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This article is about Watford Gap and village. For the larger town 80 km (50 miles) south, see Watfordmarker, Hertfordshiremarker.
The Watford Gap is located at a natural break in the hills, in the county of Northamptonshiremarker, Englandmarker. Engineers from Roman times onwards have found it to be a logical route connecting the English Midlandsmarker with the South East.

In a width of the A5 road, Grand Union Canalmarker, West Coast Main Linemarker railway and M1 motorway all traverse the gap in parallel.

Focal point

The easiest route between the London and Birmingham areas passes through or close to the small village of Watfordmarker in Northamptonshiremarker. The first of the routes, the Watling Streetmarker Roman road is an important north-south route constructed in the era of Roman Britain. This is now the A5 trunk route.

Later the road was joined by Grand Union Canalmarker, the main waterway link between London and Birmingham. The Leicester Arm branch of the canal forks off from the Main Line and passes up the Watford Locksmarker just to the north.

The geographic importance of the area has led to many modern communication routes passing through this narrow gap; the coming of the railways brought the London and Birmingham Railway linking London to Birmingham and later onto Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow as it evolved into the West Coast Main Line as it is known today. The most recent addition, in 1959, was Britain's first inter-urban motorway linking London and Yorkshire; and the first motorway service station.

Although the Watford Gap is traditionally recognised as division separating North and South, topographically it is a division between East and West. A tributary of the River Nenemarker rises at Watford and flows east ending up at The Washmarker, whereas at Kilsby a tributary of the River Leammarker rises and flows west, joining the River Avon at Royal Leamington Spamarker and ending up in the Bristol Channelmarker.

Stagecoach route

Historically, this was the traditional crossing point on the old east-west stagecoach route across Englandmarker. An important coaching inn, named The Watford Gap was located in the area.

The pub, and the route from Cambridgemarker to Coventrymarker, are mentioned as early as 1769 . This route ran through Northamptonmarker, Duston, Harlestone, past Althorpmarker Park, Brington, Long Buckbymarker, Watford, Watford Gap itself - the map indicating that the coaching inn was on the west side of Watling Streetmarker, and then into Kilsbymarker. The route from Watford Gap to Kilsby is now part of the diverted A5 road following construction of the M1 motorway.

The location of the Watford Gap coaching inn is the subject of confusion, with a location on the east side of the Grand Junction canal (within the confines of the modern service station) being the most frequently cited. That is in a similar location to the disused Welton Station and there is no mention of a Watford Gap pub, nor any pub at the suggested location on the 1889 or 1927 or 1952 Ordnance Surveymarker maps of Northamptonshire. The nearest pub being the now-closed Stags Head Inn on Station Road, Watford. The original location is further north on Watling Streetmarker and is shown on the 1889, 1927 and 1952 map ( ).

The canal side building still stands but as of 2000 has closed for business and is in need of renovation. The earlier Watford Gap is also still standing and is in a good state of repair, and is generally unaltered with the stabling yards and main structures used as farm buildings, it can be easily viewed from the road, there is a parking layby on the southbound side of Watling Street

Motorway impact

Nowadays, the village lends its name to the nearby Watford Gap service station on the M1 motorway which was the first motorway service station in the United Kingdom.

Popular use

Whilst driving on the M1 the services are unofficially, and sometimes comically, known as the point where the north/south divide occurs.

Margaret Thatcher stated that Corbymarker—the first large town north of the Watford gap—was the "gateway to the North".

However, it has since become more popular to use the phrase "north of Watford", referring to the larger and unconnected town of Watford, Hertfordshiremarker nearer to London. The reason for this change is potentially due to the signs at Staples Cornermarker, where the M1 begins, reading simply "M1, Watford, The North" thus potentially implying that Watford is the last place in the South; or possibly due to many people being ignorant of the existence of Watford Gap and are familiar only with the larger town of Watford.


Roy Harper wrote a song named after the area. The song Anfield Rap released by Liverpool FC makes reference to The Gap.


External links

  • Public House
  • Services

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