AFTER A SUNNY DAY spent at Whitby in North Yorkshire, we stopped for a drink at sundown in a small pub for a pre-prandial alcoholic beverage. Behind and slightly above the pub, we could see a well-maintained 12th century parish church with later modifications and a square tower. Below the pub, a narrow stream, lined with bushes and trees, ran alongside the main road. Apart from the infrequent passing car, the place was silent except for some pleasant birdsong. From where we sat on the terrace of the hostelry, we could see a small, sloping village square with a simple war memorial, some parked cars, and a small post box. At first, I did not realise where we had stopped. Then, I noticed that the village is called Kilburn.
There is another Kilburn about 215 miles south of the lovely village where we stopped for an evening drink. The latter is in North Yorkshire and the place with the same name many miles south of it is in north London. Apart from sharing the same name, London’s Kilburn is anything but rustic and peaceful, as many Londoners will know. London’s Kilburn is not really picturesque in conventional people’s eyes; it might appeal to lovers of urban sprawl. It is a crowded metropolitan area with much commercial activity and a racial profile infinitely more diverse than that of the village in North Yorkshire.
I am not sure which of the two Kilburns is the oldest. North Yorkshire’s village was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 and named ‘Chileburne’. London’s Kilburn was a settlement on an ancient Celtic route, a track between the places now known as St Albans and Canterbury. A priory was constructed on a stream that flowed through where London’s Kilburn now stands. The stream was known variously as ‘Cuneburna’, ‘Kelebourne’, and ‘Cyebourne’.
Whatever the origins of these two Kilburns, I know which of them is the place where I would prefer to linger in front of a glass of bitter.
TODAY THE MAIN roads leading from London west, the A4 and the M4, run more or less parallel from Hammersmith west towards Slough and then beyond. Before these roads were modernised, or in the case of the M4 and, existed, the old road from London to Slough and points further west ran through the village of Colnbrook, and onwards to Bath. This was long before London’s Heathrow Airport came into existence. Today, the centre of Colnbrook, bypassed by both the A4 and the M4, lies 1.2 miles west of the western perimeter of the airport. Aeroplanes coming into land fly low over Colnbrook because they are within a minute or two of touching down on the runways. Despite being sandwiched between the airport and the ever-expanding town of Slough and having some new housing, Colnbrook retains many features of a rural English village.
With a bridge crossing the River Colne, a tributary of the Thames, Colnbrook was an important staging post on the coach road between London and the west. An old milestone near The Ostrich pub marks the halfway point between Hounslow (west London) and Maidenhead. A modern sign next to it informs that the toll-road through the village was known as the Colnbrook Turnpike. Writing in 1876, James Thorne noted that during the coaching era, Colnbrook:
“… retained something of its ancient noise and stir; it is now a dull, sleepy, roadside village of a long main street and 2 or 3 shabby offshoots, the many inns testifying to its old character.”
No doubt, the advent of the railways put pay to much of the traffic through the village. It is still rather sleepy if you disregard the ‘planes passing overhead every few minutes. But it is not shabby in my opinion. It has maintained a certain rustic charm and a few of its inns or pubs. Many other buildings in the place have tall archways that might well have led into coaching yards of former hostelries.
A well-restored brick and stone bridge crosses one of the streams of the River Colne. The stonework that lines the tops of the walls of the crossing have carved lettering that shows that the centre of the span was the boundary between Middlesex and Buckinghamshire and that the bridge was built in 1777. A large building with an archway that would have admitted stagecoaches at the eastern entrance to Colnbrook bears the name ‘White Hart House’. When Thorne was writing about the village in 1876, he noted that this was an inn:
“… a good house, with bowling green, and grounds, much in favour for trade dinners and pleasure parties…”
The George Inn, unlike the White Hart, is still in business. It is said that Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen Elizabeth I, might have spent a night there when being taken as a prisoner from Woodstock to Hampton Court in 1588. The pub was first established in the reign of Henry VIII. Its present façade is 18th century (www.sloughhistoryonline.org.uk). Other royal visitors to Colnbrook included the Black Prince with his prisoner King John of France, who were met here by King Edward III (reigned 1327-1377). The half-timbered Ostrich Inn, almost opposite the George, is far older and has a less salubrious history. Its foundations were laid in 1106 but much of its present construction is 16th century. Its name, the Ostrich, might well be a corruption of an earlier name, ‘the Hospice’.
During the 17th century, the Ostrich had an extremely dodgy landlord called Jarman. The pub’s website (https://ostrichcolnbrook.co.uk/history.html) describes his activities well. Here are some extracts from it. Jarman:
“…with his wife made a very profitable sideline by murdering their guests after they had retired for the night.
They had a trap door built into the floor of one of their bedrooms and when a suitably rich candidate arrived Jarman would inform his wife that a fat pig was available if she wanted one! She would reply by asking her husband to put him in the sty for till the morrow. The bedstead was hinged and they would tip the sleeping victim into a vat of boiling liquid immediately below, thus killing him.”
All went well for the Jarmans until they chose a clothier from Reading, named Thomas Cole:
“After persuading him to make his will before he retired, Jarman killed Cole. Unfortunately Cole’s horse was found wandering the streets nearby and caused a search for his owner who had been last seen entering The Ostrich! His body was found some time later in a nearby brook and some say that this Cole-in-the-brook is how Colnbrook got its name. It’s a nice story but whether it is true or not, who’s to say!”
You might be interested to learn that the Ostrich still offers rooms for guests to stay overnight. We met four men, who had done so, sitting quite contentedly in the morning sun that was flooding into the pub’s pleasant courtyard. Despite the story of Thomas Cole, it is far mor likely that the village was originally called ‘Colebroc’ (in 1107) and later ‘Colebrok’ (by 1222).
We visited the parish church of St Thomas just as guest were arriving at a christening. We were given a warm welcome by a female cleric dressed in white with a colourful stole, which she told us that she was wearing at such a happy occasion. The church, a Victorian gothic edifice, was designed by an architect who specialised in Gothic Revival, Benjamin Ferrey (1810-1880). Built between 1849 and 1852, it has walls containing flints. A north aisle, designed by a great practitioner of the Gothic Revival style, George Edmund Street (1824-1881), was added to the church in 1862.
Streams of the River Colne run through parts of the village. In some places their banks are lined with old houses, some half-timbered. Colnbrook, over which millions of people have flown since Heathrow was opened as Great west Aerodrome in 1929 and then as a much larger establishment, now known as London Heathrow, since 1946, is visited by few except mainly locals. Bypassed by major roads and not on the railway, the village has a picturesqueness that rivals many much more frequented places deep in the English countryside. Yet, Colnbrook is a short bus ride from Slough’s railway station and about 40 to 50 minutes’ drive from Hyde Park Corner. Visit the place and be surprised by its charm.
DUNCHURCH IN WARWICKSHIRE is located where the old road between Oxford and Leicester crosses that between London and Holyhead. This charming village was a place where, in its heyday, up to forty carriages a day stopped to change their horses for a fresh team. This was done at the various coaching inns in the village. One of these hostelries, which is still in business today, is The Dun Cow, where we ate a good English breakfast. Some of this inn’s previous guests included the engineer George Stephenson (1781-1848) and his son, another engineer, Robert (1803-1859), who dined at the hotel on the 23rd of December 1837. Their dinner was to celebrate the completion of the Kilsby Tunnel on the Birmingham to London Railway, a project supervised by Robert.
While we were wandering around the graveyard of Dunchurch’s St Peters Church, which dates back to the 12th century, we asked a gardener working there about where one of Dunchurch’s former famous characters had once stayed. He told us that he had no idea. Half-jokingly but with some earnestness, he added: “…we could do with another one like him.”
The man about whom we were asking had associates, who were staying at the village’s former inn, The Lion Inn, in the early 17th century, the year 1605 to be exact. It was in early November of that year that those waiting at The Lion in Dunchurch were wondering about their colleague who was 79 miles away in London.
The fellows at The Lion were waiting to hear whether their co-conspirator Guy (Guido) Fawkes (1570-1606) had been successful in blowing up the House of Lords in London. He was not, and the conspirators waiting in Dunchurch were arrested. Had the plot to blow up Parliament and along with it the Protestant King James I succeeded, the men at The Lion were to have travelled to nearby Combe Abbey to seize Princess Elizabeth (1596-1662), who became Queen of Bohemia. As an informative website (www.ourwarwickshire.org.uk/content/article/rugby-school-science-teaching-around-1900-2) explains:
“In 1605 the monarch was James I; the Princess Elizabeth was his eldest daughter and sister to the future Charles I. In 1605 she was nine and being educated by Lord Harington at Coombe Abbey. She wasn’t a Catholic, but the conspirators planned to convert her and use her as their figurehead … Her main importance with regard to British history is that one of her grandsons (the son of her youngest daughter Sophia of Hanover) became King George I.”
The man about whom we were chatting with the gardener was neither of the Stephensons, who dined at The Dun Cow, nor the Duke of Wellington, who also stayed in the village, nor Lord John Douglas-Montagu-Scott (1809 – 1860), whose statue stands facing The Dun Cow. He was referring to Guy Fawkes, but this time a Guy Fawkes who completes the job before being arrested!
The former inn, a lovely half-timbered edifice is now a private house, named ‘Guy Fawkes House’, even though the famous man never lived there. The rest of the village contains several old thatched cottages, a thatched bus shelter, and the old village stocks. Close to the town of Rugby, this village is well worth a visit.
MY COUSINS IN CORNWALL live not far from a place called Withiel. The mainline train from London to Penzance usually stops at a station called Lostwithiel. The latter is just over 7 miles southeast of Withiel as the crow flies. Yesterday, the 26th of July 2021, we decided to visit both Withiel and Lostwithiel. Despite its name, Lostwithiel on the River Fowey is much easier to access than Withiel, which is deep in the Cornish countryside.
The ‘lost’ in Lostwithiel has little if anything to do with being unable to be found. There is agreement that ‘lost’ is the Cornish word for ‘tail’. It is likely that Lostwithiel derived from the Cornish ‘Lost Gwydhyel’, meaning ‘tail end of woodland’. The village of Withiel is known as ‘Egloswydhyel’ in the Cornish language. This means ‘church in woodland’. Having found out that Lostwithiel is not actually lost nor ever has been, I will compare the two places.
Withiel, far smaller than Lostwithiel, is small village with a fine old church, St Clements and a few, about twenty at most, houses arranged around a rectangular open space. The parish church, which I have yet to enter, originated in the 13th century. It was rebuilt in granite in the 15th and 16th centuries and looks far too large for such a small village and its neighbouring communities including one called Withielgoose. The rebuilding was instigated by Thomas Vyvyan (late 1470s – 1533), the penultimate Prior of Bodmin before the Reformation. He was a Cornishman educated at Exeter College (Oxford), who was instituted in the rectory of Withiel in 1523, and then at St Endellion Church in 1524. Withielgoose, which is tiny place that includes the word ‘withiel’, has nothing to do with geese. The name derives from the Cornish words ‘gwyth’, meaning trees; ‘yel’, of unknown meaning; and ‘coes’, meaning ‘wood’.
Tiny Withiel has at least one interesting historical figure apart from Thomas Vyvyan, Sir Bevile Grenville (1594/95-1643). Educated at Exeter College (Oxford), he was a Member of Parliament and a Royalist. He was killed at The Battle of Lansdown (5th of July 1643) in the English Civil War. The historian of the Civil War Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon (1609-1674), who served the Royalists during the conflict, wrote of Sir Bevile:
“…to the universal grief of the army, and, indeed, of all who knew him. He was a gallant and a sprightly gentleman, of the greatest reputation and interest in Cornwall, and had most contributed to all the service that had been done there.”
From small Withiel, we move to the town of Lostwithiel, an attractive place that seems not to have become as great a tourist attraction as have many other picturesque places in Cornwall. The town was established in the early 12th century by Norman lords, who constructed Restormel Castle nearby. It was a stannary town, which meant that it could manage the collection of ‘tin coinage’, a duty payable on tin mined in Cornwall. Most of what was collected entered the coffers of the Duchy of Cornwall.
In the 13th century, Edmund, 2nd Earl of Cornwall (‘Edmund of Almain’; 1249-1300) built both the Great Hall in Lostwithiel and the town’s church tower. Edmund was son of Richard of Cornwall, 1st Earl of Cornwall and King of the Romans (king, not emperor, of the Holy Roman Empire) between 1257 and 1272. The tower is still standing as are also the remains of the Great Hall, built between about 1265 and 1300, making it one of the oldest non-ecclesiastical buildings in Cornwall. It was a large complex of buildings, which was badly damaged during the English Civil War. What remains is an interesting set of mediaeval buildings and the old Exchequer Hall, now known as ‘The Duchy Palace’. Later used as a Masonic Hall, some of its windows contain six-pointed stars as used by the Masons. A crest on one of its walls is the earliest version of that of the Duchy of Cornwall, which has long since been replaced by the plume of feathers used today. The Cornish born (in St Austell) and world-renowned historian Alfred Leslie Rowse (1903-1997) wrote that in the mediaeval era:
“… the real centre of Duchy administration was Lostwithiel; here the various offices, the shire hall where the county court met, the exchequer of the Duchy, the Coinage Hall for the stannaries’ and the stannary jail, were housed in the fine range of buildings built by Edmund, Earl of Cornwall…”
So, Lostwithiel was once important as an administrative centre, but it has now lost this role.
The River Fowey flows through Lostwithiel, passing meadows where people picnic, and children play. The river, though wide, is shallow enough for youngsters to play in safely. The river is crossed by a magnificent multi-arched, stone bridge, which is so narrow that it is only wide enough for one single motor vehicle. The crossing has six pointed arches. It was constructed in the mid-15th century. Its parapets were built in the 16th century and an additional flood arch was added in the 18th century (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1327324).
We wandered around Lostwithiel for a while and saw many fine old buildings apart from those already mentioned. One of them is the Museum, housed in the former Corn Exchange (a Georgian building), and the former Grammar School. We also spotted an ancient Cornish cross in the parish churchyard. Lostwithiel is a place to which I hope to return to spend more time there. In comparison to Withiel that is far more lost from sight, Lostwithiel has plenty to interest the visitor.
SHE SITS THERE MOTIONLESS, day after day and year after year, watching the traffic on Westway either rushing past or crawling along in a traffic jam. In her heyday, before being captured in stone, instead of the noise of motor vehicles, she would have enjoyed the sound of the applause given by audiences in dimly lit theatres. She was the actress Mrs Sarah Siddons (1755-1831), and her carved stone statue stands facing the elevated Westway in Paddington Green, just west of the Edgware Road.
Paddington Green used to be part of an expanse of ancient wasteland located in an area now bounded by the Regents Canal, the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal, and Edgware Road, but now much of this wasteland has been built upon. Writing in 1867, John Timbs noted:
“Paddington Green, now inclosed and iron-bound, was the green of the villagers, shown in all its rural beauty in prints of 1750 and 1783. Upon a portion of it were built the Almshouses, in 1714; their neat little flower-gardens have disappeared. South of the green is the new Vestry -hall. At Dudley Grove was modelled and cast, by Matthew Cotes Wyatt, the colossal bronze statue of the Duke of Wellington … it is thirty feet high, and was conveyed from the foundry, upon a car, drawn by 29 horses, Sept. 29, 1846, to Hyde Park Corner.”
Dudley Grove was in Paddington. What is now left of the wasteland consists of St Mary’s churchyard and next to it a small grassy area, still known as ‘Paddington Green’, and marked as such on a map drawn in 1815. It contains the statue of Mrs Siddons. The first written record of the Green is dated 1549. The Green contained a mediaeval chapel, now long-since gone. It has been replaced by St Mary’s Church, which was built in the Georgian style, in 1788. It was designed by John Plaw (1745-1820), who emigrated from London to the North American Colony of Prince Edward Island in 1807. His church in Paddington was later modified in the 19th century but restored to its original shape (a Greek Cross in plan) in 1970 under the guidance of the architect Raymond Erith (1904-1973), amongst whose other creations was the current form of the Jack Straws Castle pub in Hampstead.
The present church is the third in the area, which was halfway between the ancient villages of Paddington and Lilestone. The old Manor of Lilestone (or ‘Lilystone’) included the present Lisson Grove and extended as far as Hampstead. The earliest church was taken down in about 1678. The second church, which replaced it, can be seen in old drawings. It was a simple edifice with a single aisle and a small bell tower at one end. Edward Walford, writing in the 1880s, described it as:
“… not unlike the type of country churches in Sussex…”
The poet and preacher John Donne (1572-1631) preached his first sermon in the first church in 1615 and the painter William Hogarth (1697-1764) was married to Jane Thornhill (c1709-1789) in the second in 1729 without her parents’ knowledge.
Next to the western end of the church there is a single-storied rectangular, brick building decorated with trompe-l’oeil grisailles, one of which depicts Mrs Siddons. Today, this houses the Phileas Fox Nursery School. Built on the site of the old, now demolished, vestry hall (parish council meeting place), this building, the church hall, in a late Georgian style was designed by John Quinlan Terry (born 1937), an architect of the ‘New Classical’ style favoured by Prince Charles, and built in 1978-81.
Apart from the statue of Mrs Siddons on Paddington Green, most of it is surrounded by buildings or roads built either at the end of the 19th century or long after. At the eastern side of the Green there is what looks like a pair of either early 19th or possibly 18th century houses. The reason Mrs Siddons is commemorated on the Green is that she is buried in the adjoining St Mary’s Churchyard. Her gravestone is contained within a cast-iron enclosure that looks like a small cage. For some time, the actress lived in Paddington in a house which used to stand in the area around Westbourne Green, which is near the current Westbourne Park Underground station.
Mrs Siddons was highly acclaimed as an actress by many. The critic James Henry Leigh Hunt (1784-1859) had reservations as he remarked in his autobiography:
“Want of genius could not be imputed to his sister, Mrs Siddons. I did not see her, I believe, in her best days; but she must always have been a somewhat masculine beauty; and she had no love in her, apart from other passions. She was a mistress, however, of lofty, of queenly, and of appalling tragic effect. Nevertheless, I could not but think that something of too much art was apparent even in Mrs Siddons; and she failed in the highest points of refinement.”
Although the poet and playwright Joanna Baillie (1762-1851), shared Hunt’s opinion about her, others held her in higher regard.
The statue of Mrs Siddon in Paddington Green was sculpted by the French sculptor Léon-Joseph Chavalliaud (1858-1919). In the 1880s, he moved to London from France and lived south of the Thames in Brixton. His Mrs Siddons, based on a portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds, was unveiled by the actor Sir Henry Irving (1838-1905) in 1897. It was the first statue of a woman, who was not royal, to be put up in London.
Paddington Green, like its close neighbour Paddington Station, figures in the history of London’s transportation. For, it was from here that the coachbuilder George Shillibeer (1797-1866) ran London’s first omnibus service to The Bank of England in 1829. He had got the idea from Paris, where he had been asked to design carriages that could carry up to 24 passengers at any one time.
The Paddington Green police station building stands a few yards east of Paddington Green. Constructed in 1971, this used to provide local policing services as well as an interrogation centre for terrorist suspects. Suspects accused of terrorist activities were brought here for questioning from all over the UK. Although it was refurbished in 2009, the station was closed in 2018. The building’s future is in the hands of property developers, who plan to build new housing on its site.
Until the beginning of the 19th century, Paddington Green was a bucolic environment on the edge of what was then London. Now, surrounded by buildings and highways, it is a green but noisy oasis in a highly urbanised area.
MANY PEOPLE ENJOY eating watercress. I quite like it, but it is not my favourite. I prefer eating its close and more piquant relatives: mustard and wasabi. As its name suggests, watercress is an aquatic plant that lives in a watery environment. It could almost be considered an edible water weed. This April (2021) we visited Ewelme, a small village in Oxfordshire, where watercress is cultivated in the river that runs through it. We had come to Ewelme to see its alms-houses and school, which were built in about 1437 and are still being used for their original purposes. I will relate more about these in the future.
On our way to the village, we met some cyclists, who told us about the watercress cultivation in Ewelme and recommended that we took a look at the set-up. I was interested to see it as I had never (knowingly) seen watercress growing. Also, I was curious because I have often walked past Willow Cottages on Willow Road in Hampstead. It was in this row of dwellings that Hampstead’s watercress pickers lived many years ago. They gathered the crop from streams flowing on nearby Hampstead Heath.
The name Ewelme is derived from the Old English ‘Ae-whylme’ meaning ‘waters whelming’ or ‘source of a stream or river’. In the early 13th century, the place was known as ‘Eawelma’. The spring after which the village is named is just north of Ewelme. Water from the spring that flows through the village is in Ewelme Brook, which is a short tributary of the nearby River Thames. It meets the Thames 1.2 miles upstream from Wallingford Bridge. Watercress grows best in alkaline water such as flows in Ewelme Brook, which rises in the chalky Chiltern Hills.
The watercress beds can be found in Ewelme near the northern end of the High Street, northwest of the attractive village pond that forms a part of the Brook. They were established in the 19th century. Watercress from Ewelme was taken to Wallingford from where it was carried further afield by train. In 1881, the idea of a rail link between Ewelme and Wallingford was mooted, but the line was never built. It was in that year that:
“…Smiths of Lewknor and South Weston, who were established at Brownings by 1881, and created cress beds along the roadside stream probably in stages. The business continued until 1988, with cress initially transported from Watlington station for sale in the Midlands, Covent Garden, and Oxford.” (www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/oxon/vol18/pp192-234)
The watercress beds at Ewelme are a series of rectangular enclosures in a widened part of the stream. The cress grows, floating on the water in the enclosures. Pairs of enclosures are arranged sequentially like shallow steps in a staircase. The shallow water flows rapidly from one enclosure to the next through small gaps in the stone barriers that demarcate them. Swarms of watercress leaves on their stems almost fill each of the enclosures, deriving nutrients and water from the continuously changing water flowing through their roots. I imagine that picking the crop involves wading in the watery watercress beds.
Although Oxfordshire is no longer one of the major counties for watercress cultivation, what can be seen at Ewelme is pleasing to the eye. The counties where most of this plant is now grown include Hampshire, Dorset, Wiltshire, and Hertfordshire (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watercress). Alresford in Hampshire, near Winchester, is known as the UK’s watercress capital.
Although I am not keen on raw watercress, I prefer it served in a soup. My late aunt used to make a superb watercress soup using fresh watercress added at the last minute to a homemade vegetable stock. We have tried making it with meat stock, but this was not nearly as nice because the fresh taste of the almost uncooked watercress gets masked by the flavour of the stock. With this small bit of culinary advice, I will leave the watercress beds of Ewelme and wish you “bon appetit”.
TOLLESBURY IS A TINY village on the estuary of the River Blackwater in the English county of Essex, famed for its oysters, nature reserve, and sailing facilities. It is not far from Colchester and the smaller Tiptree famed for its jam manufacture. Tiny though it is, Tollesbury appears in the Domesday Book, with the name ‘Tolesberia’ and in 1218 as ‘Tolesbir’. It is possible that the ‘Toll’ part of the name refers to a person who lived many centuries ago. The Church of St Mary the Virgin that stands at one end of the central village square was built in about 1090, possibly incorporating material from an earlier Saxon Church.
At the southern edge of the square, close to the northern boundary of the churchyard there stands a small wooden hut with a pyramidical tiled roof and one door with a small, barred window. It looks a bit like a garden shed but it was not built for storing tools and so on. For, this was the village lockup or ‘cage’. Built in 1700, it seems in remarkably good condition. The lockup, as its name suggests, was where local miscreants were locked up. It was a tiny prison. The reason that it is in a good state despite its age is that it has:
Essex is home to plenty of village lockups. Apart the lockup from at Tollesbury, you can see village lockups at, for example, Great Bardfield, Thaxted, Canewdon, Great Dunmow, Orsett, Braintree, Roydon, and Steeple Bumpstead (hwww.essex.police.uk/SysSiteAssets/media/downloads/essex/about-us/museum/research/history-notebooks/66.pdf).
These miniature jails were:
“… used in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to house criminals who were apprehended on suspicion of committing petty crime … Lock-ups were only temporary forms of imprisonment, usually for one or two people, before the local authorities of the day decided how to deal with the offender. Criminals could be released or sent to the closest large town for trial.” (www.essexlive.news/news/essex-news/historic-jails-essex-you-can-3227277)
Our friend, who lives in Tollesbury, suggested that probably the lockup was often used to house people who had drunk too much and needed to sober up. This not an unreasonable idea considering that at one time the village had six pubs.
Although there is much more that could be written about Tollesbury, I hope to do this after a future visit to this charming little place.
THE TINY VILLAGE of Madingley is just under 3 ½ miles west of Kings College Chapel in Cambridge, yet it feels a long way from anywhere. The settlement was recorded as ‘Matingeleia’ in about 1080, as ‘Mading(e)lei’ in the Domesday Book, and ‘Maddingelea’ in 1193. The name means ‘the leah of Mada’s people’, a ‘leah’ being a glade where mowing was done, in other words, a clearing. What became of Mada and his or her people, I have no idea. In 1086, there were 28 peasants in Madingley but by 1279, there were 90 people in the village (www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/cambs/vol9/pp165-166). The population in the 18th century reached about 150 and increased to over 200 in the 19th century. In 2011, there were 210 people living in the civil parish of Madingley (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madingley). Whenever I have visited the village, where my cousin lives, I have never seen many people out and about.
The earliest record of a church in Madingley was in 1092. Much of the present, attractive church (St Mary Magdalene), which was closed when we last visited, contains structures that date back to the 13th and 14th centuries (www.madingleychurch.org/history/). The building has a square tower topped with a tall steeple. The north side of the exterior of the nave of the church is brickwork made of irregularly shaped and equally irregularly arranged stones and mortar. The south side looks plain because the stonework is covered with plaster rendering. A church official who was passing by while I was taking photographs explained that the rendering, which protects the wall from penetration of rainfall, is probably original and that the church authorities are currently trying to decide whether to cover the north side with rendering.
The church stands next to the entrance to the grounds of Madingley Hall. A long drive climbs sinuously up a slope to the hall, whose construction was begun by Sir John Hynde (died 1550) who acquired the Madingley estate in 1543 (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1000627). Hynde, who had studied at Cambridge University, was an important judge. He was called to the Bar at Grays Inn and became Recorder of Cambridge in 1520. In 1539, as a result of the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-1541) ordered by King Henry VIII, he was granted the Cambridgeshire estate now known as Anglesey Abbey and in 1542-43, he came to possess lands at Madingley (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Hynde). The construction of the Hall was continued by John’s son, Sir Francis Hynde (c1532-1596). In 1756, Sir John Hynde-Cotton, employed Lancelot (‘Capability’) Brown (1716-1783) to landscape the Hall’s grounds. I do not know how much of the landscaping seen today was that created by Brown but the lovely pond at the bottom of the lawns sweeping down from the front of the house looks like one of his typical features. The property remained in the Hynde family until 1858. A descendant of the family, Maria Cotton, married Sir Richard King, who obtained the part of the estate that included the Hall. In 1861, Maria rented the Hall to Queen Victoria for use by the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, whilst he studied at Trinity College, Cambridge University. Currently, the Hall is home to the University’s Institute of Continuing Education and has sleeping accommodation both for those attending courses and also for visitors to the area.
In 1871, the Hall was sold to Mr Hurrell and then later to Colonel Walter Harding, who completely renovated the Hall. His heirs sold it to the University of Cambridge in 1948 (www.madingleyhall.co.uk/). Harding’s granddaughter Rosamund gave 30 acres of land on which the American Military Cemetery now stands beside the village of Madingley. The graves in this cemetery, mostly Christian and a few Jewish, are arranged neatly with military precision.
A half-timbered thatched lodge stands by the entrance to the drive next to the church. The former was built in about 1908 by Colonel Harding. The driveway crosses a bridge at one end of the lake or pond. This fake bridge was one of Lancelot Browns landscaping features. Sadly, when we last visited, most of the Hall was covered with scaffolding. Despite that, we were able to admire the mainly 16th century architecture of the building. One particularly interesting feature is the ogival gothic archway that leads into a courtyard behind the original Hall. Decorated with heraldic and other mouldings, this brick and limestone archway was originally part of the Old Schools in Cambridge. Sir John Hynde-Cotton brought the archway to Madingley Hall in 1758. It is worth passing beneath the archway, which bears the date ‘1758’, and entering the walled kitchen garden on the left of it. This area contains a lovely variety of well-tended plants and shrubs.
Tiny Madingley, dwarfed by the Hall and its gardens, has one pub, the Three Horseshoes. It has been in existence since 1765, if not before. Attractively thatched, as is the village hall nearby, the pub we see today was built in 1975, following destruction of an earlier building by fire. I have eaten at the pub once. My impression was that it is a place to which most of its customers drive from elsewhere. It is more of a restaurant than a typical pub. I am curious to know how many of the villagers use it to enjoy a pint or two. On our recent visit in April 2021, the establishment looked sad, being closed on account of the covid19 lockdown.
Peaceful Madingley is home to a private nursery school, housed in a building dated 1844 as well as a discreet complex of University of Cambridge animal behaviour laboratories. Apart from these attractions, there is a disused telephone box that now serves as a library where anyone can take books for free so long as they replace them with others. It is a pity that there is no village shop, often a focus of village life, but given the small population of the place, maybe its absence is not surprising.
Little Madingley is now a suburb of Cambridge yet it has not merged with the city physically. It remains at heart a picturesque and charming example of ‘village England’ – a place to take refuge from the stresses and strains of modern life.
LIFE DEPENDS ON WATER. A few days ago, at the end of March 2021, we drove to a village in Oxfordshire to see two old wells. They are no ordinary wells: they were gifts from India while it was still part of the British Empire.
Edward Anderton Reade (1807-1886) was a British civil servant in India between 1826 and 1860. Brother of the novelist Charles Read (author of “The Cloister and the Hearth”), Edward was born in Ipsden, a village in Oxfordshire (www.oxforddnb.com/). He entered the East India Company in 1823. In 1832, he was transferred to Kanpur (Cawnpore), where he introduced opium cultivation to the district. In 1846, he became Commissioner to the Benares Division, a position he held until 1853 when he was moved to Agra.
Edward encouraged genial relations with the local Indian gentry and aristocracy. One of his Indian acquaintances, who became his good friend, was Ishri Prasad Narayan Singh (1822-1889), the Maharajah of Benares, who reigned from 1835 to 1889. During the years before the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (aka ‘First War of Independence’ or ‘The Indian Mutiny’), Reade and the Maharajah discussed much about England including the shortage of water that existed in Ipsden, the part of Oxfordshire where his family lived. Apparently, the villagers in this part of the Chiltern Hills had little or no access to clean drinking water, much as must have been the case for many villagers in India.
During the Rebellion of 1857, the Maharajah remained loyal to the British. In June 1857, the town of Kanpur was besieged by Nana Sahib and his forces. After 3 weeks, the British garrison surrendered under condition that the British inhabitants would be given safe passage out of the town. However, Nana Sahib decided to hold about 120 women and children and kept them housed in a house known as the ‘Bibighar’. This ended badly when some of the hostages were killed. Some of them tried to escape their grizzly end by jumping into a well at the Bibighar. This well became one of the most powerful images of the Rebellion in the minds of those who lived in Britain.
I do not know whether or not it was the tragedy at Bibighar that brought the conversations he had with Reade to the forefront of the mind of the Maharajah of Benares after the Rebellion was over, but in 1862, after his loyalty to the British had been formally recognised, he consulted Reade as to making a charitable gift to the poor people of Ipsden, whose plight he recalled. The Maharajah financed the construction of a well at Stoke Row, not far from Ipsden. It is also possible that the Maharajah remembered the help that Reade had given him when constructing a well in Azamgarh (now in Uttar Pradesh) back in 1831.
Work commenced on the well in March 1863. The well shaft was dug by hand, a perilous job for the labourers as they removed earth from the depths of an unlit and unventilated shaft, bucket by bucket. The shaft, 4 feet in diameter, was 368 feet in depth, greater than the height of St Pauls Cathedral in London, for this is depth of the water table at Stoke Row. Special winding machinery constructed by Wilder, an engineering firm in Wallingford, was installed. It is topped with a model elephant. The mechanism and the well stand beneath an octagonal canopy topped with a magnificent metal dome with circular glazed windows to allow better illumination. It resembles a ‘chhatri’ or architectural umbrella such as can be seen at war memorials on London’s Constitution Hill and on the South Downs near Hove. The structure, restored in recent times, looks almost new today. Reade, who helped plan the Maharajah’s well, planted a cherry orchard nearby; dug a fish-shaped pond (the fish was part of the Maharajah’s coat-of-arms); and constructed an octagonal well-keeper’s bungalow next to the well. The profits from the cherries harvested from the orchard were supposed to help to finance the well, for whose water the villagers were not charged anything. The Maharajah’s well at Stoke Row was the first of many such gifts given by wealthy Indians to Britain. Other examples include the Readymoney drinking fountain in Regents Park and a now demolished drinking fountain in Hyde Park, close to Marble Arch. According to the Dictionary of National Biography:
“Reade was wryly amused that an Indian prince should thus give a lesson in charity to the English gentry.”
The well at Stoke Row provided the locals with fresh water until the beginning of WW2, when, eventually, piped water reached the area. It provided 600 to 700 gallons of water every day. The Maharajah’s Well at Stoke Row is relatively well-known compared to another Indian-financed well next to the parish church at Ipsden, where Reade’s grave is located. The well, whose winding mechanism is similar to that installed at Stoke Row, is not covered by a canopy. It stands by a cottage next to the entrance to the churchyard. It was presented to Ipsden in 1865 by ‘Rajah Sir Deon Narayun Singh of Seidpor Bittree’ (I am not sure where this is: these are the words on the well), who had, like the Maharajah of Benares, remained loyal to the British during the 1857 Rebellion.
The Ipsden well is deep but not nearly as deep as that at Stoke Row. A lady, who lives in the cottage beside the well, told us that she had tasted water from the well and it was ice cold, deliciously clean, and tasted pure, having been filtered by many feet of chalk through which it has seeped. She said that once a year, the local water board opens the well and takes a sample of its water to check its purity.
Both wells are worth visiting. We parked in Benares Road in Stoke Row close to the Maharajah’s gift. After viewing the well head and its surroundings, we bought hot drinks at the village’s shop-cum-café, which his run by a couple of friendly people from Zimbabwe. I am grateful to Dr Peter U for bringing the existence of this unusual well to my attention.