It is one of Watford’s busiest road junctions, the location where the A41 and A412 meet. But how did the Dome roundabout get its name?

It is a question that provoked plenty of interest among members of the Watford Observer’s Nostalgia Faceboook group ‘We grew up in Watford’ earlier this summer and also led to some readers’ leaders.

That interest was prompted by a picture we published from the Watford Museum archive, recalling the giant gas holder that once stood in north Watford.

The museum’s volunteer archivist Christine Orchard suggested the gas holder was the reason the Dome roundabout got its name, but this was disputed by some readers who believe it was named after the Dome Service Station.

Read more: Memories of the giant gas holder at the Dome roundabout

Christine has conducted further research to try to get to the bottom of the origins of the name. These are her words and findings:

Today, there are three petrol stations located around the Dome roundabout: Shell, at the junction of North Western Avenue (A41) and St Albans Road; Sainsbury on the north side of Colne Way (A41) and Asda on the south side of Colne Way (A41). Adsa’s is the one built most recently as it has relocated its petrol station from its original site behind North Watford Library.

The first service station

Before these three businesses were established, the very first service station at this roundabout was on the north side of North Western Avenue at the junction with Purbrock Avenue. It was a rectangular structure set back from the road and was known as The Dome Service Station.

Watford Observer:

The earliest known photograph of the roundabout from 1932, before the construction of Odhams. Credit: Britain from Above

Around 1962, the petrol station became Blue Star Garages Ltd and continued with this name until the mid to late 1970s when it was again named the Dome Service Station.

Petrol services ceased sometime after 1990 (the exact date is unknown) and the structure demolished. A car sales business operated on the site for a period and more recently a block of flats has been constructed and named Dome Mews.

The second service station

A second service station did not arrive at this roundabout until c1965. The new structure was a round building and was constructed on a vacant corner plot on the south side of North Western Avenue at the junction with St Albans Road. Today this is the location for the Shell garage, but in 1966 it was known as the Watford Way Service Station.

For a very short period, in the late 1960s, the company on the site was known as Dome Motors (Garston) Ltd. This later changed to Odeon Motors. It is believed that it was a National garage before becoming the Sceptre Service Station.

Watford Observer:

An aerial view of the roundabout from 1965 or earlier. Credit: Watford Museum

Conclusion - and speculation

There is good documentary evidence that supports the presence of both “The Dome Service Station” and gasometer at the roundabout in 1932. However, earlier details for either structure to indicate when construction began or official openings occurred, have not yet been traced. This means the origins of the word ‘Dome’ in the roundabout’s name is still a ‘chicken and egg’ case.

However, earlier known sources may lead to a closer understanding, if not a final answer, of which came first.

Watford Observer:

The roundabout pictured in 1957 or later. Credit: Watford Museum

In 1927, the Watford By-pass (now A41) between Hunton Bridge and the Edgware/Elstree Road was opened to traffic. This new road would have presented excellent petrol service business opportunities, and roundabouts are ideal locations for them as traffic is moving at a slower speed. Therefore it is entirely plausible for the new service station at this By-pass/St Albans Road roundabout, to have been in operation before the gasometer was constructed.

If this is the case then another source for the name is needed. It is not known if this new business was independent or part of a chain of service stations. However, an advert placed in a Middlesex regional paper in 1931 contains details of a business known as The Dome Service Station. Located at the junction of the Great West Road and Ealing Road in Brentford, it was approximately half a mile away from a local gasworks. Both service station and a gasometer-like structure can be seen on an aerial photograph of the Brentford area, dated 1938 . This structure appears very tall and is likely to have been visible from the Great West Road.

This may be a possible source for the Dome name but it is not known if there is a connection between the Brentford and Watford businesses nor which was established first. It may simply be coincidence rather than a link. The Dome service station in Brentford still retains its name and, today, is an Esso garage.

Watford Observer:

The roundabout from above captured on July 24, 1968. Credit: Watford Museum 

Another piece of Watford’s history that may be of assistance with the origins of the roundabout’s name relates to the gasometer and its size and appearance which was not welcomed by local residents. Early aerial photographs show that it dominated the area and was situated, all by itself, on a green-field site. A letter complaining about the gasometer were sent to the Watford Observer, in October 1932, from the Watford Ratepayers Association. The following week a meeting was held and again reported in the paper.

So, it seems both petrol station and gasometer are both still candidates for the naming of the roundabout. The first petrol station has the ‘Dome’ name and possibly pre-dates the gasometer. However, the gasometer may be the source too and come about because of a hatred of the structure. The roundabout may have locally been named because of that ‘dome’.

Until further sources become available the case remains unsolved and it is not yet known when the ‘Dome roundabout’ name came into regular use. However, by 1955 it was well established as it was noted as one of the points on the route taken by the Billy Smart’s circus when it came to Watford.

Watford Observer:

An advert for Billy Smart's Circus from the Harrow Observer of October 27, 1955, referencing the Dome roundabout