Churchill owned this village

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:

“Churchill acquired one moiety of the Jennings estate by marriage … He thus enjoyed the principal interest at St. Albans, and in 1685 the mayor announced his candidature for the borough. In the event, however, his brother George was elected, perhaps because James II had made known his intention to give him an English peerage.” (https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1660-1690/member/churchill-john-ii-1650-1722).

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’.