|A rough depiction of the location of the tripoints. The stream shown on the previous page lies in the depression in front of the camera, and the image on that page was taken in the trees to the right.|
The point at approximately TF019057 is generally believed to be the only point in the country where four counties meet. However, I believe that the four counties do not meet at a point, but are in fact two tripoints separated by around 20 metres. Here's why...
The boundaries between English counties were defined with unprecedented accuracy by the Local Government Act 1888, when the establishment of County Councils required that each possess a strictly-defined domain. Examination of a map of the area shows that in 1889 there was certainly no quadpoint, with instead two tripoints separated by a few hundred metres. (see below, click to enlarge)
|The area around TF019057 in 1889, showing the county boundaries of the time in yellow. The red circles indicate the tripoints at that time. The blue line represents the location of the current A1 Stamford bypass. Stamford is just to the north east of the picture.|
As the map indicates, the east-west border that divides Rutland+Lincolnshire from Northamptonshire+Peterborough follows the path of a small stream. The border between Northampton and the Soke of Peterborough (bottom of map just right of centre) followed the border of a field. At its northern end it deviated slightly around a cluster of trees, again following the border of the field. The Peterborough-Northampton-Lincolnshire tripoint was thus where this met the stream (red circle right of centre).
The boundary between Rutland and Lincolnshire also followed the eastern border of South View Farm, winding down along the Tinwell to Stamford road and the hedges that delimited the farm before running west along the River Welland for a period and then finally south along the hedge between two fields to meet the stream. This point was the former Rutland-Lincolnshire-Northamptonshire tripoint.
In 1889 the medieval Great North Road that became the A1 ran straight through the centre of Stamford. As traffic along the route increased the town's narrow streets became increasingly strained. Writing in the Spectator in 1956, John Betjeman observed: "In the main streets roaring with lorries and coaches almost as big as houses, heedless of the beauty of the place and merely looking on it as a twisty inconvenience on that ghastly A1 route from London, I found it a difficult job to cross from one narrow pavement to a shop on the other. Stamford of all towns in England deserves to be spared through traffic." Fortunately the plans for a by-pass around the town were already well under way and in 1960 the road that forms the current A1 was opened.
Among the many powers granted to the newly-created Councils by the 1888 Act was the ability to redefine the county boundaries, a power frequently used around the country. The new A1 by-pass sliced the existing farms in two, making the rationale for the previous boundaries obsolete. In the mid 1990s the Lincolnshire-Rutland border was thus redefined between SK999085 and TF019057 to follow the eastern edge of the new A1 road. Meanwhile, the Northamptonshire-Peterborough border underwent no such change, despite the fact that the field defining its course was also sliced in two by the A1. Indeed current Ordnance Survey maps even still show the small wiggle at the northern end of the former field, even though no physical reminder of the field remains.
So if the two borders meeting the stream are defined by different characteristics then they cannot form a true quadpoint,
however close the tripoints lie. It is thus my belief that there are instead two tripoints separated by perhaps 10-20 metres:
i) The Li-Nh-Ru tripoint lies at the eastern side of the path of the stream under the A1 (or perhaps slightly underneath given the
subsequent widening of the A1).
ii) The Pb-Nh-Li tripoint lies where it always did, where the former field met the stream. Well, nearly...
...the situation is actually complicated further by the presence of the railway running west out of Stamford which was built to follow the convenient valley of the stream, crossing it whenever the stream meandered. In fact in places the course of the stream was altered to run alongside the railway rather than underneath it. This was the case for the section of around 100 metres around the Pb-Nh-Li tripoint. Such was the accuracy of the definition of the 1888 borders that this is even indicated on the map of the time, showing the the border no longer followed the stream but dipped a few metres under the railway. The tripoint is thus located somewhere underneath the mound formed by the railway. The photo at the top of the page is a rough estimate of its position, with the A1 bridge visible in the background.
This conclusion is of course based on several conjectures that I shall attempt to prove or disprove -- if anyone has additional info then please let me know. In particular O/S maps of Stamford from the decades just prior to 1960 to find when the boundaries changed, or any other info on boundary changes there.
Image produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map
Image reproduced with kind permission of Ordnance Survey and Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland.