In 1750 Dr. Richard Pococke visited the village of Buntingford in Hertfordshire. He had a sharp eye for the unusual and wrote up his travels in his journal. While he was there, something in a stream caught his eye. He described it as “plum pudding stone which makes beautiful snuffboxes.”
Puddingstone, a conglomerate of small flint pebbles bonded together produces a tough cement- like rock. But when sliced and polished the reddish- pink stones shine through and, as Dr. Pococke says, resemble plums in a pudding. The stone is used to create beautiful jewellery and household items.
Buntingford has blossomed as a historic town since Elizabethan times when it was a staging post for coach- travellers along Ermine Street, the old Roman Road from London to York. Coach travel opened up the hospitality trade and at its height Buntingford catered for travellers’ needs with a host of inns and beer- houses. Two such inns, the Bell and the George and Dragon were well established at the time of the Armada. Sadly they are inns no longer, but the Black Bull, dating from around 1673 and one of Buntingford’s oldest hostelries, still survives. The diarist Samuel Pepys and his wife stayed at the George.
He records that his wife was taken ill after drinking cold beer.
The High Street, now a conservation area, offers an evocative glimpse of yesteryear with its diverse range of historic buildings. One of these is the Red House, a Grade- II listed brick- built Georgian house, the home of Claud Lovat Fraser ( 18901921). A distinguished illustrator, stage designer and poet, Fraser’s innovative designs of broadsheets and books helped make art and literature more available to the public. The popular “broadsheet ballads” were sold by criers at markets and fairs. Lovat was best known for his designs, settings and costumes for As You Like It and The Beggar’s Opera which ran at the Lyric Theatre in London for 1,463 nights, longer than any other opera. The First World War interrupted Fraser’s artistic career. He was wounded and suffered poisoned gas attacks at Ypres, but despite everything continued sketching the trenches and battlefields. Many of his works are now in the Imperial War Museum. He died aged just 31. A short life but one crammed with artistic innovation.
The handsome 19th- century Manor House is the town’s central point. It houses the Town Council, the Heritage Centre and Tourist
Information and is a popular venue for weddings and conferences. An appealing little Jubilee Pump stands on Market Hill outside the Manor House commemorating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Its canopy was built in 1897 but the pump is believed to be late 17th century. Now restored by the Civic Society, the pump was once a meeting point for the town’s cattle market.
Adjacent to the Manor House are the picturesque almshouses tucked away behind St. Peter’s Church and originally known as Ward’s Hospital. They were built in 1684 by Seth Ward, a Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy who lived and was educated locally. He was a close friend of Sir Christopher Wren who may have contributed to the almshouses’ elegant design. Seth Ward became Bishop of Salisbury, Chancellor of the Order of the Garter and a founder of the Royal Society and is today one of Buntingford’s best- loved sons.
Four- hundred- year- old St. Peter’s Church is thought to be the first purpose- built red- brick church in England. It was originally a chapel of-ease and a place of worship for those unable to make the journey to the then Parish Church of St. Bartholomew at Layston, which involved a trek across the river and up the steep eastern bank of the Rib Valley. This allowed the architect of St. Peter’s greater freedom in its design and the church was unusually built in Greek Cross formation. St. Peter’s became the parish church in 1900 and is one of Buntingford’s many attractive architectural features.
Further along the High Street stands the grand Master Tanner’s 18th- century fronted house. The tannery itself stood behind the house near the River Rib. Tanning was a thriving industry in the Middle Ages due to the abundance of oak trees. Workers stripped bark from the trees which was expressed into tanning baths. Lime- soaked hides were then passed through producing tough leather for homes and farms, shoes, bags and belts. The tannery ceased trading as recently as the 1920s.
Behind the Tanner’s House the footpath leads down to the shady River Rib which runs along “Pig’s Nose” and past tall hedges topped with a diverse selection of largerthanlife hopping and sitting topiary rabbits. The path leads to the 18th- century Cage, a small brick- built lock- up conveniently sited in town to hold drunks and petty criminals for short periods of time.
You can walk from the Cage to the ford, the crossing place used before the bridge was built. You can also visit the house of gunmaker Robert Wogdon ( 1734- 1813). Famed for his high quality and accurate duelling pistols, duelling became known as “a Wogdon affair”. His pistols were tailor- made and matching pairs gave each participant an equal chance. A pair of Wogdon’s famous pistols is kept in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle. He is buried in old St. Bartholomew’s Church at Layston.
A visit to nearby Nuthampstead will take you back in time to the Second World War when B- 17 Flying Fortress bombers flew from RAF Nuthampstead for raids over Europe. The Woodman Inn at Nuthampstead hosts visits every two years from veterans and their families and the inn displays a range of wartime photos and memorabilia. Much more is now exhibited in the new adjoining Nuthampstead Airfield Museum. You can also visit Walkern where Jane Wenham was the last person to be tried for witchcraft in England. Although condemned to death, she was pardoned just in time!
Buntingford is a designated area of outstanding architectural and historic interest and an ideal centre for exploring wildlife, the countryside and historic local villages. It holds a weekly market on Mondays.
With thanks to the Buntingford Town Guide.
Cottage garden with topiary rabbits and, below, the Tanner’s House.
The Jubilee Pump and, right, the almshouses originally known as Ward’s Hospital.
Claud Lovat Fraser’s Red House.
The charming High Street and town sign.
Right: The Cage lock- up. Below: Wartime photos and memorabilia are on display at The Woodman Inn, Nuthampstead.
Duelling pistols designed by Robert Wogdon.