looking up "Upper B. to Thorpe M." under the Northants tab…


1 John H Drew quotes a local man as saying (1965): ‘William Watt’s father said years ago that they could hear the clatter of plates at Priors Marston when at Priors Hardwick [about 2 miles as the crow flies].’    

2 Described in more detail under Northants tab: "Hellidon to Badby Saltway".  

Doles to Hardwick image 1
Marston Doles Inn
Doles to Hardwick image 2
Near Hardwick
Doles to Hardwick image 3
St Mary's, PH: No animals!
Doles to Hardwick image 4
The "Cow Pool" at PM
Doles to Hardwick image 5
The Roebuck at PM