Pretty well every mode of transport, including air, comes together at Abbots Langley - or perhaps more accurately, at Hunton Bridge.

The road north through Watford had roughly followed the river Gade through Hunton Bridge past the old water mill for centuries, branching up the hill to serve Abbots Langley along the Upper Highway.

That road was "turnpiked" in 1762 to be part of the Sparrows Herne turnpike - that is, an Act of Parliament permitted the maintenance of the road to be taken on by a board of trustees who were allowed to charge tolls to users to pay for it. The turnpike from Watford crossed the river (the only place it did so) on a bridge after quite sharp left then right bends, and then went on to Kings Langley. It will have provided a very useful service to the inhabitants, and for their wealthier in-coming neighbours.

Watford Observer: The bottom lock at Hunton BridgeThe bottom lock at Hunton Bridge (Image: ALLHS)

That was not the only route north for long, of course: by 1797 the Grand Junction Canal had come through along the river Gade, complete with a wharf at Hunton Bridge (and disputes with the miller, Goodwin, about the water) and a new bridge. So Abbots Langley was now served by both road and canal, at just the time when it began to grow: John Dickinson’s mills were among the important users of the canal from at least 1819.

Watford Observer: Canal boats at Hunton BridgeCanal boats at Hunton Bridge (Image: Postcard)

That tight bend in the road became quite a problem, though, and in 1823 led to a fatal accident when a carriage overturned. The turnpike trust recognised that a wholesale re-alignment was needed, and agreed with the Grand Junction Canal Company to cross the canal on a new line below the locks, where the A411 crosses now. So they built a new bridge in a field next to the canal, diverted the canal to pass under it (hence the odd kink in the canal), and built the new line of the road, by-passing Hunton Bridge but with the old road still leading there and up the hill. The resulting fork in the road has been occupied by a filling station since the 1920s.

Watford Observer: The fork in the road at Hunton BridgeThe fork in the road at Hunton Bridge (Image: ALLHS)

But it was only a few years later, in 1837, that the London and Birmingham Railway arrived. Crossing Hunton Bridge Hill on an impressive bridge (since, of course, much rebuilt), it provided a station neatly located to serve both Kings Langley and Abbots Langley. So now the village was provided with road, canal and rail links, which will have made it increasingly attractive as a place to live and do business.

The development of motor transport provided much more, of course, and much more pressure on the surrounding roads. The A41 developed and grew, the M1 arrived in 1958, and then the M25 completed the picture of Abbots Langley as a place close to (not quite at) the heart of transport systems both ancient and modern, allowing various industries to approach increasingly closely. The airfield at Leavesden is a further story, for later, but it’s still relevant.

Watford Observer: The then newly opened M25 heading for the Gade Valley The then newly opened M25 heading for the Gade Valley (Image: RHS - Geoff Saul)

Many communities have been hugely changed by these influences - but Abbots Langley retains the nature which, one suspects, it’s always had.

Three Rivers Museum ( is very grateful for the contribution of Abbots Langley Local History Society to our knowledge of the story of Abbots Langley. The ALLHS project on the shops of Abbots Langley, ‘Butchers, Bakers and Undertakers’, is just starting – contact to contribute.