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Wendy Turner

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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.

PETER ETTERIDGE

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.

BUNT­ING­FORD CIVIC SO­CI­ETY

Duelling pis­tols de­signed by Robert Wog­don.

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