Village History

A BRIEF HISTORY OF HERTFORD HEATH
based on a note written by Esme Nix of Rush Green

Our village has no claim to fame, no illustrious sons, no ancient church, no manor house, no landed gentry. Not even one proper village, but a growing together of two, Hertford Heath and Little Amwell.

There was a settlement of the Catuvellanni tribe here before Julius Caesar invaded in 54 BC; and in 1956 when builders were digging prior to laying concrete for the garages in Trinity Road, a Belgic grave of about 40 – 50 AD and early Iron Age pottery were unearthed. The remains are now in the British Museum.

Ermine Street, a Roman road, came from London, over the Roundings and from Hertford Heath Motors to the Townshend Arms, across the fields to Rush Green and on to York.

From the 12th to the 17th century the main road from London came past the present site of Haileybury College and then across the Heath and along Mount Pleasant to Hertford. Queen Elizabeth I moved Parliament from London to Hertford during the plague years and one imagines the regal dignitaries as they journeyed across the muddy, rutted heath. Legend has it that Dick Turpin in the 18th century lurked hereabouts.

In 1588 the Spanish Armada threatened to invade England. Beacons twenty to thirty feet high of timber, metal and pitch were built on high ground from the south coast northwards, to be lit as signals when the invasion occurred. Fortunately, they were not needed, but there was a beacon in Little Amwell until it fell into disrepair and was sold off in 1703. The exact place is disputed but the most likely position is in one of the fields of Amwell Place Farm.

The oldest building in the village is The Goat. Early maps show only The Goat and a small cluster of houses roundabout. In 1756 it was used for billeting troops.

When bricks were needed for the building of the East India College, now Haileybury, in 1806, the Rev Samuel Henley, the first Principal, looked around for suitable clay. This he found in Hogsdell Lane, in two fields, which he bought. So, part of Haileybury College, and some cottages in the village, were built with Little Amwell bricks. The last house built with these yellowish bricks was Crossways in Vicarage Causeway.

The building of the College brought much-needed work – for labourers and servants, grooms and gardeners, cooks and waiters. There was a large movement of population from Little Amwell to Hertford Heath as shown in the census figures of 1801 and 1811.

The old school and the school house for the Headmaster were built by public subscription in 1837. The school was used for church services until the church was built, and also for concerts and social gatherings. There have been only four Headmasters and one Headmistress in 158 years.

The new school was built in 1966, after which the old building housed the newly-formed nursery class. In 1981 the nursery class moved into the new building and in 1982 the old school building was converted into five houses.

The church was built in 1863 at a cost of £1,400; the architect was Mr Ewan Christian of London and the builder was Mr Walter Hitch of Ware. The Marquis of Townshend gave the land and, ‘the undertaking was set on foot by the efforts and generosity of the Rev Barclay Bevan of Amwellbury’ (The Illustrated London News).

The Rev Charles Barclay and his eighteen-year-old wife Florence came to the parish in 1881. The Mission Room was built in 1882 and there Florence began her Men’s Bible Class on Sunday afternoons which was to last for more than thirty years. It is said that men came from far and near! Florence also played the organ, trained the church choir, organised Friday evening entertainments (to keep men from spending all their wages in the pubs), sewed layettes for village babies, nursed the village through a ‘flu epidemic and brought up a family of eight children! After that she became a very famous authoress, her most popular book being The Rosary. Her books were translated into many languages and she travelled on lecture tours, twice to America. Meanwhile her husband served the parish well and in 1898 took great pleasure in providing the village with clean water from a well specially sunk in his garden at his own expense. He also provided the drinking fountain on the green, which survives to this day. The Metropolitan Water Board did not bring water to the village until 1909, so the water from the Vicarage well was very useful to the women who took in washing from Haileybury College, Christs Hospital and large houses in Hertford, Each washerwoman had her own drying line around the green and “billowing bloomers” were a regular sight.

In 1916, a passing Zeppelin dropped bombs, making several craters around the Vicarage, causing damage but no causalities.

The War Memorial was given to the village by the Barclay family and unveiled by Mrs Barclay at a ceremony a few weeks before they left the village in 1920.

The Village Hall, in London Road, was built in 1935 by a local firm, H Fitch & Sons, on land leased by Haileybury College for 60 years at a rent of ten shillings (50p) a year. The Carnegie Trust made a donation via a loan, but money to build, furnish and maintain the hall was raised with the proceeds from dances, whist drives, concerts, etc. Even the children gave their pennies at school.

During the first years of the Hall’s history, many dances and concerts were held. The Hertford Heath Players, now disbanded, put on plays. During World War II, a British Restaurant operated in the Hall and it was used as a reception centre for evacuee children.

In the second World War, a landmine fell on the night of Saturday 19 April 1941 and the Village Hall was considerably damaged by the blast. A V1 (Flying Bomb) came down on the allotments in London Road on the night of 24 – 25 July 1944 and although there was some damage there were no casualties.

For nearly 100 years, the Village was split between two civil parishes -those of Little Amwell, and Great Amwell. Little Amwell parish was wholly contained within Hertford Heath but the parish of Great Amwell covered the village of Great Amwell, parts of Stanstead Abbots and St Margaret’s as well as the southern half of the village. This meant that Hertford Heath’s matters were considered by two separate parish councils. After much campaigning within the village, the two halves were finally united in 1990 under one parish council – Hertford Heath Parish Council.

Always on the edge of history, our village continues to grow and flourish.