Since Aldbury was already called ‘old fort’ by the Saxons, its history is obviously long. The manor house, church, thatched cottages and beamed almshouses overlook a village green where stocks and whipping post still stand near the pond. A monument to canal pioneer the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater looks down over Ashbridge Park designed byCapability Brown and Humphry Repton.
A deceptively ‘olde worlde’ English village with a green surrounded by white-walled thatched cottages; deceptive because it was all rebuilt in 1917 by the lord of the manor. Nevertheless Ardeley has a long history. In medieval times the village supplied malt to the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral, who in turn provided funds to build the parish church of St Lawrence.
Ash trees surround the springs at the source of the Rhee, giving the village its name. It owes its spacious planning to the Romans, though the first settlement here was probably an Iron Age hill-fort, the Arbury Banks, controlling the ancient lcknield Way. The tower of the mainly 14th-century church of St Mary rises to 176ft, tipped with a small ‘Hertfordshire spike’, and on the south wall beneath it is a carving of old St Paul’s. A Latin inscription in the tower testifies to the plague, 14th-century killer of a third of the village population, as do the graves of victims outside. The restored Town House, probably once used for tithe-gathering, contains a museum of village history and rural life.
Ayot St Lawrence
George Bernard Shaw chose this village as his home when he saw the epitaph of a local woman who died at the age of 70 years. It reads ‘Her Time was Short’. Shaw lived here from 1906 till his death in 1950, aged 94. His ashes and those of his wife were scattered in the garden at Shaw’s Corner. The house, originally a rectory, now belongs to the National Trust and is preserved as it was in Shaw’s lifetime, and contains many mementoes of Shaw and his contemporaries. The summerhouse where Shaw worked can also be seen. The village has two churches, the earlier 14th-century one is in ruins; its 18th-century replacement was commissioned by Sir Lionel Lyden, its Grecian facade built by Nicholas Revett. Lullington Silk farm, which produces the silk for royal vestments, is open to the public in the summer.
It was here that William the Conqueror accepted the throne of England from the Saxon leaders in 1066, and soon afterwards work started on the castle of which only earthworks and a moat now remain. The church of St Peter has a window dedicated to the 18th-century poet, William Cowper, whose father was its rector. Novelist Graham Greene was born in Berkhamsted where his father was headmaster of the public school. The Grand Union Canal (built in the 19th century to link London and Birmingham) passes through the town, and Berkhamsted Common lies to the north.
Despite rapid development of the adjacent New Town since 1946, Hatfield old town survives; Fore Street has a row of lovely Georgian houses stepped up the hillside to the 13th century church of St Ethelreda and the15th-century Old Palace: Elizabeth I lived here as a child; Elizabeth’s Oak is said to be the spot where she heard of her sister Mary’s death and her own, accession to the throne. The house was built entirely of brick – a startling new fashion for the period. The Old Palace stands at the threshold to Hatfield House, one of Britain’s best Jacobean houses. Hatfield House was built from 1608-12, in the shape of an E, by Robert Cecil,1st Earl of Salisbury and Secretary of State to Elizabeth I. The house, now the home of the Marquess of Salisbury, is surrounded by 1500 acres of parkland, with woods and some farmland. The local church contains the Cecil family Chapel and Sir Robert Cecil’s tomb, which was ordered before his death to ensure a good likeness.
Hemel Hempstead lies to the north of the Grand Union Canal on the River Gade. Despite the addition of a sprawling new town, this Chilterns market town retains several examples of its architectural heritage. The remains of a Roman villa were discovered in Gadebridge Park; and Piccott’s End one mile north, may have been a pilgrim’s hostel, and contains impressive medieval wall paintings.
Four rivers, the Lea, Beane, Mimram and Rib meet at this ancient and picturesque country town. A settlement existed here long before Roman times, and the town has the ruin of a Norman castle on the earlier site of a Saxon stronghold, built to defend London from the Danes. Only a modernised gatehouse remains of the castle where Elizabeth I spent much of her childhood. The town has a Victorian corn exchange
Knebworth House has been the home of the Lyttons since it was first built in 1492 and contains many portraits and personal mementoes of the family. It was largely rebuilt in 1843 by the Lord Lytton who wrote The Last Days of Pompeii, and some of his manuscripts are on display. The magnificent Tudor banqueting hall, with fine 17th-century plasterwork and panelling was preserved in the reconstruction.
Little Gaddesden is a beautiful old village set against a magnificent backcloth of beechwoods and bracken-covered commons. Its Perpendicular church has several interesting monuments. The manor house is Elizabethan, and John o’Gaddesden’s House timber-framed with an overhanging upper floor and a timber roof -was built in the 15th century. Ashridge Management College occupies Ashridge House, a large neo-Gothic mansion rebuilt by James Wyatt in 1808 on the site of a 13th-century original. It stands amid wooded parkland laid out by Capability Brown and gardens designed by Humphry Repton, the National Trust owning the majority of the estate.
There are those who hold that Much Hadham is the prettiest village in Hertfordshire, and they may very well be right. The long main street is rich with Georgian and other period houses nearly all of them worth a second glance. For nearly 900 years, Much Hadham was a manor of the Bishop of London, who used the Palace as his out-of-town retreat. It was also the birthplace of Edmund Tudor, father of Henry VII. The sculptor Henry Moore has made his home here; two heads sculpted by him are in the church.
Situated at the meeting point of three rivers, this former market town is set among lakes and water meadows. The long, winding High Street of this lovely old town boasts several handsome Georgian buildings, including Basing House, an imposing, seven-bayed house.
This town developed at the crossroads of the Roman Ermine Street, and the ancient Icknield Way. A cave with religious wall carvings of uncertain date was discovered beneath the crossroads in 1742. The town’s attractive streets contain a variety of interesting houses and inns, and include the remains of James I’s Palace. The Old Town Hall contains a local museum. To the north west is the small village of Croydon and Wimpole Hall. The last owner of the Hall, Mrs Elsie Bainbridge, was the daughter of Rudyard Kipling.
The Roman city of Verulamium, from which St Albans grew, was the only British city important enough in Roman times to be accorded the status of municipium, which meant that its inhabitants had the right to Roman citizenship. Although sacked by Boudicca in AD 61, it was rebuilt and soon regained its importance. After the Romans left, however, Verulamium was abandoned and eventually the remains were covered over. The old site was not excavated until the 20th century, when remains of a theatre, a hypocaust and several mosaic pavements were discovered. The Verulamium Museum houses finds from the site. On the opposite bank of the River Ver, the medieval city of St Albans grew up around the massive abbey church, now St Alban’s Cathedral, which was built on the site where Alban, the first British saint, was martyred in 287. The abbey dates from the 11th century, though there have been many later additions. St Alban’s shrine of Purbeck marble was destroyed, but the fragments were found and pieced together again in the 19th century. Around the town centre are several attractive old streets, centred on the 15th-century curfew tower.
Among other places of interest are the City Museum; St Albans Organ Museum; the Kingsbury Water-mill Museum in the village of St Michael’s; the Royal National Rose Society’s Gardens, and Gorhambury House (OACT), a fine, late-Georgian mansion. The Fighting Cocks Inn is thought to be the oldest in Britain.
Anyone planning a new town could hardly do better than look at Stevenage. The new has been accomplished at no sacrifice to the old. Now Stevenage is spaciously planned, and contains several examples of good modern architecture. Old Stevenage centres onthe High Street, which is attractively shaded by trees. Old cottages line the narrow streets leading off the High Street. The undercroft of St George’s Church houses a museum. Stevenage was the boyhood home of E M Forster, author of A Passage to India.
Tring’s main claim to fame is its Zoological Museum, founded in the 19th century by Lionel Rothschild, which houses the world’s largest collection of fleas. Three miles north east, Pitstone Windmill is one of the oldest post mills in Britain; it has now been restored to working order.