Monday, 9 March 2020

The interesting local history of Scratchwoods in film and the M1 Junction 3

Many locals are familiar with Scratchwoods open space, across the UK, far more are aware of London Gateway services. It is quite interesting to note how many local people don't realise that this major hotel complex has a Mill Hill, NW7 post code, or have even stopped by there. This could well be because it is almost impossible to access from Mill Hill. Although I know many people who have worked at the site, it is completely off the radar of local residents. You actually can access the services from Mill Hill, there is a slip road, but it has an ANPR controlled access and only those on 'official business' are allowed to use it.
Following our blog about the M1 and Mill Hill, many  people asked me why there is no junction 3 on the M1. The reason is that Scrtachwoods was meant to be the site of this. The idea was to connect the M1 and A1 at Stirling Corner. There is a great map of this proposed link on the Pathetic motorways site. Given that there is a constant stream of traffic on the A1, from Stirling Corner to the North Circular, whilst the M1 is normally relatively quiet, this seems a rather odd scheme to abandon.

The Pathetic Motorways site explains

Well, the first proposals for the Stirling Corner Link turn up in the late 1950s, when the M1 was still planned to head all the way to Marble Arch. In 1961, the Link was part of the firm proposals for the Hendon Urban Motorway - or what we know as the M1 today between Watford and the A406 North Circular Road. Indeed, if you look at that section of the M1 today, it's remarkably quiet, even at peak hours - simply because all of the junctions south of Watford point away from London. No traffic heading from London can exit the motorway until it gets to Watford. You're not allowed to escape!The Stirling Corner Link would have changed all that. Indeed, there are maps in existence that show a fork junction to and from the south only rather than the roundabout as constructed. Well, half-constructed.For some reason that I haven't yet got to the bottom of, it wasn't constructed along with the rest of that section of M1 in 1967, but it still appers in the roads programme all the way to April 1976 - but by August of that year it had been cancelled in the public spending cuts of the time.And that should have been the end of the story - and indeed as far as the motorway link was concerned, it was. However, the road would not stay dead forever. In 1989, the then-Government announced Roads for Prosperity, a sudden return to the roadbuilding programmes of the past. Hidden down amongst the "all-purpose schemes" was the Stirling Corner Link. Renamed, of course, to the Scratchwood Link just to keep us all on our toes and although it was planned to be a three-lane wide dual carriageway, it was not to be a motorway scheme. The Scratchwood Link was one of the schemes put out to private tender in April 1990, but progress in getting the road constructed was non-existent and the road itself was re-cancelled in the cuts of 1994, seemingly never to return.
Courtesy ;

The services were constructed on the site of the old Scratchwoods ash sidings. Until the early 1960's, Britains railways was operated by coal fired steam engines. These produced a huge amount of waste ash. Much of this in North London was dumped at Scratchwoods Ash sidings. There is an old layout map of these on the S-R-S website (Hat Tip to Robin Morel at Network Rail for the map)

I must thank Murray Anderson for drawing my attention to the fact that a major film had sequences shot in these sidings in 1961. The film starring Dirk Bogarde saw an old LMS locomotive dressed up as a German ammunition train and blown up in the sidings. If you forward to around 13.30 you can see the sequence and how the London Gateway site looked in 1962!

There are also scenes filmed in Mill Hill on Milespit Hill and in Cricklewood Railway shed. You can see these at

The services and Motel were opened in 1970. The full history of the services is detailed on the Motorway services online site. Interestingly, there is an episode of Minder called The long ride back to Scratchwoods. Interestingly, it wasn't filmed at Scrtachwoods, but at Heston Services on the M4!

A fact that not too many people know is that the guns of HMS Belfast, preserved on the River Thames, are targeted on Scratchwoods Service station.  To quote the Londonist
According to the ship's Chief Yeoman, Kevin Price, Scratchwood was picked on because it was a well-known landmark on the M1 motorway. "We could also hit Cheshunt, or Gidea Park, or fall just shy of Dartford," he tells us. Scratchwood, though, has a certain quotidian monotony that invites comparison with Betjeman's "come friendly bombs" prejudice.

There is more to Scratchwoods than the services. The nature reserve is also a popular film location, being used in several Hammer horror films produced at Elstree Studios, including Taste The Blood  of Dracula with Christopher Lee

The opening sequence, before the credits was filmed at Scratchwoods.

Wikipedia tells us that Scratchwoods is part of what was once the Middlesex Forest
Scratchwood is a remnant of the once great Middlesex Forest, and has the largest area of ancient woodland which survives in Barnet. Parts of it may go back to the woods which grew up after the end of the last ice age, the Younger Dryas, 11,500 years ago.[2][5] The ancient woodland consists mainly of sessile oak and hornbeam, with some wild service trees, while secondary woodland areas are mainly birchhawthorns and sycamore. In the view of the London Ecology Unit, "Scratchwood is the Borough's best woodland in terms of floral diversity, especially of ancient woodland indicator species". The herb rich grassland and the pond have a number of rare plants. Breeding birds include nuthatchlesser whitethroat and cuckoo.[2][6]
The Mill Hill Historical Society put out a tweet with some interesting maps charting the decline of the Middlesex forest

It is a shame that with all of this history, locals don't always treat the park with the respect it deserves.

.In the Borough of Barnet we are lucky to still have such amazing green sites. The reasons I spend so many hours writing blogs such as this is to ensure that our heritage and history is preserved and people appreciate the blessings we have. So please, clean up your mess!

1 comment:

Al Weyman said...

I lived very close to the services and we would use the access road which came out at Ellesmere Avenue to visit the services or go up or down the motorway. Big shame the link was never built. I lived up on the hill near Moat Mount and could clearly see the railway in the distance from the back bedroom and one day I spotted a train steaming along on fire. I later learnt they were filming a scene. We as kids also used to go into the marshaling yard and would climb into the engines but never managed to start one up!