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Neighbourhood Plan Parish Portrait

Most Neighbourhood Plans include a “parish portrait” section, describing the overall context of that Plan and to inform generally, because despite living in an area for many years, few residents know everything about it. Ours is no exception, except that we have published it as a stand-alone document. Early-on it became apparent that to do the area full justice, the Portrait would be of considerable size and so it was “spun off” from the main Neighbourhood Plan into a stand-alone volume that will support our Plan, yet provide a readable stand-alone account of our area to the present day .

It is not intended to be a detailed visitor guide nor a comprehensive history of the area, only a description of the of the area over time, to contextualise the NP and enable the area’s character to be appreciated.  In compiling the Portrait the great challenge was what to include and what to leave out.  In the end, what stayed in was what helped to understand the shaping of the area, the creation of the area’s character and the maintenance of that character to the present day.

 The document has a detailed Bibliography for further study if required. We hope that residents (both long-term and new arrivals) visitors and local scholars of all ages will find it interesting to read; if it spurs anyone to find out more about the history, archaeology, geography and points of interest about their parish area, that would be excellent; if it encourages residents to enjoy the area and to take good care of it, then it will have more than done its job.

The Parish Portrait is available to download in .pdf format from the top left panel. You will need a copy of either Adobe Acrobat Reader or another .pdf Viewer to read the file.

 

Contents

               

Contents

Glossary

Introduction. 1

Geography & Geology. 3

Archaeology & History. 8

Estates, Houses & Parks. 16

Welwyn Village. 24

Digswell .. …………………………………………………………42

Oaklands & Mardley Heath. 50

Demographics. 56

References & Bibliography. 62

Acknowledgements. 64

Appendix 1    Digswell House & Tewin Water 65

Appendix 2    Neighbouring Settlements. 69

Appendix 3    Welwyn & Digswell in Domesday. 71

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glossary

 

 

The following abbreviations are used throughout:

 

 

DRA

Digswell Residents Association

HMWT

Hertfordshire and Middlesex Wildlife Trust

HCC

Hertfordshire County Council

OMH

Oaklands & Mardley Heath

LP

Local Plan (being devised by WHBC)

NP

Neighbourhood (Development) Plan (being devised by WPC)

NPSG

Neighbourhood (Development) Plan Steering Group

RSPB

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

WAS

Welwyn Archaeological Society

WFRS

Welwyn Film Record Society

WGC

Welwyn Garden City

WHBC

Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council

WHS

Welwyn & District History Society

WPAG

Welwyn Planning and Amenity Group

WPC

Welwyn Parish Council

WPPG

Welwyn Parish Plan Group

WRAG

Welwyn Rubbish Action Group

 

 

 



Introduction

This is the second[1] document relating to our Neighbourhood Development Plan to be published.  This Plan is normally referred to as the Neighbourhood Plan (NP) and is related to, but distinct from the WHBC Local Plan.  Most NPs include a “parish portrait” section, describing the overall context of that Plan and to inform generally, because despite living in an area for many years, few residents know everything about it.  Our Plan is no exception but has some significant additional facets:

 

  • The Parish has three distinct settlement centres: Welwyn village, Digswell and Oaklands & Mardley Heath, each with its own history and unique “sub-culture”, with some more individual dwellings and hamlets.
  • The area has been under constant occupation for over 2000 years: from the Palaeolithic era, through the Bronze and Iron Ages, Celtic, Roman, Saxon, Viking, Norman and the subsequent better-documented periods, to the present day.
  • The varied landscape and buildings and both natural and built environments reflect that constant occupation and land use for farming, industry and residential purposes.
  • Although essentially rural, with numerous hamlets and villages both within and just outside the parish boundary, the proximity of the parish to Central London has been a significant factor in its evolution. Kings Cross is only some 30 minutes away by rail from our local station (Welwyn North); Central London itself is only an hour by car and the old Hertfordshire market towns of Hertford, Hitchin and St Albans and the newer settlements of Welwyn Garden City, Hatfield and Stevenage (New Town) are all only a short bus, car or rail journey away.  The parish is well-connected and this promotes easy travel, despite the frequent peak-time congestion on many of the surrounding major routes.

 

A brief read of this Portrait (or, better still, a look at the “real world” it covers) reveals the wealth of what abounds in our parish:  historical sights and locations; buildings (Roman through to present day); open spaces of heathland, woodland and parkland, including nature reserves – all accessible via good footpaths; fine views of the Hertfordshire countryside; places for leisure, exercise, entertainment and enjoyment, excellent facilities and a thriving, vibrant community with shops, restaurants, pubs and more.  This character has been built up over many years, particularly over the past few centuries; we are fortunate to have it but must accept the responsibility to care for it and pass it on to the next generation. 

 

In 2004, WHBC adopted the Digswell Character Appraisal[2] as a supplementary planning document to their then-emerging 2005 Local Plan.  That adoption meant that the provisions, recommendations and ideas within, carried a modicum of weight when planning and development decisions relating to Digswell were being made, but that appraisal always lacked the authority that a properly-“made” NP carries; that appraisal report is now quite dated and as a result, widely disregarded.  Neither Welwyn nor Oaklands & Mardley Heath ever had an equivalent although they, together with Digswell, were included in the overall Welwyn Hatfield Landscape Character Assessment[3] and in the Welwyn Parish Plan[4], researched and compiled by the WPPG supported by WPC.  Regrettably many members of the WPPG, who did an excellent job, are no longer with us.  WHBC are compiling the latest version[5] of their Local Plan; the NP for the parish will comply with national legislation and that WHBC Local Plan, but provide the granularity of detail and illustrate the desires of residents, at parish level.

 

Character is what makes an area or neighbourhood distinctive and is the identity of a place. It encompasses the way it looks and feels. It is created by a combination of land, people, the built environment, history, culture and tradition and looks at how they interact to make a distinctive character of an area.  Local character is distinctive and differentiates one area apart from another. It includes the sense of belonging a person feels for that place, the way people respond to the atmosphere, how it impacts their mood, their emotional response to that place and the stories that come out of peoples’ relationship with that place.  Places which develop in response to an identified local character and agreed desired future character are likely to be more sustainable, contribute to good quality of life and attract investment. 

 

This is not intended to be either a detailed guide or a comprehensive history of the area[6], only a description of the history and status of the built and natural environments of the area in 2021 and their character, to contextualise the NP.  It will become apparent that although division into the built and the natural is convenient, there is much of the natural within the built, which serves to intersperse and separate sections of settlements and the settlements themselves, contributing to the rural look and feel.  The sources given in the Bibliography are very detailed and the great temptation and challenge was around what to include and what to leave out.  In the end, what stayed in was what helped to understand the shaping of the area, the creation of the area’s character and the maintenance of that character to the present day.

 

When it became apparent that to do the area full justice this Portrait would be of considerable size, it was felt that having it as a large section of the Plan might give the wrong emphasis and discourage readers from reading the finer detail in the Plan itself.  Yet it is surely worthwhile to describe and showcase the area and its features as they are the foundation of that Plan.  So the Portrait was “spun off” into a stand-alone volume that will support our NP, yet provide a readable account of our area from those early times to the present.  There are also three supplementary booklets on The Welwyn Heritage Trail, Open Spaces in the Parish and Listed buildings in the Parish.  We hope that residents, both long-term and new arrivals, visitors and local schoolchildren will find both the main Portrait and the supplements interesting to read and perhaps even be keen to pursue further study using the references quoted or via independent research.  If it spurs residents to find out more about the history, archaeology, geography and points of interest about their immediate area, that would be excellent; if it encourages residents to enjoy and take good care of their area[7], then it will have more than done its job.

 

 

 

 

 

Geography & Geology

The Parish boundary as recorded by WHBC is shown in the 1:50,000 OS representation of the area at Figure 1.  The map shows the four major linear features that divide the area and have been the primary factors over the years in forming, shaping and influencing it; they continue to do so to this day: 

  • The River Mimram valley running from W to SE is one of only 220 chalk streams in the world (virtually all in the UK) and with its special and unique habitat. It flows from its founding spring at Lilley Bottom near Whitwell (a few km north of Codicote) through the villages of Welwyn and Digswell en-route to its confluence with the River Lea near Hertford, and thence to the River Thames at Bow Creek in London’s Docklands.
  • The A1(M) motorway running from S to N with its first section beginning at the M25 at South Mimms, through Stevenage to Letchworth and Baldock, separating Welwyn village on the western side of that road, from the other two parish settlements: Digswell and Oaklands & Mardley Heath, on the eastern side.
  • The Welwyn By-Pass (now the B197; pre-motorway, the old A1 Great North Road) running N from Hatfield and (today) Welwyn Garden City (WGC) before veering north east through Oaklands and Mardley Heath, towards Woolmer Green and Knebworth. Welwyn was reputedly the first village in England to gain a bypass in 1927 (the village High Street was the Great North Road) which is why Welwyn High Street/Church Street/Codicote Road have remained largely untouched since first built and relatively narrow as heavy vehicular through-traffic since WW1 has missed the centre and what is now the conservation area.
  • The Great Northern Railway (now the East Coast Main Line) running N from London Kings Cross to York, Newcastle, Edinburgh and beyond, with the Digswell viaduct crossing the Mimram valley and Welwyn North station at its northern end. For reasons explained later, the railway’s route did not pass through Welwyn village.

 

Other significant aspects are:

 

  • Regional roads: the B656 from Welwyn, to Codicote and Hitchin and the A1000/B1000/C182 (Hertford Road) from Welwyn to Digswell, Tewin and Hertford, skirting WGC.
  • Adjacent places just outside the parish boundary, including:
  • The sparsely populated rural area of the Ayots[8] to the West, forming the eastern parish boundary and containing the estates of Brocket Hall[9] and Ayot Montfitchet[10].
  • A similar area to the East, with the villages of Tewin and Datchworth and the vestiges of Lord Cowper’s Tewin Water estate.
  • The neighbouring villages of Codicote (NW) and Woolmer Green (NE).
  • The southern parish boundary with WGC, since the late 1920s.

 

Hertfordshire is often characterised as having a “rolling countryside” and that is certainly true of this area: the local “hills” (which are the petering out of the Chilterns range) have modest gradients and smooth tops.  They also divide the area, as do the vestiges of the old estates, the A1(M) and the Great Northern Railway. 

 

The local bedrock is the Lewes Nodular Chalk and Seaford Chalk Formations (undifferentiated) that were formed approximately 84 to 94 million years ago in the Cretaceous Period; these are overlain by superficial deposits of the Kesgrave Catchment Subgroup, comprising sand and gravel deposited up to 3 million years ago in the Quaternary Period.

 

 

Figure 1 :  The Parish Area (outlined in red) with acknowledgement to WHBC

 

 

Immediately to the north, on the higher ground, are boulder clay deposits (Diamicton), formed up to 2 million years ago in ice-age conditions.  There are also outcrops of London Clay (the end of the upswing of the London basin, especially at Ottway Walk playing fields). 

 

 

Figure 2  :  Bedrock Geology

 

 

 

Figure 3 :  Superficial Deposits

 

Figures 2 and 3 are with acknowledgement to the British Geological Survey.

 

 

Chalk can be seen at the appositely-named “Whitehill” where until the 1950s there was a chalk quarry.  The Danesbury Fernery was also built in a (pre-19thC) chalk pit.  Gravel was extracted at Mardley Heath until the 1960s, leaving the extraction pits which have been partially re-landscaped and are now populated with trees and undergrowth. 

 

River Mimram

The River Mimram, with its precious chalk stream ecosystem, has shaped much of the area[11].  Rising from springs at Lilley Bottom, a few km north-west of Whitwell[12], after flowing through Whitwell and other sections of the valley known as Kimpton Bottom (where the Mimram is joined by the River Kym at Kimpton Mill) and Codicote Bottom, the river flows through Singlers Marsh and then crosses under Welwyn High Street in the middle of the village.  It then heads between the modern and older Digswell settlements, running cross-country until it finally makes its confluence with the River Lea near Horn’s Mill at Hertford.[13] It still contains fish.

 

Although Lilley Bottom is usually a dry valley, it has been known in particularly wet years for the River Mimram to be extended to the north for several miles by springs in the upper valley. The valley is the furthest east of all the Chiltern Hills valleys.

 

 

Figure 4  :  River Mimram at Singlers Marsh

 

The Singlers Marsh Nature Reserve is an open space to the north of Welwyn village very popular with local residents, for leisure, exercise, dog-walking, regular educational visits organised by local schools plus the annual Welwyn Festival Fun Day.  The River Mimram flows through almost the complete length of the area.  Across much of its lower part is a depression known as “The Drain” which is often argued as the old course of the River but is more likely to have been a ditch dug to allow water to gather rather than flood the low lying dwellings nearby.  The local water table is very high and a reason why the water abstraction which took place for many years by the local water company, still remains as a contingency action against flooding.  Conversely, if excessive abstraction takes place at the Marsh or higher up the river, in hot weather when the chalk aquifer water level is low, the river runs dry through the centre of the village and along much of the Marsh.

 

The name “Mimram” is believed to be of Celtic origin. Generally, etymologists and philologists have found the name ‘Mimram’ hard to analyse as there has been so little raw material on which to work until well into the Saxon era, by which time multiple forms of the name appear in records.  Historically, the river has also been known by the name “Maran” and many maps from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries mark the river’s name as “Mimram or Maran”. Indeed, up until the 1960s and 1970s, most local residents referred the area around it as the Maran Valley rather than the Mimram Valley.  Downstream in Digswell there is a 16thC homestead property that has the name “Maran House“.  It has been speculated that “Maran” may hark back to the homelands of the Catuvellauni; Celts who came to Hertfordshire from a region of modern-day Belgium and Northern France where the main river is the Marne[14], after which the départment of France is named.

Surrounding Landscape and Land Use

The parish area is basically woodland (a mixture of relatively new plantation activity and some vestiges of ancient woodland), open parkland or farmland, with the exception of those areas of former chalk quarrying or gravel extraction.  Very little evidence remains locally of the traditional market gardening that Hertfordshire was once famous for, in supplying London with fruit and vegetables but there are some reminders in the remains of old orchards and of course the allotments in Welwyn but the majority of farming is now arable: wheat, oilseed rape and winter wheat.  There are also limited numbers of beef and dairy cattle together with sheep, goats and (in the parklands) deer.

 

The large estates that once dominated the landscape from Georgian times began to disappear in the late Victorian era, when land became popular for town and village growth.  The Great War brought the loss of so many sons of these families and combined with the death duties, their reduction in size was inevitable, land being sold off for housing development in many cases to pay bills of all types.  It all too frequently meant their complete disappearance such that often only the original house remains today (see Estates, Houses & Parks).   

Open Spaces

There are a number of “green spaces” within and on the borders of the parish.  Some of these are from the former large estates (see Estates, Houses and Parks) and others are heathland, farmland or woods.  For more detail please see the supplementary booklet Open Spaces in the Parish.[15]

 

 

 

 

 

Archaeology & History

The natural valleys encouraged the creation of tracks and then major roads.  High quality farming land and woods that contained game encouraged settlement from early peoples whose remains are still to be found to the present day. The whole parish area is full of archaeological sites, the finds from which have been placed in various museums. 

Early History (Prehistoric to Roman & Saxon) 

The area has multiple entries on the Hertfordshire Historic Environment Record (HER). The Area of Archaeological Significance covers an extensive area of late Iron Age and Romano-British settlement and the historic medieval and post-medieval core of Welwyn village.

 

Human occupation in Welwyn village was probably started by the attraction of the River Mimram with its clean water supply at a place where it was fordable and can be traced back to Palaeolithic people who lived by the river, followed by the Bronze Age beaker people and the Iron Age Belgae (Catuvellauni), Romans, Saxons (Tewingas[16]), Vikings and Normans.  Palaeolithic, Beaker and Belgic remains are rare but there are considerable Roman remains in and around the village, including several Roman villas, a fine 3rdC Roman bath house, three Roman cemeteries and some as yet unexcavated sites.  Among the more spectacular early discoveries were six bronze socket axes (1853 on the Danesbury estate) and three high status, so-called ‘chieftain’s’ burials, representing some of the richest late Iron Age or early Roman burials discovered in England. Two of the burials were discovered during the (re)building of Hertford Road, near the present Fire Station, in 1906, consisting of cremations, accompanied by urns, imported amphorae, bronze vessels and other pottery.  Other cemeteries are known throughout the village, including one associated with an ostentatious mausoleum excavated in 1995.  Most of the “finds” from these sites are in the British Museum.

 

Following the Roman invasion, Welwyn was settled by the Romans.  The area was marshy, and the settlement was a known fording point when the Roman road through the village was laid out, leading to the establishment of the Roman settlement[17] around the road and the ford. Many Roman artefacts have been found in and around the village.  At least two Roman villas (Dicket Mead and Lockleys) are known, along with extensive cemeteries (both cremation and inhumation) and other Romano-British features. Roman cemeteries were found in the Hawbush Close allotment gardens and near a proposed development to the rear of Elmoor Close between 1990 and 2006, with the nearest burials only c.20m away from the proposed site. Some 12 inhumation burials and a number of cremations were found, dating to between 110BC and 140AD. Dicket Mead villa was revealed during construction of the A1(M), comprising two buildings at opposing ends of a large walled enclosure, located either side of a canal that once connected with the River Mimram. Late Iron Age and Roman remains from Welwyn form one of the densest concentrations in Hertfordshire. The so-called ‘Welwyn complex’ of remains lie scattered around the modern village and its immediate vicinity, comprising wealthy burials, villas, industrial remains and agricultural activity.  The modern-day locations where finds have been discovered include: The Frythe; Welwyn rail tunnel where the roman trackway runs from Harmer Green towards Potters Heath; The Grange; Link road and of course the Dicket Mead villa complex and Roman Baths.  The field to the south of the Evangelical Church on Fulling Mill Lane is believed to be the site of the original Roman village and is as yet unexcavated.  Traces of Roman buildings have also been found in the grounds of The Manor (off Ellesfield). 

 

The major villas are close to major Roman roads, especially that from St Albans (Verulamium) to Colchester (Camulodunum) which itself followed a prehistoric trackway[18].  The convenience of a ford across the Mimram undoubtedly led to the rise of a settlement that may have provided sustenance to travellers (maybe even the Roman version of a motel and motorway services) and later the establishment of a village and church. 

 

The HER notes that the line of the main Roman road between the larger contemporary settlements at Verulamium and Braughing passes through the Roman settlement at Welwyn,  crossing the River Mimram. The line of the road is thought to pass through the area of 10 Elmoor Close. Two parallel ditches thought to be part of the road were found in the allotments to the rear of the site to the south west.  St Mary’s Church lies alongside the route of a Roman road and cemetery. When the adjacent house (The Grange) was excavated for an extension in 1986, Saxon Christian burials (identified on the basis of their alignment and absence of grave-goods) were found just north of the present building.  They were re-interred under the chancel floor with a memorial stone.  In the area behind The Grange, there were thousands of Roman cremations.

 

St Mary’s church building was originally Saxon (two Saxon corbels can be seen in the church at the entrance to the St Nicholas Chapel).  Both Welwyn and Digswell villages were near the frontier between Danelaw and Wessex/Mercia.  There are no indications of any major battles but it is thought that the St Brice’s Day massacre[19] of 1002 (a slaughter of all Danes in England, including women and children) probably started at Welwyn.  

The Roman Baths

The area in which the baths are located was once part of the playing fields for Sherrardswood School[20], itself located in the old house of the Lockleys estate and is the only part of the Dicket Mead villa excavated (and the only part open to the public).  The baths were built in the early years of the 3rd century and remained in use for about 150 years. Only half of the bath complex is on display: the caldarium (hot room), tepidarium (warm room) and frigidarium (cold room and cold bath) along with the hypocaust system used to circulate hot air through the complex. Part of the bath complex is made of ‘opus signinum‘, a building material formed of broken tiles mixed with mortar.  Another feature is the Praefurnium, or Stoke Hole, where charcoal or wood was stored and a slave fed the material to the furnace. Over the furnace arch was a hot tank holding water to be evaporated and to be used in the hot bath.  There are several display cases with finds from the archaeological investigation of Dicket Mead. The most interesting find is the skeleton of a woman who died at Welwyn in the 1st century AD. She was between 45 and 55 at the time of her death and stood just 1.5m tall (4’11”). 

 

 

Figure 5  :  Remains of the Roman Baths hypocaust system

 

When the motorway was constructed, the WAS fought to save the site, raising funds to create a vault over the baths. Today, the bathhouse is regarded as one of the best-preserved in Europe and the subject of numerous documentaries.  The site is now run by the Welwyn Hatfield Museum Service and is open to the public and schools, with detailed displays and explanations.

Later History (Norman to Georgian & Early Victorian)

Both Welwyn (Wilge[21]) and Digswell (Dicheleswelle[22]) are recorded in Domesday Book[23], as being in the hundred of Broadwater and the county of Hertfordshire. Welwyn had a recorded population of 42 households in 1086 and is listed under 6 owners.  Digswell had a recorded population of 37 households in 1086, and is listed under 2 owners.  Both are in the largest 20% of settlements recorded in Domesday. 

 

The Wars of the Roses seems to have bypassed the area despite the relatively nearby major battles for the road to London at both Barnet and St Albans.  The area seems to have been totally rural and agricultural until the rise of stagecoaches and improved roads meant travel and the rise of the hospitality industry with coaching inns.  Proximity to London, relative ease of travel and increased wealth of rich families through Tudor and Stuart times (there were no significant events locally during the Civil War) led to the establishment by the Georgian period of several large country houses and parks, the remains of which can be seen today.

 

A Norman church was built on the site of the earlier Saxon church about 1190 and the later 13thC nave still stands.  The building has suffered from construction disasters over the centuries with bells, towers and walls falling down, giving opportunities for extensive remodelling.  Later additions (many funded by the Wilshere family – see Estates, Houses & Parks – The Frythe and Welwyn Village), led to the majority of the present St Mary’s church building being late Georgian/early Victorian.           

 

 

Figure 6  :  St Mary’s Church

Modern History (Late Victorian to 21st Century)

Apart from the building of the (now) Grade II*-listed viaduct in 1850, to carry the GNR over the Mimram valley, the Digswell area changed little until much of the original Parish became part of Welwyn Garden City in 1922.  The creation of WGC was brought about by the Garden City Movement led by Ebenezer Howard, which bought an area of farmland between Hatfield and Welwyn (both of which were then relatively small villages) and developed the vision begun at Letchworth.  The new town nearby provided major new local employment opportunities.  The  railway and post-WW1 expansion of businesses with Head Offices in Central London spurred the rise of commuting.  Later expansion of car ownership further enabled employment in nearby (and not-so near) places.  As a result the villages expanded considerably, providing a popular place to live and thus became largely dormitory areas.  Digswell now refers to the essentially 20thC residential area around Welwyn North railway station

 

Oaklands has been built on from the 1920’s; together with the adjacent Mardley Heath it has seen much mid-late 20thC development. The map at Figure 1 also shows that despite the built-up villages of Welwyn and Digswell and Oaklands & Mardley Heath, the parish includes large tracts of open land and woodland (compare with that at Figure 8.  In some cases this is the remains of the grounds of major estates (e.g. The Frythe, Danesbury and Tewin Water) or farms such as Lockleys or other land such as the (now) re-landscaped gravel quarry and newly-planted and natural growth woodland at Mardley Heath.

 

Until 2000, Woolmer Green was part of Welwyn parish, which then extended almost to Datchworth.  Ayot St Peter has always been a hamlet and has only a Parish Meeting and not a full Parish Council due to its small population.  The Civil Parish of Welwyn was created 1894 as part of government reforms in the late-19thC and inevitably followed the boundaries of the much older ecclesiastical parishes.  Welwyn is no exception, although time has brought about a divergence.  For example, much of the parish of St John’s Church, Digswell as well as the church itself, is outside of Welwyn parish (the newer Digswell village church is wholly within the civil parish).  In contrast, the Welwyn CofE Team Ministry group of churches includes St Mary’s Welwyn, St Peter’s Ayot St Peter, St Michael’s Woolmer Green, St Giles Codicote, St Peter’s Tewin and All Saints Datchworth.  Part of the southern Parish Boundary Baulk (raised bank) between the original ecclesiastical parishes of Digswell and Hatfield may still be seen in Sherrardspark Wood, a local woodland, nature reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest.  Today the three main settlements are separated from each other by fields and woodlands of the green belt:  the relatively modern settlement of Oaklands & Mardley Heath and the much older villages of Digswell and Welwyn. Welwyn and Digswell are separated from Welwyn Garden City by the fields of the old Lockleys estate, Sherrardspark Wood and the valley/flood plain of the River Mimram. 

 

The civil parish boundary has evolved to follow mixed origins:  boundaries of ancient woodlands (long since disappeared) large estate boundaries, purpose-dug earthworks, rivers and finally ancient tracks and more modern roads, all from its ecclesiastical forebear, more recently compounded by the Electoral Boundary Commission’s endeavours to mould areas of more-or-less equal numbers of residents into electoral wards within civil parishes.  The 21stC parish is largely residential but with small businesses and scattered farmsteads throughout. Welwyn village centre has a near-central conservation area.  There are many green spaces and woodland areas including open spaces and local nature reserves with numerous footpaths, supporting informal recreation and wildlife.  A population of around 9000 means our Parish is relatively large.  The parish council has fostered the unique identity of each area by encouraging the avoidance of coalescence, particularly ribbon development along the joining road routes and Garden City expansion.   

The Great North Road, the Bypass and the A1(M)

The main highway between England and Scotland emanating from London, has moved route over the years but eventually settled on the route through Barnet, Potters Bar, Hatfield to Welwyn as used by coaches (including mail) travelling between London, York and Edinburgh. 

 

The new Great North Road[24] saw Welwyn expand as a major coaching stop, which reduced with the advent of the GNR in the mid-19thC.  The A1(M), following closely to the original A1 mainly parallels the route of the Great North Road. Coaching inns, many of which survive, were staging posts providing accommodation, stabling for horses and replacement mounts, but virtually no surviving coaching inns can be seen while driving on the A1; the modern route bypasses the villages and small towns in which they were located.

 

 

Figure 7  :  “By-Pass Road”

 (Where the BP filling station is today, at the junction with London Road)

 

 

Figure 8  :  Route of the Great North Road through Lemsford

The width of the High St was fine for coaches but when goods vehicles started to make their presence felt shortly after WW1, it was recognised that an alternative was needed.  In 1927 Welwyn received the UK’s first bypass which has meant that other than for deliveries, the village had never suffered from heavy through traffic until, sadly, the increase in car traffic since 2000 has promoted congestion of the A1(M) and the A1000/B1000/B197 such that “rat-run” traffic now uses the village High St to avoid delay.

The Railway

On 26 June 1846 the Great Northern Railway Act was given Royal Assent.  Numerous branches earlier proposed had been deleted, but the main line was approved. The authorised line was from London (“Pentonville” which later became the area of “King’s Cross”) via Huntingdon, Peterborough, Grantham, Retford, Doncaster and Selby to a junction with the Great North of England Railway, just south of York Station. This was the precursor to major change in the area.  The Grade II*- listed Digswell viaduct crosses the Mimram valley and was built from locally made bricks.  The Cowper Arms (then the Railway Tavern) was built for the railway and viaduct workers. 

 

 

Figure 9  :  LNER Class A3 4472 “Flying Scotsman” crossing Digswell Viaduct

(also referred to as “Welwyn” Viaduct) (photo courtesy Barry Goodey)

 

The railway’s route, with the viaduct across the Mimram valley and the station (at Welwyn North, although strictly speaking this is now Digswell) were largely determined by the opposition of the local wealthy and powerful landowners to the railway’s proximity to their parks and estates.  So, instead of the railway passing near to Welwyn village, it runs to the north of the original Digswell village and was the impetus for the new Digswell of today (the old being subsumed within WGC in the 1920s). 

 

 

 

Figure 10  :  Welwyn North Station

(looking towards the Knebworth tunnel entrance)

 

The gem of an Italianate Victorian Railway station at Welwyn North is a rare survival of architecture from the early days of the GNR; the remaining portion of the footbridge (modified when the old goods yard and sidings were removed in the mid-20thC to create the car park) and the carved south tunnel portal to the north of the platforms (the tunnel itself is the first section of tunnel running through to just south of Knebworth station) are all Grade II-listed. Originally there were two other “Welwyn” stations: Welwyn Junction, sited north of the present WGC station serving lines to Luton and Hertford (main line trains did not stop there).  It was this station that led to Welwyn North station being so-named.  The second was at Ayot Green (now part of the route of the Ayot Greenway.  The supplementary booklet Open Spaces in the Parish[25]

Includes the Greenway.

 

 

Estates, Houses & Parks

The area had a significant number of major estates and private parks with their houses and the vestiges of some that have disappeared.  The land was in some cases sold off to meet expenses and death duties but also to provide land for the building of the residential properties that we see today in the late 19thC and early 20thC.  The names of these estates or houses are either well-known in their own right or because they have given them to streets or areas in Welwyn or Digswell e.g. The Frythe, Danesbury, Wendover Lodge.  Vestiges also remain as woods and open spaces (e.g. Danesbury, Harmer Green House, and Digswell Water) and occasionally as farmland (Lockleys).

The Frythe

   

Figure 11  :  The Frythe – 1940s

(when Station IX of SOE)

Figure 12  :  The Frythe today

(Wilshere Park Estate – private residences)

 

The Frythe estate to the south of Welwyn was part of the property of Holywell Priory, Shoreditch, and in 1523 William Wilshere obtained a sixty-year lease of it from the priory. As a result of the dissolution of the monasteries, in 1539 the property was granted to Sir John Gostwick and his wife. Wilshere purchased The Frythe from Gostwick’s heirs, and the property remained in the possession of the Wilshere family for several centuries.  The extant “Gothic revival” mansion was built in 1846 for William Wilshere (MP for Great Yarmouth from 1837 to 1846) by architects Thomas Smith and Edward Blore.  It was sited centrally with a long drive, providing views over the Mimram valley, and surrounded by well-laid out lawns and gardens, which were landscaped with many selected specimen shrubs and trees. The House was not listed, and neither were any of the original ancillary structures, greenhouses, stables, brew house, cottages etc., but many of the trees are protected. The Frythe became home to successive generations of the Wilshere family, each of whom were benefactors of St Mary’s Church in Welwyn.  Various census returns show that sometimes the house was occupied by the principal family member alone, with up to 9 staff in attendance.

After William Wilshere’s death in 1867 the house was enlarged by his brother Charles Willes Wilshere and on his death in 1908, it passed on to his three unmarried daughters until the last one died in 1934. The estate then passed to a great-nephew, Captain Gerald Maunsell Gamul Farmer, of a landed gentry family of Nonsuch, Surrey, who adopted the surname of Wilshere, and ran the house as “The Frythe Residential and Private Hotel”.

In 1939 the estate was commandeered by Military Intelligence and used for the duration as “Station IX” of the Special Operations Executive, where the design and manufacturing of various items including military vehicles and equipment, explosives and technical sabotage equipment together with research into camouflage took place. In the grounds of The Frythe small cabins and barracks functioned as laboratories and workshops[26]

 

After the war, the site was operated as a commercial research facility.  From 1946 to 1963 the site was shared by ICI with Unilever.  New buildings were built by Unilever in the 1960s and research was conducted on edible oils, margarine, ice cream, and frozen foods. Techniques included molecular biophysics, X-ray crystallography, nuclear magnetic resonance  (NMR) spectroscopy, electron paramagnetic resonance (ESR) spectroscopy, infrared spectroscopy and mass spectrometry,.  The site was then bought and operated by Smith, Kline & French, who discovered Tagamet (Cimetidine) there in 1971, which treats peptic ulcers.  Finally GlaxoSmithKline closed the facility in 2010 and the site was sold for development.

 

Originally green belt parkland of some 20 hectares south-west of Welwyn village, the estate was attractive as a housing location with easy access to the B197 and Welwyn Village. It has boundaries with Homers Wood to the East and South, with the Ayots and Whitehill to the South and West, and the Whitehill road leads North West down past the Whitehill car park and The Acorn Nursery and Pre-School, before joining Welwyn Village via School Lane.  The developers demolished the disused mid-20thC research buildings and built a series of small roads with detached houses; the original Gothic revival house was developed as apartments and the area was renamed Wilshere Park.

Danesbury

   

Figure 13  :  Danesbury House – 1950s

(when a hospital – note the fire escape)

Figure 14  :  Danesbury House today

(private residences)

     

 

Danesbury House was originally named St John’s Lodge, and was built in 1776 for Mary St John, the wife of Captain the Hon. Henry St John, killed in action against the French in 1780, Mary dying in 1784.  William and Mary Blake rented the house in 1819 (with a park of 130 acres) for their out of town residence (they lived in Portland Place when in London); William was a classical economist, a water colourist and High Sheriff for Hertfordshire.  He finally bought St John’s Lodge at Christmas 1824, renaming it Danesbury House. At that time the estate comprised some 500 acres of countryside. In 1851 William Blake employed the highly-regarded Head Gardener Anthony Parsons who was noted for originating some fine new varieties of British and other Ferns.  When his son, William John Blake, inherited the house after his father’s death in 1852, he asked Parsons in 1859, to build a Fernery,[27] completed in 1860 in an old chalk pit about 500 metres to the East of the House, incorporating Pulhamite[28] artificial rock work[29] to construct a grotto, a dropping well, a pass, and a rustic bridge over a gorge.

 

 

Figure 15Grotto and Palms

 

 

Figure 16 :  Bridge

 

It was hugely successful and in 1881 the leading national gardening journal Garden Memoranda described it as ‘the best fernery to be found in the Home Counties’.  Thanks to the efforts of p The Friends of Danesbury Fernery, the site was rescued from near-oblivion and is being restored with support from WHBC.  It is open to the public and will be incorporated into the Welwyn Heritage Trail (see p 25).  Restored Danesbury Fernery photographs with acknowledgment to John Roper

 

The Blakes moved out of Danesbury in 1902 and the House itself suffered a catastrophic fire in 1916 requiring a major structural rebuild but it has remained largely unaltered since then.  By the time of World War I the Blake family had owned Danesbury House and estate for over a hundred years and were eminent members of Welwyn and Hertfordshire society. Members of the family had served as JPs, High Sheriffs, Board Guardians and one as MP for Newport, Isle of Wight. Many members of the family had served in the army, including Colonel Frederick Rodolph Blake who served in the Crimea with the 33rd (Duke of Wellington’s) Regiment.  His son Arthur Maurice Blake inherited and he and his wife Isabel had two sons: Cecil Rodolph and Maurice Frederick, both of whom were killed on the western front in The Great War[30], their father dying in Christchurch in 1916.  The brothers are commemorated on the Welwyn War Memorial as well as the Eton School Memorial and by a Memorial Window in St. Mary’s Church.

 

After renting it out, the Blakes eventually sold the house in 1919 to Michael Bruce Urquart Dewar from Yorkshire, a noted figure in the textile industry[31].  They were the last family to live there, moving out in 1937[32].  In 1939 the House became a TB Hospital and Danesbury Park itself was requisitioned by the Army in 1943 and operated as a Command Bakery run by the Royal Army Service Corps.  In 1944 the Dewars sold the estate to the Barnet (Hospital) Management Group and the House became home for long stay hospital patients and disabled persons for respite care.

 

In 1964 some of Danesbury Park land was sold to developers who built the Danesbury Housing Estate, which was further extended in 1985. At this later time, in 1985, the remaining land on Danesbury Park (some 32 acres) was acquired by the (then) Welwyn Hatfield District Council for agricultural purposes.  In 1993, facing the costs of major buildings repair, Danesbury Hospital moved out to new premises in the grounds of the Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital in School Lane, Welwyn. Danesbury House then became derelict until 1998, when it was restored and developed into apartments and the old hospital wards at the rear demolished to make way for luxury mews houses (see Welwyn Village: Danesbury Home & QVM).  Also in 1998 the surrounding land was designated a Local Nature Reserve, comprising two main fields: the ‘Park Field’ in the West from the B656 Codicote Road, to the (North Ride) entrance to Danesbury House, and the ‘Fernery Field’, or simply ‘The Motorway Field’, to the East from Danesbury House and Danesbury Park Road to the A1(M) Motorway.  Thanks to unstinting efforts by a group of local volunteers (The Friends of the Fernery) and some funding from the Borough Council, the Fernery has been reclaimed from the encroaching land and is being restored; it is open to the public.

Wendover Lodge

Nothing now remains of the large Georgian house that stood here; it was badly damaged in a storm in 1990 and although a listed building, had to be demolished.  Some of the land was used to build the present block of apartments, retaining the name of the original 1810 building.  It was for many years the home of Sir Alfred Scott-Gatty, who began his heraldic career with his appointment as Rouge Dragon Pursuivant of Arms in Ordinary in 1880 and held that post for six years until promotion to the office of York Herald of Arms in Ordinary. During his service as such he was in July 1901 appointed an Esquire of the Order of St. John and in December 1903 promoted to a Knight of Grace of the same order.  Scott-Gatty was appointed Garter Principal King of Arms in 1904 remaining in that office until his death in 1918. It was under his control that the College of Arms reinstituted the process of granting badges to armigers. He was appointed a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (KCVO) in June 1911, an honour personally bestowed by the King.  He was also a noted amateur musician and composer.  One of his sons, Major Charles Comyn Scott-Gatty (3rd Bn Hertfordshire Regt) died as a result of illness contracted during active service[33] and is commemorated on the village war memorial.  Another son, Alexander Scott-Gatty was an actor.  His son (Sir Alfred’s grandson) Old Harrovian Edward Scott-Gatty, also an actor, was killed aged 28 in a motor-cycle accident on the Great West Road at Osterley.  Adjacent to the organ in St Mary’s Church, is the Scott-Gatty memorial window, showing a life depiction of Edward holding an actor’s mask. 

 

 

Figure 17  :  Wendover Lodge

Lockleys

Lockleys has an extensive history, with a close connection to the nearby Roman Baths. It is also thought to have been the favourite grounds of King Henry VIII who enjoyed hunting here while staying in nearby Hatfield House. In addition to the House and within the same extensive area of farmland and parkland, the working Lockley Farm, continues the legacy of generations as a working arable farm with horses, chickens and seasonal grazing for beef cattle.

George Dering, the son of Robert and Leititia {daughter of Sir George Shee, 1st Baronet (1754-1825)} was educated at Rugby School and inherited the manor of Lockleys from his father in 1859. George was a highly gifted scientist and engineer and kept a workshop and foundry at Lockleys employing 30 men. During his working life he was granted 19 patents, many in the field of telegraphy and electrical engineering, became a Fellow of the Royal Society, exhibited some of his inventions at The Great Exhibition 1851 and even constructed a telegraph line between Lockleys and Hatfield to prove the efficiency of his inventions.  In 1850 he invented a signal detector using a needle suspended to swing like a pendulum, which was used by the Bank of England in its company communication system on Threadneedle Street. The Electric Telegraph Company of Ireland used the system in 1852, and Dering was made a company director. Further use was made with it in experiments by the European Telegraph company between London and Dover, and on the Great Northern Railway.   His patents also related to chemistry, iron- and brick-making.  He had a standing order with booksellers for books on a number of subjects including electricity, magnetism, animal magnetism, aeronautics, the occult, witchcraft, demonology, and magic. His huge collection was subsequently presented to Massachusetts Institute of Technology; he also acquired the Cuthbert aeronautical collection, eventually presented to the Royal Aeronautical Society.

Around 1880, shortly after inheriting the estate he dismissed the majority of his staff and employees and disappeared from Lockleys giving no indication of where he would be going.  A few servants were retained to run the property and George would return once a year for a few days before Christmas to pay the staff wages, settle the estate’s account and deal with the year’s correspondence.  It is also claimed that as a friend of Blondin, he assisted the tight rope walker practise on a rope across the River Mimram, which then ran through Lockleys Estate.  After the death of his wife in 1894, he moved back to Lockleys, where he lived the life of a recluse, using only one room of the many in Lockleys, a room which he would never allow to be cleaned.  He finally returned permanently in 1907, when it transpired that he had been living in Brighton under another name, and had a family who had no knowledge of his real name and fortune.  

 

Figure 18  :  Lockleys House

(now part of Sherrardswood Private School)

Noise became one of his obsessions and when he wanted the (noisy) Hertford Road to run other than past his front door, he simply paid for it to be moved and so its course is now through the cutting by the Fire Station and Civic Centre, leaving the vestigial original road section as his driveway {now called Lockleys Drive and today decoupled from the estate by the A1(M)}. The new road opened in 1907 and the huge excavation for its construction revealed a number of archaeological finds, subsequently donated to the British Museum.

George’s marriage to Martha produced one daughter, Rosa Georgina Dale, born shortly after their marriage in 1859. She knew nothing of her father’s second life until his death in January 1911, when she inherited Lockleys and a considerable fortune.  In 1890 Rosa had married music teacher Alfred Neall and they moved to live at Parkside in Welwyn. In 1913 Lockleys was leased to the de la Rue family.  Alfred and Rosa Neall had two sons, Felix who died at one year old and Richard, born in Burgess Hill in 1898.  Rosa transferred the Lockleys Estate to her son during her lifetime and he lived in a house called Derings, built on the estate. In 1936 he sold the estate to the Welwyn Garden City Company, along with properties in Welwyn, including the White Hart. The house has twice been used as a school, St. Margaret’s and then the current occupiers, Sherrardswood.

Other Listed Buildings

For many years this area has been widely-regarded as a good place to live and bring up a family.  In addition to the large estates, there are numerous elegant and attractive Georgian/Victorian country houses in the surrounding countryside and in Welwyn in particular, town houses and more modest dwellings, many located in the conservation area.  The new Digswell settlement also has numerous well-appointed houses from the late Victorian/Edwardian era.

 

 

Figure 19  :  “Guessens” in Welwyn Village

(view from River Mimram, following the 21stC re-development)

 

There are over 80 Grade II or II*- listed buildings and points of interest above-ground in the parish. The supplementary booklet Listed Buildings in the Parish[34] gives a comprehensive list of those sites visible today. 

 

In Welwyn:

  • Over 50 buildings within the Welwyn Conservation Area, including 4 public houses (also old coaching inns) 2 churches/chapels and the present Surgery.
  • Guessens (II*) a major Tudor/Stuart/Georgian town house at the north end of the village
  • Sherrardswood school (II*) formerly Lockleys House, set in parkland between Welwyn and Digswell
  • Danesbury House frontage (II) set in parkland to the north of the village

 

In Digswell:

  • Viaduct (II*) carrying the GNR across the Mimram valley, tunnel portal and station.
  • 11 individual buildings.

 

In Oaklands:

  • The Old House (II) on the edge of Oaklands near the junction of Danesbury Park Road and The Avenue.

 

The nearest Grade I listed buildings are:  St Peter’s Church, Tewin; St Helen’s Church,  Wheathampstead; Brockett Hall, Lemsford; new St Lawrence Church, Ayot St Lawrence and Hatfield House and Palace, Hatfield; all of which lie outside our parish boundary but are only a short journey away.  Appendix 1 gives equivalent detail of two other major houses/estates – Digswell House and Tewin Water – which lie just outside the parish boundary but are closely associated with it.

 

 

 

Welwyn Village

The village’s history has been shaped by the River Mimram and the Great North Road.  The ford across the river – near the present Bridge Cottage Surgery – was crossed successively by a prehistoric trackway and a Roman road; inevitably a small settlement developed. 

 

One of several roads north from London {the variant by way of Barnet and Hatfield, passing through Lemsford, climbing up Brickwall Hill to Ayot Green, then dropping down Digswell Hill and Welwyn Hill (now London Road) into Welwyn} gave onto the High Street, which bore the heavy traffic of horse-drawn coaches heading along the route between London and the North.  Almost every property along the High Street was an Inn at some stage, with the necessary services around them to take care of the hundreds of stagecoaches passing through the village each day.  Two of those fine High St coaching inns of the past remain today – The White Hart, established late 1600s and the Wellington, dating from 1352.  Both of these inns continue to serve fine fare today and give character and atmosphere to the village.  The village and its surroundings are steeped in history and the village boasts its own Heritage Trail[35] which leads the visitor around some 10 locations in and around the village, including listed buildings.    

 

 

Figure 20  :  Welwyn Village High Street

(view from The Bridge; 19thC print)

 

Other pubs which also flourished in the High Street included the Royal Oak, the Boot, the Black Horse and the Railway Tavern, although of those now only the (re-named) Tavern still trades.  The River Mimram, designated as one of the best of the rare chalk streams in the UK, flows from Singlers Marsh at the north of the village along the back of the properties on the west of the High Street and under the road at the bridge at the southern end of the High Street. 

Now crossed by a bridge, the original ford made Welwyn one of the most important villages in the county.  On the west side of the bridge the public can access the river and located in the centre of the village, displayed on a plinth next to the river, is a bust of Vincent Van Gogh donated by artist Anthony Padgett[36] in 2018.  Vincent walked from London to visit his sister Anna (see later), being too poor to travel any other way.  One can perhaps imagine him, weary and footsore from his trek, taking time out to bathe his feet in the river! 

   

Figure 21  :  Vincent Van Gogh bust

(“decorated” in honour of the artist’s birthday:  20 March 1853)

 

Close to the bust is a circular brick plinth with a wooden seat atop erected in memory of respected Ward Borough Councillor, Mandy Perkins, who passed away in 2019.  Fixed to the ford side of the bridge parapet and viewable from both sides of the ford are several rusted iron hoops, which once supported a hand pump to spray water on the wooden coach wheels to expand them to grip the iron hoop “tyres” better for the next phase of any journey, as fortuitous wetting by driving through the ford was prevented by using the bridge.  The river is still a great attraction for residents and tourists (and their dogs seeking a cool dip); it is also a favourite spot for feeding Welwyn’s ducks, but the bad-tempered geese should be avoided! 

Conservation  Area: High Street, Church Street, Codicote Road (south section), Prospect Place & Mill Lane

The original centre of the village is now a conservation area, as shown in red shading on the map at Figure 20.  The High Street and Church Street, together with the roads leading from them, make up Welwyn’s Conservation Area, in which there are charming cottages lining narrow roads, bursting with history and atmosphere.  The area includes: Mill Lane, Mimram Place, Mimram Road, Lockleys Drive, Parkside, Dicket Mead, part of London Road, part of School Lane, The Green, Ellesfield, part of Codicote Road and Singlers Bridge, and part of the ByPass Road.

 

Today, Welwyn has 2 Italian Restaurants, 1 Indian Restaurant, 1 Fish & Chip Shop and Restaurant, 6 Public Houses, 3 of which offer fine dining, 1 offers a Thai restaurant and 2 of which are also Hotels.  In addition High Street, Church Street and Prospect Place are home to numerous small businesses, housed in offices above or behind shops and offering a variety of professional services and a Gourmet Catering School.  Interspersed amongst the High Street shops are a few private houses, some dating back 200-300 years adding balance to the village character. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 22  :  Welwyn Conservation Area

(with acknowledgement to WHBC)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For local shopping, residents are well-served by:

A well-stocked Tesco Express, with an ATM; 2 Bakeries and a Cake and Tea Shop

2 Hairdressing Salons, 2 Beauty Salons, a Nail Bar and a Barber Shop

2 Pharmacies

A Doctors’ Surgery, 2 Dental Practices, a Chiropodist, an Osteopath and a Chiropractor

A Veterinary Practice

An Off-License

A Florist

A Charity Shop (for the local Danesbury Home and Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital)

2 Dress Shops

3 Estate Agents

A gift shop and a violin and stringed instrument repair, music and instrument sales shop

A Travel Agency

A Funeral and Undertaking Establishment

St Mary the Virgin (Church of England); the Evangelical Church and the Ebenezer Strict Baptist Chapel

A Fire Station crewed by retained firemen and a Telephone Exchange

Two car repair garages

A BP Filling Station (at the end of London Road) which has an M & S Food Shop attached, providing a useful facility for the nearby housing estates on the outskirts of the village.

 

There are two nursery/pre-schools: Tenterfield, on London Road and Acorn on the Whitehill car park off School Lane.  The village has one primary school: Welwyn St Mary’s CofE.  All three schools are rated by Ofsted as “Outstanding” (2021).

 

In November 2021, one of the original 3 Hairdressing Salons closed, plans were submitted for the old Barclay’s bank building to become a Greek Restaurant and for the old Bryan Bishop Estate Agent building to become a Hearing Centre.  The High St and Church St commercial area continues to rejuvenate.

 

Some infill/replacement development has taken place, behind The Wellington and in Mimram Place, built in a style to complement the existing village buildings and to preserve the integrity of the Conservation Area.

 

The dominant feature of the point where, at its southern end, the High Street joins Church Street is St Mary’s Church.  Often the church is the oldest building in a village; in the case of Welwyn that was true too, until, on St George’s Day in 1663, after a gale, one side of the church fell down, together with the steeple and 5 bells.  The re-build made it the most recent building (at that time).  In July 1746, the bells were sold[37] to raise money to build a turret to hang a large bell (Sanctus) which can be seen today at the gable end of the vestry and is rung for every service.  It was completely rebuilt in 1911, funded to a major extent by the local Wilshere family living at The Frythe.  The previous tower was of red brick.  Incorporated in the current flint wall are Roman bricks, which were discovered when the west wall was demolished.  A further unique aspect of the church is its location at the focal point and centre of the village; most other local village churches (e.g. Lemsford, Codicote, Datchworth, and Tewin) are on the edge of their villages.  This is probably due to the location of the first church building close to the river (now behind the Wellington car park) being established prior to any other houses and the houses being built around the church, for convenience.

 

The first building next to the Church is Old Church House, built in the 15thC, since when it has been a post office, a police station (with lock-up at the rear), a school, an alms house and a workhouse, and is now a privately-owned residence.  A huge hook hangs along one side of the house – it is a fire hook in case the thatch should catch fire.  It is one of the only three fire hooks across the whole of Hertfordshire. On the church side of the road is a row of terraced cottages leading along to the Rose & Crown, dating from 1633 as The Rose and from around 1690 as The Rose & Crown, another old coaching inn.  The brickwork of the Barn to the rear may be the oldest in the village.  The pub was taken over in 2021 by Heineken and has been tastefully refurbished, retaining its character, and modernised to offer all-day dining and a function facility in the Barn.

 

Next to the Rose & Crown is Vine Cottage which was a pub until the 1960’s and the venue where the local trade unions were formed.  Now a private dwelling, The Vine had been Welwyn’s second largest coaching inn.  Adjacent to Vine Cottage is Rose Cottage on the outside of which a plaque records where in 1876, Anna Van Gogh took lodgings,[38] and the last house, Old Chequers was also a pub from 1721-1940 before becoming a private residence. 

 

Wellingham House (now a hairdressers) stands opposite, next to Holly Hall, both dating from 1770, and behind these is Holly Hall Court, a modern development built in 1997.  Opposite the Rose & Crown, on the corner of Mill Lane, is Gothic House, a handsome building, which is the only remaining example of polychrome brickwork in the village. 

 

 

 

Figure 23  :  Ivy Cottage

(Forge Lane; where Anna van Gogh taught)

Figure 24  :  Rose Cottage

(Church Street)

 

At the junction of Church Street and Lockleys Drive, is the Veterinary Surgery.  Land behind it on that bend was originally Vine Farm and in 1820 was the mid-Herts Police Station.  The tiny roundabout is on the site of a village pump what possibly part of a small green.   Lockleys Drive, which was the start of the original road to Hertford, is also the location of the Welwyn Parish Council Offices and the local Scout Hut.  George Dering, owner of Lockleys estate, determined that he did not want the Hertford Road running past his front door and so had it moved closer to its present route (A1000/B1000 past the Roman Baths) leaving the road as the Drive to his front door prior to the creation of the A1(M) which cut it short.

 

Returning to Church Street and going a little further north, another modern development takes its name from one of the village’s old houses: Welwyn Hall, which burned down in 1992.  Welwyn Hall Gardens was tastefully built on the site in 1996.  Opposite, is Wendover Lodge, a major low-rise apartment building and the associated Wendover Drive upon which a number of modern houses are located. This was once the location of the original Wendover Lodge (destroyed in 1990) and its grounds.  Continuing up Church Street, and outside the conservation area, on the right hand side, more modern houses have been added, together (at the end of Link Road and the roundabout with the Bypass) with the controversial Clock House Gardens, which dominates one of the main entry routes to the village and in no way reflects the age and character or Welwyn.  The Clock Hotel, built in 1929, with its iconic clock, was for decades a Welwyn landmark.  It closed in 2010 and a subsequent fire destroyed it.  A modern development of flats now stands on that site.   With the exception of Clock House Gardens, businesses and residential housing have merged into the ancient village of Welwyn in a way that has retained its beauty and historical charm, whilst providing and meeting modern-day requirements.

 

Returning to the bottom of Welwyn Hill (now London Road), a road now known as School Lane leads to some interesting tales of village roads and their names. The area at the junction of the High Street and School Lane was for many years known as ‘The Plain’. The reason for this deserves some explanation and requires some imagination.  Anyone who has walked around Welwyn will appreciate that it is difficult to leave the village without a climb, unless you follow the river valley. It is quite hilly, but not as hilly as it once was.

 

Anything more than a cursory examination of the area around the Civic Centre shows how much the landscape has been changed. The land to the side of the Hertford Road rises steeply towards Broomfield Road in front of the Fire Station, and also rises steeply behind the Fire Station. It is not difficult to visualise these two hills as one. The creation of these two hills from one started in 1907 when what we now call the Hertford Road opened. This was the third route of the Hertford Road (as created by George Dering). To achieve his much-sought privacy he had a huge cutting dug through the hill to take his new road, dividing the hill, or as it was popularly known ‘The Mount’.   As the Mount was high, the area at the junction of the High Street and School Lane was low and became known as ‘The Plain’.  The contrast is now difficult to see as the smaller part of The Mount was excavated in the 1930s for gravel and Welwyn gained a flat site, which now houses our Civic Centre.

 

At the junction of High Street, Church Street and Codicote Road stands the imposing “Wellington” pub, restaurant and hotel; the entrance to its car park at the rear is actually Forge Lane, which has Ivy Cottage (which was then a girls school where Anna Van Gogh taught French in 1875/76) and a couple of modern houses.  Moving due north, past Ivy Cottage, brings us to one of the fine houses of Welwyn, Guessens (Grade II*). This was once a farm house and for the period 1730 – 1765 was the home of the Rector Dr. Edward Young, who was also a noted poet, and who planted an impressive garden there including some cedar trees.  Before leaving the modern day village, there is a further fine house: The Grange. Also once a farmhouse this was home to a number of Welwyn worthies including Sir Cecil Clementi Smith, a former Lieutenant Governor of Ceylon, and Guy Molesworth Kindersley MP. For many years the house was a boarding school, closing in the 1970s.

 

 

Figure 25  :  St Mary’s Churchyard

with trees lit for Christmas 2021 and The Wellington as a backdrop;

(with acknowledgement to Stuart Carnegie.)

 

Leaving the village along Codicote Road we reach the roundabout at the junction of Codicote Road, Link Road and Fulling Mill Lane.  Link Road was a relief road completed in 1972 between Codicote Road and the Clock Roundabout, to divert the heavy traffic on the (now) B656 which previously had to travel directly through Welwyn (in effect, another bypass). Before then Codicote Road continued uninterrupted through Codicote to Hitchin passing some of the outlying parts of Welwyn. 

 

 

Figure 26  :  “The Mount” (1902)

Photo taken from roughly where the Civic Centre roof is today, looking towards the village centre (photo courtesy of Howard Hill)

 

The road required extensive cutting through the hill and much of the spoil from that work was deposited on Singlers Marsh, raising its level and improving the marshy nature of the soil.  This work was done prior to legislation over archaeological concerns with building and the cutting ploughed straight through Roman and possibly other remains.  Thus the Marsh contains that displaced archaeology, and awaits future excavation.

 

Prospect Place was the Hertford Road from 1720 until 1906.  On the corner is The White Hart Coaching Inn (now public house, restaurant and hotel) built in 1675, part of which was also used for a Magistrate’s Courthouse.  An extension was added in 1756 and the brick frontage around 1800.   There is combination of more recently built houses which then lead onto the row of small cottages built into what was the hillside.  These have three storeys, two show at the front and three at the back.  The house on the corner opposite The White Hart used to be shops and was built in 1729.  Between The White Hart and the houses are some small offices and a well-reputed travel agency.  Opposite the houses is the Civic Centre, built in the 1960’s by the then Welwyn Rural District Council and now owned by the Borough Council but leased to and operated by Welwyn Parish Council[39]; housed within are the Community Library, funded by Hertfordshire County Council and a set of offices in which NHS staff are based. 

 

 

Figure 27  :  “The Plain”  (c 1910)

Note: The Royal Oak pub (Lloyds Chemist today), School Lane, the low building on the corner (Neel’s Dentistry today) and Bridge Cottage (pre-extension) behind.

 

 

Figure 28  :  Mill Lane from The White Horse, towards Church Street

(Vineyard Cottages are on the right after the White Horse)

 

At the end of Prospect Place is the junction with Mill Lane, once a dead end known as Back Lane and only going to Welwyn’s Corn Mill, a fine building, dating from c.1750 and still standing but now a private residence, although a mill in Welwyn was first recorded in Domesday Book in 1086.  Flour was ground at the Mill until 1912.  In past years Mill Lane was probably the heart of the village as it and the adjoining streets of Mimram Road and Mimram Walk were home to many of the ordinary working class of Welwyn. These narrow lanes are now valued addresses with some fine buildings.  The 1881 census records over 460 people living in this area, around a fifth of the population of Welwyn at that time.  A multitude of occupations were represented, including agricultural labourers, gardeners, bricklayers, shoemakers, butchers, bakers, grocers, fishmongers, teachers and servants, alongside the blacksmith and the many publicans.  The Old Rectory is a fine 15thC building, reached from Mill Lane, and was originally not only the Rectory but also the Manor House, as the Rector was Lord of the Manor. 

 

Going along the right side of Mill Lane, from Prospect Place towards Church Street and after the White Horse, are Vineyard Cottages which were built for Lockleys Estate in London stock brick with slate roofs in 1820, 30 years before the railway.  Before then there were just fields.  Most of the residential houses on the left side had previously been pubs.  The White Horse pub, a further coaching inn, dates from c.1742; this business changed hands in 2021 but has been refurbished to retain its antiquity and character.  Opposite the pub are offices, adjacent to a house which used to be the old telephone exchange.  From Mill Lane, Orchard Road leads into the community Allotments, which can also be reached via Lockleys Drive.  These are a very popular community asset, which hosts a vibrant Allotments Association. 

 

Fulling Mill Lane, Kimpton Road and Codicote Road (north section)

 

Leaving the village in the direction of Codicote, there is a roundabout joining Codicote Road (B656), Fulling Mill Lane and Link Road.

 

Turning left onto Fulling Mill Lane, there is an attractive old single lane bridge across the River Mimram.  The name of Singlers Bridge and Singlers Marsh can be traced back to the 1837 Tithe Map when the field by the Bridge was called Single Bridge Mead.  Almost immediately on the left is Riverside, with four large houses built in the 1990’s.  On the opposite side of the road is Singlers Marsh, which is in constant use by residents and visitors, dog walkers, schools educational visits, village festivals and the like.  The River Mimram runs through the marsh; WHBC purchased Singlers Marsh from Lee Valley Water in 1969 and officially designated it as a Nature Reserve.

 

Further along Fulling Mill Lane is the Welwyn Evangelical Church which, like St Mary’s, has a strong and supportive congregation.  The church has its distant roots in a group of ‘Dissenters’ in the 17thC: Christians who were Protestant but did not agree with, or want to worship in, the Church of England.  At the tail end of the Wesleyan revival in the late eighteenth century, a young man from London, Thomas Oxenham, was invited to preach at Welwyn and his labours resulted in Bethel Independent Chapel being founded in 1792. This met until the 1950s in what is now a private bungalow on Hobbs Hill, Welwyn. The church grew from the 1950s and the buildings now in Fulling Mill Lane were built to accommodate the expanding fellowship.  Immediately prior to the church is a field which is reputedly the original Roman centre of the village and this awaits further excavation.

 

Just past the Evangelical Church and on the left is the Welwyn Cemetery which was opened in the early 1880s as St Mary’s Churchyard was closed to burials in 1882. There are some very old graves there including a few from WW1, including Harry Day (recently marked by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission), as well as a number of casualties commemorated on their family graves. Most notable are probably the three Mayes sons.  Generations of residents are represented in this well-kept and preserved cemetery and frequently the names on headstones appear as street names in the Parish.  A little further on a lane goes off to the left towards Linces Farm and farm cottages.  One interesting little historical snippet is that the ‘waste’ land to the north of the Kimpton Road, opposite the Cemetery entrance was originally a gravel pit.  However, in the 1930s it was used by Vauxhall as a vehicle test track for lorries.

 

The road then divides: Kimpton Road to the left (which then winds uphill – the two houses on the right are the last two in the Welwyn Parish from that point – then down towards Kimpton, passing a junction with Oakhill Drive, a relatively new high quality estate in Codicote parish and in North Herts District); Fulling Mill Lane continues on to the right, running alongside Singlers Marsh to a wide ford near where the lane re-joins the Codicote Road and the Mimram cascades across the road at the site[40] of the original fulling mill[41].  The majority of houses along the road, apart from one cottage, the Mill House and Mill, were built during the 1960’s.  They are primarily large, detached houses with generous front gardens and driveways and extensive rear gardens.

 

Codicote Road itself runs from Welwyn to Codicote, alongside the River Mimram to its west.  At the beginning, there is a row of small cottages, the rear gardens of which have the river running through them.  The area is in the Green Belt.  After the cottages there are a few larger houses and then the road just runs alongside the river.  The road and pathway are narrow, especially the pathway.  On the opposite side is the Danesbury Nature Reserve, which also houses the recently discovered and renovated Fernery – another addition to Welwyn’s Heritage Trail.  Roads leading off Codicote Road on the right are Danesbury Park Road, Reynards Road and Rollswood Road – the latter being the Parish boundary.  The houses in those roads are all in the Green Belt and are mostly very large, detached properties on extensive plots of land.  Slightly further along Codicote Road is the Cat Survival Trust[42];

London Road and School Lane Estates

London Road is a relatively modern name for this stretch of road, which (as a section of one of the Great North Roads) originally led to London, and maps published well into the 1920s refer to it as Welwyn Hill.  Until the 1920s there was little development to the south of Welwyn, and expansion really only came about after the end of World War I.  In an arc around The Steamer pub lie Broomfield Road and Broomfield Close, which take their names from a plot of land once known as Broomfield, marked on the 1837 Tithe Map.  Slightly further south, opposite St Mary’s School and St Mary’s Court, is an imposing building known as Becket Hall, built in 1878 by Charles Wilshere of The Frythe as the Drill Hall for the Herts 1st Rifle Volunteers and which has given its name to the adjacent cul-de-sac, Becket Gardens.  The Wilsheres often adorned buildings they donated with suitable inscriptions and chronograms[43] Becket Hall bears an inscription to Thomas Becket, said to have first served as a curate in nearby Bramfield village and then as Rector at the 11thC St Andrew’s church in that village from 1142 until his rise to Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162.  It was used for religious services during 1911 when St. Marys Church was undergoing substantial renovation work.  A little further along the road is Tenterfield Nursery school whose name “Tenterfield” also appears on the 1837 map as a field, and the Old Workhouse, now converted to individual residences.  Over the last decade, small modern terraced houses have been built along London Road, opposite a row of houses from post WWI development; these provide a combination of affordable private and social housing.

 

The junction of the High Street and School Lane was once a village green and also had a “pound” for stray animals, hence the names of the cottages at the bottom of School Lane (“Pound Cottages”) and the first road (The Green).  The area was also at one time known as “The Plain” to distinguish it from “The Mount”[44]

 

Until the 1920s there was little development to the south of Welwyn with only one unmade and unnamed road off Welwyn Hill marked on a map of 1922, along the side of the school and the playing fields to the Welwyn High Reservoir, opposite today’s Bowling Club.  It was recognised by WHBC in 1988 and is now called Ottway Walk, although it should more properly spelt Otway Walk, since it is named after Canadian William Otway who came to Welwyn in 1783. He opened a school in the Old Rectory, which continued to be run by his son after his death in 1823. Ottway Walk runs alongside another ‘new’ name, St. Mary’s Court, the development which takes its name from St. Mary’s (Primary) School – the “new” school – which originally stood on this site.

 

In the mid-1920s, Welwyn village ended just past the Old Workhouse and the “new” village school, built in 1858; both still stand.  Later developments extended the village to include The Crescent, clearly named due to its shape and the Queensway Estate, with its street names reflecting national rather than local history, all derived from Royal Houses – Tudor Road, York Way, Lancaster Way, Windsor Road, Norman Road, Saxon Road, Stuart Road – mostly semi-detached properties, originally for social housing but now about 60% privately owned.  There are a few bungalows and there is also the Kingsdale House block of social housing flats in Windsor Road. 

 

The Workhouse is now converted to apartments and the “new” school is now St Mary’s Close sheltered housing, retaining the original school block as apartments and matching its brick and stone for the individual houses; the estate has parking and a pleasant green and fountain.  This is the third of Welwyn’s school buildings. The first was opened in 1714 by the Rector, Francis Offley. Upon his death in 1730, the next rector, Edward Young and his successors continued to run the school on a piece of land behind (Old) Church House and the Rose and Crown. By 1830 this schoolroom was in a state of ruin and a new National School was built in School Lane. After 20 years increased numbers had again made a new school necessary and in 1858 the foundations of St. Mary’s School were laid on a plot of land opposite ‘The Steamer’, but the old school building remains as a private residence.  A Church of England secondary school was built in 1937 behind the “new” primary school and survived until the 1980s when the County Council determined that secondary schools should be larger and in towns not villages.  The primary school on London Road was again reaching capacity (still only a single form entry) and the end of life of the buildings and facilities.  The convenient solution was that the secondary school closed with its pupils distributed to others local schools, notably Monks Walk in WGC and the primary school moved into the vacant building with some minor additions and is there today, providing for 420 pupils, mainly from the village[45].

 

 

Figure 29  :  The Crescent (northern arc)

 

The mid-19thC saw just a few cottages near the bottom of Hobb’s Hill, which led to the Manor House (Rectory) built in 1813 on glebe, known as Elmoor Land, hence the names Elmoor Avenue and Glebe Road.  The road to Kimpton originally ran from the Manor House, along the line of Ellesfield, which took its name from Elle’s Field.  In the cul-de-sac New Place is a grand house, built by Phillip Webb in 1878, in the grounds of which modern houses have been developed, all reflecting the design of the original house.  Development along School Lane took place slowly but, by 1939, there were a few houses near the junction with Whitehill and further along towards the Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital[46] (now a specialist stroke recovery unit and co-located with the new Danesbury Home).  Most if not all of this land originally was farmland belonging to the Wilshere family of The Frythe.  The biggest development was post-WW2 – the Hawbush Estate starting at Hawbush Rise, again taking its name from maps at the turn of the century when it was Haw Bush, referring to local hawthorn.  There are two other roads on the original estate, Wilshere Road and Wilga Road (derived from Welwyn’s name in Celtic/Old English: “welge” or “wilge”).  Just off Hawbush Rise is Hawbush Close which leads to a small area of allotments and between there and Wilga Road was a Roman cemetery, alongside the original prehistoric trackway and Roman road from St Albans to Colchester.

 

Between Wilga Road and Elmoor Avenue there is a pathway leading to a small road of bungalows called Wingate Gardens (named after Edward Wingate).  The latest addition in 2011 to School Lane is Trevena Gardens (named after Kit Trevena, headmaster of St Mary’s Primary School 1957-77 and one of the founders of the Welwyn – Champagne-sur-Oise Anglo-French Twinning Association).  The whole area shows an interesting mix of properties: conservation area cottages and buildings at the bottom end of School Lane, grand houses in New Place, tasteful modern houses in Trevena Gardens, and detached and semi-detached houses lining School Lane.   More cottages are found nearer the top of School Lane and the Hawbush Estate, comprising detached and semi-detached houses, providing both private and social housing.

 

Immediately prior to Hawbush Rise, on the left of School Lane, is Whitehill country lane, which takes its name from the chalk outcrop quarried where the present day car park and Acorn Playgroup and Pre-school are located, the quarry being closed in the early 1950s.  Adjacent to that is the Whitehill Wildflower Meadow.  We can therefore be certain that the land underlying the meadow site is also chalk-based.  The Wildflower Meadow is the property of Welwyn Parish Council and was once a cider apple orchard.  There are still some apple varieties growing there, but it was unmanaged for many years and used only for recreation (it is known locally as “the dog-walking field”).  The site was surveyed by HMWT in June 2020 and identified as a potential Local Wildlife Site (LWS) which was ratified by the Wildlife Trusts’ panel in October 2020.  With the help of some enthusiastic volunteers, WPC’s aim now is to manage the area to allow native plant species to flourish and attract a range of pollinators and other wildlife.  The whole hill (including the car park, meadow and the playing fields atop) is known as “Whitehill” and has given its name to the lane, running from its junction with School Lane over the hill and around the rear of The Frythe estate, en-route to its junction with Homerswood Lane, which itself joins Ayot St Peter Road near the Ayot Greenway.

 

Between Whitehill and School Lane is the Village Green Community Orchard.  Owned by WHBC and granted “Village Green” status some years ago, a Community Orchard of traditional Hertfordshire apple cultivars was planted in 2010 by the WPPG who maintain them.  Trees and tree guards are provided by WHBC who also fund the summer mowing of the grassland.  A recent survey of the grassland identified areas that would benefit from being left unmown to encourage a wider range of species, similar to the Wildflower Meadow.

 

Further up Whitehill on both sides is open farmland owned by HCC and rented to a local farmer (at Whitehill Farm) and growing wheat or barley.  The eastern field is bisected by a well-maintained and well-used Public Footpath (No 43) from Ottway Walk to Whitehill Farm and there is an additional informal path from Stuart Road to the official footpath.  Beyond that point is the parish boundary with Ayot St Peter.

Danesbury Estate

The largest development in Welwyn in the mid-late 20thC was the Danesbury estate.  Originally two separate developments, started in 1967, to the west, on the hillside above the Codicote Road, was the Grange Estate and to the east on the slopes behind the Clock Hotel, was the Danesbury Park Estate.  These are now considered to be one development north of Link Road which was built after 1967.

 

Grange Hill (named after The Grange) met the Codicote Road a little closer to the village than at present.  During construction work on the slopes towards Codicote Road, the developers uncovered another Roman cemetery.  Over 100 cremation urns were recovered and a large archaeological examination conducted, hence the name of the next road, Roman Way.  Two other cul-de-sacs on Grange Hill are Kindersley Close and Cyler’s ThicketCarleton Rise (named after 16thC landowner Anthony Carleton) joined the two estates together and met Church Street near its present junction with Link Road.  In the late 60’s the housing on Danesbury reached up Carleton Rise to the top of the hill with a range of two storey properties on both sides of the road.

 

   

Figure 30  :  North Ride

(Danesbury Estate)

Figure 31  :  Carleton Rise

(Danesbury Estate)

 

The cul-de-sacs leading off it (St John’s Close, Blakes Way and North Ride) were partially developed. The remainder of the estate was developed through the 70’s with a variety of 3 and 4 bedroomed house designs, together with some bungalows on Grange Hill and Roman Way. The whole area was well-planned with wide grass verges and pavements with houses set back from the road.  One of the features of Danesbury is the spaced-out environment between the houses.  Over subsequent years, this has allowed many of them to be sympathetically extended.  In the 80’s the second part of the estate was developed through the extension of Blakes Way, leading to Hensley Close, Bowmans Close, Dewars Close and Nathans Close. Again, all the houses are two storeys with tiled roofs and double garages.

 

The whole area is anchored by Danesbury House, a large white manor built in the Georgian period at the end of North Ride. This property was owned latterly by the NHS and then sold for residential development with the proceeds used to fund the building of the new Danesbury Home adjacent to the Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital at School Lane, which provides both longer term care and respite care for those with physical disabilities.  At the time the estates were being built, the local council acquired 32 acres of land of the old Danesbury House estate leading to the creation of the Danesbury Local Nature Reserve that many of these houses adjoin and provides a wonderful large area for dog walking and ecological activity.    Since 2015, local volunteers have worked tirelessly to restore the beautiful Fernery in the adjacent field as part of Welwyn’s history, to its original glory.  This area is now greatly enjoyed by local Danesbury residents and those from the greater Welwyn Parish alike.

 

Bypass Road (The Bypass)

The High Street remained The Great North Road until 1927 when the Welwyn Bypass (aka Bypass Road) began to take traffic around the village.  Until 1961, The Pavilion Cinema was located near the start of the Bypass and when that closed, Godfrey Davis Cars used the site until 2000, when a new development of houses was built.  On the opposite side of the Bypass is another new large development of flats – Nodeway Gardens.  At the front of these is a statue of a young Roman boy[47], in homage to Welwyn’s Roman history.  The building of the A1(M) motorway in 1976 dramatically changed Welwyn’s road system. 

 

Figure 32  :  “Marcus”

  (at the main entrance to Nodeway Gardens)

 

The original Maran Avenue (an alternative name for Mimram) was longer and what remains of it today has been almost marooned from the village by the Motorway and Bypass.  Along the Bypass there are other 20thC developments: Parkside has 49 houses, sited on the former grounds of 17thC Parkside House, at the short dead-end spur of Prospect Place; continuing on that route, the next road is Dicket Mead, near the site of part of the Roman villa complex, where a development of some 20 uniquely designed cottage-style properties set back from the Bypass, nestle at the beginning of Lockleys Drive.

Wilshere Park

The Frythe estate (see earlier) was sold for residential development in 2010 with the laboratory and ancillary buildings being cleared but retaining much of the tree-scape. The new estate was named Wilshere Park in homage to its former owners and the new roads created were named after connections with the various past owners of the estate.  The original Gothic revival house was converted into apartments and there are now some 203 dwellings of various types including some affordable housing.  The estate exit road joins The Bypass and a bus route includes the main driveway.

Car Parks

The village has several car parks: in the High Street#* adjacent to the bridge; at Lockleys Drive#* (by the Parish Council offices) and the adjacent Titmus Yard; at the Civic Centre# (which is free for public use when there is no facility hire in progress) and larger car parks at Whitehill#* at the top of School Lane, adjacent to the Playing Fields#* and at the Whitehill Centre* at Ottway Walk.  These car parks are either owned by WPC (*) or leased by them from WHBC and the larger ones(#) have reserved spaces for disabled drivers.  The Civic Centre has two high-capacity EEV charge points[48].  Throughout the village there are designated on-road parking spaces, including further provision for disabled drivers in Church St.  Taking ownership of the public car parks in order to keep off-street parking free for drivers at the point of use, for the convenience of residents and visitors and to stimulate trade for businesses, has proved a popular initiative by WPC and been very successful in promoting local shops and restaurants.

Changes to Welwyn

 

Figure 33  :  Hertfordshire 1899 – Map detail showing the Welwyn village area[49]

 

The marked changes to the area brought about by roads and the building of houses can been seen in the difference between the 1899 map[50] and today’s satellite photo.  Of specific reference are:

  • The relative size of the Danesbury and Lockleys estates prior to any sell-off of land, compared with the area of the village.
  • The creation of WGC and expansion of the village towards Oaklands (in 1847 just open land).
  • The expansion of the village to the north (Hawbush Estate) and south (Queens Estate) and the development of the Frythe Estate
  • The creation of both the B197 and A1(M)
  • Lockleys has now become Sherrardswood School
  • The large amount of land that is still open/farmed or woodland – especially east of Welwyn and Codicote towards Ayot St Lawrence and Kimpton.

 

 

Figure 34  :  Satellite Photograph of approximately the same area today[51]

Notable Past Residents of Welwyn Village

Gabriel Towerson, Theologian and Rector;

Edward Young, Poet, philosopher, theologian and Rector[52], lived at Guessens and other ex-Rectories in the village;

William Blake, Economist and High Sheriff of Hertfordshire[53] lived at Danesbury;

William Wilshere, Whig politician,[54] lived at The Frythe;

Sir Cecil Clementi Smith, Colonial Administrator;

Colonel Sir Arthur Davidson, Soldier and Equerry to King George V, grew up in Welwyn;

Basil Sanderson (1st Baron Sanderson of Ayot), High Sheriff of the County of London and Shipping magnate;

Sir Martin Gilliat, Private Secretary to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother[55], lived in Mill Lane;

Guy Molesworth Kindersley, Conservative MP (Hitchin),.

Edward Wingate, Politician and Lawyer of Lockleys, MP for St Albans from 1640 to 1648[56].  His father, also Edward Wingate, was also of Lockleys, as was his son, also named Edward.

Leonard Parkin, Newsreader and correspondent for ITN.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digswell

Original Digswell Village

Never part of the ecclesiastical parish of Welwyn as it had its own well-appointed church (St John the Evangelist, 13thC but much altered) the original village of Digswell is separated from the much newer settlement around the railway station, by Bessemer Road (WGC) (A1000), Hertford Road (B1000) and the River Mimram.  The church and original manor house (the 19thC Digswell House – see Appendix 1) built on the site of a much earlier residence, still mark the original village centre, which is further separated from the new settlement by the heavily-used Bessemer Road and the new built-up area of WGC around Knightsfield. 

 

Digswell was recorded in the 1086 Domesday Book under Dicheleswelle and that name may have been derived from “Deacon’s Well”.  There were two Manors, with 2 water mills, much land under plough, and a large area of woodland.  The area was sandwiched between what became the large estates and parks of Panshanger (successive Lords Cowper), Tewin Water (Cowpers again) and Lockleys (Derings).  The main part of the Digswell Manor estate extended from the Manor House down to the hamlet of Digswell Water, centred on Digswell Water Farm, Digswell Water Mill and Forge and associated cottages and buildings.  A school was set up in one of the cottages and a new building was completed in 1872 on land donated by Lord Cowper for the current St John’s School, whose log books start in 1873.

 

Little changed until 1922 when part of the Panshanger estate was sold at auction and bought by a group of pioneers of the Quaker-inspired Garden City Movement including Ebenezer Howard. WGC was built on this land (which included much of the old Parish of Digswell) and further nearby acquisitions.  St John’s Church and Digswell House are still apparent together with some attractive houses and cottages in cul-de-sacs that have been created to prevent “short-cut” through-routes being created between Bessemer Road (thus WGC’s northern industrial areas) and Hertford Road.

 

The impressive Grade II*-listed Digswell Viaduct built by William Cubitt in 1850 carries the Great Northern Railway over the valley of the River Mimram on some 40 brick arches.  Part of the original pre-WGC southern Parish Boundary Baulk (raised bank) between the original ecclesiastical parishes of Digswell and Hatfield may still be seen in Sherrardspark Wood, a local woodland, nature reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest.  

New Settlement of Digswell and Railway Station

Digswell is now the essentially 20thC residential area centred on Welwyn North railway station.  When first developed, this residential area was known as “High Welwyn” before later taking on the name of the old parish on the south side of the Hertford Road, when the original village was largely subsumed into WGC by the 1930’s.  The railway line and station were completed by 1850, with the spectacular viaduct and several cottages built at the same time on either side of the railway line.  These were several of the earliest dwellings in the new community of Digswell.  The Railway Tavern (now The Cowper Arms pub and restaurant) was built in 1848/50 to accommodate the construction workers and to make sure the workers had a local place to drink and relax.  There is also a newsagent and general store opposite the station. 

 

The existing roads, tracks and footpaths running north from Hertford Road were Harmer Green Lane and several tracks through to Harmer Green and Harmer Green Farm and onto Burnham Green and Tewin.  The new railway line required Harmer Green Lane to be diverted around the site of the station.  The main road that was built in 1850 was Station Road, and ran from railway station to Hertford Road.  

 

Very few houses were constructed in the Digswell area after the railways arrived and it was not until after 1900 (about 50 years after the railway was built) that residential expansion started to take place.  However, one business to take advantage of the connections provided by the railway was that of Thomas Bates Blow.  Since the 1880s Blow had operated a factory in Mill Lane making bee hives and other related equipment.  He also had a number of apiaries around the village.  In 1893 Blow relocated his factory to a 3 acre site adjacent to railway line at Welwyn North station so he could easily ship his goods all around the world and receive his raw materials.  Blow sold his business to Edward Taylor in 1900 and under his ownership the company flourished until it was closed in 1972, despite suffering a number of serious fires

Hertford Road

The road from Welwyn to Hertford has long been a significant feature of the area, running alongside the river for most of the way.  The late 20thC/early 21stC have seen a major increase in road traffic, especially lorries that thunder past the cottages and the bend in the road near St John’s School.  In an attempt to restrict HGV traffic, much of the road from the junction of Station Road to the school has been re-designated as the “C182” so that satnavs will route HGVs away from the area.  This has had some success but the narrow pavement on one side of the road from the Bessemer Road junction to near the school, despite a school-time 20 MPH speed limit, has meant that local folk regard the area as a serious road safety hazard.  Hertford Road originally ran from the junction with Station Road into Welwyn Village, through the Lockleys Estate and past the front of Lockleys House where George Dering lived. As the traffic increased past his front door he arranged for the road to be diverted away from the house to the current route via the dual carriageway. 

 

 

 

Figure 35  :  Cottages on Hertford Road, Digswell

Figure 36  :  Hertford Road Digswell, looking towards the viaduct

Station Road

These road works were completed in 1907.  Not long after this in 1911 Dering’s daughter Rosa Neale inherited the estate.  Subsequently in the early 1920’s, she sold off plots of land along Station Road and many of the properties still exist as constructed.  The then Welwyn Rural District Council was responsible for the construction of 12 properties in about 1930 and the local shop was built on the corner of Woodside Road.

 

Following the construction of the station and railway sidings, the main activity around the station from the 1850’s was the distribution of livestock and goods and the coal yard with the distribution of coal, coke etc. to the local communities.  Adjoining this coal yard was a smallholding and paddocks which were subsequently developed as Cubitts Close in the 1960’s.  The RDC organised the purchase of this area to the south of Station Road and sold allocated plots to local residents as self-build units, plus retirement bungalows and small detached houses (a good planning mix!)  In 1990 one of the bungalows in Station Road was demolished and 4 houses were built at Greenways and at about the same time Douglas Close was built as a new development in place of the bungalow at 34 Hertford Road.  The Close was named after Douglas White a notable and much respected Digswell villager.

 

Woodside Road was previously known as Gas Works Lane and led to the industrial site for producing gas.  This operation subsequently closed in the mid-1930s and became the location of a plastic works and was finally used by Altro Flooring Co.  When this business moved away in about 1990 the site was demolished and was later sold to Crest Homes Ltd for a housing development – Cobb Lane Close was built in 2000.  Warren Way was a development planned in the 1950’s on land from the Lockleys Estate.  Built on land to the west of the existing Station Road it was a major expansion to the community and included Hazel Grove and Foxley Grove as part of this new estate.  The development created a mixture of housing comprising detached, semi-detached and bungalows.  This part of Digswell has remained largelyunchanged since.

Harmer Green Lane

Early in the 1900’s land that was part of the Cowper Estate was sold to High Welwyn Ltd, who then auctioned off plots of land for housing development.  The land on Harmer Green Lane formed part of the High Welwyn Ltd land sales and also Lockleys Estate land that was slowly developed after the turn of the century.  The road ran from Hertford Road, past the station to the hamlet of Harmer Green and thence to Burnham Green. 

 

From the early 1900’s the development of Harmer Green Lane continued and as with New Road, the earlier houses have been refurbished, developed and in-filling has taken place.  Over the years several other small housing developments were constructed with Sharmans Close about 1955 and The Dell about 1980.  To the south end of Harmer Green Lane two further developments took place when the beehive factory finally closed: St Ives Close (1970’s) and Honeymead in the 1990’s. 

Wildings Nature Reserve

One of the first residents in Harmer Green Lane was artist George Soper, who built his house at No 58[57] in 1908 and lived there with his wife Eva and their two daughters: Eileen was the illustrator of many of Enid Blyton’s books and of much of the wildlife around her home as well as being an accomplished etcher; Eva was also an artist, but is more famous for etchings and her Royal Worcester bird statuettes[58].  Eileen named the house “Wildings”.  George subsequently purchased further plots to create a wildlife sanctuary behind the house, totalling over 1.5 hectares.  The daughters were also devoted to wildlife and were reclusive for the rest of their lives.  They inherited the house after in 1942 and their wills stipulated that the site be given to the RSPB and retained in perpetuity as a wildlife sanctuary, for the benefit of the birds, animals and wildlife.  The house and part of the garden were sold-off and is now a private residence but the reserve was retained as a wildlife sanctuary and is still called “Wildings” [59]

 

   

Figure 37  :  Location of “Wildings”

Note: the house and garden are a private dwelling (acknowledgement emapsite)

 

Figure 38  :  Charcoal and Pencil drawings of Badgers by Eileen Soper

 

It is not generally open to the public, due to access issues, lack of car parking and general health and safety provisions associated with an area of woodland left fundamentally unmanaged for around 100 years.  Fallen trees and other detritus left in situ provide a haven for insects that in turn provide food for birds and other animals, but also contribute a major safety hazard.  The reserve is known to be frequented by protected species such as badgers and bats as well as foxes, Muntjac deer, numerous nesting birds and other wildlife.

New Road & Adele Avenue

 

Figure 39  :  New Road, Digswell

(then known as High Welwyn – c 1910 – note the lack of houses compared with today)

 

 

Figure 40  :  New Road today

 

New Road (end 19thC) was set out and built to run from the bottom of Harmer Green Lane and the Hertford Road, northwards up to the side of Harmer Green Farm and the road extends (as Harmer Green Lane) to Burnham Green.  Two of the first properties constructed were The Limes and The Red House.  Many of the houses along New Road were built on large plots about 1910’s – 1930’s and progressively since.  The Digswell Character Appraisal records that the houses on New Road have the largest plots in the whole area and are set back a good distance from the road.  These houses have over more recent years been the subject of subdividing or conversion or have been demolished to build flats.  Other infilling of large plots and development along New Road is still continuing.

 

A large house next to the Red House called Mornington, was owned by the Carnegie family  and this house, with other buildings close by, was demolished in the late 1970’s to create a small estate of about 25 detached properties in a road  known as Mornington.  After New Road was constructed, a link road to the station was built to provide easier access to the railway station.  Originally called Station Approach, it was later renamed Adele Avenue after the wife of the owner of the Edwardian house (No 1) close by.

Harmer Green

Harmer Green was originally an extensive wooded area that has been eroded by the creation of the archetypal hamlet. Strictly, it is a separate settlement from Digswell, but directly linked to it and the focus of the northern ends of Harmer Green Lane and New Road.  Harmer Green Lane then runs on to Burnham Green and beyond the Welwyn parish boundary.  The houses are on large plots and have long-established boundaries and drives in ‘soft’ materials such as hedges and gravel, with occasional brick gate piers.  There is very little by way of ‘hard’ materials such as railings, brick walls and fences over 1m high or paved drives, in this informal hamlet.

 

 

 

Figure 41  :  Harmer Green

Junction with Harmer Green Lane

Figure 42  :  Harmer Green

Junction with New Road

 

The sizeable houses on Harmer Green Lane and on Harmer Green itself may not be quite in the Tewin Water category but they are still somewhat removed from even the spacious dwellings normal for the majority of Digswell.  They include: Harmer Green House in Pennyfather’s Lane; Lodge House, Pennyfather’s House, 70 New Road (aka Coopers Close – entrance on Harmer Green Lane); The Manor House, Harmer Green Lane; The Red House; The Limes and Harmergreen Farm; many are listed buildings.

Digswell Water

Originally a medieval settlement and now a hamlet situated at a bridging point on the River Mimram, near Tewin Water Park, it forms the end of the built-up area of (new) Digswell, where the broad valley becomes more enclosed. It was also near this point that the Watermill was established, still surviving with a well-designed functional extension dating from the turn of the 19th/20thC.  The mill ceased to operate soon after the start of the 20thC and the Miller’s cottage is now a Grade II-listed private residence.  A handful of timber framed medieval buildings, heavily restored in the early 20thC can also be seen in this area.

 

Changes in Digswell

 

Figure 43 :  Hertfordshire 1899 – Map detail showing the Digswell area[60]

 

The map[61] shows the station, old Digswell and Digswell Water.  Note the relative size of built area compared to the dominating estates of Lockleys, Digswell Park and Tewin Water. The satellite photo of today shows the major housing developments north of the Mimram around the station and at Burnham Green and the vestiges of the old estates, but yet again much open land and woodland survives. 

A more detailed description and history of the Digswell community is currently being developed as part of the Digswell Archive project.  Also the reader is referred to the comprehensive Digswell Character Appraisal (see Bibliography).

 

 

Figure 44  :  Satellite Photograph of approximately the same area today[62]

Notable Past Residents of Digswell

Kenneth Allsop, Broadcaster, author and naturalist;

Alan Brazil, Footballer (Scotland, Ipswich Town, Tottenham Hotspur & Manchester United);

Graham Richard James, Former Bishop of Norwich;

Sir Arthur Young, Senior police officer and reformer;

Ronald Maddox PPRI Hon. RBA & RWS PS FCSD, Artist [63];

Frank Wells, Film Producer, Art Director and Writer, son of author H.G. Wells lived at Digswell Water Mill and cottages and was visited several times at the Mill by his father;

George Soper RE, Artist, and his artist daughters: Eileen, SWLA RMS and Eva, lived in Harmer Green Lane from 1908 for most of their lives;

Alan Stewart Orr, Barrister and Lord Justice of Appeal, lived at Harmer Green.

 

Oaklands & Mardley Heath

Oaklands

Oaklands is a quiet, mainly residential area approximately one mile north of Welwyn Village, five miles south of Stevenage and twenty six miles north of London. The B197 is the main feeder road for the area.  On the way north, Oaklands begins just past the A1M bridge (in effect its western boundary) and continues for a further mile to the main London to Edinburgh railway line which is effectively the eastern boundary with the village of Woolmer Green. 

 

The principle feature of this dormitory area is the eclectic mix of mainly detached properties in ribbon and cluster developments in an informal layout of private roads on either side of the B197.  The earliest houses in Oaklands were bungalows built in the 1920’s but the area has expanded gradually over a number of years primarily in the mid-late 20thC and more recently as land has become more scarce there is much evidence of infill development and property extensions. During the past 10-15 years a few small apartment complexes have been completed recognising the growing need for this type of accommodation.

 

 

 

Figures 45 and 46  :  Robbery Bottom Lane

 

Quiet, good quality housing in a semi-rural setting has been the main attraction of the area.  A look at the open and wooded areas of the Heath and Harmergreen Wood (see later) and beyond the built area of Robbery Bottom Lane and Turpin’s Ride[64] show the proximity to spaces to explore and enjoy.

 

The setting has been coupled with excellent transport links via the A1(M) and East Coast main line, with stations at WGC, Welwyn North, Knebworth and Stevenage, all within a short journey, providing fast trains into London and to the North. Although spread out along the B197, there are nevertheless separate defined areas, each with their own styles of housing.  The older houses on the private Danesbury Park Road[65] and The Avenue have sizeable plots with gardens front and back.  This is echoed in Robbery Bottom Lane, although infilling has made its mark here. 

 

 

 

 

Figure 47  :  Turpin’s Ride

Figure 48  :  Harmer Green Wood  : 

 

The areas of Canonsfield and Turpins Ride have more modest plots but still well-appointed detached bungalows and houses.  Further on, moving north, the original ribbon development has spread further, along both sides of the B197 creating the Mardley Hill estates.

 

 

 

Figure 49  :  Bungalows on Canonsfield

Figure 50  :  Apartments on Gt North Rd

Oaklands Shops & School

The proximity of Welwyn Village, with its array of shops and other facilities means that there has been little need or demand locally for much commercial development. However, Oaklands Parade of shops, set back from the B197 and served by a small car park, provides useful, convenient shopping.  A florist, general store, butcher, post office, hairdresser and fish & chip shop are all popular with residents and people from further afield.

 

Adjacent to Oaklands Parade is the North Star Public House. This has been in the McMullen’s brewery family since 1936.  It has undergone many changes over the years but with its large car park, it is still a relaxing place to eat or just enjoy a drink either inside or on the terrace in warm weather.

 

On the other side of the Parade, just down from the turn into Canonsfield Road, is Oaklands Primary School. This is a well-established and popular school catering for around 200 children up to the age of 11. It has good accommodation and useful outdoor facilities. Pre-school children in the immediate area are catered for by the Busy Bees Nursery on the B197 just north of the turning into Robbery Bottom Lane.

 

 

 

Figure 51  :  Parade of Shops at Oaklands

Figure 52  :  North Star Pub/Restaurant

 

One major source of regret is that whilst “planning” (or perhaps more accurately, whilst the various developers provided good housing) a “community” was never one of their objectives, presumably because Welwyn and Woolmer Green were nearby and established.  No land was ever reserved near the centre for a community area and with the exception of the facilities on the Heath (see later) there is no “centre” other than the shops.  As a consequence there is no village hall or play area for small children.  Perhaps because of families with young children moving into the area in recent times there has been a desire to provide a local children’s playground. However, despite the efforts of WPC and residents no suitable site has yet been found.

Mardley Heath

Mardley Heath is largely a woodland area of some 37 hectares, lying immediately to the north of Oaklands, which was a settlement developed on part of the heathland. To the west it is abutted by the busy A1(M). A pedestrian subway under the A1M joins the wood with Ninnings Wood at Rabley Heath.  The 2nd Welwyn Scouts Hut (Elizabeth of Glamis Hall) is situated on Canonsfield Road at the southern end of Mardley Heath. Cubs, Scouts and Venture Scouts meet here weekly.  Over the last 40 years small developments of residential properties have taken place and several of these share their boundaries along the south side of the wood.  Regular inspection of trees is necessary to minimise risk, particularly where over-mature sweet chestnut coppice occurs.

 

In the Middle Ages Mardley Heath was common land, an unenclosed heathland and wood pasture used by villagers for grazing pigs and other animals, probably sheep and cattle, and as a source of timber and wood fuel. By the middle of the 19thC most of it had been enclosed by an Act of Parliament and in the mid-20thC it was used for gravel extraction, but some re-landscaping and natural vegetation growth hides some of the excavation scars.

 

Divided into two roughly rectangular blocks lying north and south of Heath Road, it now comprises a varied mixture of semi-natural oak and hornbeam woodland around a broad perimeter with secondary birch woodland and open heathy glades and pits forming the central area. A large open area on the north side derives from an area of capped and re-vegetated landfill.  Large pits on north and south sides and markedly bumpy topography throughout the central area are reminders of the past gravel extraction.

 

 

Figure 53  :  Mardley Heath  (Heath Road)

 

On Bryant’s map of 1822, woodland with boundaries is clearly shown. By the late 19thC, Dolesbury Firs and Pottersheath Plantation are named and shown planted with conifers but the large central area of the modern Mardley Heath is also still clearly indicated as open woodland with many trackways, of which Heath Road is one.  In the mid-20thC, the land was acquired by Wallace-Inns, a company which extracted sand and gravel throughout the central part of the site, leaving a broad belt of semi-natural woodland around the perimeter. This activity came to end in 1967 when the land was conveyed, un-restored, to Welwyn Rural District Council and ultimately in 1974, WHBC acquired the land. The largest pit on the north side of the site was used for land-fill until 1976 and a block of woodland adjacent to the London Road was conveyed to a developer in 1987 for further housing.

 

Rubbish dumping and fly-tipping was a renowned local problem. In the early 1980s, attempts were made to control illegal activity by installing heavy-duty barriers. By this time, birch woodland had regenerated across much of the excavated land, creating a wooded ‘moonscape’ of hills and hollows with patches of open wet and dry grassland, seasonal ponds, bare gravel banks and a network of discrete pathways. In the late 1980s, the site attracted funding from the Manpower Services Commission and proposals were put forward for better management of public access, small scale habitat enhancements, the designation of a formal BMX area and the appointment of part-time ‘wardens’, some of which took place (but not the formal BMX area). A Woodland Grant helped to fund coppicing of hornbeam in the NE corner of the wood. 

 

During the 1990s, a Friends group was established which is now a key partner in the care of the site. In 2005 WHBC produced a twenty year Management Plan and has continued to enhance the site by widening several paths to allow regeneration of coppice including willow.  Other work included the enlargement of the glade in the north pit to encourage heathland species to regenerate and the regular cutting of the former landfill area and other glades.  A restoration programme for the hornbeam pollards has started and new ones have also been created.  The rotational coppicing of vegetation in the south pit has commenced to prevent reversion to woodland, two permanent ponds have been formed, small scale control of rhododendron has started and a further barrier has been installed to control bike access. Health and safety tree works have also been routinely undertaken. Most recently, Landfill Tax funding and a Woodland Improvement Grant have allowed the creation of two trails: one multi-user trail around the perimeter of the site and a second, shorter, level all-ability trail leading from the car park to a viewing point above the south pit where an interpretative board tells the story of the site. Additional new interpretation has been provided at key entrances and a site leaflet produced.

 

 

Figure 54  :  Mardley Heath

 

Although oak, hornbeam and birch remain the dominant species across the Heath there are some areas of sweet chestnut and Scots pine. Also, in the central southern area outside the limit of extraction, there is a grove of mature beech known by some local residents as ‘the cathedral’. Two enormous beech pollards at the very edge of the pit have given the unofficial name ‘two-tree hill’ to this location.  Secondary birch woodland with emergent oak and hornbeam grows in the central parts of each half of the Heath on extremely bumpy ground demonstrating very well the natural woodland succession on disturbed acid soils. It is quite unusual for this to occur without intervention in Hertfordshire due to the lack of restoration conditions at the time of gravel extraction.  Sycamore and ash also occur in several areas usually on more neutral soil as a result of planting and natural regeneration.

 

Much of the site has little under-storey except where hornbeam has been regularly coppiced. In the tongue of land that extends south to the B197 London Road, shrub communities of elder, holly and thorn exist. Honeysuckle and clematis are also found throughout the woodland.  Significant areas of rhododendron remain in the south–west of the wood, probably derived from planting for game cover. Heathy vegetation including heather (Calluna), heath speedwell, dog violets, heath bedstraw and rushes with low bramble is regenerating the north pit beneath a light canopy of silver birch and goat willow. The heather rarely flowers here due to grazing by rabbits and to damper shadier conditions. In the Spring, masses of bluebells provide a magnificent show throughout the Heath.

 

The Heath supports a diverse bird population, including woodpeckers (green woodpeckers are regularly seen ‘anting’ on the landfill area), nuthatch, tree creeper, various tits and summer migrants. Jays are especially common in winter, as are flocks of siskins feeding on birch. In recent years Red Kite can be seen flying overhead. Muntjac deer, rabbits and grey squirrels are all present but do not appear to have a severe impact. Of special importance to the site are at least ten species of solitary ‘mining’ bees and wasps, attracted by the exposures of sands and gravels and short turf maintained by rabbits.  On a weekly basis Members of Friends of Mardley Heath walk along a transect to record butterflies; recently their records have included silver-washed fritillary and purple hairstreak varieties.

 

The site has open access throughout for pedestrians. There are also public footpaths and bridleways, a perimeter multi-user trail suitable for horse-riders and cyclists as well as pedestrians and a shorter more-or-less level route parallel with Heath Road on its south side with access suitable for visitors in wheelchairs or with buggies. Benches have been provided by the Friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Demographics 

Sources

The majority of the figures given here are based upon the 2011[66] Census, updated by various Central Government additions and WHBC published statistics.  Our Neighbourhood Plan survey was conducted in Q1 2021[67].  1132 responses were received, distributed across the parish in line with the number of dwellings in the different areas.  The 28% response rate gives a confidence level of 95% ± 2.4% and so these results can be considered representative of the overall parish population.  This section discusses only the results of demographic-related questions.

Population

Digswell’s population in the 2011 Census was 1,632. The 2019 estimate for the population of Welwyn Parish is 9068, which is 7.4% of the total within Welwyn Hatfield of 122,600 (all figures from Office of National Statistics).  There is a 2018 figure for Welwyn Village of 4042 and using the proportions of the parish in the various settlements as they were at the 2011 census this gives 1716 for Digswell and 3310 for Oaklands & Mardley Heath.  The approximate adult population of the parish is 8750.  Virtually all are domiciled in the three main settlements.  There are a small number of isolated farmhouses and cottages but they are not a significant proportion. 

Dwellings

The WHBC Council Tax list for houses suggests some 3850 defined street addresses, but that excludes allegedly separate annexes, temporary homes, and caravans etc., which are included in the Council Tax numbers, which brings the total of addresses (not necessarily all dwelling) to 4,028.  This is probably an under-estimate as due to timing of compilation, it does not include all of the completed Wilshere Park development or all of the individual infills that have occurred over the past year or so.  Thus the total number of dwellings may be as high as 4100.  Using the average household size in Welwyn Hatfield of 2.4 per dwelling (see next section), gives 1685 for Welwyn (probably low), 1380 for OMH (probably high) and 650 for Digswell (probably low) – a total of 3780 which overall is probably on the low side.

 

Most houses in the parish are well-appointed.  In Council Tax categorisation, many are Band F – H and not the standard Band D used for comparison purposes, especially those with larger footprints, e.g. in parts of Digswell and of Oaklands & Mardley Heath.  The figure for Band D equivalents for Council Tax purposes for 2020/21 is 4664.2.  The approximate breakdown of the 3850 and 3780 numbers, across the area is shown in the following Table:

 

Welwyn village: 

1900 dwellings

1685 dwellings

Digswell :

650 dwellings

715 dwellings

Oaklands and Mardley Heath: 

1300 dwellings

1380 dwellings

Totals

3850

3780

Households

On the basis of the above figures the average household size is variously:

 

Population

9068

9068

9068

9068

8750

8750

8750

8750

Dwellings

3780

3850

4028

4100

3780

3850

4028

4100

Ave size

2.4

2.36

2.25

2.21

2.31

2.27

2.17

2.13

 

The average figure for Welwyn Hatfield is 2.4, so it is probable that the true parish average household size is below the Borough average.  This is probably due to the significant number of homes with two persons only, particularly where people have retired and their families grown up and relocated.  The various assumptions, estimates and proportion calculations make things fuzzy, but until the 2021 Census output is available (2023) we have to work with a range of numbers for dwellings and population.

Housebuilding   

Throughout the parish there has been extensive modification of existing dwellings by way of added rooms, extensions, loft, garage and stable block conversions.  Following the Covid-19 restrictions in 2020 and 2021, many households (and employers) discovered the advantages of home-working and if that situation continues in the future we can expect more extensions and conversions to accommodate home-workers.

 

Over the past few years there has been little building in Digswell, except the replacement of one or two large houses in favour of apartment blocks of up to 8 or 9.  There have been numerous houses in Oaklands and Mardley Heath that have had extensions and a few cases of infill.  However there has been considerable new house building within the boundary of Welwyn village: consistently after WGC and Hatfield, Welwyn has the highest % of new builds 2001 to 2020; other than Wilshere Park (green belt but brownfield land) all significant building has been within the green belt boundary of Welwyn village.  All figures have been taken from the WHBC Annual Monitoring Report 2010-2020. The major developments (i.e. individual infill projects ignored) in the intervening period, have been:

 

Clock House Gardens – 50 apartments

Mimram Place – 15 houses

Wilshere Park – over 240 houses/apartments

8 Wendover Lodge – 16 houses/apartments

Nodeway Gardens – 100 apartments

Welwyn Hall Gardens (1997) – 35 houses

London Rd/Bypass Rd/Hammond Close – 45 houses/apartments

 

A total of some 500 in 25 years.  Over this period, the parish and in particular Welwyn village has consistently been in third position across Welwyn Hatfield, for new builds (after WGC and Hatfield):

 

2001-2010       3.6% of the borough’s new builds

2011-2015       3.6% of the borough’s new builds

2016                28% new builds; long term average 6.1% (impact of Wilshere Park)

2017-18           12% new builds; long term average 7.7% of the 2007-17 average

2018-19           4.6% of new builds

2019-20           4.9% of new builds

Location of Respondent Households

Oaklands & Mardley Heath (about 33% of the houses) provided 35% of the replies; Digswell (about 18% of the houses returned 18% of the replies; Welwyn Village (about 50% of the houses) provided 47% of the replies; overall the three major settlements contributed 98% of the replies.  Compared with the dwelling numbers discussed earlier, applying the percentage distributions to the total distribution of 4001 gives:  Welwyn village – 1880; Oaklands & Mardley Heath – 1200; Digswell – 840; Fringe/Not disclosed – 80.  For the 2005/6 Parish Plan, the overall total number of households/businesses was 3850; approximately 1900 (49%) were in Welwyn, 1300 (34%) in Oaklands & Mardley Heath and 650 (17%) in Digswell.  The response rate by settlement mirrors the population distribution, i.e. no settlement dominates and the numbers are commensurate with those stated earlier.

Length of Residency

Years

 

Year

There was a good cross-section, with representation from relatively new movers into the area (136 lived here for under 4 years) and those who have been here for many years (69 for over 50 years).  The person who had lived in the area the longest had been in their house for 91years and a total of 8 for over 70 years!  The shortest (most recent movers) were 10 at fewer than 6 months (one being just one month in the area); the mean was 22 years. 

Ages of People in Households

Years

 

The age-range of respondent households showed a strong trend towards older age groups, from 40+ to 70+.  We do not have the 2021 Census data that can tell us if this truly reflects the 2021 make-up of the Parish but it seems believable. 

 

Some errors arose when some respondents only input their own age range and not that of their partner/spouse, or they omitted children in some cases, however they are unlikely to give rise to any major error and the relative numbers are fairly secure.  The apparent “dip” in the “16 to 24” age group may reflect students away from home or a demographic trough;  the similar “dip” at “25 to 44” undoubtedly reflects moving away for economic or employment reasons.  However it is inescapable that the population has a significant number of retired persons (35%) and a significant proportion aged over 80 (8%).  This may well reflect the preference for a quiet, village-style location, the quality of life, standard of well-being and quality of healthcare services.

 

For the 4 largest population age ranges, examining the ONS population figures from 2018 and the survey figures for the same ranges, assuming for all ranges (based on the similarity of numbers, male and female) that most are living in households with one male and one female of the age range, the survey responses are clearly biased towards the post retirement group as follows:

    25-44   18% of females and 20% of males. Household response rate 12%

    45-64   30% of females and 31% of males.  Household response rate 31%

    65-80   18% of females and 18% of males. Household response rate 27%

    80plus    8% of females and 6.5% of males. Household response rate 8%

Household Make-Up

 The majority (48%) of households are couples with no resident children, although undoubtedly in many cases the children will have grown-up and be living elsewhere; many will be elderly/retired couples.  28% are family units with children under 16.

 

Correlating the responses to Questions 7 and 9, shows that within the figure of 192 for those living alone, 76% (147) are 65 or older, with 30% (58) aged over 80.  Many of these may possibly be widow or widower but this number of elderly people living alone is a significant point when one considers local services, amenities and requirements.  A number of respondents stated they were “Families with children” yet only indicated the ages of the adults, thus the number of children may be considerably understated.  It is clear that the parish is populated by many family household units with children under 16 (30.1%) and many family households where one or both adults are still of employable age, although one or both may have retired early.  It is clearly not a predominantly elderly person’s area.

 

Cars in Households

With 1126 replies to this question (total responses of 1132), it is very clear that residents are wedded to their motor vehicles and the scale of the paradigm shift needed to move towards public transport such as buses or even onto bicycles. 

 

Very few households have no cars and they were mainly the elderly; even then, most households of two retired persons had at least one car and many had two.  Thus our elderly residents are certainly mobile and not confined to home, unless through injury/infirmity/illness.  Households with 3 and more cars almost certainly reflect the children in the family aged over 17 years old and maybe grown-up children still living with parents.  It offers an insight into local parking challenges: how many houses have off-street parking for 3 or more cars?  There is one retired person, living alone, who has 4 cars.

Type of dwelling

The overwhelmingly high proportion (94%) of owner-occupiers compared with the rental and social housing sectors is clear evidence of the financial status of residents in all three major settlements. The survey did not distinguish between owners who had a mortgage and those who did not.

 

 

There is very little social housing in either Oaklands & Mardley Heath or Digswell and most private renting is for a whole house.  Welwyn village on the other hand does have some social housing.  This very small volume of rented/social accommodation exposes a concern:  either the parish is a very affluent neighbourhood with genuinely minimal privately rented or social housing stock or those in social housing did not take up the opportunity to participate in the survey.  If the results are a genuine reflection of the privately-rented and social housing sector, then the difficulty that young people have gaining a place to live if they cannot afford to buy, is starkly shown.  It also emphasises the importance of any new developments having a high proportion of social/affordable housing.

 

A considerable proportion of couples are long-retired, yet still occupy houses in which they have lived for many years.  From their other replies, some seek easier down-sizing locally and/or a move to local sheltered accommodation/retirement homes.  They wish to remain in the area they have lived in for many years, but the markets for small houses (especially bungalows) and for sheltered accommodation are not well-supported and there is insufficient to meet the demand, which would in turn perhaps enable more of the larger, family houses, to be “recycled” on the market.

 

 

 

References & Bibliography

General

Hertfordshire   Victoria Glendinning    Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1989

The Welwyn Magazine:  10 editions published per year by St Mary’s Church, for over 120 years; archive copies can be viewed on application to the Magazine Editor. https://www.welwyn.org.uk/magazine

Wikipaedia:  https://en.wikipedia.org/

Geography & Geology

National Character Area Profiles No 110 (Chilterns) and No 111 (Northern Thames Basin); Natural England 2013 available as pdfs from:  http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/category/587130

Welwyn Hatfield Landscape Character Assessment   The Landscape Partnership Ltd published by WHBC 2008 and available as a pdf from: https://www.welhat.gov.uk/article/770/Landscape-Character-Assessment

British Geological Survey maps, available at:  http://mapapps.bgs.ac.uk/geologyofbritain/home.html.

 

River Mimram: 

Revitalising Chalk Rivers: http://www.revitalisingchalkrivers.org.uk/index.php/the-rivers/river-mimram

River Lea catchment:  http://www.riverleacatchment.org.uk/index.php/river-mimram-home

History & Archaeology

A History of Hertfordshire      Tony Rook[68]    The History Press 1997  (2nd Edition)

Welwyn & Welwyn Garden City Through Time   Tony Rook    Amberley Publishing 2013

https://www.waterstones.com/author/tony-rook/96455  and  https://www.bookdepository.com/author/Tony-Rook

Memories of Welwyn – Town and Village    Gordon Longmead[69]     New Concept Publishing 2006

Memories of Welwyn – Masters and Misfits    Gordon Longmead     New Concept Publishing 2006

Memories of Welwyn – Its People and Places   Gordon Longmead   New Concept Publishing 2006

Welwyn & Welwyn Garden City in 50 Buildings   Paul Rabbitts and Peter Jeffree Amberley Publishing 2021

For more detail on the Domesday Book entries for any location, refer to:  https://opendomesday.org/map/

Welwyn Roman Baths (Welwyn Hatfield Museum Service):  https://www.welwynromanbaths.co.uk/

Estates, Houses and Parks

Humphry Repton    Dorothy Stroud   Country Life  1962

Humphry Repton   George Carter et al  Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts 1982.

The Buildings of England: Hertfordshire  B Cherry and N Pevsner.  Penguin Books Ltd 1977

The History of Danesbury, the House and its Lands    Gordon Longmead    New Concept Publishing 1999

The Frythe:  http://www.jefferyknaggs.webspace.virginmedia.com/Frythe.html

 

Open Spaces

Open Spaces in the Parish    WPC  2022.  A supplementary booklet to this Portrait, available in html or to download as a pdf from:  https://welwyn-pc.gov.uk/neighbourhood-plan-site/

Welwyn Village

Welwyn Parish Plan 2008 compiled and published by the WPPG.   Available in html from:   https://welwynparishplan.wordpress.com/the-welwyn-parish-plan/   and available as a pdf to download from the WPC Neighbourhood Plan website: https://welwyn-pc.gov.uk/welwyn-parish-plan/

Welwyn Heritage Trail     WPC  2022 A supplementary booklet to this Portrait, available in html or to download as a pdf from:  https://welwyn-pc.gov.uk/neighbourhood-plan-site/

And the special website: https://talesofthings.com/collection/111/

Anthony Padgett and his Van Gogh project:  https://anthonydpadgett.tripod.com/vincentanthony.html

Welwyn St Mary’s School

For a detailed history of the village school (now known as Welwyn St Mary’s) please visit the School’s web site:  https://welwynst-marys.herts.sch.uk/our-school/history-of-welwyn-st-marys/

Digswell

Digswell Character Appraisal   Richard Guise   WHBC January 2004.  Available as a pdf from: https://www.welhat.gov.uk>media>Digswell-Character-Appraisal.pdf

Wildings – The Secret Garden of Eileen Soper   Duff Hart-Davis   Book Club Associates 1991

Eileen Soper’s Badgers  edited by Duff Hart-Davis   Book Club Associates 1992

For detail about the Sopers and their art, please visit:  https://www.thesopercollection.org/

Oaklands & Mardley Heath

Herts Advertiser area guide:  https://www.hertsad.co.uk/lifestyle/property/area-guide-oaklands

HCC leaflet on Mardley Heath available as a pdf from:  https://www.hertfordshire.gov.uk>media-library>places-to-visit>mardley-heath-leaflet.pdf

Listed Buildings

Listed Buildings in the Parish    WPC  2022 A supplementary booklet to this Portrait, available in html or to download as a pdf from:  https://welwyn-pc.gov.uk/neighbourhood-plan-site/

For detail on any individual listed building or monument, including construction detail, please refer to:  https://britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/england/welwyn-welwyn-hatfield-hertfordshire

and visit: https://www.heritagegateway.org.uk/Gateway/

Demographics

2011 Census :  Entry point to access information is at https://www.ons.gov.uk/census/2011census

Welwyn Parish Neighbourhood Plan Survey compiled and published by WPC April 2021 and available as a pdf to download from the WPC Neighbourhood Plan website:  https://welwyn-pc.gov.uk/nbp-page-5/

 

 

 

 

 

Acknowledgements

Many residents and parish councillors made contributions to this Parish Portrait and have also been involved in the creation and compilation of the Neighbourhood Plan itself.

 

The books by Tony Rook and Gordon Longmead, together with the Parish Plan, provided inspiration and much of the basis.  Photos collected by and in many cases taken by Paul Jiggens have been gratefully included as has much of Paul’s original writing in various sources. In proof-reading the draft, Paul made several important corrections and many valuable suggestions. The web sites shown are merely a starter for the interested – there is so much more to mine and uncover!

 

The Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group would like to record their thanks to the above mentioned and, for compiling sections or part-sections, supplying photographs[70], proof-reading and sub-editing this Portrait, to:  Sandra Saunders, Paul Jiggens, Marj Otty, Alan Sparshott, Ian Skidmore and Mike Smith.  Overall compilation and editing was by Bill Morris.

 

 

 

 

Appendix 1    Digswell House & Tewin Water

Although both of these estates and/or houses lie in whole or in part, outside the parish boundary[71] they are entwined in the history of the parish and so are included for completeness.

Digswell House

Sir John Peryent built a manor house west of the present-day building in the early 15thC, which was subsequently inhabited by the families of Peryent, Horsey, Sedley and Shallcross. Capability Brown created some of the landscape work at Digswell between 1771 and 1773.  The mediaeval manor house was purchased in 1785 by George Clavering-Cowper, 3rd Earl Cowper and as it was in poor condition, demolished in 1805 to make way for the new Mansion erected c. 1805-7, by Samuel Wyatt for the Honourable Edward Spencer Cowper, who lived there for some years. The present Digswell House is a Grade II listed building situated in what is now the Knightsfield area of Welwyn Garden City, a little eastward of the site on which its predecessor had stood, so, strictly it is outside our parish.  It was built as a commodious country gentleman’s home, in the neoclassical style. A portico, with four massive Ionic columns, on the south front is its most impressive external feature.

 

 

Figure 55  :  Digswell House (1905)

 

In the 1850s the house was occupied by Henry Pearse, a West India Merchant and in the 1880s it was owned by Phoebe Tatham who had inherited wealth from her uncle Duncan Dunbar, shipping magnate (who built-up the Dunbar Line of trading and convict ships) following his death when still a bachelor in 1862. Phoebe was married to William Smith Brown and died at Digswell in 1891.  At the time of the Great War, the house was owned by the Aclands who gave it over for use as the Number 5 Australian Auxiliary Hospital and nursing home for wounded Australian Soldiers though Belgian and British Soldiers also stayed there, staffed by the Red Cross from local families. The grounds of Digswell House provided a centre for sports for those soldiers who could compete and the grounds included a small lake and plenty of shooting available for those able to get about.

 

In 1919 the house was purchased by Sir Ebenezer Howard. From 1928 to 1939 it functioned as a conference centre with its good connections to London through the railway; guests included Mahatma Gandhi, George Bernard Shaw, Paul Robeson, Lord Beaverbrook, Hugh Gaitskell and other leading politicians and intellectuals of the time.  After the Second World War, Digswell House served as a boarding house and a place of retreat and between 1955 and 1957 it was the Boarding House for Sherrardswood School

 

 

Figure 56  :  Digswell House today (private residences)

 

It then became the home of the Digswell Arts Trust, one of whose founders was Henry Moore.  It remained a retreat and residential workshop for sculptors, artists and musicians sponsored by the Digswell Arts Trust, until 1985 when Digswell House was sold and turned into the collection of private dwellings it is today.  The Digswell Arts Trust also opened an Art Studio in Digswell at the site of the Old Forge in Hertford Road (Digswell Water), the forge business having been previously re-located in 1980’s from the original Forge opposite the Digswell Water Mill in Digswell Lane.  The Trust continues to this day but has moved to other sites[72]

Tewin Water

This c 77 hectare park is bounded to the south-west largely by the B1000 road linking Hertford and Digswell Water, and to the north and east by agricultural land and woodland, the east boundary being marked by Churchfield Road which is carried over the River Mimram by a 19thC bridge. A bridge in similar style carries the B1000 across the river at the north-west tip of the park, near the village of Digswell Water. The south-west half of the site largely occupies the flood plain of the valley, whilst the north-east half of the park rises up the hillside. The north-east hillside is bisected by a valley, running north-east from close to the house and stables, in which Dawley Plantation extends beyond the area here registered to Dawley Wood. Although the actual house and much of the parkland associated with this estate is actually in Tewin parish, the main entrance and driveway lie 1km north-west of the house, off the lane which leads north from the B1000 near the junction of New Road and Hertford Road in the centre of Digswell. 

 

The manor of Tewin was bought by James Fleet in 1714, to whose widow it passed on his death in 1733. Mrs Fleet became Lady Cathcart upon marriage to her third husband, Charles, eighth Lord Cathcart. On her death in 1789, the manor passed to William, third Earl Cowper, and from 1791 to 1797 the property was let to a relation by marriage, Lord John Townsend. 

 

The Lodge House was originally constructed as a hexagonal building and then in the (late 19thC/early 20thC) it was converted into a rendered two storey house and made into a square building.  The lodge marks the entrance of the north-west drive off the (originally) High Welwyn lane. From here the drive curves south-east through the park alongside the River Mimram for 300m before the river moves further to the south.  Tewin Water House (Grade II listed) is a rectangular, two-storey, stuccoed brick house which was rebuilt and remodelled in the 1790s in Greek revival style, and further altered and extended in the 1890s and 1900s.  It stands at the centre of the site on the low ground of the flood plain, between the River Mimram and a sharp rise in the ground to the north-east.

 

 

Figure 57  :  Tewin Water House today  (private residences)

 

The entrance front lies on the east side, with garden entrances to the south and west.  In 1799 the fifth Earl engaged Humphry Repton to improve his estates running through the River Mimram valley in Hertfordshire.  Formerly the house enjoyed largely uninterrupted views of the river to the east, south-west and south (as Repton had intended), before the banks were obscured by tree growth. Attached to the north side of the house lies the narrow, rectangular stable yard, entered from the north side off the north-west drive, with the former stable block (converted to school accommodation) on the west side of the yard.

 

Following Henry Cowper’s death in 1840 the house at Tewin Water was let to a series of tenants, including the Earl of Uxbridge, and from 1892 to 1897 the third Earl of Limerick. In 1902 Alfred Beit, a diamond millionaire, acquired the estate, extending the house and adding formal elements to the gardens. His brother Sir Otto Beit inherited the house in 1906, and following his own death in 1936, his widow lived in the house until 1946. During the late 1940s and 1950s the estate was sold into divided ownership, and the parkland passed between various owners, during which time much of the parkland timber was felled. The house was a school from 1950 until the late 1990s, subsequently being acquired for conversion into multiple domestic units, with further houses to be built close by.

 

The gardens occupy level ground along the north bank of the Mimram, and extend c 400m west from the house. An open lawn extends from the west front, an area close to the house being laid to tarmac. At the west end of the lawn, which is bounded by a footpath, a small copse stands next to the river, close to an artificial stone cascade crossed by a wooden footbridge which carries the footpath south of the river. Repton proposed an informal lawn west of the house, separated from the river by a serpentine path close to the bank which led to the crossing at the west end of the lawn. He suggested that a classical garden building enclosing a seat should be sited close to the west boundary of the lawn. The lawn was to be screened from the kitchen gardens to the north by a belt of trees. By the late 19thC a formal parterre had been added adjacent to the west front, and the lawn extended from the south front to the river, with the riverside path along the south edge of the lawn occupying the north bank. The pleasure grounds had been extended 75m beyond the footpath along the north bank to encompass two islands.


The park, largely enclosed by belts of trees, surrounds the house and pleasure grounds, and is divided into two unequal halves by the River Mimram. The river enters the site at the north-west corner, extending in serpentine fashion south-east through the valley, passing close to the south front of the house, before opening out at the south corner of the park into a lake (somewhat silted up, 1999) and leaving the park close by at the south-east corner. The north-east half of the park is largely laid to open arable, with several paddocks laid to pasture between the river and the north-west drive. The park south of the river contains many mature specimen trees in pasture, particularly to the south and west of the house. Home Wood appears to have been planted in the mid to late 19thC, if not at the time of Repton’s major landscaping, and is significantly smaller than its early 20thC size.  To Repton the aspect was the most important question, that to the south-east being ‘the best of all possible aspects’.  The remains of the former kitchen gardens lie 50m north-west of the house, marked chiefly by a red-brick wall, broken in places by gateways. The occupier of the Gardeners House planted a vineyard in about 1980 on the land just to the north side of the entrance drive and this flourished until he moved out of the district.  The Bacchus grapes grown there made a very acceptable Mimram Valley wine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix 2      Neighbouring Settlements

Although not lying within our parish, the places listed in this section are immediately adjacent; they are frequented by parish residents and we share much in common.  They also lie within Welwyn Hatfield Borough unless otherwise stated.

 

The Ayots

There are three distinct hamlets:

 

Ayot Green is located just south of Welwyn; a small hamlet with a collection of cottages and houses, a French restaurant (The Waggoners) and a sawmill.  It is best-accessed via a bridge across the A1(M) from the B197 running from Stanborough to The Bypass.

 

Ayot St Peter, with even fewer houses and spaced along a narrow country road, is mentioned in Domesday Book.  Famous for its unique “Arts and Crafts” movement-inspired brick-built church, the remains of a much older churchyard are also nearby.  It is probably best-accessed via the narrow and winding School Lane out from Welwyn, past the Hospital.  Between Ayot St Peter and Ayot Green is the Ayot Greenway, the route of a disused railway track originally running from Welwyn Garden City to Wheathampstead and now given over to cycling and walking.

 

Ayot St Lawrence is mentioned in Domesday Book:  a village with a ruined Norman church and a current one built in the Palladian style, the popular Brocket Arms pub/restaurant and George Bernard Shaw’s cottage (Shaw’s Corner – National Trust).

 

Burnham Green (North Herts) is a hamlet mentioned in Domesday Book and located between the villages of Datchworth, Tewin and Digswell; it is said to be the highest point until the Ural Mountains in Russia and hence it can be a very breezy spot, particularly when the wind is in the East or North!  The village has a good pub Restaurant, The White Horse. The large village green is jointly maintained by Welwyn and Datchworth Parish Councils as the parish boundary passes through the Green.

 

Codicote is a large North Herts village, mentioned in Domesday Book and the nearest neighbouring village to Welwyn,.  It originally had a market and belonged to St Albans Abbey/Monastery.  It has a thriving mix of shops, pubs, restaurants, primary school and St Giles Church (located out of the centre on a side road towards Knebworth).  Codicote Parish are preparing their own Neighbourhood Plan.

 

Datchworth (North Herts) is also a village mentioned in Domesday Book, with pubs, small shops, a primary school and with (typically) All Saints’ Church being located a short distance from the village centre. 

 

Kimpton (North Herts) is also a village mentioned in Domesday Book, with pubs, shops and primary school.   St Peter & St Paul church is flint-built in the unusual transitional style between Norman and Early English.  Kimpton Parish are preparing their own Neighbourhood Plan.

 

Lemsford is a small village, located south of Ayot Green and just outside WGC.  Lemsford has a church, a primary school, two pubs and a small industrial estate including a former mill mentioned in Domesday Book, but is a sad reminder of what a village without shops looks like.

 

Rabley Heath & Potters Heath are adjacent small hamlets in the semi-rural area to the west of Mardley Heath.

 

Tewin is another village mentioned in Domesday Book, with pubs, primary school and small shops, with St Peter’s Church (Saxon – c.f. the local tribe at the time – Tewingas) being located a short distance from the village centre.  The village also probably provided staff and workers for the nearby Tewin Water estate.

 

Woolmer Green was originally the fourth major settlement in Welwyn Parish, located on the B197 between Mardley Heath and Knebworth.  It became an independent parish within Welwyn Hatfield Borough, in 2000.  Pub-restaurants, a chocolatier, a nursing home, a marble worktop manufacturer and the late Arts & Crafts Movement-inspired St Michael’s Church are all spaced along the main road (B197) leading to Knebworth, with some housing development to both sides and a cross-country route to Datchworth.  The Village Hall hosts a monthly Farmers’ Market.  Set back from the eastern side of the main road (B197) is the village pond (probably the origin of the “Wolf’s Pool”).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix 3    Welwyn & Digswell in Domesday

Abstracted from:  https://opendomesday.org/

 

Welwyn            Listed under 6 owners.

 

Land of Chester (St John), bishop of

Land and resources

Ploughland: 0.5 ploughlands.

Valuation

Annual value to lord: 3 shillings in 1086; 3 shillings when acquired by the 1086 owner; 3 shillings in 1066.

Owners

Tenant-in-chief in 1086: Chester (St John), bishop of.

Lord in 1086: Chester (St John), bishop of.

Lord in 1066: Canterbury (Christ Church), archbishop of.

 

Land of Robert Gernon

Households

Households: 3 villagers. 6 smallholders. 1 cottager. 2 slaves.

Land and resources

Ploughland: 3 ploughlands. 1 lord’s plough teams. 1 lord’s plough teams possible. 1 men’s plough teams.

Other resources: Meadow 0.25 ploughs.

Valuation

Annual value to lord: 1 pound 10 shillings in 1086; 1 pound 10 shillings when acquired by the 1086 owner; 2 pounds in 1066.

Owners

Tenant-in-chief in 1086: Robert Gernon.

Lord in 1086: Robert of Pont-Chardon.

Overlord in 1066: Almer (of) Bennington.

Lord in 1066: Godric, Almer of Bennington’s man.

 

Land of William of Eu

Land and resources

Ploughland: 0.5 ploughlands.

Valuation

Annual value to lord: 3 shillings in 1086; 3 shillings when acquired by the 1086 owner; 3 shillings in 1066.

Owners

Tenant-in-chief in 1086: William of Eu.

Lord in 1086: William of Eu.

Lord in 1066: Alstan of Boscombe.

 

Land of William of Eu

Households

Households: 5 villagers. 2 cottagers.

Land and resources

Ploughland: 3 ploughlands. 1 lord’s plough teams. 1 men’s plough teams.

Valuation

Annual value to lord: 1 pound 12 shillings in 1086; 1 pound 12 shillings when acquired by the 1086 owner; 4 pounds in 1066.

Owners

Tenant-in-chief in 1086: William of Eu.

Lord in 1086: William Delamere.

Overlord in 1066: Alstan of Boscombe.

Lords in 1066: Alfgeat, Alstan of Boscombe’s man; Alstan of Boscombe.

 

Land of Geoffrey of Bec

Households

Households: 6 villagers. 4 smallholders. 4 cottagers. 1 slave.

Land and resources

Ploughland: 7 ploughlands. 1 lord’s plough teams. 1 lord’s plough teams possible. 4 men’s plough teams.

Other resources: Meadow 2 ploughs. Woodland 20 pigs. 1 mill, value 8 shillings.

Valuation

Annual value to lord: 2 pounds 10 shillings in 1086; 1 pound when acquired by the 1086 owner; 6 pounds in 1066.

Owners

Tenant-in-chief in 1086: Geoffrey of Bec.

Lord in 1086: Roger.

Overlord in 1066: Queen Edith.

Lords in 1066: Gode (mother of Wulfric); (Wulfric) son of Gode.

 

Land of priest, one

Households

Households: 6 smallholders. 2 cottagers.

Land and resources

Ploughland: 3 ploughlands. 1 lord’s plough teams. 1 lord’s plough teams possible. 1 men’s plough teams.

Other resources: Meadow 1 ploughs. Woodland 50 pigs. 1 church.

Valuation

Annual value to lord: 1 pound 5 shillings in 1086; 1 pound 5 shillings when acquired by the 1086 owner; 1 pound 5 shillings in 1066.

Owners

Tenant-in-chief in 1086: priest, one.

Lord in 1086: priest, one.

Overlord in 1066: King Edward.

Lord in 1066: priest, one.

 

Digswell           Listed under 2 owners

 

Land of Geoffrey de Mandeville

Households

Households: 12 villagers. 3 smallholders. 4 cottagers. 2 slaves.

Land and resources

Ploughland: 8.5 ploughlands. 2 lord’s plough teams. 6.5 men’s plough teams.

Other resources: Woodland 100 pigs. 1.5 mills, value 8 shillings and 7 pence.

Valuation

Annual value to lord: 4 pounds in 1086; 2 pounds 10 shillings when acquired by the 1086 owner; 4 pounds in 1066.

Owners

Tenant-in-chief in 1086: Geoffrey de Mandeville.

Lord in 1086: Thorkil (of Digswell).

Overlord in 1066: Esger the constable.

Lord in 1066: Thorkil (of Digswell).

 

Land of Peter of Valognes

Households

Households: 5 villagers. 3 smallholders. 8 cottagers.

Land and resources

Ploughland: 3 ploughlands. 1 lord’s plough teams. 2 men’s plough teams.

Other resources: Meadow 0.25 ploughs. Woodland 50 pigs. 0.5 mills, value 3 shillings and 2 pence.

Valuation

Annual value to lord: 1 pound 15 shillings in 1086; 1 pound when acquired by the 1086 owner; 2 pounds 10 shillings in 1066.

Owners

Tenant-in-chief in 1086: Peter of Valognes.

Lord in 1086: Roger.

Overlord in 1066: Almer (of Bennington).

Lord in 1066: Topi (of Digswell).

 

Footnotes

[1] The first document published was the Report of Survey Results and Analysis published in April 2021 by WPC showing the collated evidence; the final volume will be the Neighbourhood Plan itself.  The collected evidence will be available for scrutiny via the NP website.

[2] Compiled for WHBC and published in January 2004.

[3] Compiled for WHBC and published in April 2005.

[4] Compiled by the WPPG with support from WPC and published in June 2008

[5] The latest revise of the WHBC Local Plan was started in 2013 with the first consultation draft published in 2016.  Since then various editions or individual sections have been circulated for comment, with the final draft submitted to the Inspector in 2020.  As of writing this document, that draft is still under scrutiny by the Inspector and there are some technical issues to be resolved, so our Neighbourhood Plan cannot be finalised until that Local Plan is agreed.

[6] For local history detail, the reader is first pointed to the excellent books by Tony Rook and Gordon Longmead.  See Bibliography for full details.

[7] For example, WRAG is a group of environmentally-friendly residents that meet once a month to clear rubbish from around Welwyn village.

[8]  Ayot Green, Ayot St Peter and Ayot St Lawrence; all are outside of Welwyn parish but within the Borough of Welwyn Hatfield.

[9] Once the estate of Lady Caroline Lamb; thence her husband Lord Melbourne and his son-in-law, Lord Palmerston.

[10] Previously known as Ayot Place and originally a 15thC open hall, it was at one time part of the neighbouring Brocket estate.

[11] For the British Geological Survey maps see Bibliography.

[12] The clean, fresh water also feeds the local watercress beds which are known to have existed since Roman times. 

[13] For more detail on the River Mimram see Bibliography.

[14] The Marne rises in the Langres plateau in north east France and forms a tributary of the Seine, making a confluence at Paris.

[15] See Bibliography

[16] The Tewingas were a tribe or clan of Anglo-Saxon England, whose name means either “the people of Tiwa” or “the worshippers of the God Tew”.  Tew (or Tiu) was the Old English god of combat and gave his name to “Tuesday”.  The same god (called Tyr in Norse) presided over matters of law and justice.  The tribe and its territory are mentioned in an Anglo-Saxon charter of c.945; their heartland was the River Mimram valley, centred on the settlements of Welwyn and Tewin. 

[17] The location of that Roman settlement is believed to be slightly out-of-centre compared with the current village centre of the High St/Church St/ford and bridge and is believed to lie about 350 metres straight-line distance from the present-day High St bridge, under the field adjacent to the Evangelical Church on Fulling Mill Lane.  Surprisingly, this area has never been excavated. 

[18] The major North-South road from London (Londinium) to York (Eboracum) was Ermine Street – the route of today’s A10 running east of Hertford. 

[19] England had been ravaged by Danish raids every year from 997 to 1001 and in 1002 King Æthelred the Unready ordered the killing of Danes on the 13th of November 1002, as he had been told that the Danish men in England “would faithlessly take his life, and then all his councillors, and possess his kingdom afterwards”.

[20] Tony Rook, the School’s then Head of Science, lived in the village and was also a keen amateur archaeologist.  He was walking along a stream looking for Roman artefacts (the presence of several villas was strongly believed locally) when he found Roman roof tiles eroding out of the bank.  He formed a team which eventually became The Welwyn Archaeological Society, which undertook excavation to reveal these baths and parts of a major Roman villa (called Lockleys after the present-day estate) and the Hawbush Close Roman cemetery, close to the prehistoric and Roman trackway from St Albans which crosses Hawbush Rise around the area of Hawbush Close and thence runs towards the Mimram.

[21] Wilge or Welge (Celtic for Willow) also appears as Wilga Road on the Hawbush Estate, to the northern outskirts. 

[22] c.f. one of the possible origins of the name “Digswell” – Deacon’s Well.

[23] See Appendix 5 for the full Domesday listings.

[24] There have been several such roads through Hertfordshire; this was the latest and is the surviving major route.  The routes varied from the Roman period to the present day.  Ermine Street was the first “Great North Road” and followed the eastern route from the City of London (now the A10).  Over the intervening near-2000 years, the route of the “Great North Road” has varied from this eastern route to a more central one through Barnet, Potters Bar and Hatfield and finally the western version: A1/A1000/B197, before the A1(M) took over.  For many years during the heyday of coaching the route through the parish followed the route of the current B197.

[25] See Bibliography

[26] Better-known fruits of their labours were: the Time Pencil (a small, delayed-ignition device that could set off a detonator, the delay achieved by a solution of Copper Chloride corroding a thin metal wire); the “S”-Phone radio (to talk-down Lysander aircraft delivering and picking up agents); the folding “Welbike” motorcycle, the silenced “Welrod” pistol, the “Welgun” lightweight 9mm sub-machine gun, the ‘Welpen’ explosive weapon disguised as a fountain pen and the exploding rat.  All were designed here and then manufactured at Aston House in nearby Stevenage, SOE’s Secret Weapons Centre – “Station XII”.

[27] Anthony Parsons became gardener at Danesbury in 1851, and remained there until his death on Christmas Day 1880. He wrote in The Gardeners Chronicle, “I have had to make a hardy fernery, which now contains a magnificent collection of British Ferns, and is well known to many admirers of these truly lovely plants.” Mr Parsons was well known for raising and developing new varieties of plants. Whilst at Danesbury one finely-crested dwarf golden fern of his origination was named in his honour Gymnogramma chrysophylla parsonii.

[28] Although the rocks appear to be of natural sandstone, they are in fact “Pulhamite”, a man-made material.  James Pulham and Sons of Broxbourne constructed them in 1859-1860, using a core of brick and rubble, which was covered in cement.

[29] No plans now exist but Pulham’s promotional catalogue of the time confirmed the construction of a ‘cave, dropping well, pass for ferns and other rock plants in an old chalk pit but in artificial stone’. 

[30] Maurice was a Lieutenant and a regular officer in the Kings Royal Rifle Corps and was missing in action in September 1914. Cecil was a barrister and a captain in the same unit and was killed in action on the Somme in April 1917. 

[31] Gordon Longmead’s books incorrectly state that Danesbury was associated with the Dewar whisky family.

[32] The family moved out in 1939 to Stagenhoe Park and his occupation was intriguingly given as “Managing Director of various Companies classed as of vital National Importance”.

[33] He had been active in recruiting and training for the Hertfordshire Regiment; his health broke down and he never recovered.

[34] See Bibliography

[35] Visitors can follow a self-guided tour using their mobile phones linked to QR codes, with a commentary for each location recorded by Tony Rook. 

[36] For detail on both sculptor and project, please see Bibliography

[37] Remembered in the rhyme: “Oh those foolish Welwyn people: sold their bells to build a steeple”.

[38] It is far from certain (but a lovely idea) that Anna actually lived in Rose Cottage.  Research and by Tony Rook, leading to an article in “Herts Past and Present” throws considerable doubt on where she lived, so it must be concluded that Rose Cottage is where she possibly lived.

[39] WPC owns/operates several venues around the village which are used for various functions and events, often by local residents who can obtain attractive concessions on charges.  Please visit the WPC main web site (https://welwyn-pc.gov.uk) or the specific site describing the facilities and their availability (http://welwynhalls.com)

[40] The Mill itself now lies just outside our parish, in the parish of Codicote and in North Herts District.

[41] A fulling mill was a water operated mill with big wooden hammers that pounded the cloth as it was being washed. Fuller’s earth was used to help the cleansing process. The finished fabric was shrunken into a tighter, tougher cloth and was similar to today’s boiled wool.

[42] A unique local charity that members of the public can join and thus visit an interesting facility:  http://www.catsurvivaltrust.org/

[43] A sentence or inscription in which specific letters, interpreted as numerals, stand for a particular date when rearranged. The word, meaning “time writing”, derives from the Greek words chronos (χρόνος “time”) and gramma (γράμμα, “letter”).  In a pure chronogram, each word contains a numeral; a natural chronogram shows all numerals in the correct numerical order, e.g. AMORE MATVRITAS = MMVI = 2006

[44] See text and photographs on pp26 & 27.

[45] For a detailed history of the village school please see Bibliography

[46] The Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital was founded in 1900 in Codicote Road, Welwyn by public subscription as the Welwyn Cottage Hospital and was open to the poor residing within a five mile radius of it. Preference was given to those not receiving poor relief. An authorised Letter of Recommendation had to accompany each patient.  It was renamed the Queen Victoria Memorial Cottage Hospital (c.1930 – 1934) and in 1934 given its present name.  On 5 July 1948 control of the hospital passed to the Minister of Health, under the aegis of the North West Metropolitan Regional Hospital Board.   

[47] The statue was created by local artist and sculptor the late Bryan Parkes; he was named “Marcus” after a competition held for the pupils in St Mary’s School. 

[48] Potential users are responsible for setting-up their own payment arrangements.

[49] With acknowledgement to Ordnance Survey

[50] The map reproduced here is a detail from the Ordnance Survey County Map for Hertfordshire, of 1899 (Sheet 28NE)..

[51] With acknowledgement to Satellite Signals/Google Earth

[52] Author of “Night Thoughts” which includes the quotation: “Procrastination is the thief of time”.

[53] William Blake bought St John’s Lodge in 1824 and changed the name to Danesbury –  see Estates, Houses & Parks

[54] William Wilshere lived at The Frythe and rebuilt it in the Gothic revival style – see Estates, Houses, & Parks

[55] Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon grew up at the family home in nearby St Paul’s Warden and married HRH The Duke of York (subsequently HM King George VI) in 1923; some members of the Bowes-Lyon family still live at St Paul’s Walden

[56] He supported the Parliamentary cause in the English Civil War and sat in the Long Parliament until excluded under “Pride’s Purge” in 1648.

[57] There is some discrepancy over the road number.  Several sources quote 42 Harmer Green Lane as the Soper house, but this is a considerable distance away from the Reserve, which primarily backs onto No 58 and was, in effect, an extension of the Soper’s rear garden.  It is likely that given the post-WW1 growth of the new Digswell, a re-numbering of Harmer Green Lane took place at some point.

[58] The works of both George and his daughter are collected by a registered charity, The Soper Collection and is not currently on display. The charity hopes to buy a site in Suffolk to provide a permanent home for the collection: https://www.thesopercollection.org/soper-collection-our-vision/

[59] Eileen Soper first started observing badgers in 1951 and devoted many years to studying and painting them in her garden and at a place she called “The Dell” (which is along nearby Pennyfathers Lane).  In the book Eileen Soper’s Badgers there is a full description of her work.   

[60] With acknowledgement to Ordnance Survey.

[61] The map reproduced here is a detail from the Ordnance Survey County Map for Hertfordshire, of 1899 (Sheet 28NE).

[62]  With acknowledgement to Satellite Signals/Google Earth

[63] https://artuk.org/discover/artists/maddox-ronald-19302018

[64] Sadly, there is no evidence associating the notorious highwayman with this area although the Great North Road crossing the Heath would have been an appropriate location for his exploits!

[65] Originally the “back door” or service road to Danesbury House, the main drive to the house being what is now North Ride.

[66] The 2021 Census was conducted in early 2021, while this Portrait was being researched and results will not be published for at least another year.  It is regrettable that more up-to-date data could not be sourced at this time.

[67] 4000 paper forms were delivered to households and there was an online option.

[68] Tony Rook, mentioned previously as the discoverer and excavator of the Roman Baths, lives in Welwyn.  He has written many books on the history and archaeology of both the immediate and wider area and undertaken numerous local excavations. 

[69] Gordon Longmead was a long-time resident too, now living in Norfolk; a historian and photographer, with a penchant for local stories and people and a passion for the features in the parish area.  His books in particular give a lot of very local detail and offer a number of otherwise forgotten stories.

 

[70] Where possible, photographers are acknowledged individually with each photograph, but unfortunately some remain unknown.  Most of the black and white photographs were supplied by Paul Jiggens either from the extensive collection of the Welwyn Photographic Society or his own private collection.  Most of the unattributed local photography was by Bill Morris.

[71] Largely due to the change in boundaries with the advent of WGC, the virtual-subsumption of the original village of Digswell and the appearance of the new settlement around the station.

[72] At Stevenage (Fairlands Valley Farmhouse) and at Letchworth (Fenners Building in Openshaw Way).

 

 

 

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