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Hunsdon village centre contains many old houses, some known to date back to at least the 15th century. There are no known dwellings dating back before about this time, although a few old hall houses in the area are probably older, and Hunsdon was registered in the Domesday book (1086).
The Village Centre
The village centre is dominated by what is today the Village Hall. This had previously been the village school before the more modern one was built further up Widford Road. This building was originally believed to be a house called Harlowes, owned by John Harlowe in the 15th century, which overlooked Harlowes Green, one of the 5 Greens in the Parish, and which is now the Crown public house car park and a small green on which stands the War Memorial. It was certainly being run as a school in 1806, when Mrs Calvert of Hunsdon House was assisting the then schoolmistress. The Calverts were instrumental in enlarging and adding to the building about that time to improve the features of the school. The two adjoining houses were probably built on by the Calverts in about 1817 when major renovation by them was being undertaken to the school building, to make a more attractive centre for the village.
To the right of the Village Hall is a 15th-century house, called White Horses because of the two carved brackets either side of the front. These were probably added by one of the owners in the early 18th century, however the bay window on the side was added in the 19th century. This 3-storey house, much modified over the centuries, contrasts strangely with the apparently matching two storey but much later 17th century Rose Cottage on the left of the group, previously called Ivy Cottage.
The house next to the White Horses is also of 15th-century origin, the gateway through the house to the back yard having been made in the middle of the 16th century by the owner to overcome the court's objection to carts being stored inside the house, which up to then had been the practice.
Beyond this are a number of timber-framed cottages dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, known as Garlands Terrace until the beginning of this century, but little other is known of their history.
The brick house at the end of this row, Netherhall, was built by the builder owner, John Redington, in the middle of the 19th century for himself. He, and later his son, built many of the brick houses in the High St at that time.
The row of boarded houses before the Hunsdon Garage was a single old house owned and occupied in 1494 by John Smythe, and known as Smythes House. It stood roughly opposite what is believed to have been Smythes Green, where the village pump now stands. The northern end was added to in the 17th century together with cellars and made into a public house called The Angel, in the yard of which stood the whipping post. At that time it was owned by George Elliot, and following a succession of three George Elliots, was renamed The George.
In the 18th century it was converted to a farm by the Taylors, the then owners, and which became known inevitably as Taylors Farm. It was finally sold by the Taylors in about 1850 when records of the farm disappear. The building is now private dwellings, the northern end having in recent years been a sweet shop.
Facing the village pump stands The Pump House which in the early 16th century was called Hooks. The house at that time stood in 7½ acres of land and was one of the most important yeoman houses in the village. Hooks was lived in by a succession of wealthy people. Edward Wharley and his wife Margaret and their children were there in the early 17th century. After the death of Edward, Margaret continued to live there with her daughter while her son moved into a house known as Tippings, but now called The Old House. Margaret it was who in 1697 with a number of other wealthy parishioners were witness to a document agreeing to the building of 4 almshouses with charity money, these being the 4 houses next to No 32 further up the Widford Rd from The Pump House and opposite The George.
Eventually Hooks was sold in the late 18th century to James Lanham, a descendent of the Woods, who together with George Spellar, a relation by marriage, were carpenters in the village through the end of the 18th century, both being employed to undertake work in the Church, the almshouses and around the village.
About 1805 the house was divided into 3 cottages. When in 1812 the house was bought by John Hanney, he started the trades of builder, carpenter and wheelwright. He continued in this business until 1850 when it was taken over by the Markwells, after which the house became known as Markwells. The business thrived, many local farmers going there for carts, wagons and associated repairs, as Markwells had acquired a reputation for excellent work.
When in 1930 the Markwells retired, probably due to the falloff in the wagon trade, they moved across the road to Netherhall which they owned, and the house was sold to a Captain Walkington who renamed the house The Pump House. During the 1939 - 1945 period it was used variously as billets for men of The Essex Regiment and RAF personnel.
The Old House further up the Widford Road beyond the school on the east side is one of the oldest houses in Hunsdon, having started life as a medieval hall house with a chimney inserted later. Called Tippings in the 17th century, it was inherited by a nephew of the owner of The Pump House who converted it to a public house and called it The Wheatsheaf. The cartouche on the wall is the original pub sign of the Wheatsheaf. By the end of the18th century it had ceased to be a public house, and in 1927 when the new school was built it became the schoolmistress' house, by then having been renamed Ye Olde House.
Pipers in Drury Lane, now called Orchards, was at one time the village poorhouse, having been taken over for that purpose as it had been standing empty for some time at the end of the 18th century. It remained the poorhouse until the occupants were moved in 1836 to the Ware Union, the then empty house being made into 4 flats into which the women living in the almshouses in Widford Rd were moved. After some time the 4 flats were again reconverted back to a private house.
The red brick house opposite The Pump House, The Old Post Office, is a timber-framed building of 17th-century origin which had a brick face built on in the 19th century. It became the village Post Office in 1930 until a few years later the Post Office was moved further south in the High St.
The Fox and Hounds public house in the High St was originally built as a yeoman's house in 1670, then called Hickmans. It was bought by Edmund Calvert of Hunsdon House in 1819 and made into a public house called The Horse and Groom to replace one he had demolished in Hunsdonbury, known as The Three Rabbits. The name was later changed to The Fox and Hounds. It was always a popular inn as it stood on the main coach route between London and Bishops Stortford, and with its large yard and ample stables was a good stopping place for passing coaches, bringing in lots of trade.
Opposite The Fox and Hounds lies a small cottage set back from the road called Quaker Cottage. This was originally built in 1695 as a Quaker Meeting House by Daniel Wharley, who was a prominent Hunsdon Quaker. It was given to the Quakers 5 years later when he left the village. it was bought at the end of the 19th century by Charles Redington the builder who let it as a Mission Hall. Since then it has had a number of uses including a tea room, and during World War II became a domestic dwelling.
Bela Down and No 19 next door were built by Charles Redington in the 19th century. No 19 was the home of the first Post Office in Hunsdon, and continued there for 30 years until moved to the brick house further up the High St.
Hunsdon Church dates probably to the 11th century as a priest was recorded in the Domesday Book as living in Hunsdon. Certainly the north wall of the Nave is thought to be at least 12th century, probably part of the original church. Under the whitewash of the north wall are frescos depicting the 7 deadly sins. The rest of the building varies in dates through the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. The bell tower and north porch are early 15th century, probably built by John Tyrell who held the Manor from 1423 to 1428. The south Chapel was built by John Carey, 3rd Lord Hunsdon, in about 1610 in his own lifetime to hold a tomb for him and his wife. He died in 1617 and his monument in alabaster is of the highest sculptural quality then available in England. The screen and pulpit were supposedly erected at the same time. The altar rails are also 17th century with recent additions at the ends.
All that remains of the rood screen is the lower pair, the staircase and the beam which held the Holy Cross now in the Vestry. While the east window in the Vestry is circa 1320, the window in the west end of the north wall of the Nave is thought to be from the 16th century. The south wall Chancel window is circa 1450 in which the White Rose of York is depicted. Sir William Oldhall, the Lord of the Manor at the time, is known to have been a zealous Yorkist.
On the north wall of the Chancel is a monument to Francis Poyntz who was a member of the Court of Henry VIII and died of the "sweating plague" in 1528. There is also a standing monument of exquisite detail to Sir Thomas Forster who died in 1612. The rails are the same as those around the tomb of Mary Queen of Scots in Westminster Abbey.
Brasses on the walls are to Margaret Shelley, who died in 1495 and who had lived at Olives Farm, and an unusual plate in the south wall of the Nave to James Gray, a park keeper who died in 1591. There is also an inscription of circa 1450 on the north side of the Chancel arch, viz: "IHC MARIA".
The font is circa 1500 but was recut in 1851 to the original design, and the old alms box is thought to be 17th century.
The registers commenced in 1546, however Queen Mary was registered as a Godmother to a Hunsdon child in 1537, but Church warden accounts only date from 1769. According to some old wills recently transcribed the Church was originally dedicated to St Mary, then from about the time of the Reformation, it was known only as Hunsdon Church. In about 1880 the Rector at the time had it dedicated to St Dunstan.
Hunsdon House which lies to the east of the Church was built in the 15th century by Sir William Oldhall, but by the 16th century the house and extensive parks were in the hands of The Crown. Henry VIII rebuilt the house making it into a splendid palace. Henry spent a lot of his leisure time at Hunsdon hunting in the well stocked deerpark.
In 1558 Queen Elizabeth gave Hunsdon House to her cousin Sir Henry Carey, creating him Lord Hunsdon. After several changes of ownership through Lord Willoughby in 1653, Matthew Bluck in 1671 and Josiah Nicholson in 1743 it was inherited by Nicholson Calvert in 1759. The Calvert family who made a number of major changes to the structure of Hunsdon village and the area about during their ownership, finally left Hunsdon when the house and Manor was sold in 1858.
Recent archaeological work has uncovered the old moat, in which many very old shoes were found and now under part of the house, and emptied an old cesspit in which was found amongst other items, the skeleton of a dog which must have fallen down the garderobe shute! Attempts at landscaping have also revealed remains of early structures which stopped the gardening activities.
Media related to Hunsdon at Wikimedia Commons