SAWBRIDGEWORTH IS AN ATTRACTIVE small town with many picturesque old buildings and a parish church, St Mary’s, whose construction began in the 13th century. It is an unusual edifice, being about as wide as its length, rather than longer than its width as is the case for most English churches. It contains a fine selection of elaborate funerary sculptures.
The most impressive funerary monument is the memorial to John Leventhorpe and his wife Joan, who died in 1625 and 1627 respectively. Within a multi-coloured marble frame, both of the deceased are depicted reclining on their left sides with their heads propped up by their left hands. John holds a sword in his right hand and Joan a small book in hers, Beneath the two statues, the couple’s six sons (one of whom, Arthur, died as a baby) and eight daughters are depicted in bas-relief, all kneeling in prayer. Baby Arthur is also present on the memorial but has been sculpted much smaller than his brothers. The whole sculptural ensemble is magnificent, and if you had time to see only one thing in Sawbridgeworth, this should not be missed.
High on the wall facing the Leventhorpe memorial, there is a smaller one, commemorating Jeremiah Milles (died 1797) and his wife Rose, who died in 1835. It is typical of early 19th century memorial art. It shows a female mourner in Hellenic dress kneeling in front of a sarcophagus. It was sculpted by John Termouth (1795-1849) of Pimlico (London).
The sculptor of the Leventhorpe memorial has been forgotten, but Termouth, who sculpted the Milles memorial, has not been consigned to obscurity. A notice in St Mary’s revealed that Termouth was:
“… an uninteresting artist whose symbolism was always obvious, hackneyed, and uninspired.”
THE CHINESE MEDICAL College in Hong Kong was founded in 1887 by the physician Sir James Cantlie (1851-1926), who was the inventor of what we now call ‘first aid’ and one of the founders of The London School of Tropical Medicine. One of his first students in Hong Kong was Sun Deming, better known as Sun Yat Sen (1866-1925). In 1878, Sun went to Honolulu to live with his elder brother. There, he was educated well in English at school. Aged 17, he returned to China. After desecrating a temple, he fled to Hong Kong, then under British rule, where he continued his education, joining the Chinese Medical College in 1887, having already studied a bit of western medicine elsewhere. In 1892, he graduated as a medical doctor. He became a friend of Sir James Cantlie.
In 1896, poor health forced Cantlie to return to London. That year, Sun came to England to visit Cantlie. Already out of favour with the Imperial Chinese government because of his revolutionary activities, private agents employed by the Chinese were sent to Liverpool where he landed to follow his movements. The reason for his conversion to political activism are summarised in an on-line article (www.newstatesman.com/international-content/2021/10/the-london-kidnapping-that-changed-china) as follows:
“The contrast between the colonial advancement he encountered abroad and the endemic poverty he knew from home convinced Sun that China needed revolutionary change. Rather than becoming a doctor, he helped engineer a rebellion in Canton (Guangzhou) in 1895. The failure of the uprising forced Sun to go on the run, which is why he ended up in Britain the following year.”
The first person that Sun visited after arriving in London was his old teacher Cantlie, who lived close to the Chinese embassy, which was, and still is, in Portland Place. On his way there, Sun was kidnapped and held captive in the embassy. He would have faced death had not he persuaded the embassy’s English housekeeper, a Mrs Howe, to smuggle a note to Dr Cantlie. An influential man, Cantlie managed to get Sun released, as was described in the above-mentioned article:
“In the end, it was an article about the kidnapping in the Globe that did the trick. On the following day, 23 October 1896, a large crowd formed outside the legation, noisily demanding Sun’s release. While diplomatic and legal wheels moved in the background, the ambassador and his staff realised they had to let their prisoner go. Sun emerged on to the street a national hero. While recovering at Cantlie’s house, he gave a long interview to the liberal-left Daily News, giving British readers their first insights into China’s embryonic revolutionary movement.”
Late last year, we were driving to Buntingford in Hertfordshire when we passed through the nearby village of Cottered. As the traffic was slow-moving, we managed to spot a memorial plaque attached to a house. We did not stop, but we saw enough of it to realise it had something to do with Sun Yat Sen. Very recently, we returned to Cottered to look at the plaque more carefully because we were intrigued that the Sun Yat Sen had a connection with a tiny Hertfordshire village. The plaque attached to a house called The Kennels reads as follows: “Sun Yat Sen “Father of Modern China” was a frequent visitor to this house while in exile from his home country.” Beneath Sun’s name there are three Chinese characters: “孫中山” which Google translates as ‘Sun Yat-sen’.
“His connection to the property, called The Kennels, comes from his life-long friendship with physician Sir James Cantlie, who owned the house, earlier taught him medicine in Hong Kong – and in 1896 saved him from imprisonment by agents of the Qing monarchy at the Chinese Legation in London.
Dr Sun visited the Cantlies in London and Cottered whenever he was in Britain … Sir James’ son Kenneth recalled one of the statesman’s visits to the village:
‘I must have been about five years old. It was sunset on a summer evening, and Dr Sun was walking up and down in the orchard. He was wearing a grey frock-coat and his homburg hat was tilted forward to keep the level sun out of his eyes. He had his hands behind his back and was pondering deeply. I was about to rush up to him in my usual impetuous way, when I stopped. ‘He is probably thinking great thoughts,’ I said to myself, and I went quietly away. I was not in the least afraid of Dr Sun, who was kindness itself – but my parents and my nurse may have put the idea into my head that here was a great man who must not be interrupted when he was thinking.”
Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Cantlie (1899-1986) was about five years old in 1904, which was when Sun was living outside China.
The article continued:
“In 1912, after the success of the Xinhai Revolution – which established a Chinese republic, with Sun Yat-sen as its first provisional president – the doctor wrote with clear affection to the Cantlies. On paper headed ‘The President’s Office’, he wrote: “It makes me feel more grateful to you when from the present position I look back on my past of hardships and strenuous toil, and think of your kindnesses shown me all the while that I can never nor will forget.”
Both Sir James and his son Lt Col Kenneth are buried in the cemetery of Cottered’s parish church close to its southern door. According to “The Comet”:
“After Dr Cantlie died and was buried at St John’s Church in Cottered in 1926, the Chinese minister to Britain, Sao-Ke Alfred Sze, laid a memorial tablet at the church. Dr Cantlie’s grave in the churchyard is engraved with a Chinese translation of the gospel verse Matthew 5:7.
China Central Television visited the house in 2001, and again in 2011 as part of filming for a documentary series on the Xinhai Revolution.”
Sadly, I could find neither the tablet amongst the Cantlie family gravestones nor the engraving in Chinese, which is a translation of “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”. Despite this, revisiting Cottered was well worthwhile, and it has for me sparked an increased interest in the birth of modern China. We hope to return to Cottered to see inside its church, which, judging by pictures posted online, looks fascinating.
WE ATTENDED A WEDDING in a most attractive location today, the 25th September 2021. The ceremony was held in the great hall of a palace favoured by Queen Elizabeth I. Built in 1497, most of the palace was demolished but this superb hall, a masterpiece of Tudor architecture, remains. The great hall has a newer neighbour, a triumph of Jacobean architecture: Hatfield House built in about 1608 and incorporating material from the former palace of which only the great hall remains. The Jacobean edifice was built for Robert Cecil (1563-1612), First Earl of Salisbury. Some of his descendants still reside in the house.
With about 250 people attending and dining at long tables, it was not hard to imagine such joyous festivities occurring during the Tudor heyday of the great hall.
THE VILLAGE OF APSLEY, now a suburb of Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire, has no connection with Apsley House at London’s Hyde Park Corner. The house, once home to The Duke of Wellington, derives its name from Apsley in Sussex. The place in Hertfordshire, which we visited with friends today, derives its name from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning ‘aspen’ (a kind of tree). We had lunch with our friends at a waterside pub called The Paper Mill.
Although the pub appears to be of recent construction, its name recalls the fact that it is built near the site of a once innovative paper making establishment. John Dickinson (1782-1869) was the inventor of a machine that made paper continuously as opposed to the previous manual methods that produced sheets of paper rather than rolls of it. He also invented a range of other practical products including security paper impregnated with silk threads, which was known as ‘penny post’, and, still in use today, the envelope with a gummed flap.
During the early part of the 19th century, Dickinson bought several mills in and around Apsley. He converted these for the manufacture of paper products. Only one of his three mills still stands today. The mills were located close to the then recently built Grand Junction Canal (now ‘Grand Union’). The canal provided a practical mode of transport for raw materials and finished products. The pub where we ate lunch is named to honour the memory of what was once a thriving industry in Apsley. It is located next to the canal and contains a framed family tree of John Dickinson’s family.
After a lazy lunch in the sun by the waterside, we took a leisurely stroll along the canal. Modern housing developments line parts of the stretch of water flowing through Apsley. Other parts are lined with shady trees and dense bushes, which hide modern office buildings that are served by a main road running parallel to the canal. Unlike other stretches of the canal, which we have walked along, there was a notable absence of waterfowl, except for a couple of swans with their four cygnets, and a pair of ducks. Other signs of life on the canal were the occasional slow moving narrow boat and the inhabitants of stationary craft moored along the banks and in a marina near the pub.
It was a hot afternoon and being beside the canal was pleasant. Occasional gentle gusts of cool air added to our enjoyment.
KEEN READERS OF NOVELS by Georgette Heyer (1902-1974) will have come across the name ‘Hitchin’ in several of her stories. For example, in “The Foundling”, Belinda sighs, and then says:
“She went to a place called Hitchin, but I don’t know where it is, and I only recall it because it sounds like kitchen, and I think that is very droll, don’t you, sir?”
She receives the reply:
“But Hitchin lies only a few miles from here! I daresay no more than six or seven, perhaps not as much! If you think you would like to visit this friend, I will take you there tomorrow! Do you know her direction?”
Later in the story, there are frequent mentions of Hitchin and a ‘Sun Inn’ in the town. There used to be an inn with that name on Sun Street, where currently, there is a Sun Hotel. In another novel, “The Reluctant Widow”, Hitchin is the name of the landlord of an inn, ‘The Bull’ in Wisborough Green, a village in West Sussex.
It is only in recent years that I have begun to read the wonderfully crafted historical novels by Heyer, but I was aware of Hitchin even as a young child. In those now far-off days, when I lived near Golders Green in north London, I was a collector of bus and train maps and an enthusiastic observer of buses. One of the buses that passed through Golders Green and along Finchley Road was the Green Line route number 716 that travelled all the way from Chertsey in southwest London to … you have probably guessed … Hitchin, far north of London in Hertfordshire. It was only today (11th of May 2021) that I finally got to visit Hitchin. I had read that it has a picturesque historic town centre and what we found surpassed all expectations.
A 7th century document states that Hitchin was the centre of the Hicce people, ‘hicce’ being Old English for ‘the people of the horse’. By 1086, when the Domesday Book was compiled, Hitchin was described as a ‘Royal Manor’. The town’s name is also associated with the River Hiz (pronounced ‘hitch’ by some), a short stretch of which flows in front of the eastern end of the centrally located St Mary’s Church, which is mostly 15th century with an 11th century tower. Later, the town thrived because of the wool trade; vellum and parchment making; tanning; rope-making; malting; and its coaching inns, such as that mentioned in Heyer’s novel. Hitchin was a staging post for coaches travelling between London and what road signs in the south of England call ‘The North’. The town is not far from the current A1 trunk road. Many of the inns have long since closed, but their picturesque buildings, most of which look mediaeval, or at least pre-Georgian, still stand and can often be identified by the large archways leading from the street into yards behind them. Grain trading was another important activity in the town. Its former Corn Exchange still stands in the Market Square, but its use is no longer what it was built for.
Despite the 20th century improvements in transport links to London, making Hitchin into a convenient place for commuters, the historic town centre contains a remarkably high number of old buildings lining its mediaeval street lay-out. These old throughfares surround the lovely, large Market Square, which like many towns and cities in mainland Europe, was filled with tables and chairs for people to enjoy refreshments from the many eateries that surround it. A covered arcade leads off the square and provides a weather-proof place for refreshments. Nearby, there is a modern market area with stalls with conical roofs. We were fortunate to have arrived on a day, Tuesday, when this market is working.
Our first impression of Hitchin was extremely favourable, but because we had planned to do so much more sightseeing that day, we did not spend nearly enough time there. We hope to revisit this place again soon. I can strongly recommend the Hitchin to anyone who wants to get a flavour of ‘Ye Olde England’ without having to travel too far from London.
IRRIGATED BY MANY STREAMS, branches of several rivers, notably the Lea and the Beane, the town of Hertford is the county town of Hertfordshire in eastern England. Some parts of this historic place with its numerous water-filled channels recalled distant memories of Brugge (Bruges) in Belgium but the architecture differs considerably from what one sees in the Belgian city. We made our very first visit to Hertford on the 2nd of May 2021 and were surprised by its richness in old buildings and waterside parklands. Amongst the edifices in the historic centre of the town, we came across a well-restored brick building on Fore Street. It, the massive though elegant Shire Hall, now the home of a Crown Court, dwarfs its neighbours. Apart from its size and elegance, its architect attracted my interest.
In 1627, a Sessions House was constructed on the site of the present Shire Hall following the issue of a charter by King Charles I (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1268930). By the mid-18th century, it was considered to be too small. An Act of Parliament issued in 1768 during the reign of King George III led to raising money to build a new shire hall. The specifications were sent out to various architects, and amongst the six short-listed were the now very famous Robert Adam (1728-1792) and his far less well-known younger brother James Adam (1732-1794). The new structure was to incorporate:
“…2 courts, a room for the Corporation of Hertford, and both with and without a County Room.”
The Adam’s brothers won the contract to carry out the above along with the addition of a previously unspecified Assembly Room.
James Adams took charge of the project, which commenced in April 1769 and was completed in April 1771. The arcaded ground floor was used by the Corn Exchange until 1849, after which date a separate edifice for the Corn Exchange was built in 1857-58 on Fore Street. James Adam built far fewer buildings than his better-known brother Robert. James and Robert, both born in Kircaldy (Scotland), started their architectural practice in London in 1758. Not only did they design buildings but also, they provided detailed designs for their interior decoration and furnishings; they provided what could be described as a ‘holistic’ design service. James collaborated with Robert on several other projects apart from the Shire Hall in Hertford. These include the now mostly demolished Adelphi buildings near London’s Strand and Wedderburn Castle in Berwickshire.
The Assembly Room in the Shire Hall, which was used for concerts and theatrical performances, is supposed to have inspired Jane Austen (1775-1817) when she was writing her novel “Pride and Prejudice”, part of which is set in the fictional ‘Merytown’, which she might have based on Hertford. The Assembly Room featured as the ballroom in Austen’s novel (http://wardtimes.info/hertfordshire/east-herts/hertford/news/what-now-shire-hall-hertford). Here is a little extract from Chapter 3 of the book:
“An invitation to dinner was soon afterwards dispatched; and already had Mrs. Bennet planned the courses that were to do credit to her housekeeping, when an answer arrived which deferred it all. Mr. Bingley was obliged to be in town the following day, and, consequently, unable to accept the honour of their invitation, etc. Mrs. Bennet was quite disconcerted. She could not imagine what business he could have in town so soon after his arrival in Hertfordshire; and she began to fear that he might be always flying about from one place to another, and never settled at Netherfield as he ought to be. Lady Lucas quieted her fears a little by starting the idea of his being gone to London only to get a large party for the ball; and a report soon followed that Mr. Bingley was to bring twelve ladies and seven gentlemen with him to the assembly. The girls grieved over such a number of ladies, but were comforted the day before the ball by hearing, that instead of twelve he brought only six with him from London—his five sisters and a cousin. And when the party entered the assembly room it consisted of only five altogether—Mr. Bingley, his two sisters, the husband of the eldest, and another young man.”
The above-mentioned assembly room was that in the Hertfordshire town of Meryton to which the wealthy Mr Bingley had recently arrived from the north of England. Although the Assembly Room, mentioned in the novel, is thought to be that in the building designed by the Adam brothers in Hertford, at least one authority identifies Meryton not with Hertford but instead with nearby Ware (http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/dighum/2016/12/01/mapping-pride-and-prejudice/). Yet another informant felt:
Stepping aside from the identification of the fictional Meryton in “Pride and Prejudice”, I must not forget to mention the large clock attached to the Shire Hall, which projects over Fore Street. Supplied by the Hertford bell founder and clockmaker John Briant (1749-1829), this clock with two faces was erected on the Shire Hall in 1824. It still works and now has a mechanism regulated by a radio signal from Rugby (www.hertford.gov.uk/town-clocks/).
Apart from the Adelphi, which I have seen several times, but until now did not know it was associated with James Adam, the Shire Hall is the first building of which I was aware of James’s hand in its design. I noticed that a plaque attached to this building makes no mention of Robert Adam but only of his brother. It reads:
“Shire Hall. Designed by James Adam. Built 1769-1771”
I do not know whether one can conclude from this that James’s contribution to its design was considerably greater than that of his brother, if he had any involvement at all. In any case, the large structure has a magnificent presence in amongst the smaller and often older buildings amongst which it stands.
YOU CAN NEVER PREDICT how much traffic you will encounter on the roads in and near London. So, we always allow extra time when making a trip, and often we arrive earlier than we had planned. Such was the case yesterday when we had arranged to meet some friends for a walk in Heartwood Forest, which is close to the village of Sandridge in Hertfordshire. We reached our destination about an hour too early and stopped in Sandridge to get a warm drink and to take a look around. What little remains of old Sandridge is attractive and is worth a visit despite its description in “Hertfordshire, a Shell Guide” by RM Healey:
“Subtopian clutter in a village that has ribboned out to join St Albans.”
We bought coffee in the well-stocked small village shop and heard its owner saying:
“I am still in business despite being surrounded by three Tesco Express supermarkets.”
Now, here is a strange coincidence. After dinner, when I had finally warmed up after our excessively chilled walk in Heartwood Forest, I settled down to continue reading the wonderful biography of John Churchill (1650-1722), the First Duke of Marlborough, by Richard Holmes, and read on page 110:
“On 14 May that year John Churchill was created Baron Churchill of Sandridge in Hertfordshire …”
The year was 1685. Well, I was staggered to read the name of the village, of whose existence I had not previously been aware and which we had just visited by chance earlier that day. I reached for my Shell Guide to Hertfordshire but found no mention of Churchill in the section about Sandridge. Somewhat surprised by this omission, I looked up ‘Sandridge’ in James Thorne’s “Handbook to The Environs of London”, published in 1876. Thorne revealed something about Churchill’s connection with Sandridge.
The manor of Sandridge was given to Sir Ralph Rowlett (before 1513-1571; see: http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1509-1558/member/rowlett-sir-ralph-1513-71) of Holywell House (St Albans, Hertfordshire), Member of Parliament for Hertfordshire and Master of the Mint of England (in1543), by Henry VII in 1540. When Sir Ralph, who had no heirs, died, it was passed on to his sister Elizabeth, the wife of Ralph Jennings (aka ‘Jenyns’; 1529-1572; http://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Jenyns-10). Sir Ralph died in Churchill, Somerset. The Jennings family kept the manor for several generations. When Richard Jennings (c1619-1668) died, he left the manor to his three daughters, Barbara, Frances, and Sarah (1660-1744; the youngest). Sarah was probably born in Water End House, which was built by her grandfather John Jennings (Jenyns) and which I have described elsewhere (https://adam-yamey-writes.com/2020/07/23/why-go-abroad/).
In 1677 or ’78, John Churchill, then a colonel, married Richard’s daughter Sarah Jennings. Then, he purchased the other sisters’ shares in the manor of Sandridge so that he owned the whole property. This permitted him to gain his first aristocratic title, that of ‘Baron Churchill of Sandridge’. As a baron, he was able to sit in the House of Lords. However, his attempt to become an MP for his borough, St Albans, met with failure:
On reflection, it seems a bit strange that we did not notice any obvious indication in Sandridge of the connection of the celebrated John Churchill, ancestor of Sir Winston Churchill, with the village in the manor he acquired. Some months earlier we had visited the village of East Knoyle (in Wiltshire), where the architect Christopher Wren was born in 1632. Despite the fact that Christopher left the village with his family when he was only three years old, visitors to East Knoyle are left in no doubt about its famous connection.
What remains of old Sandridge is attractive, even in the appalling weather conditions that we endured whilst walking around it. The village’s name is derived from ‘Saundruage’ meaning a place of sandy soil worked by bond tenants (i.e., feudal tenants completely subject to a lord or manor to whom they paid dues and services in return for land). The earliest written record of the place is in a document dated 796 AD.
The most fascinating building in the village is the Church of St Leonards. Although its exterior looks in great condition, it contains some structural elements that were put in place in the 10th century. These include Roman bricks found at sites near and in St Albans (Roman ‘Verulamium’). The church was consecrated as ‘St Leonards’ by 1119. Later, the church experienced modifications and enlargements. Sadly, but predictably during this time of pandemic, the church was locked. So, we will have to make another visit to see this interesting building when things ease up. Likewise, the picturesque Queen’s Head pub next to the church was also closed, except for take-away meals.
The Queens Head was built in the 17th century and, maybe, earlier, but has had much later work done to it (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1102874). The pub sign has the portrait of a woman’s head. The lady depicted has long black hair and is wearing a garment that exposes her neck and upper chest but not her cleavage. One long ringlet of her hair, which ends in a helical coil, is draped over the front of her left shoulder, and her face is looking slightly towards her right. The portrayal on the pub sign resembles that of Queen Anne (reigned 1702-1714) found in many better painted pictures. This might not be accidental on a pub that existed long before Anne was on the throne. For, Lady Sarah Churchill, John’s wife, was a court favourite of Queen Anne. Incidentally, it is one of three pubs in this tiny village.
Once again, a short stop in a small English village has been most rewarding both from the aesthetic viewpoint and also because it has caused me to learn yet more detail about the fascinating history of the country where I live. I am grateful to our friends in Hatfield for giving us an excuse to discover Sandridge, a place so close to London but until yesterday, not on our ‘radar’.
ON THE DAY BEFORE the second English ‘lockdown’ commenced in early November (2020), we drove to Abingdon Piggott to enjoy one more excellent luncheon at the Pig and Abbott pub. On this, our fourth visit in the same number of months, I enjoyed one of the best fish pies I have ever tasted. On our way to lunch and to satisfy our love of sightseeing, we visited Buntingford, a small town in the east of Hertfordshire.
As the ‘ford’ part of the town’s name suggests, Buntingford is on a river, the River Rib, which is a tributary of the River Lea. Also, the town lies on the course of the Roman road known as Ermine Street, which linked London with Lincoln. For many centuries, Buntingford, which is located just west of the Greenwich (or Prime) Meridian, was a staging post on the main road from London to Cambridge, the current A10. The town contains many buildings that were once coaching inns. Of these, only one or two still operate as pubs. Since this main road was diverted around Buntingford via a bypass constructed in the mid-1980s, the town, filled with historic buildings, has become a pleasant backwater.
The town’s name is most likely derived from ‘Bunta’, which was the name of an Anglo-Saxon tribe or its chieftain. A local historian, one Frank Bunting, writes (www.hertsmemories.org.uk/content/herts-history/towns-and-villages/buntingford/origin_of_buntingford_name) that there was once a village called ‘Bunting’, which was a few miles north of the present Buntingford. It is, he claims, marked on a map drawn in 1732 by Herman Moll (c1674-1732), which does not mark Buntingford, which was probably then too small to add to the map. Now, according to the historian, Bunting has disappeared and Buntingford is a town of some size. I have looked at an on-line copy of Moll’s map of Hertfordshire (https://www.archiuk.com/cgi-bin/slideshow_loop.pl?gallery_subject=herman_moll&filename2show=hertfordshire-old-map-1724-herman-moll.jpg&launchpage=old-map-index-page) and found that it marks ‘Bunting’ close alongside ‘ford’, the two words being separated by Moll’s simple plan of the town. It appears that Buntingford was significant enough to appear on Moll’s map and that the place called ‘Bunting’ probably never existed in this area. A document prepared by or for the Knights Templars in 1185 mentions the town as ‘Buntas Ford’.
Most of the older part of Buntingford lies alongside the long straight road, the former Ermine Street. It is here that you can see the former coaching inns, each with an archway leading to the courtyards behind them. There are also several other picturesque edifices dating back to the 18th century and earlier. At the south end of the High Street, there is a Church of England church, St Peters, which looks Victorian, but it was originally constructed in about 1615. It has undergone so much modification that its early origin is difficult to discern. Just north of this is the Manor House, a fine 18th century building, which now houses the offices of the Town Council. Next to this on the side of the road there is a wooden enclosure containing a hand operated water pump encased in timber. This was erected to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1897. The Black Bull pub opposite the Town Council is one of the few former coaching inns still serving as a hostelry.
Church Street that leads east from the Ermine Street winds downhill to the River Rib. It passes an attractive gothic revival cottage called ‘Fancy Hall’ (built 1825) and then a quaint old pub, the Fox and Duck (first licensed in 1711), which does not look like it was formerly a coaching inn. The River Rib flows just below the pub and can be crossed either by a bridge or a ford, which looks recently constructed. The ford after which the town got its name was where the Rib crossed Ermine Street.
Next, Church Road continues uphill on the other side of the river but with the name, The Causeway. It winds steeply uphill first passing a long brick wall, the boundary of a private property called Little Court, which I was unable to enter. This building was constructed in the early 19th century with bricks from an earlier building on the site that was built in 1598 and demolished in 1819 (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1174663). The road continued seemingly endlessly up hill and into the countryside before ending at the isolated, flint walled Layston Church. This is St Bartholomew whose construction began in the 13th century if not before. The roof of its nave is of very recent construction (21st century) with a row of skylights below the roof tiles. The church is now used as a private dwelling. Known in the Domesday Book as ‘Ichetone’, the parish of Layston contained the town of Buntingford. Therefore, the now deconsecrated church of St Bartholomew used to be Buntingford’s parish church, a role now assumed by St Peter in the town.
In common with Washington DC, Buntingford has its own White House. Built in the 18th century, this is not the home of presidents, but probably served as a private residence. Opposite it, and high above the pavement and above a passageway leading to a car park, there is a small, picturesque clock with its own gabled roof. It is an example of a single-handed turret clock. It was already in existence in 1618, when local citizens paid for various alterations and repairs. The clock, which might have been first placed there in 1558, has undergone numerous modifications and improvements over the centuries but what we see does not look remarkably different to how it was originally. It contained a bell that was replaced in 1742 by the present one, which is sounded on auspicious and sad occasions including on the day of the funeral of Wellington in 1852.
I hope that I have written enough to persuade you to spend an hour or two in Buntingford, a town that is often bypassed at speed by motorists on the A10. Once again, we have found much of interest in a place in England that hardly gets a mention in guidebooks yet is full of beautiful historical sights. By the way, if you are in need of a coffee whilst in Buntingford, you would do well to visit The Buntingford Coffee Shop, which is almost beneath the ancient Town Clock.
OUR FRIEND MICHAEL G, who has been following my accounts of our motorised rambles around England since the ‘lockdown’ eased in July 2020, recommended that we should visit the village of Barley in northern Hertfordshire, a place he knows well. We followed his suggestion and were not disappointed.
Barley lies surrounded by deep countryside a few miles east of the town of Royston, which is between Baldock and Cambridge, whose station has signs that tell travellers that the city is “The Home of Ruskin Anglia University”. There have been human settlements in the area since the Bronze Age. The name ‘Barley’ has nothing to do with the crop of that name but is derived from the Old English words meaning ‘lea’ or ‘meadow’. There might also have been an Anglo-Saxon tribe based in Hertfordshire to whom this name referred. The Domesday Book recorded the village as ‘Berlei’, which might be derived from ‘Beora’s Ley’, meaning the woodland clearing of the Saxon lord, ‘Beora’ (www.barley-village.co.uk/about). In 2011, the village had a population of 662. It is a small place, bursting with interest.
The church of St Margaret of Antioch stands on a rise surrounded by a vast cemetery with many gravestones in different styles. The church with its curious spire, which we were able to enter, dates from the 12th century, but has many later modifications. In its structure, the viewer may discover elements of different styles of English architecture ranging from the 12th to 19th centuries. The church is pleasant to the eye, but I found the name of the saint of greater interest than the church itself. St Margaret of Antioch, a saint whom I had never encountered before, is also known as ‘St Marina’. She lived in the 3rd to 4th centuries AD and was highly venerated in mediaeval times. According to an online encyclopaedia (www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Margaret-of-Antioch), her story is verging on incredible:
“During the reign (284–305) of the Roman emperor Diocletian, Margaret allegedly refused marriage with the prefect Olybrius at Antioch and was consequently beheaded after undergoing extravagant trials and tortures. Her designation as patron saint of expectant mothers (particularly in difficult labour) and her emblem, a dragon, are based on one of her trials: Satan, disguised as a dragon, swallowed Margaret; his stomach, however, soon rejecting her, opened, and let her out unharmed.”
Well, we had to go all the way to Barley to become acquainted with this saintly lady.
Margaret House, next to the church, is now a home for disabled folk and dementia sufferers. Parts of it closest to the church look quite old. Actually, they are not so ancient. Once the rectory, it underwent many modifications between 1831 and 1833, possibly following a fire. These were supervised and designed by Anthony Salvin (1799-1881), an expert in creating buildings in the mediaeval style (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1347406). Since Salvin’s time, the older building has been joined to a far larger modern edifice.
Across the road from the church and at a lower altitude, we saw a beautiful Tudor building, the ‘Town House’, which was formerly Barley’s guildhall. Sadly, it was locked up. It would have been fascinating to enter this well-conserved (highly restored) building constructed in the early 16th century, but during this time of plague that was not possible. In addition to this fine edifice, a short walk through the village will take the visitor past plenty of fine examples of dwellings that were built in the 17th century or possibly earlier. Many of them have overhanging upper storeys and most of them have their own distinctive appearances.
Barley is home to a family-run bus company called Richmonds. Many of their vehicles are parked either in an open space near to the Town House or another that contains a large garage with the name ‘HV Richmond’ above its entrance. Harold Victor Richmond, a former RAF pilot, acquired the fleet and premises of A Livermore in 1946, and his family has run the company since then (www.busandcoachbuyer.com/richmonds-coaches/). The bus garage is opposite a hostelry with a remarkable pub sign. The sign straddles the road. A beam running between two vertical supports is surmounted by painted silhouettes of a fox being chased by several hounds running ahead of two horses with their riders. Appropriately, the pub is called ‘The Fox and Hounds’. The fox is heading for the pub, which is what we did. Many years before us, the highwayman Dick Turpin (1705-1739) is supposed to have stayed at this establishment. The pub’s interior looks highly modernised. Michael G told me later that the original pub burnt down some years ago and what is seen today is a new building.
Returning to the Town House, we looked at a rock with a circular metal plate attached to it. Placed to celebrate the millennium (2000 AD), it lists some of Barley’s noteworthy personalities. They are William Warham (1450-1532), Thomas Herring (1695-1757), Thomas Willett (1605-1674), and Redcliffe Nathan Salaman (1874-1955). None of these names meant anything to me before we visited Barley.
William Warham and Thomas Herring both served the church in Barley before becoming Archbishops of Canterbury. Warham practised and taught law in London before taking holy orders and also became Master of the Rolls (in 1494), helping King Henry VII with diplomatic affairs. He served the church in Barley before becoming the Bishop of London in 1501. In 1503, he became Archbishop of Canterbury. Herring’s career was almost as spectacular as that of Warham. In 1722, he became the rector of Barley and in 1743 he was the Archbishop of York. Four years later, he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury.
The name ‘Redcliffe Nathan Salaman’ intrigued me. I guessed he must have been Jewish and was proved correct when I looked up his biography. Born in Redcliffe Gardens in Kensington (London), son of Myer Salaman (1835-1896), a merchant who dealt in ostrich feathers, he was a botanist and the author of “History and Social influence of the Potato” (published in 1949). Redcliffe studied at St Pauls School in London, then ‘read’ Natural Science at Trinity Hall Cambridge, qualified as a medical doctor at the London Hospital in 1900. He did postgraduate work at the German universities of Würzburg and Berlin before becoming appointed Director of the Pathological Institute at the London Hospital and pathologist to the Zoological Gardens in Regents Park (https://ice.digitaler.co.il/ice2019/28). In 1903, he caught tuberculosis and gave up medicine. It was around that time that he and his family moved to their rural home in Barley, the large Homestall House.
Established in Barley, Salaman began work on plant genetics, guided by the biologist/geneticist and chief populariser of the ideas of Gregor Mendel, William Bateson (1861-1926), Master of St John’s College in Cambridge. Salaman worked on the genetics of that important food item, the potato. One of his major discoveries was of varieties of the tuber that were both high yielding crops and also, more importantly, resistant to the potato’s ‘late blight’ disease, which was the cause of the major 1845 Irish potato famine and other famines in Europe during the 1840s. In 1935, in recognition of his important work with potatoes, Salaman was elected a member of the prestigious Royal Society. His book published in 1949 was of interest because it combined archaeology, genetics and every aspect of the history of the potato.
Redcliffe, his first wife, the poet and social activist Nina Ruth Davis (1877-1925), and their family (six children) kept a kosher household in Barley and observed the Sabbath. They used to travel to London to celebrate Jewish high holidays. In 1926, following the death of Nina, he married Gertrude Lowy. Despite the ‘TB’, Redcliffe lived until he was 80.
The other worthy commemorated in front of Barley’s Town House is the 17th century Thomas Willett. The fourth son of Barley’s rector, a Calvinist, Andrew Willett (1562-1621), he sailed across the Atlantic to the British colonies in North America. He was put in charge of a Plymouth Colony’s trading post in Maine. Eventually, he became one of the assistant Governors of the Plymouth Colony and then the Colony’s Chief Military Officer. After New Amsterdam was handed over to the British by the Dutch in 1664, and the city’s name changed to ‘New York’. Willett became the first Mayor of New York in 1665. In 1667, he became the place’s third Mayor. It is amazing to think that someone born in tiny Barley became the Mayor of what was to become one of the world’s major cities.
Our short visit to Barley proved to be most interesting. Even if history does not fascinate you, this village has plenty to please the eye. I am most grateful to Michael G for bringing Barley to our attention.
THE BUILDING MATERIALS COMPANY TARMAC is not a company that you might immediately associate with leisure activities. Yet, today, our good friends in Hertfordshire, Gareth and Moyna, took us with their two dogs to a park that has largely been created by Tarmac. Panshanger Park is owned by Tarmac Holdings, who extract sand and gravel from the area. After taking what they need, they restore the ground they have dug to render it attractive to humans, wildlife, and cattle.
William Cowper (c1665-1723), First Earl Cowper and once the Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, acquired the Cole Green Estate, which includes the land on which Panshanger Park is situated, in about 1700. His descendant the Fifth Earl Cowper commissioned the architects Samuel Wyatt (1737-1807) and then later William Atkinson (c1774-1839) to design a house to replace the existing one. It was designed in the ‘Regency-Gothic’ (Gothic Revival) style and its construction commenced in 1806. The grounds of the new house were landscaped by Humphry Repton (1752-1818), who also landscaped the grounds at London’s Kenwood House. Seeing the grounds at Panshanger reminded me of those at Kenwood. Sadly, the house was demolished in the early 1950s. All that remains of it is a grassy mound and the roofless ruins of the extensive orangery, whose supporting pillars and lintels remain. The lintels bear a bas-relief of floral wreaths, crumbling in parts. The ground in front of the mound sweeps down towards a lake, just as is the case with the lawns in front of the still extant Kenwood House.
A path leads from the remains of the orangery through woods towards an enormous oak tree circled by protective cast-iron railings. This huge oak tree is said to be the largest maiden oak in the country. It is defined as ‘maiden’ because it has never been subjected to pollarding (artificial control of growth by trimming selected branches). One of the tree’s long branches has grown towards the ground and, unusually for oaks, set down new roots, rather like what is commonly found in banyan trees. This tree is said to have been planted by Queen Elizabeth I (reigned 1558-1603). Whether she planted an acorn or a sapling, we cannot say. My uneducated guess is that planting a sapling rather than random acorn would have been a more reliable way to be sure that the tree would thrive. The tree trunk’s circumference is at present 75 feet (www.chilternsaonb.org/ccbmaps/489/137/panshanger-great-oak.html) and increasing because the tree looks remarkably healthy.
Saplings taken from this royal oak have been used to grow the Prince Consort Oak in the Forest of Dean, and another in the same forest planted (as an acorn) by Queen Elizabeth II, as well as another tree planted by Sir Winston Churchill, which has outlasted this former Prime minister.
Apart from the amazing oak tree and the intriguing remains of the Panshanger orangery, the park is well worth visiting to enjoy its views of lakes, its variety of trees, the long-horned cattle grazing in the fields, and the lovely vistas of the valley of the River Mimran and the rural Hertfordshire landscape. It is gratifying to see that a company, whose activities, such as digging gravel and sand, can easily wreck the countryside, have managed to carry out their work and at the same time to preserve the estate in superb, unsullied condition. Once again our friends in Hertfordshire have opened our eyes to another wonder in the depths of the English countryside.