In the Summer of 2002, the stained glass windows of Ayot St Peter were restored. This set of photographs, taken by Joyce Ford, show the installation of the the windows and, as the last picture, the splendid final result.
Ayot St Peter - The parish story
Ayot - What's in a name?
Settlement and Clearance
Goods and Services
Law and Order
Welfare before the Welfare State
Buildings around Ayot Green
These pages draw their information from Ayot St. Peter, The Parish Story first published in 2000 as a community project to commemorate the year 2000 and the advent of the third millennium of the Christian era. This record of the present and examination and record of the past was produced under the guidance of Peter Shirley as co-ordinator and editor in chief. Copies of the publication were deposited with the British Library, the University Libraries of Oxford and Cambridge, The National Libraries of Scotland and Wales and the library of Trinity College, Dublin as well as the Hertfordshire county library service. Publication was facilitated by a grant from Millennium Festival Awards for All - Eastern Region. The grant made it possible for each household in Ayot St Peter to receive a complimentary hard-back copy in 2000. Digiprint Limited of Welwyn Garden City did the printing. Soft-back copies are still available from Ray Adams, Greggswood, Whitehill, Welwyn, AL6 9AF at £12.00 per copy plus postage and packing. The text has been updated and corrected to 31 January 2002.
AYOT - WHAT’S IN A NAME?
According to the Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names, Ayot means ‘gap or pass of a man named Aega.’ The word is first found as Aiegete in 1060, and in the Domesday Book it is rendered as Aiete. There seems to be no information about who Aega was or why he was important enough for his name to have become so firmly attached to the area as to have survived for over 1,000 years. Furthermore, one wonders at the concept of a gap or pass in such apparently tame terrain. Perhaps what was in mind was a path between the valleys of the Lea and the Mimram - most probably following the line of the road from Wheathampstead to Codicote, which does run along a shallow valley in a north-easterly direction until it leaves the parish at the ford on the Mimram known as Pulmer Water. The north-western boundary of the parish runs along the middle of this road.
There are several other theories about the meaning of Ayot. It could signify a wild uncultivated place, or a marshy place or an eyot or isle, or a corruption of the French word haut to signify that it stood high amongst the woods.
The affix St. Peter is, of course, a reference to the dedication of the parish church.
In C18th the parish was sometimes known as Little Ayot, indicating (apparently correctly) that it started life as a subsidiary adjunct of its neighbour to the north, Ayot St. Lawrence, which was also known as Great Ayot. For poor law purposes the C18th overseers used the name Ayott Parva. On the tithe map Ayot is spelt Ayott throughout. In the C19th census returns the enumerators (all residents of the parish) gave its name as Ayott St. Peter’s until 1881, when its current name was used (with one exception), only for it to change again to Ayott St. Peter in 1891.
The current boundaries of the civil parish of Ayot St. Peter are very similar to those of the ecclesiastical parish of the same name. The southern, western and northern boundaries of the ecclesiastical and civil parishes are the same but there is some difference on the eastern boundary in that no properties in Whitehill or Homerswood Lane are in the ecclesiastical parish. The south-western and northern boundaries of the parish coincide with boundaries of both Welwyn Hatfield District Council and Welwyn Hatfield Parliamentary Constituency. The south-western boundary from Waterend Lane under Hunter’s Bridge to Codicote Road is clearly marked by a bank and ditch which must have been there for very many centuries. It was the boundary of the ancient Hundred of Broadwater at this point.
A very important primary source is the tithe map drawn in 1838 under the scheme for replacing the medieval obligation to cede one tenth of the produce of the parish to the incumbent in kind with a monetary obligation in the form of a rentcharge. There is firm evidence in this map that the ecclesiastical parish extended over 1,100 acres and 37 perches (approximately 445 hectares) - or less than two square miles. In his massive History of Hertfordshire, John Edwin Cussans gives the area as 1,097 acres. The 1881 Ordnance Survey found that the parish covered 1,093.236 acres. The modern civil parish extends over some 1,144 acres (463 hectares). More than 10 per cent. of the area is woodland; the rest of the undeveloped land is arable or pasture. No reliable watercourse traverses the parish but there are several ponds - notably beside 11 Ayot Green and at the entrance to the sawmills at 25 and 27 Ayot Green. To the north east the parish is bounded by the valley of the Mimram and outside the parish to the south west lies the valley of the Lea. The parish occupies the watershed between these two small rivers. Its highest point (127 metres above Newlyn Datum) is on Waterend Lane between numbers 11 and 19-23 Ayot Green and the lowest point is beside the Mimram between Pulmer Water and the Welwyn parish boundary (71 metres).
A map produced by the British Geological Survey shows that, despite its small area, the geology of the parish is relatively complex. Upper Chalk (soft white chalk with many flints) from the Palaeocene period has overlays of Reading Beds (mottled clay, sand and pebbles) and, from more recent times, boulder clay and glacial gravel - reminding us that the region was in the terminal moraine of the last Ice Age. There are numerous chalk pits, and chalk gives Whitehill its name.
The Ayot brick pits alongside Homerswood Lane were de-notified as a geological Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1986. For nearly a century before that, however, they were the subject of frequent field study and scientific visits as they exposed a complete section through the lowest Tertiary deposit in the area - the Reading Beds. Vertical and horizontal variations in theoriginal Reading Beds cover were able to be evaluated and plotted using information from the Ayot brick pit exposures, which occasioned considerable academic controversy. A collection of sharks’ teeth (Lamna, Odontaspis and Phyllodus) was recovered in the brick pits from the sands of the Reading Beds of the Lower Eocene period some 40 to 50 million years ago.
Given these subsoils and the chalk it is likely that the area of the present parish was always relatively sparsely wooded. On the evidence of surviving pockets of oakwood, there would have been an unbroken carpet of bluebells covering the wooded area in springtime.
SETTLEMENT AND CLEARANCE
No doubt the earliest inhabitants would have been small groups of hunter-gatherers some 7,000 to 8,000 years ago. Archaeological evidence, particularly in the vicinity of the existing farms, would seem to indicate that land in the parish was under cultivation over 5,000 years ago. Prehistoric settlement is borne out by the discovery of palaeolithic tools and implements - flint flakes found at the brickfield near the former railway station, flint flakes and a hammerstone found at Greggswood in 1971 after clearance of four acres of ancient woodland and a further flint implement which is now in the British Museum. Aerial photographs have revealed a number of potentially interesting anomalies in the parish. Four circular marks just inside the northern boundary of the parish to the east of Ryefield Farm and further circular features to its west may be prehistoric ring ditches. The double ring marks north-east of Melbourne Stud and the three linear ditches west of Linces Farm could indicate prehistoric enclosures. Certainly these features warrant further investigation.
After the hunter-gatherers Bronze Age peoples would have settled on the light chalky soils which were easier to cultivate and readily productive because of their alkalinity.
It is impossible to give a date for their arrival, but certainly there were Belgic people here shortly before Roman times. They would have brought with them the iron implements necessary to clear and cultivate the gravel areas. The field between Sunset Cottage and Melbourne Stud is known to have been the site of a Belgic settlement, and Belgic Iron Age pottery and a silvered brooch with yellow paste cabochon were found at Linces Farm. These ‘Belgae’ (so called because Julius Caesar thought that they originated in Belgium) will have been Catuvellauni, who had a stronghold at Wheathampstead and others at St. Albans and Colchester linked together by a road which (as we will see) was adopted by the Romans and passed through the parish. The Belgae at Wheathampstead were responsible for the still impressive earthworks known as the Slad and the Devil’s Dyke.
Pottery remains at Manor Farm point to late pre-Roman Iron Age occupation there and further pottery unearthed near Linces Farm provided evidence of Romano-British settlement in the area.
It is probable that Saxon settlement in the parish was quite late (C8th to 10th). The incoming Saxons would have chosen more favourable lowland sites near water first, moving into upland areas later. Presumably Aega was one of the early Saxon settlers.
Clearance of the natural woodland would have been a slow and laborious business. By C18th the process was more or less complete and the boundaries between cleared land and woodland were approximately as they are now.
The parish lies in a rather dry part of England. The prevailing wind is from the south-west, but with quite frequent spells of weather coming in from the east. Only rarely is severe weather experienced. Remarkably, it is recorded in the Ayot St. Peter registers that on Sunday 8 February 1795 there was a great flood in Welwyn and Tewin owing to the overflow of the Mimram. As we shall see, there was a violent thunderstorm on Friday 10 July 1874 which destroyed Ayot St. Peter church. There are photographs of the damage caused to 16 Ayot Green in the late 1920s (shortly before 18 Ayot Green was built) when a big oak tree was blown down onto it in a gale. There was a drought in 1976, with restrictions on water use. A fairly recent instance of severe weather was the ‘great storm’ of Friday 16 October 1987, which was made famous by the ‘no hurricane’ forecast of Michael Fish on the BBC. Considerable damage was done to trees by this storm, which is commemorated by a tree planted near their home by Vernon and Jane Sherriff of 3 Ayot Green. There was another very violent gale on Thursday 25 January 1990. On this occasion a huge oak tree in the field between Crackendell Cottage and Manor Farm came crashing down and a barn at Linces Farm was demolished. A telegraph pole which was supporting the barn crashed through the side of the farmhouse and landed on Richard and Sheila Baron’s bed. Happily they were not in it at the time. Such events tend to bring out the best in the population in that enthusiastic working parties quickly go to work clearing up the damage; and such is the regenerative power of nature that a visitor today would be hard pressed to point to any evidence of what seemed rather dramatic damage at the time. More insidious than the damage wrought by the occasional gale was the devastation of Dutch elm disease which, roughly between 1975 and 1980, accounted for all the many mature elms in the parish. Elm suckers still grow but they never reach a height of more than about four metres before dying off.
We are fortunate to have an impressive diversity of flora and fauna. For instance there is a wide range of coniferous and decorative trees to be found in the parish and its gardens and reptiles such as frogs, toads and newts together with the usual range of insects and some less usual - such as the firefly.
There is an old saying that ‘they who buy a house in Hertfordshire pay two years’ purchase for the air thereof.’
The first documented record of land ownership and use is to be found in this famous source. The information was collected in the Domesday Survey of 1086 on the orders of King William I (the Conqueror) but, according to some authorities, the Domesday Book itself (summarising and collating the collected information) was not written until shortly after the accession of King William II (Rufus) in 1087. According to Domesday, Hertfordshire had very few vills and manors in its southern half but more (including the two called Aiete) in the northern half. It had a small, scattered population. There were only five boroughs (settlements with burgesses) in the county - namely Ashwell, Berkhamsted, Hertford, St. Albans and Stanstead Abbots.
This is what is said about the area (in modern translation)-
THE LAND OF ROBERT GERNON
In Ayot St. Peter William holds 2½ hides of Robert. There is land for 6 ploughs. In demesne is 1 [plough], and there can be another. There 6 villeins with 3 bordars have 3 ploughs, and there can be a fourth. There is 1 slave, meadow for 1 plough, pasture for the livestock, [and] woodland for 150 pigs. All together it is worth 40s.; when received 60s.; TRE £6. 2 thegns, King Edward’s men, held this land and could sell. William, Robert’s man, seized this to the king’s loss, but he claims his lord as his warrantor.
We are here looking at the perfect feudal system which William the Conqueror was able, by virtue of his victory at Hastings in 1066, to impose on England. It remains to this day the basis of English land law that all land in England is owned by the Crown and (insofar as not in the Crown’s actual occupation) is held directly or indirectly from the Crown on conditions. The conditions are as to services (tenure) and time (estate). A manor was a tract of land the owner of which (the lord) had jurisdiction over tenants. A manor was not necessarily a whole vill - which might have several manors just as one manor might include land in more than one vill. A hide was the land reckoned to be necessary to sustain a peasant family (often 120 acres but not at all universally), and the word is to be found in local place names such as Cromer Hyde, Beech Hyde and Symondshyde to this day. Demesne was the land devoted to the lord’s profit, whether a manor or a portion of land within a manor, worked by peasants as part of their feudal obligations. Often it equates to the home farm. Villeins, bordars and cottars were, in descending order, classes of unfree tenants (or peasants); above them were the free tenants called freemen and sokemen. Serfs were the slaves, and they were the property of the lord. Thegns were pre-Conquest nobles below the level of earls - they would have at least five hides of land and a residence. TRE is Latin shorthand for ‘in the time of King Edward the Confessor.’ Between three and five plough [teams] might be expected per square mile.
What does the quoted passage tell us? The pre-Conquest manor of Aiegete was granted by Edward the Confessor to two of his thegns. William, the occupier, had seized it (presumably from the thegns) but looked to the new Norman lord Robert for protection. The manor would have incorporated the two Ayot vills. Great Ayot would have been the first to be established, with Little Ayot at first simply a subsidiary hamlet. In 1086 Robert Gernon (who was a Norman baron) was a man of significant property and power. In the entries for Hertfordshire the king’s directly held land is listed under Roman numeral I. Then are listed the holdings of the king’s tenants-in-chief from the Archbishop of Canterbury (II) down through the ranks of senior clerics and nobles. Robert Gernon at XX is the second ranked tenant-in-chief without some sort of title. His holding in Ayot St. Peter is but one among 13 holdings of his in the county - and he had holdings in other counties as well. Robert held much of Ayot St. Peter but had let this holding to William (who later called himself William de Montfichet because his main estate was at Stanstead Mountfitchet and who was probably Robert’s son or brother). Robert seems to have held directly from the Crown and not indirectly from intermediate (mesne) lords.
In contrast to the one mention of Ayot St. Peter, Ayot St. Lawrence is mentioned twice in Domesday. Ranked at IX in the list of landholders in Hertfordshire was the Abbey of Westminster. In Broadwater Hundred the abbot had several holdings including 2½ hides in Ayot St. Lawrence, worth 60s. Ranked at XLII were the king’s thegns (a miscellaneous group of Englishmen, priests and royal servants). In Broadwater Hundred one of these servants, ‘the reeve of this hundred’, held nine acres of the king in Ayot St. Lawrence. The holding was worth 9d.
In C14th the single manor of Ayot St. Peter was split into two parts, or moieties, when it had to be divided between two daughters on the death of their mother. One moiety, which kept the name of Ayot Montfichet, passed eventually into the ownership of a family called Fyshe (or Fish) - after whom the middle part of the wood to the north-west of Ayot Montfichet (Ayot Place) is named Fish Wood - and from them into the hands of the Hale family. It remained with the Hales until 1832, when it was bought by Lord Melbourne and became part of the Brocket Estate. The other moiety came into the ownership of a family called Westynton after whom it eventually became known as the manor of Westingtons. This moiety was purchased by John Brocket in 1555. Westington was purchased by Sir Matthew Lamb in 1746. His grandson, the 2nd Viscount Melbourne, therefore reunited the manor by his 1832 purchase of the other moiety. The rights and incidents of manors were progressively abolished by statute. Since the passing of the Law of Property Act 1925 manors have had no practical significance.
According to an inquisition carried out in the Hundred of Broadwater in 1561 there was only one freeholder in Ayot Monfychet, namely William Peryen (gentleman). In C15th and C16th the Perient family owned the manors of Digswell, Ayot St. Peter, Ludwick, Holwell and Lockleys and other land at Digswell, Tewin, Hatfield and Welwyn. In the third quarter of C19th this feat was more or less replicated by the Cowper family.
It has been estimated that the population of the settlement in what is now Ayot St. Peter was between 25 and 30 at the time of the Domesday Survey. Between then (1086) and the first census (1801) there is no readily accessible evidence about the population of the parish. It is not at all certain how large the medieval parish church was, and the earliest extant domestic building is a part of Ayot Montfichet (Ayot Place) dating from about 1485. Any traces of humbler abodes from 1600 and before have entirely disappeared. They would have been constructed of wood, mud and straw. Given the location of the earlier parish churches, one can speculate with reasonable confidence that the centre of gravity of the parish has shifted in an easterly direction over the centuries. The large feudal fields with their strip cultivation probably radiated from a point close to the site of the old churchyard.
In the 1801 the population was 168. In 1826 the combined populations of the two Ayots was about 390. In 1841 the population was 240, in 1851 282, in 1861 234, in 1871 232, 1881 219, 1891 215, 1901 221 and 1911 180. Recent censuses give those present on census night as 152 in 1971, 174 in 1981 and 158 in 1991. The figure for 1981 had to be adjusted from the return figure of 147 to take account of the fact that the boundary of the civil parish was altered with effect from 1 April 1986 by the Welwyn Hatfield (Parishes) Order 1986. For 1991 the number of persons usually resident (as distinct from present on census night) was 174. The latest census was taken on Sunday 29 April 2001. The returns of the census taken on Sunday 31 March 1901 were opened for inspection on Wednesday 2 January 2001. In tabular form these numbers are:
In 1838 there were only 13 landowners in Ayot St. Peter, of whom by far the most important was the 2nd Viscount Melbourne of Brocket Hall. Much of the northern end of the parish was owned by Levi Ames, the tenant of Lamer Park. All but four of these 13 landowners were also occupiers of land in the parish. The early censuses were very inexact about addresses, but the 1838 tithe map enables many of the names found in the 1841 census to be placed with total, or a high degree of, certainty in particular properties. This in turn allows extrapolation into the five later censuses which are currently open to inspection.
The land in the parish owned by Lords Melbourne and Cowper formed part of the Brocket Estate. The estate was bought by Matthew Lamb in 1746. It was Matthew Lamb, who became a baronet, who pulled down the old Tudor Brocket Hall in about 1751 and built the current house (and the pair of gatehouses now called 13 and 15 Ayot Green) to the design of James Paine (1716-89). On Sir Matthew’s death in 1768 the estate devolved to his son Sir Peniston Lamb Bt., who was later created 1st Viscount Melbourne. The 1st Viscount’s son William, the 2nd Viscount, had the estate from his father’s death in 1828. It passed to William’s brother Frederick James, the 3rd and last Viscount, in 1848. Then on his death it passed to his sister Emily Mary Lamb. She married, first, the 5th Earl Cowper (who died in 1837) and, secondly, Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston (who died in 1865). On the death of Lady Palmerston in 1869 the estate passed to her grandson the 7th Earl Cowper (his father having predeceased him). Lord Cowper preferred Panshanger, and Brocket Hall was accordingly let, often to distinguished tenants. Lord Cowper died on 19 July 1905 without a male heir, and the estate passed to his sister, Lady Amabel, who was married to Admiral of the Fleet Sir Walter Talbot Kerr (later Lord Kerr). The Kerrs moved to Melbourne Hall in Derbyshire in 1922-23 when the estate was sold to Sir Charles Alexander Nall-Cain, DL, JP, who became the 1st Baron Brocket in 1933. He died on 21 November 1934 and was succeeded as 2nd Baron by his son Arthur Ronald Charles Manus Nall-Cain, who died on 24 March 1967 and was succeeded by his grandson Charles (b. 1952), the present and 3rd Baron Brocket. Charles’ father Ronald had died at his home in Gloucestershire in 1961 and thus had predeceased the 2nd Baron. Coincidentally, Ronald’s general practitioner was Dr. Graham Dowler, the father of Ruth Shirley. Ronald had a brother David (b. 1930) and a sister Elizabeth (b. 1938). Charles has two brothers, Richard (b. 1953) and David (b. 1955). Charles’ uncle David had a son James (b. 1961) and two daughters, Caroline (b. 1959) and Annabel (b. 1963). James and his wife Sarah-Jane live at Waterend House. Lady Brocket, the 2nd Baron’s widow, died in 1975.
At about the time of the 2nd Lord Brocket’s death the original Brocket Estate was divided between the families of his two sons, Ronald and David. Ronald’s part is what is now called the Brocket Estate. David’s part is called the Ayot Estate. Most of the farmland and woodland in the parish is owned by the Brocket Estate or the Ayot Estate. Linces Farm and Whitehill Farm are separately owned. Ayot Bury and Ayot Montfichet and their associated lands are also separately owned. Apart from the old and new churchyards, the two areas of common land and the sawmills, most of the remaining land in the parish is owned in small parcels by individual householders.
What did the people of the parish do with their lives? Certainly until the arrival of the railway in 1860 it has to be safe to assume that all but the very grandest toiled away in the fields and at home without any thought that any alternative existed or ever would. Occasionally no doubt some men were mustered into service in local contingents of yeomanry to join campaigns at home and abroad, but for the most part life had an unchanging pattern from generation to generation. Various trades were established at Ayot Green to service the Great North Road in C18th and C19th. Thus, according to local trade directories, in 1864 we have a publican and a carrier, in 1870 a whitesmith, a carrier, two shopkeepers and a bricklayer and in 1899 a sub-postmaster. The C19th census returns show clearly that there was work to be had, also, at the brickworks located on the south side of Homerswood Lane, which were not in the ecclesiastical parish but were nevertheless known as Ayot brickworks. St. Peter’s church is roofed with tiles from this source and bricks with the word AYOT stamped into the frog can be seen in various buildings in the parish.
Faced with estate duty liabilities following the death of the 2nd Lord Brocket in 1967, the trustees of the Brocket Estate began to sell the freeholds of properties in the parish. This precipitated great changes. The sitting or former tenants could not afford the freehold auction values of their cottages and were obliged to leave the village. Many were doubtless pleased with the modern comforts and convenience of the new houses to which they moved in Welwyn Garden City and elsewhere. The new owners extended and otherwise improved the old properties inside and out. Ayot Green became a conservation area and many of the cottages were listed Grade II. This newly prestigious status would, no doubt, have been a considerable surprise to former tenants who had endured earth floors, outside sanitation and sometimes extreme overcrowding - traditionally solved by the device of putting children ‘into service’ from about the age of 12. In that the parish is host to two sawmills and a joinery business and that some householders work from home using the new communications media it cannot be said to be a mere dormitory. There is a reasonable spread of ages in the population and quite a strong sense of community.
Until the middle of C19th the parish would have been almost entirely self-sufficient. The only sources of energy were animal- or man-power and wood. There is no record of a wind- or water-mill in the parish. Today hardly anything which is used or consumed in the parish is produced within its boundaries. An extension of social history is the story of when and how the amenities of life which are now familiar first became available to residents of the parish. These are examined in the next two sections.
In ancient times no doubt villagers drew their water from the various ponds. Some would have had their own wells. The village well was on the site later occupied by the Reading Room. When it was built in 1884 two new wells with pumps were installed on Ayot Green.
One of the pumps was close to where the lanes divide on the green. Nearby stood an enormous beech tree. Dorothy Cullum remembers that, when she used to get home from school in about 1916, she would have to take a bucket from the cottage (8 Ayot Green) to the pump and fill it for her mother, and that the water was beautifully clear and tasted like iron. She also remembers how she and the other village children enjoyed sitting under the great beech tree. Dorothy has clear recollections of life in Ayot St. Peter during the two World Wars. Born Dorothy Edith Jakings in Pimlico on 14 December 1910, she was brought by her parents from London to live with her father’s relative Ernest Jeakings and his wife Ann at 8 Ayot Green during World War I and, having married Sidney Cullum in the interim, she returned to the village from London with her parents in 1940 to live at what is now Crackendell Cottage. Dorothy’s parents Albert and Lily are buried in the new churchyard - theirs is the first headstone on the left through the entrance gates. Dorothy lives in Dunstable. How the two related families came to have differently spelt surnames is not known.
The other pump was beside the Great North Road, at the turning into Ayot Green. Daphne Jones remembers that in her childhood in the 1930s the handle to operate it had to be obtained from Mr Munday, who lived across the main road (and therefore in Welwyn parish) in the former toll house. The villagers called this property ‘the house in the woods’ but its proper name was Sherrardswood Cottage. Daphne Jean Pamela Bullen was born at 37 Ayot Green on 10 July 1930. Although her parents moved shortly afterwards to Welwyn Garden City, she attended Ayot St. Peter school in the late 1930s and has an excellent memory of life in the village and a very strong affection for it. She and her husband Owen Jones live in Welwyn Garden City. Daphne’s mother, Olive Maud Walby Hill, is buried very close to Dorothy Cullum’s parents.
Captain Wilshere of The Frythe prevailed upon the Welwyn Rural District Council to have water (and electricity) supplied to the Ayots. In 1935 a piped water supply was installed, the storage tank being built in that year at Greggswood on the west side of Whitehill. Some households have their supply metered but others pay by reference to rateable values. Three Valleys Water PLC (part of a French group called Générale des Eaux) is responsible for the water supply. The water pressure is notably feeble. The Greggswood tower was refurbished in the last quarter of 1999 and the first of 2000.
Until council refuse collection vehicles first started to call regularly throughout the parish, villagers had to dispose of household waste wherever they could. A little exploration under many of our hedges yields evidence of what they had to dispose of and where.
Householders at Ayot Green used to take their rubbish and night soil for disposal down to the site known as the middenland, on the west side of Ayot St. Peter Road. The Brocket Estate paid a small rent to the civil parish for the right enjoyed by what had been their tenants. This arrangement ended in the late 1980s but some of those living closest to the middenland still use it for the disposal of garden waste.
Mains drainage was installed in 1965-66 but it does not serve the properties near or beyond the church or those in Whitehill and Homerswood Lane. Until the advent of the mains all householders relied (at best) on cesspits.
This vital service was installed by a company called NorthMet in 1936-37 - apparently, as already mentioned, in response to the urgings of Captain Wilshere. A substation (called Crackendell) was built on the south side of Waterend Lane, and the supply came on overhead cables from Wheathampstead. The substation was upgraded in 1994 but otherwise the original installations are still in use and quite often show their age.
The parish is on the cusp for this purpose. The northern half of the parish was linked to the small Welwyn exchange and it is now served by the large Stevenage (01438) exchange. The rest was served by the Welwyn Garden City exchange and is now part of the large network (01707) serving that town together with Hatfield and Potters Bar. This means that if you are at Ayot Green and wish to speak on the telephone to someone living near the church you must use an 11 digit code! The telephone, of course, provides the vital link to e-mail, e-commerce and the whole new world of the Internet.
We have been unable to establish the identity of the first person in the parish to have a telephone. It was most probably installed at the post office, the rectory or one of the grand houses.
There was a public telephone box in the parish on the footpath on the west side of the Great North Road just south of the Red Lion. A modern payphone is still there in what is now the car park of the public house.
Nowadays there are no doubt a number of mobile phones owned by parishioners. There are two masts for the various mobile phone networks on the west side of the A1(M) just south of the site of the former Ayot railway station; the second of these was erected at the end of 2001.
Wireless waves probably first reached the parish from the BBC in 1929 from the transmitting station erected in that year at Brookmans Park. As with the telephone it has not been possible to name the pioneering owners of the earliest crystal sets. Jenny Fowler remembers that her father, Leslie Bantin, had a radio powered by large accumulators in the late 1940s and early 1950s. One of these would be connected to the radio and the other would be left to be recharged at the garage which adjoined the Red Lion at that time. On Saturday mornings she would accompany her father when he walked from Station House across the field to the Red Lion to exchange the two accumulators. She had to wait while her father refreshed himself at the bar before the return journey.
Although the BBC began transmissions from Alexandra Palace shortly before World War II it is thought that they could not be picked up in Ayot St. Peter. From the early 1950s the old 405 line signals were receivable but television did not become at all commonplace until after the Coronation of 2 June 1953. On the occasion of the Coronation a television was installed in the Reading Room so that villagers could watch the proceedings throughout the day on the new medium. Now, of course, it is ubiquitous. As with the telephone, the parish is on the cusp. Some receive their signal from the north and east (Sandy Heath) and are therefore familiar with the bucolic charms of Anglia TV and BBC East but most are in tune with the metropolitan delights emanating from Crystal Palace.
The last of the usual utilities to be available in the parish is gas, but coverage is by no means universal. After a protracted campaign a supply pipeline was laid across the bridge over the A1(M) in 1996 and feeder pipes were taken down as far as 26 and 41 Ayot Green in one direction and down to the turn into Brocket Hall, and then along Waterend Lane as far as Sunset (from where a spur runs across the fields to Melbourne Stud) and from there along the lane to terminate at Little Green. Several householders have, on payment of the necessary fee, had their properties connected to this new mains supply. Some others have Calor gas supplied by tanker.
Oil and other fuels
With the coming of the railway villagers had the advantage of easy access to coal. In 1899 John Blowey Davis was a merchant for hay, straw, corn, coal, coke and salt at Ayot station. By 1922 the coal business at the station was in the hands of Sherriff & Sons. Nowadays coal comes, via a telephone call, by lorry from Letchworth.
Those houses which are not heated by electricity or gas have oil supplied by tanker. Many householders take advantage of the fact that there are no restrictions (apart from the remedies for common law and statutory nuisance) applicable in the parish on the use of traditional wood and coal burning open fires or bonfires. Some of those who live near to the sawmills might wish that there were!
GOODS AND SERVICES
Shopping and the post
There was a small shop and sub-post office from at least 1841 (and probably earlier) at the south end of what is now 37 Ayot Green. The last shopkeeper and sub-postmaster at 37 Ayot Green was George Draper (1854-1931). In the 1891 census Emily Gayler was described as a ‘shopkeeper (grocer)’ and the cottage where she and her husband James (‘jobbing gardener’) lived - probably but not certainly 12 Ayot Green - as ‘grocers shop’, indicating that there were at that time two shops competing for trade. In 1897, on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, goods were purchased from both shops by the committee organising the celebrations. It is recorded that £1.6.3 was spent with Mrs Gayler and £1.11.4 with Mr Draper. Perhaps in the interest of fairness, the order for ginger beer was split between the two suppliers.
In 1917 Mr Draper’s shop closed and the sub-post office was moved to the other shop at what is now 6 Ayot Green. It was by then being run by Clara Gayler, her sister-in-law Fanny Gayler and her niece Dorothy May (Dolly) Fever. James and Emily Gayler were the parents of Clara’s husband James and of Fanny. Clara died on 2 July 1927, Fanny on 30 June 1958 and Dolly on 26 November 1977. The three ladies are buried together in the new churchyard.
The sub-post office at 6 Ayot Green was discontinued on 31 May 1970 (after Dolly had been attacked) and the shop itself closed in 1977 when she died. From June 1970 the GPO (as it then was) continued to provide some postal services at the Reading Room until it was demolished towards the end of 1972. The parish received a small amount of rent from the GPO during this period.
There were regular postal services by 1864, and probably from the time of the penny black (1840). Cassey’s Directory for 1864 records that letters arrived from Welwyn at 7 a.m. and were dispatched at 7 p.m. Kelly’s Directory for 1899 names George Draper as the sub-postmaster and records that letters arrived from Welwyn at 8 a.m. and were dispatched at 6.50 p.m. Postal orders were issued at the sub-office but not paid - you had to go to Welwyn for this purpose and to use the telegraph. There was a postbox on the opposite side of the station approach road from Station House. It was an early example with the letters VR on it. When the GPO announced that it was to be removed in 1967 there was an unsuccessful protest by the parish. Until quite recently there was a postbox outside 6 Ayot Green, but after the shop closed and the property changed hands the postbox was relocated to its current site beside the new bridge over the A1(M). There is another postbox close to the church.
The parish now has its post delivered from the sorting office in Welwyn Garden City. The whole parish is in the AL6 postcode area (AL standing for St. Albans).
Fortunately both George Draper and the Gaylers had contemporary photographs of the village made into a series of postcards for sale in their shops and equally fortunately some examples have survived.
The last two rectors of the old ecclesiatical parish of Ayot St. Peter and Ayot St. Lawrence, Rev. Jim Davies (1947-63) and Rev. Hendrik Loysen (1963-73), were instrumental in the publication of parish newsletters.
In January 1948 there appeared a small parish magazine called The Ayots. It was printed by the Hatfield Press and priced at 3d. Seven monthly editions, ending with August 1948 and omitting June, have survived in the vestry records. They show that the churchwardens for Ayot St. Peter were Basil (later Lord) Sanderson of Ayot Bury and William Dimmock of 12 Ayot Green. The news is mainly of church-based activities, including those of its social committee (which, for instance, organised a very well patronised parish outing to Worthing on 22 June).
A second series, called the Parish News-letter of the Ayots, began with issue no.1 dated Lent 1965. Again, the content is principally church-based and written by the rector himself. Space was given for coverage of important civil parish matters - such as the installation of mains drainage in 1965-66, the construction of the A1(M), the demolition of the Reading Room and the replacement of the Welwyn Rural District Council by the Welwyn Hatfield District Council. The series ends with issue no. 42 dated Easter 1973.
For several years an editorial committee based on St. Mary’s, Welwyn, has published The Welwyn Magazine. It is priced at 40p per issue and appears 10 times a year. Its content is mainly Welwyn-based but news of church and other events in Ayot St. Peter is included from time to time.
Since January 1994 Ruth Shirley has written, photocopied and distributed an occasional Ayot St. Peter Newsletter. It is free. The difficulty is, as ever, to find enough copy for publication.
The civil parish has a notice board adjacent to the post box at Ayot Green and the ecclesiastical parish has one beside the gate into the churchyard.
At Easter 1973 the parish newsletter carried a reminder that the mobile library called fortnightly on Wednesdays at Ayot St. Peter church from 11.25 to 11.35 a.m. and at Ayot Green on the other Wednesdays fortnightly between 2.55 and 3.30 p.m. The service continues to be available at Ayot Green fortnightly on Fridays.
Huttons, of Marsden Road, Welwyn Garden City, deliver newspapers daily to households around Ayot Green and along Waterend Lane. Until recently Dillons came up from Welwyn to deliver along Whitehill and to the houses around and beyond the church.
Welwyn Hatfield District Council have recently introduced fortnightly collection of old newspapers as a response to the ‘green’ agenda of environmentalists.
Milk and eggs
In former times the cottagers obtained milk and other dairy products from the farms. Dorothy Cullum remembers Audrey at Manor Farm in 1916 as a supplier of double-yolked eggs. We have included a photograph of a milk bottle from Manor Farm Dairy dating from about 1930. These days we have the benefit of the enterprising Rupert Savage from Hill House, who supplies wonderful free range organic eggs. Express Dairies deliver throughout the parish but only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Several people engaged in the professions (some working and others retired) have lived in the parish in recent years but as far as is known no one has ever had a surgery or office here.
Roy Pinnock from Luton, ‘the Kleeneze man’, has been a well-known and popular visitor to the parish since he began to make calls in 1970. He has recently retired but remembers Lord Sanderson and his housekeeper Eleanor Ainley, Dolly Fever, Leah Russell-Jones, Rosalind Trench-Watson and many others now long departed.
The ecclesiastical parish dates from late Norman times. Until the Reformation the parish was in the diocese of Lincoln, the archdeaconry of Huntingdon and the deanery of Hertford. From then until 1836 it remained in the diocese of Lincoln and then passed, somewhat surprisingly to us today, into the diocese of Rochester (the second oldest after Canterbury). It has been in the diocese of St. Albans since that diocese was established in 1875. The parish was run alongside that of Ayot St. Lawrence from 1875 until it was amalgamated with the parish of Welwyn a hundred years later in 1975. It is now part of a benefice with the cumbersome and unlovely name of St. Mary’s Welwyn and St. Michael’s Woolmer Green with Ayot St. Peter, which is in the diocese of St. Albans, the archdeaconry of Hertford and the deanery of Hatfield. Although it is part of the large parish, Ayot St. Peter is still independent and has its own parochial church council. The total costs of the parish (principally the stipends and expenses of the clergy) to be borne by Ayot St. Peter are negotiated with the PCC of St. Mary’s. In contrast, St. Michael’s is legally part of St. Mary’s. Covenants and pledges to support St. Peter’s are made with its PCC.
There was a medieval church built in 1282 on what is now the old churchyard (close to the entrance to Ayot Montfichet) but it was demolished in 1750 during the incumbency of Dr. Ralph Freman, apparently because it had become too expensive and difficult to maintain. Whether the stone-built medieval church was the successor of a (probably wooden) church dating from Saxon times is not known. The medieval church had a tower with a short spire. Apparently there is no drawing or painting of it. There is a memorial from the chancel of this church to be found leaning against the west wall of the current church. It bears this inscription: ‘Here lyes ye body/ of Eliz. Horn wife/ of Cha. Horn Rect./ of this place who/ died in childbed Novbr/ ye 10 1688’
The replacement of the medieval church was most unusual - octagonal with a separate bell tower to the south (facing onto the open fields) - but it in turn was pulled down in 1861-62. In her book Ayot Rectory published in 1965 Carola Oman (who was Lady Lenanton and lived at Bride Hall, Ayot St. Lawrence) there is this passage: ‘On a particularly serpentine bend they passed a building, or rather a couple of buildings, dark against the westering skies, a small octagonal brick edifice, and a belfry, separate from it, with a lych-gate forming an entry to a burying place. It was Ayot St. Peter church. Villagers said it reminded them of a lock-up.’ At the Hertfordshire County Record Office there is preserved a note by Moses Hawkins, the churchwarden, about the building and dedication of the second church: ‘The Church of Ayott St. Peter was Built or finished in ye year 1751 at ye greatest Charge of ye Reverand Doctr Freman then Rector of this Parish; The first Sermon was Preached Octr ye 6th 1751 by the Revd Mr. Kidgel Curate. The Tex was taken out of ye 93 Psalm. 5 ver. Holyness becometh thine House O Lord for ever.’ In Clutterbuck it is said that Matthew Lamb (the owner of Brocket Hall) contributed a small donation towards the cost of this church.
The new (third) church, still on the original site, was designed by John Loughborough Pearson (1817-97) and mostly paid for by Rev. Edwin Prodgers junior. It had a tower and spire and incorporated some remnants of Dr. Freman’s church. It was struck by lightning on Friday 10 July 1874 and largely destroyed by fire. Rev. Henry Jephson was able to save the registers and the church plate (including a chalice and paten, each bearing a London hallmark for 1638 and currently in safekeeping in a bank). The medieval bells, which had been saved from the earlier churches, were melted in the fire. The molten bell-metal (an alloy of about four parts of copper to one of tin) was sold as scrap to a foundry in Loughborough but the rector saved one small lump as a memento. Of the building only the apsidal end remained. It was converted for use as a mortuary chapel but was itself demolished as recently as 1954. The bell from the mortuary chapel (which had been furnished by Charles Willes Wilshere, DL, JP, of The Frythe in 1876) was rehung in the new church of St. Michael and All Angels at Borehamwood, of which Princess Margaret laid the foundation on 23 October 1954. According to a newspaper article about the demolition ‘a tablet will be set up in the old churchyard to show that there was once a church there.’ This does not seem to have happened. Certainly, no trace of any of the three churches can be discerned today in the old churchyard, although there is a gateway in the southern boundary wall which is where the separate bell tower of the second church stood. The old churchyard is a beautiful place, particularly in early spring when first the snowdrops and then the wild daffodils are in flower. According to legend there was a plague pit here, and until recent times some of the villagers apparently preferred to give it a wide berth. This may relate right back to the Black Death plague of 1348 or perhaps to an outbreak of smallpox which occurred at Ayot St. Peter in 1770.
In the aftermath of the loss of the third church there was a great sense of urgency about the provision of a replacement - although services continued to be held in the newly built schoolroom. The 7th Earl Cowper (who had only recently provided the site for both school and schoolhouse) generously donated an adjoining site of half an acre for the new church. The foundation stone (which came from the doorway of the destroyed church) was laid on 7 April 1875 not by Lord Cowper (as it says) but by his wife. The building contract was awarded to Robinson Cornish of Tudor House, North Walsham, Norfolk (later called Cornish & Gaymer). Within just over six months - on 26 October 1875 - the present church was dedicated by the Bishop of Rochester (who was also by this time the first Bishop of St. Albans).
St. Peter’s was designed by a famous architect, John Pollard Seddon FRIBA (1827-1906), is generally acknowledged to be very fine and is a listed building. It is one of only 13 churches in Hertfordshire included in England’s Thousand Best Churches by Simon Jenkins (1999); of these 13 two have three stars and five (including St. Peter’s) have two. Interestingly (to the author, at least), J.P.Seddon was also the architect of Ettington Park, the Warwickshire home of the Shirley family who had the distinction of being identified in 1986 as one of the very few families who were still in possession of the lands which they had held 900 years earlier at the time of the Domesday Survey. The choice of J.P.Seddon followed an open competition. It is clear that J.L.Pearson, who had designed the third church and the rectory, was (perhaps understandably) not best pleased by the decision. In a letter to Rev. Henry Jephson enclosing a claim for his expenses for visiting the site in the sum of £5.19.3 he wrote: ‘no doubt there was sufficient reason for not employing me.’
The chancel arch in St. Peter’s is unique; it was the first and only commission by the famous Martin Brothers for a church. The Martinware Pottery was started in Fulham in 1873 by Robert Wallace Martin, the eldest of the four brothers. In 1877 the business moved to Havelock Road, Southall, where it remained until it closed in 1923. In the church there is another unique piece of Martinware. It was made and signed by Robert Wallace Martin himself in April 1876 and is a stand for ‘Bell-metal found in the ruins of Ayot St. Peter Church destroyed by Lightning 10th July 1874.’ This refers to the lump salvaged by Rev. Henry Jephson. In early 2000 a walnut base and perspex cover were purchased so that this most unusual artefact can be displayed more effectively. Evidently both the chancel arch and the stand were produced in the early days of the pottery when it was in Fulham.
Some of the stained glass was designed by the architect. The glass at the western end is dedicated to Jane Ann Robinson of Ayot Bury (about whom more later); along the south side of the nave there are windows dedicated to William Henry Wills of Sherrards, who was a founder of Punch, an editor of the Daily News and a collaborator with Charles Dickens. The lectern was also designed by Seddon and was donated by Robinson Cornish. The fine stone pulpit was donated by Mrs. Robinson and the font was the gift of the rector’s uncle, a second Rev. Henry Jephson.
The cost of the new church exceeded the estimates somewhat and accordingly some internal fittings and furnishings, the clock and the vestry were not ready to be dedicated by the Bishop of St. Albans until 8 February 1898. It appears that Mr. C.W. Wilshere (in addition to paying for the bell for the mortuary chapel) paid for the vestry because on one of its internal walls is to be found one of his chronograms. These devices were placed on buildings which he designed or paid for. The Latin inscription on the example in the vestry reads: EO ANNO EXSTRVCTVS IN QVO LVSTRA QVINQVE HAC IN PAROECHIA SVA EXPLEVIT HENRICVS IEPHSON PASTOR FIDELIS A NOBIS DILECTVS STRENVVS SAPIENSQVE RECTOR. The date of construction is picked out in capitalised letters; if the Roman numerals (V=5, X=10 and so on) are totalled the result is 1897. Some degree of subsidence is affecting the vestry today.
Lord Sanderson in his will established a fund for the care of the churchyard with a bequest of £1,000. The endowment is held by the St. Albans Diocesan Board of Finance in the form of income shares with a current value of some £3,500. The income is remitted to the PCC; in 1999 it amounted to £107.02. The work of keeping the church and its surroundings in good order is never-ending. A recent innovation is the installation of automated winding for the go and strike mechanisms on 29 September 1999. This work was financed by a specific appeal for funds. Mains water was laid on to the vestry early in 2000.
In the church there is a list of incumbents going back to 1291. Some of the spellings and dates on this list are suspect or certainly wrong. Notable rectors have included Rev. Charles Horn (in whose time the first register was begun), Rev. Dr. Ralph Freman (who demolished the medieval church), Rev. Edwin Prodgers and his son, also Edwin (who demolished Dr. Freman’s church and built the third church), Rev. Canon Henry Jephson (in whose time the third church was destroyed and the fourth was built), his successor Rev. Henry Ryland (who was very popular in the parish and organised outings to the seaside and elsewhere) and Rev. Jim Davies (who was a prime mover in the establishment of the Ayots’ Horticultural Society in 1952). The current rector, Rev. Dr. Alan Winton, was instituted (authorised to minister to the parish) and inducted (put in legal possession) at St. Mary’s, Welwyn, on Wednesday 22 September 1999 and attended his first service at St. Peter’s on Sunday 26 September (matins at 11.15 a.m.).
It is said that when he was a curate Rev. Edwin Prodgers senior had saved a young heiress from drowning. Her name was Caroline. They married and consequently he came into a considerable fortune. On Monday mornings he would put on his red coat and go off hunting with the hounds. They had four children. One son, Edwin, succeeded his father as rector. Another son and a daughter died young. The other daughter, called Caroline after her mother, married a captain in the Austrian navy (shades of Captain von Trapp of ‘The Sound of Music’ fame!) called Giacometti. In March 1870 she petitioned for a divorce, and the case was reported in a newspaper under the heading ‘Singular Divorce.’ J.E. Cussans, the historian, commented on the report under the heading ‘A Professional Herts Tramp’ as follows-
"A short time after her marriage she resumed her maiden name, and called herself Mrs Giacometti Prodgers. She was undoubtedly as mad as a hatter. I rode up with her once from Hatfield. Though long past her première jeunesse she was dressed like a girl of 17 and ridiculously overdressed. She had two children with her, and when she arrived at King’s Cross station she appropriated to herself the services of five porters - two to carry her children and the other three her numerous parcels all of which she had previously insisted on having in the carriage. At the station she spoke to the porters as though they had been dogs. ‘Here - you porter. Is your jacket clean? If so, carry that child. Here, you, take that parcel and see you don’t drop it. All you fellows are so clumsy’ etc., etc.
I had no idea who the lady was until we arrived at the station. I then had no doubt, for a continued shout of ‘Prodgers’ was kept up by the cabman on the rank. One of the porters demurred to the lady’s commands, but I who was behind them heard another porter say ‘Oh never mind, it’s only mad Prodgers. Anything to get her off the platform.’ At about that time there was scarcely a day but that she summoned some unfortunate cabman to a police court. She knew every cab fare to a yard and the exact time she could detain a cabman without extra payment, and always exercised her full rights. Hence the numerous police court cases. ‘Mrs Prodgers and the cabman’ was an ever-welcome theme of music hall comic songs.
I do not remember how the case referred to in the accompanying cutting was ultimately decided, but I do not think that further proceedings were taken. Mrs Prodgers is, I believe, still living. If so, she has relinquished her warfare on cabmen, for nothing is now (1882) heard of her."
A Welwyn poet of the mid-1860s (name unknown) penned these not very flattering lines about Rev. Edwin Prodgers junior of Ayot St. Peter and Rev. John Olive of Ayot St. Lawrence in ‘A Saturday Review of Welwyn Society’-
"Clergy of Ayot St. Peter and St. Lawrence too,
Mixture of Piety and Tally-ho;
Builders of Churches by way of Gammon,
To keep on terms with God and Mammon,
Preachers of Love, Apes of Humility,
Proud as Lucifer, lacking his Ability."
Ayot Rectory is the story of Rev. John Olive and his wife and mother-in-law.
Rev. Edwin Prodgers junior married a Miss Surtees of Dane End, between Watton at Stone and Braughing. Their home at Dane End was what is now the rather smart Green End Hotel. Mrs Prodgers was the daughter of a Hertfordshire landowner and persuaded him away from the church. Mr Prodgers gave a dinner for the villagers on Ayot Green on his wedding day.
In his Book of Welwyn Richard Busby included a photograph of Rev. Henry Jephson with this intriguing caption: ‘it is said he was a bush ranger in Australia before taking holy orders.’ Bushrangers were, of course, criminals and their most famous exemplar was Ned Kelly. Sadly, no support can be found for the myth of criminality and redemption. Henry Jephson seems to have been rather conventional; he was born in 1839 in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, the son of Rev. William Jephson, and matriculated at Trinity College, Oxford on 3 December 1857 when he was 18. He graduated BA in 1862. He was curate of Evesham 1867-72 (deacon 1867, priest 1868) and rector of Ayot St. Peter for 29 years from 1872 until his death on 29 November 1911 aged 72. If Henry Jephson was ever in Australia his academic and clerical record suggests that he would have had to leave home and take ship for the other side of the world at the tender age of 14 or so. Australian shipping records do not provide any evidence that such an adventure occurred. He was buried with great mourning near the door of the mortuary chapel in the old churchyard. The grey granite cross marking his grave, shared with his wife, daughter and son (who died in World War I), was erected in February 1914 and is still to be seen in the old churchyard. A brass plate was also placed in the new church which he did so much to create. In addition, a large brass ewer ‘in pious memory of Annie Beryl Jephson’ is to this day in use for flower arrangements in the church. Annie was born in 1881.
The advowson (or right of presentation of the living) of Ayot St. Peter seems to have belonged to the lords of the manor from the earliest times, but it passed through many hands over the centuries. Shortly before 1728 it was sold to Rev. Dr. Ralph Freman and his heirs and by 1755 it was in the hands of his granddaughter Katarina. In that year she conveyed it in marriage to Hon. Charles Yorke. Their grand daughter was Anne, Countess of Mexborough. At the time of the 1841 census the Earl of Mexborough (aged 55) was living at the rectory, as was the rector, Rev. Philip Yorke Savile (aged 25). Savile was the family name of the Earls of Mexborough, and this was no doubt a case of father living with son. Lord Mexborough held the living until 1843. His widow, the Countess Anne, kept the living until 1853 when she sold it to Rev. Edwin Prodgers senior, on whose death in 1861 it passed to his son Edwin. As we have seen this latter gave up holy orders after the living had come into his hands but he retained the advowson until 1906, when it was acquired by Miss Wilshere. Cassey’s Directory for 1864 records that the living was worth £250 per annum, with a residence, and that it was in the patronage of Mrs Prodgers. According to Crockford (1890) the patron of the living was Edwin Prodgers Esq. and it yielded tithe rentcharges of £240 nominal (£194 average), Queen Anne’s Bounty of £28 and income from the Ecclesiastical [now Church] Commissioners of £80. The gross income was £302 per annum (net £243) and the rector also had the benefit of glebe land of two acres and a house. The same entry gives a population figure of 208. In contrast, the censuses of 1861 and 1871 give the population as 234 and 232 respectively; 208 may simply be the number of members of the Church of England.
Ayot Bury was the rectory in 1838 and no doubt for many years before. A new rectory was built in 1866-67 to the design of J.L.Pearson (the architect of the third church) for the use of Rev. Edwin Prodgers junior. The house turned out to be very conveniently located when the third church was ruined and replaced by the current church. No doubt because it had become too large for a modern rector, the 1866-67 rectory (now called the Old Rectory) was sold in February 1965 to the trustees of the Brocket Estate for £12,250. In 1962 the rector had obtained from the Church Commissioners a loan of £8,370 (secured on the glebe land) to fund the building of a smaller replacement - the house now known as the Grange - and the loan was repaid in 1965 out of the proceeds of sale. The Grange in turn was sold for £32,700 by the St. Albans Diocesan Board of Finance in January 1976 as part of the arrangements under which Ayot St. Peter was to be amalgamated with Welwyn and Ayot St. Lawrence with Kimpton. The incumbent of the large modern parish which includes Ayot St. Peter resides with his family in the rectory at 2 Ottway Walk, Welwyn.
The list of incumbents does not suggest any great disturbance in the life of the parish church during the tumultuous reign of Henry VIII (1509-47). The dissolution of the monasteries occurred during the time of Rev. Henry Bullok. As for the controversial reign of Mary I (1553-58), it is perhaps noteworthy that the date of the start of the incumbency of Rev. William Doneham is unknown or unremembered and that he was replaced by Rev. John Piggott in 1559.
In 1646, during the troubled times leading to the execution of Charles I, 63 Puritan ministers of Hertfordshire petitioned the Long Parliament praying for church government according to the covenant and so on: this was signed by ‘John Birch, Ayott St. Peter’s.’ According to Non-conformity in Hertfordshire by William Urwick MA, the pastor of the Congregational church in St. Albans (1884), Rev. John Birch was appointed rector in 1641 and continued in office throughout the period of the Commonwealth (1649-60) until he died on 26 July 1682 at the age of 73. He apparently had the assistance of a curate called John Leigh who never became rector. If so, the list of incumbents in the church is wrong in that it includes Rev. John Leigh, albeit without dates. In 1655 there was a national collection for the Protestants of Piedmont which, in Hertfordshire, raised £754.14.3½ to which the contribution of Little Ayott was £0.12.0 and that of Great Ayott £0.19.7. In 1662 Rev. John Birch conformed. In 1682 it is recorded that at Ayot St. Peter they have ‘no surplice, no Prayer Book, no minister.’ Before the year was out Nathaniel (or Nathan) Veryard was instituted as rector.
A survey of religion in Hertfordshire conducted by William Upton, a Baptist minister in St. Albans, between 1847 and 1851 was disparaging about the state of affairs in Ayot St. Peter. He found that the services conducted by Rev. Edwin Prodgers senior (usual attendance 60) were ‘cold and unevangelical.’ He noted that the Wesleyans had a usual attendance of 100 at their chapel and that about 50 children attended the National and the Sunday schools. He observed as follows: ‘The people here are ignorant and little attended to. The population is very thin and scattered.’
The earliest register of baptisms, marriages and burials begins at 7 September 1686. The register was bought by Jonathan Davis, the churchwarden, on 6 June 1721 and he copied into it the entries for prior years, which were certified as accurate by the rector, Charles Horn. The last baptism in this register took place on 26 November 1772, the last marriage on 18 February 1754 and the last burial on 14 March 1773. The early register, together with many other records, are deposited for safe keeping at the Hertfordshire County Record Office. Still in the church is the register of baptisms running from 30 August 1896 onwards. This register is a very valuable source of information.
The parish was host to non-conformity in C19th. John Wesley had some following locally and a sister living in Hatfield. When he and his band passed through Welwyn they were cold-shouldered both by the parish church and the Independents. That is why, when they decided to set up a Wesleyan group locally, they had to go to Ayot Green. A small Wesleyan chapel was built in 1822 and certified as a place of religious worship for Protestants on 8 May. It adjoined the home of John Ephgrave and is still visible as part of 37 Ayot Green. There were apparently congregations of over 60 people at one time (100 according to William Upton’s survey) but the chapel closed in about 1887. John Ephgrave was probably the son of Thomas Ephgrave of Lower Handside Farm, with whom the first minister of the Welwyn Independent (or ‘Bethel’) chapel stayed when it first opened in June 1792. Another local farming family, the Garratts of Ryefield Farm, were non-conformists but (as we shall see) they were involved with churches in Welwyn and Codicote and not with the Wesleyans at Ayot Green.
There was very little local schooling prior to C18th and the clergy were usually involved with such as there was. We have a local example in that it is known that in 1626 John Rudd, the curate of Digswell, visited Ayot St. Peter from time to time to teach local boys. In Welwyn there has been a school of some sort for over 250 years. St. Mary’s school celebrated its 250th anniversary on October 1999. The rector, Dr Edward Young, managed that school and its precursor for 30 years until 1760, when he established a trust to look after it. One of the first trustees of Dr Young’s Charity named in the indenture of 15 April 1760 was Rev. Dr. Ralph Freman, the rector of Ayot St. Peter.
It is recorded that in Ayot St. Peter in the early C19th a small school for 40 pupils at the rectory (Ayot Bury) was supported by Lord Melbourne until about 1848. The 1838 tithe map shows that what is now 8, 10 and 12 Ayot Green was used as a parish school at that time. As we shall see, in 1849 John Henry Peacock of Ayot Lodge endowed a charity for the education of the children of the parish. The 1851 census records that a member of the household at the rectory was Miss Harriet Sculthorp, aged 28, a schoolmistress from Worksop in Nottinghamshire whilst that for 1861 shows that Mrs Rebecca Emily Barrow, aged 35, born in the parish of St. Dunstan’s, Fleet Street, was the schoolmistress and that she lived with her husband James (a coachman) in a cottage in Ayot St. Peter. How these schools relate is not known. Perhaps, for a time at least, there were two small schools - one at Ayot Green and the other at the rectory. The school at the rectory may have been held initially either in the main house (which seems rather unlikely) or in the lodge which formerly stood beside the entrance from School Lane. What is now called Ayot Bury Lodge was built in 1841 and it could well have served as both a schoolroom and a teacher’s residence. Perhaps in 1848-49 the financial support of Lord Melbourne was replaced by that of Mr. Peacock’s charity.
Cassey’s Directory for 1864 records a school for boys and girls supported by voluntary contributions, principally from the rector (at that time Rev. Edwin Prodgers junior). The Post Office Directory for 1870 records a National School run by Miss Warrant. She occupied the new school house at the time of the 1871 census.
In 1871, on land at Saul’s Wood (named after John Saule, 1641) made available by the 7th Earl Cowper, a National School was built with a headmaster’s house attached. In 1838 the land in question was owned by the 2nd Viscount Melbourne and occupied by two cottages, so there was both a change of owner and some demolition between 1838 and 1871. Lord Cowper’s deed of grant was dated 15 November 1871. After the school closed in 1948 the freehold was purchased by the Brocket Estate. As we shall see, the freeholds of Sauls Wood House and Hornbeam House (the current names of the school and the schoolhouse respectively) were sold by the trustees of the Brocket Estate in 1976.
In 1874 the school was officially inspected and the quality of the teaching was praised by the inspector. Between 1876 and 1879 the school was enlarged to accommodate 65 pupils. In 1881 the teacher was Miss Mary Smythe, who was living in the schoolhouse with her widowed mother of the same name. By 1891 the teachers were Misses Norah and Helen Pascoe. Kelly’s Directory for 1899 records an average attendance of 52 pupils, with Misses Harriet Pilgrim and Sara Newell as the schoolmistresses. On 4 May 1905 the Board of Education made a scheme for regulating the Charity of John Henry Peacock for Education. The scheme directed the trustees to use the income of the charity to fund educational bursaries and prizes for children a parents bona fide resident in the parish of Ayot St. Peter. In 1912, according to Kelly’s Directory, the school was in the hands of the Misses Edith and Jessie Bott. The remarkable numbers of 65 and 52 give an insight into the great changes in the population profile of the parish over the last century or so. Dorothy Cullum remembers walking to and from school along gravel roads in 1916, to be taught by the Misses Bott. Another former pupil remembers that there were two class rooms (junior and senior) and a lobby equipped with hooks and benches. A tap on the outside wall provided drinking water and the ‘dubs’ (toilets) were behind the school - very open plan with stable doors. Most of the children walked many a mile to school in their hob-nailed boots. Each child had a little patch of garden to tend. Daphne Jones remembers that in the late 1930s pupils came from Ayot St. Lawrence by Mr Clark’s taxi, which picked children up from Dowdells Cottage as it passed. Daphne’s teacher was Miss Crowther, and she was succeeded by Mrs Higson. In 1936-37, according to Daphne’s recollection, there were 15 or so pupils (most of whose names she can remember). The village school was closed in 1948, and in consequence the Minister of Education (the successor of the Board of Education) made a scheme dated 18 April 1951 amending the 1905 scheme for the Peacock Charity. The new scheme directed the trustees to apply the income of the charity towards the cost of alterations of and repairs to Welwyn Junior Church of England School. Any surplus income was to be applied in ‘promoting the education, including social and physical training, of boys and girls of the poorer classes in the Rural District of Welwyn.’ The 1951 scheme thus recognised that since 1948 those children from Ayot St. Peter not being educated in the private sector have gone, first, to St. Mary’s junior school in Welwyn and, later, to one of the secondary schools in Welwyn Garden City or Hatfield. Until about 1980 a small school bus, driven by a man called Ivan, took the village children down to school in Welwyn in the morning and brought them back in the afternoon. This charming service was withdrawn and from then on the parents have been obliged to participate in the now much-discussed ‘school run.’
During World War II a Miss Roskill operated a small private ‘dame’ school at 31 and 33 Ayot Green. The school was in one of the cottages and Miss Roskill lived in the other. Her pupils, drawn from great houses in the area, could be seen doing their physical jerks on the green in front of the cottages.
Before 1885 there were six MPs for Hertfordshire (two each for the boroughs of St. Albans and Hertford and two for the rest of the county). Between 1885 and 1971 Ayot St. Peter fell into several Parliamentary constituencies, most recently Hertford, but from 1971 to date it has formed part of the Welwyn Hatfield constituency. It cannot be said that the electors of Ayot St. Peter have ever been party to the election of a truly outstanding political figure - although the current MP for Welwyn Hatfield, Melanie Johnson, seems to be achieving prominence quite rapidly as a junior minister and her predecessor, David Evans, was quite well known in his time. For elections to the European Parliament the parish lies in the very large Eastern Region constituency.
Great figures in the world of politics were resident at Brocket Hall in C19th, namely the 2nd Viscount Melbourne (1779-1848) and his son-in-law the 3rd Viscount Palmerston (1784-1865). Lord Melbourne was Queen Victoria’s first Prime Minister and held office for over six years - for five months in 1834 and from March 1835 to September 1841. Lord Palmerston was Prime Minister for three years from March 1855 and again from June 1859 until his death. Queen Victoria visited Lord Melbourne at Brocket Hall in July 1841, but whether she set foot in the parish of Ayot St. Peter is not known.
The parish was in the Hundred of Broadwater and then from 1894 in the area of the Welwyn Rural District Council. Originally the two Ayots had separate councillors but with effect from 1 April 1965 the two parish wards were combined. George Davies of Ayot Lodge (1 Ayot Green) was elected as the first councillor for the enlarged ward. He was too ill to stand for re-election in 1968 and Michael Banks of 5 Ayot Green replaced him. Mr Banks died in July 1972 and at an election held on 21 October 1972 his widow Nesta was elected in his place by 79 votes to 15. She held office until the local government reorganisation of 1974. Since 1 April 1974 Ayot St. Peter has been a parish ward in the district ward of Welwyn South in the area of the Welwyn Hatfield District Council. The district councillors for Welwyn South are Mandy Perkins, Stuart Pile (re-elected on 4 May 2000) and Richard Smith, who is also a county councillor.
Until it was demolished towards the end of 1972 the Reading Room served as the polling station for the parish at national and local elections. Ken Bailey remembers that for the local elections of 21 October 1972 and 12 April 1973 the polling station was at 39 Ayot Green (the Old Smithy). Since that time the polling station has been picturesquely located in a caravan parked temporarily for the purpose on Ayot Green. Probably the first use of a caravan was for the inconclusive general election of 28 February 1974, following which Edward Heath resigned and a minority Labour government under Harold Wilson took over.
In 2000-01 there were 145 registered electors in the parish. Prior to the boundary changes in 1986 there were about 130 electors. The parish is too small to have a parish council. Instead it has a parish meeting which is convened twice a year in April and October. There are just two officers, both honorary. The current chairman is Robert Barton of the Lodge, Ayot Montfichet and the clerk is Valerie Richards of the Grange, Wheathampstead Road. Meetings are held at the Civic Centre in Welwyn, which was opened on 2 April 1966. The Reading Room was the venue for parish meetings until it was demolished. The final meeting to be held in the old building took place on 9 May 1972 when Commander David Malim of Warren House, Brocket Park, reported on the compensation to be paid in connection with its demolition. There were proposals for a new village hall, either for Ayot St. Peter alone or as a joint venture with Ayot St. Lawrence, but they never came to anything. In 1972-74, before it became settled that the Civic Centre would be the venue, parish meetings were held at Ayot Bury once and in the church twice.
There is a handsome minute book, donated by Lord Sanderson, covering the period from 23 October 1963 to the present and including the names of chairmen and clerks who served during these years. There are several recurring themes running through the minutes - the state of Ayot Green and of the roads and verges being the principal ones - and there have been two really big issues. For almost 20 years from 1963 parish meetings dealt with the question of the ownership of the Reading Room and its site and then its demolition and the use of the compensation moneys. Early in 1966 it became known that the Great North Road was to be rebuilt as a motorway and that under one of the proposals the new road would have crossed Ayot St. Peter Road near to its junctions with Ayot Little Green Lane and Homerswood Lane. The A1(M) project naturally engaged the attention of parish meetings until it was finished in 1973. A huge effort was devoted to dealing satisfactorily with these two important issues by successive chairmen and clerks and by others in the parish - most notably Lord Sanderson, Rev. Hendrik Loysen, George Davies and Michael Banks. It is right to record that today we owe a debt of gratitude to them. At a ceremony following the parish meeting on 21 June 1968 Lord Sanderson, on behalf of the parish, presented Mr Davies with a leather desk blotter and pad in recognition of his many years of service to the parish and district.
LAW AND ORDER
The Anglo-Saxon system of mutual pledging and mutual responsibility gradually evolved into the system of parish constables, which continued in Hertfordshire until 1841. Each year a parish would appoint one of its number to be parish constable for a year. There were no wages; payment was by fee for each function performed in connection with the administration of justice. An account for the parish constable of Ayot St. Peter for the year 1778 survives, showing that the cost to the parish was £1.6.3. There is a record in the Hertford Quarter Sessions of 1680 noting the indictment of Edward Habgood, a constable of Little Ayot, for refusing to execute a warrant for the arrest of John Roberts. About 100 parish constables were supervised by a head or high constable, who was paid a wage. He was appointed by the Quarter Sessions.
In the late C18th, in response to an increasing crime rate, many farmers and tradesmen formed associations to protect their property and offered rewards for the apprehending of felons and thieves. An association formed in Stevenage was offering £10 for the conviction of murderers, housebreakers, incendiaries, highwaymen, horse-stealers and maimers.
The County Constabulary was established on 12 April 1841. Ayot St. Peter was in the Hatfield division, which extended from Harpenden to Essendon and covered 55 square miles. In his first annual report (at 31 March 1842) the chief constable recorded that 1,642 people were charged and 1,180 convicted. In the Hatfield division only two sheep were stolen and no officers were injured.
System of justice
The first surviving English written law dates from the time of Aethelberht of Kent in C7th. It showed that early Christian rulers relied on the senior clergy to enforce the laws of God and man.
The areas conquered by the Vikings were subject to Danelaw, but the majority of England was under a legal system based on custom rather than legal principles. The will of the local lord usually prevailed and any self-help in a community usually consisted of a meeting of families to sort out feuds and disputes.
As already noted, Ayot St. Peter was in the Hundred of Broadwater. Hundreds were first mentioned as legal and administrative divisions in 939. They consisted of areas containing 100 households and were further divided into 10 tithings. Broadwater was exceptionally large and was a ‘double-hundred’, and had a small detached part comprising the modern village of Totteridge right on the edge of London. Shires also came into existence around the same time and these form the basis for our present day counties. The lord of the shire would send out his reeve to look after his land and administer justice. The shire reeve became the sheriff.
The Norman conquest in 1066 left this system largely intact, as William I promised after his coronation on Christmas Day. However, his court began to be worried about the power of the reeves and sent out justiciars (bishops, courtiers and so on) to look after the king’s interests. By 1176 this system had expanded to around 30 justices who looked after six circuits. These were the original assizes. Edward III took power from the sheriffs and in 1328 a system of itinerant justices of the peace was introduced for the whole kingdom. They held sessions every quarter at Michaelmas, Epiphany, Easter and the Translation of St. Thomas. This is the origin of the system of quarter sessions. Smaller crimes and other disputes were dealt with in more regular petty sessions. Quarter sessions and assizes remained until 1971 when they were replaced by the Crown Court. Petty sessions remain today as the magistrates’ courts.
Ayot St. Peter was in the southern, Hatfield, petty sessional division of Hertfordshire. This included Hatfield, Welwyn, Digswell and Ayot St. Lawrence. In 1828 the local justices formed a new division of their own, consisting of the two Ayots, Welwyn and Digswell. The petty sessions were, until 1848, held in any suitable private premises. One such for Welwyn was the White Hart inn. The rector of Ayot St. Peter, Rev. Charles Chester (who was a justice from 1804 to 1836) would have heard cases in the White Hart. In 1939 the Welwyn bench moved their sittings to the new courthouse in Hatfield. On 1 April 1990 the Welwyn and Hatfield benches were re-merged to form the Mid-Herts bench. The justices of the merged bench continued to sit at Hatfield until 27 March 1998, when the courthouse was closed and the sittings were moved to St. Albans. The Mid-Herts and St. Albans benches will be merged to form the Central Hertfordshire bench with effect from 1 January 2001.
Happily there are not many instances of crime affecting Ayot St. Peter in the old records. There is no mention of the parish in the assize records from the reign of Elizabeth I, but there are a few from the time of James I onwards. Here are some examples taken from the Hertford sessions books (using the original spellings)-
on 14 March 1623 John Potter, labourer, was indicted for petty larceny (in that he stole a hat, value 10d, at Ayott St. Peter on 2 February 1623 from Thomas Ruffen, gentleman) but found not guilty
on 12 July 1669 the justices heard a petition from Margery Gibson of Little Ayott that her landlord, Mr Jesper Wilshere, be required to forgive her rent arrears so that she and her children might not utterly perish
on 12 July 1716 John Thompson of Ayott Parva was indicted for assaulting Thomas Pursey on the footway in Ayott Parva (verdict not recorded)
on 12 July 1756 Rachael, wife of John Bigg (labourer), of Little Ayot was indicted for stealing two ducks (value 10d) from Francis Day and four bushels of wheat (value 10d) from Thomas Salmon, found guilty and sentenced to be whipped next Saturday between 10.00 and 12.00 from the Old Cross in Hertford through Maidenhead Street and the Butchers Market thence to gaol and to suffer the same next Saturday fortnight
on 22 July 1765 a maintenance order was made in respect of the bastard son of Isaac Rainsdon (file maker) of Little Ayot and Mary Serry of Wellwyn
on 16 May 1792 an appeal against a warrant removing Thomas Holloway (labourer) and his six children from Ayott St. Peter was dismissed
at the Lent assize 1824 Joseph Faulkener and John Richardson, both of Ayot St. Peter, were jointly indicted for the larceny of 200 pigeons (£10), a half bushel of oats (1s) and a whip (3s), the property of John and Samuel Wright and on 4 March each was sentenced to seven years’ transportation although Joseph Faulkener was later pardoned
on 26 January 1828 James Miles (labourer) of Ayott St. Peter was convicted of poaching at night in Saul’s Wood (in the occupation of John Wright) and sentenced to six months’ hard labour
on 28 December 1833 William Sullivan (labourer) of Ayot St. Peter was convicted of stealing a watch (£1) and a seal (1s) from George Wardall (labourer) and sentenced to one month’s hard labour and to be whipped
at the Summer Assize 1849 Charles Wells of Shoreditch was convicted of breaking and entering the dwelling house of Rev. Edwin Prodgers at Ayot St. Peter and stealing a variety of valuable items, and for this and two similar offences committed elsewhere he was sentenced to ten years’ transportation
It is possible to suggest identities for some of the victims. In 1838 and subsequently, William Wright was the farmer at Place Farm (later Ayot Place or Ayot Montfichet). In the 1841 census William’s age was given as 40, but this will have been rounded to the nearest multiple of five. The fields to the north of Saul’s Wood formed part of Place Farm. Neither John nor Samuel Wright appeared on the tithe map or in the 1841 census. It seems likely, therefore, that John was the farmer at Ayot Place and that he was succeeded by his son William. Perhaps Samuel was John’s brother. It is tempting to think that George Wardall was in some way related to the Wardill family who bought properties at Ayot Green in 1913, but impossible to prove. We have, of course, already encountered Rev. Edwin Prodgers senior, who was living at Ayot Bury as rector in 1849.
As to the offenders, in 1838 John and Elizabeth Falkner were living at Rose Cottage (14 Ayot Green). By 1841 John seems to have died. Elizabeth was living in the cottage with her daughter, another Elizabeth (aged 25). Given that spellings were variable at this time, perhaps Joseph Faulkener was old Elizabeth’s son and young Elizabeth’s brother. No Richardsons or Sullivans are to be found on the tithe map or in the 1841 census. The same applies to the name Miles. On the other hand, William and Mary Males lived at 21 Ayot Green, and James could have been one of their sons. They had two children living with them in 1841, at which date William’s (rounded) age was given as 60 and Mary’s as 40. As to Charles Wells, his is a not uncommon name and he is identified as ‘of Shoreditch.’ It is, however, certainly possible that he knew of the concentration of wealth at Ayot Bury from childhood. In 1838 and 1841 John Wells lived at 16 Ayot Green and James Wells lived at 3 Ayot Green. John (65 in 1841) and his wife Sarah (60) had several children. James seems to have been their son, and they certainly had another son called Thomas (35 in 1841). The Wells family were unusual. John Wells was one of only nine owner occupiers in the parish in 1838. He owned 16 Ayot Green, where he lived, and (coincidentally) 14 Ayot Green, where the Falkners lived. James Wells was equally unusual in that his landlord at 3 Ayot Green was not the ubiquitous Lord Melbourne but one of the four absentee landlords, Richard Rainsdon, and in that he and his family occupied the whole of a building which on the tithe map is shown as comprising two dwellings. We can safely conclude that the Wells family had wealth and station above the level of most of their neighbours. John, James and Thomas were all described as bricklayers in the 1841 census, but it would perhaps be more accurate, in today’s usage, to describe them as builders. Given that, as we shall shortly learn, Charles Wells received favourable treatment ‘beyond the seas’ it seems reasonable to conjecture that he was an errant son (or nephew or cousin) of the Wells family of Ayot Green. En passant, it must be a possibility that the owner of 3 Ayot Green was the bastard son of Isaac Rainsdon for whose benefit the maintenance order was made on 22 July 1765, or one of his sons.
The fates of the two men sentenced to transportation to Australia for offences committed in Ayot St. Peter have been investigated, and the results are quite interesting - if only because of the fact that the name of the then owner of most of the land in the parish was bestowed upon Australia’s newly established second city in March 1837 and that the connection lives on in the parish in the name of Melbourne Stud.
John Richardson was among 172 men who sailed from London on the ‘Minerva’ on 14 July 1824. She was a ship of 530 tons built at Lancaster. She took 128 days to reach Sydney by way of the Cape of Good Hope, arriving on 19 November 1824. 170 men were disembarked, only two having died on the voyage. This was the fourth convict trip undertaken by the ‘Minerva.’ According to his convict indent, John Richardson was born in 1792 at Strood in Kent; height 5’10"; colour of eyes hazel; hair light brown; complexion pale, fresh; remarks good; calling groom. Only one week after arriving in Sydney, on 26 November 1824 he sailed on the ‘Sally’ up the coast of New South Wales to Port Macquarie, where he was to be a ‘government employee’ for the next seven years until the anniversary of his sentence on 4 March 1831. Port Macquarie was established in 1821 as a settlement for convicts banished for crimes committed in New South Wales. He was probably sent there because the authorities in Sydney believed that this was his second sentence of transportation. According to the indent he had previously been transported under the name Edward Footman. On 12 January 1814 a man of that name, aged 24, was convicted at the Middlesex General Gaol Delivery, sentenced to seven years and sailed on the ‘Baring’, arriving in Sydney on 7 September 1815. By 1821-22 he would have been free to return to England. How it was that he came to be in Ayot St. Peter in 1823 with Joseph Faulkener stealing from John and Samuel Wright we shall never know. Certainly his first sentence was served when New South Wales was a very young colony - it was established at Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788.
Charles Wells went to Swan River (Perth) in Western Australia. Transportation to New South Wales had ended long before 1853 but, for male convicts only, it was to continue in Western Australia until 1868. His ship, the ‘Pyrenees’, was of 832 tons and built at Sunderland. On her second convict voyage, having embarked 296 men (including Charles Wells), she sailed on 2 February 1853 and, after 87 days, disembarked 293 on 30 April 1853. According to the local records, on arrival in Western Australia Charles Wells (who was allotted the convict number 1963) was aged 24 (and therefore born in 1829), 5’5" tall and had dark brown hair, hazel eyes, an oval face, fair skin, stout build and a scar on his right wrist. He was a warehouseman and unmarried. Charles Wells was granted a ticket-of-leave on 1 May 1853 - the day after his arrival. Whereas in New South Wales tickets-of-leave were only granted to newly-arrived convicts who possessed property or social standing, or had been transported for an action not involving criminal turpitude, in Western Australia prior to 1857 they were not infrequently issued on or about the day of arrival. The authorities did not want too many convicts in Perth or Fremantle and labour was needed in rural areas. The holder of a ticket-of-leave did not have to work as an assigned man for a master and he was free from the claims of forced government labour; he could spend his sentence working for himself, wherever he pleased, as long as he stayed within the colony. In this case the ticket-of-leave expired in August 1860 - which is rather odd, because it was more than seven years from the date of issue of his ticket-of-leave and more than 10 years from the date of his conviction. Furthermore, it is recorded that Charles Wells left Western Australia for South Australia (which is proud of the fact that, although carved out of New South Wales as early as 1836, it was never part of the transportation scheme) on the ship ‘Lochinvar’ in March 1857. It was not usual for ticket-of-leave men to be allowed residence in South Australia - indeed every person arriving in South Australia from Western Australia in the early 1860s had to carry a document stating that he had never been a convict. A possible explanation is that Charles Wells was working for a free settler who decided to move to South Australia and successfully petitioned for our convict to go with him; another is that he was on his way to the goldfields in Victoria.
Whether today there are descendants of either John Richardson or Charles Wells ‘down under’ and whether they have prospered is not known. Both names are too common to make a search practicable. Such an outcome would not be particularly unusual and it would be a ground for pride and celebration these days - although unmentionable in polite company as recently as 40 years ago.
There is a dearth of records about criminality in Ayot St. Peter in C20th. This is because successive chief constables have ordered police records to be destroyed. From 1898 to 1914 all records over 10 years old were destroyed. During World War I, for fear that they might fall into enemy hands, all records over two years old went the same way. The same line was taken during World War II, and furthermore the barn in which were stored such records as there were was hit by a bomb. It is only since 1996 that an attempt has been made to save a selection of police records as an archive.
A neighbourhood watch scheme was set up following a meeting of interested parties on 15 December 1993. Ruth Shirley was elected as co-ordinator. At that time the local policeman was PC Mike Littlewood, who was quite an enthusiastic supporter of the work of the co-ordinator and her eight ‘lieutenants.’ Since Mike left at the end of 1997 the team have felt that there has been very little worthwhile support for them and their work from the Hertfordshire Constabulary.
Until 1914-18 the impact of war on the parish and its inhabitants appears to have been slight.
Whether Julius Caesar and his army marched across land which is now part of the parish at the time of his battle with Cassivellaunus and the Catuvellauni at Wheathampstead in 54BC cannot be known. It is clearly not impossible. Similarly, how (if at all) the invasion by Claudius in 43 affected the area is not known. The Icenian revolt under Boudicca was suppressed in 60 after the sack of Colchester, London and St. Albans. Given that the road between St. Albans and Colchester ran through what is now Ayot St.Peter, the forces of either the Romans or the Icenians or both may well have passed through: again, we shall never know.
There is very little evidence of local involvement with the campaigns of the middle ages. However, it is worth noting that Sir John Peryent (whose family, as we have seen, held several manors including Ayot St. Peter in C15th and 16th and who died in 1432) twice appeared on the muster rolls to provide men-at-arms. In the first instance he had to help the newly-crowned Henry IV at Cirencester in 1400 to suppress an armed insurrection. This was presumably connected in some way with the revolt in Wales headed by Owen Glendower. More strikingly, he had to provide three men-at-arms and nine foot-archers for Henry V’s expedition to France in 1415, which culminated in the Battle of Agincourt. Whether any of the men provided by Sir John lived in Ayot St. Peter is not known but it is obviously a possibility.
It is recorded that in 1585 Sir John Brocket of Brocket Hall was entrusted with the training and inspection of the men who were levied and trained in these parts at the start of the tension with Spain which culminated in the Armada (July 1588). The local contingent (who clearly may have included men from Ayot St. Peter) were sent to the camp at Tilbury, where they were placed under the command of Sir Rowland Lytton, the Lord Lieutenant of the County.
In the Civil War the sympathies of Hertfordshire were generally with Parliament, but any direct impact of the struggle on the parish and its population cannot now be detected.
By C18th the parish officers had responsibility for providing men for militia service. Any man unable to serve had to find a substitute. Thus it was that in 1762 John Day of Ayot St. Peter, having been chosen by lot to serve in the militia on 23 September 1761, offered William Dowsing as his substitute. The parish officers were ordered to pay Dowsing £5 for his service - this being one half of the rate payable to a volunteer in Hertfordshire for one year’s service. The order was signed by two Deputy Lieutenants for the County. One of these was William Cowper (1731-1800). He it was who converted the slave ship captain John Newton to Christianity. Newton (1725-1807) was ordained and wrote ‘Amazing Grace,’ which was the coded story of his own conversion and became the anthem of the movement to abolish slavery throughout the British Empire. Abolition was achieved in the year of Newton’s death.
A victim of colonial campaigns was Lt. Frederick Howard Reynolds, Royal Welch Fusiliers. He was born on 16 November 1877, the son of Sir Alfred and Lady Reynolds of Ayot Bury. He was buried at Meerut, India, on 1 November 1904. In the old churchyard lies buried another such victim, Capt. Christopher Egerton Balfour DSO. He was born on 14 August 1872 and ‘served in the defence of Ladysmith and throughout the Boer War.’ The badge of the King’s Own Royal Rifle Corps adorns his granite monument. Capt. Balfour died on 29 July 1907. On 21 October 1907 Rev. Henry Jephson baptised May Lettice Balfour, the daughter of the late Capt. Balfour and his wife Dorothy Cecilia. His connection with the parish is obscure - no Balfours and no one called Dorothy Cecilia are recorded in the censuses for 1871, 1881 or 1891. Perhaps Dorothy Cecilia was a daughter of one of the grander households based just outside the parish but nevertheless used to attending services at St. Peter’s.
As for the whole country the impact of what, at the time, was called the Great War was quite traumatic for the parish. No fewer than 20 men are commemorated on the war memorial in the churchyard. It was unveiled in 1919 with 19 names on it and repaired and refurbished in the spring of 2000 (by Viki Green of Welwyn) when the 20th name was added. A service was held on 4 May 2000 when the war memorial was rededicated. It is worth noting that in World War I the Reading Room was apparently used as a drill hall.
Unusually, no names were added to the war memorial after World War II. This must mean that no resident of the parish was a casualty in that war. Presumably unknown to all but those who needed to know, work of the highest secrecy went on just to the north of the parish at The Frythe - ingenious weapons were designed and produced there at what was Station 9 of the Special Operations Executive, intended for use by (for instance) agents parachuted or flown into occupied France. It was to be blown up rather than fall into enemy hands, and Ayot Green was incorporated into plans for its defence in the event of invasion. There was an anti-aircraft battery beside an oak tree on Linces Farm. Brocket Hall became a maternity home. Dorothy Cullum’s son Victor and Clare Bantin’s daughter Diana are two of those from Ayot St. Peter born there. In addition, sharp eyed villagers will have caught sight of experimental aircraft like the Mosquito and Vampire from de Havilland’s at Hatfield as they flew over on circuits.
The aristocracy and gentry (including the rectors) are known to have followed the traditional country pursuits. In Brocket Park Lord Melbourne had a racecourse, apparently visited by the Prince Regent (later George IV) in 1803. Melbourne Stud, Messers Stables and the Horse & Jockey are names associated with the racecourse. In the C19th census returns are to be found jockeys, horse trainers and attendants at stables. The Enfield Chase has held occasional meets in the parish.
For the majority of villagers, however, there will have been few opportunities for leisure until quite recent times. The arrival of the branch railway line in 1860 and the opening of Ayot station in 1877 ushered in a broadening of experience for residents of the parish. Excursion trains operated from Ayot station to seaside resorts such as Skegness, Great Yarmouth and Clacton. The third class return fare from Ayot to Clacton was 8s (40p). Special trains were laid on to the annual horse races at Harpenden and to other attractions. For instance, on Saturday 1 August 1903 villagers could have taken a train from Ayot to Wood Green for Alexandra Park races for a return fare of £0.2.3.
A social club was established in 1884, principally at the instigation of Rev. Henry Jephson, and a small hall for its use was built in the north-east corner of Ayot Green - the Reading Room. How its construction was financed can now, unfortunately, only be the subject of conjecture. By 1884 the site would have been in the ownership of the Cowper Estate and in 1970 it was assumed that the site had passed into the ownership of the Brocket Estate. It would have been entirely in character if the 7th Earl Cowper had made the site available for a peppercorn rent and had also contributed to the cost of construction. Equally, the rector and George Robinson of Ayot Bury very probably contributed. The building work was presumably carried out (using Ayot bricks) by villagers employed at the brickworks. The Reading Room was the venue for the commemoration of Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee in 1887 and again when her diamond jubilee was celebrated 10 years later. Henry Garratt, a direct descendant of the builder of Ryefield Farm, has told us that he thinks that Ernest Garratt, the eldest son of Joseph Garratt (who, as we shall see, left fascinating notes of his childhood at Ryefield Farm which have been transcribed by Henry and made available to us) won the first prize for one of the children’s races held on Ayot Green in 1897. Sunday schools, whist drives and other community functions were held in the Reading Room.
It is recorded that cricket was played on Ayot Green. In 1890 CF Morris was the captain and JT Wells the secretary of the cricket club. James Thomas Wells and his family were living at Ayot Green in 1891 (apparently but not certainly at no. 9) but no one named Morris was recorded as present in the census of that year. Exactly where on the green the cricket square was located is a mystery.
On 26 June 1902 Lady Mountstephen gave a tea party at Brocket Hall for some 600 Lemsford and Ayot folk to mark the coronation of King Edward VII - which in the event had to be delayed until 9 August. On 2 June 1953 the present Queen’s coronation was marked by games and sports on Ayot Green commencing at 4 p.m. (after the day had been spent in the Reading Room watching the pageantry on television). From 9 p.m. the day was rounded off with a bonfire and a fireworks display. The coronation was also commemorated by new oak gates for the churchyard, which survive in good condition 47 years later. It appears that Basil (later Lord) Sanderson of Ayot Bury arranged for the gates to be made by shipwrights employed by one of the shipping lines with which he was associated - probably Shaw Savill. The rector, Rev. Jim Davies, must have written to him about them because on 5 March 1954 Basil Sanderson replied from his office in the City of London in the following terms:
‘My dear Rector,
Your letter of the 3rd March has given a great deal of pleasure to those who were responsible for fashioning with their hands the new gates for the Churchyard.
I am assured that they took a great deal of pride in their workmanship, more particularly knowing the purpose for which the gates would be used, and they are delighted to learn that their work was appreciated.
The Ayots’ Horticultural Society was founded at a meeting held at the home of George Davies, Ayot Lodge (1 Ayot Green), on Monday 20 October 1952. As already mentioned, the prime mover was the rector, Rev. Jim Davies. He was appointed as the first chairman, and volunteered to invite the 2nd Lord Brocket to become president - which he agreed to. The first treasurer and secretary were W S Messer (then living at Ayot St. Lawrence but later at 41 Ayot Green) and A A Wells respectively. The first event was a talk at Ayot St. Peter school on Friday 21 November 1952 at 8 p.m. on the subject of ‘The growing and preparation of vegetables for exhibition.’ In 1953 there were two shows: on Saturday 27 June (in conjunction with the church fête across the road in the garden of the Rectory) and what was called ‘the main autumn show’ on Saturday 5 September. There were 271 entries for the autumn show, held at Ayot St. Peter school. George Davies won the challenge cup; second prize (a load of manure given by Ernie Jeakings) went to Mrs F K Turnbull of Ayot St. Lawrence. The first annual general meeting was held at Ayot St. Lawrence village hall on Thursday 29 October 1953, at which point the society had 56 members and cash of £17.9.3. The first show to be held in a marquee on Ayot Green was the 1957 autumn show on Saturday 21 September, when there were 350 entries. The committee thought it right to ask Lord Brocket’s consent to the use of the green for this purpose - which he cordially gave. It is minuted that Charlie Potter had arranged with Inspector Winser from Welwyn Garden City for an hourly inspection of the marquee during the nights of the show! The 1957 summer show on 29 June was the last to be held in the school hall. At the autumn show in 1960 there were no fewer than 567 entries and the society had 130 members. For over 25 years the two shows have been consolidated into one, held in a marquee on Ayot Green in July. It remains an important feature of life in the parish. Usually the show is followed by a party in the evening. On 15 July 1977 a barn dance was held in the marquee to mark the Queen’s silver jubilee.
The Ayots Women’s Institute was founded by Angela Mackay of Old Meadow, 26 Ayot Green, on 2 December 1969. Its rules were adopted at the first meeting, held in the Reading Room on 15 January 1970. The 30th anniversary was celebrated at a meeting in January 2000. The Ayots WI, like the Horticultural Society, brings together the people of the two Ayots. So it is that members have produced an attractive appliqué wall hanging showing features of the two parishes to mark the year 2000. It is currently displayed in St. Peter’s. Reports of the doings of the Ayots WI are regularly reported in The Welwyn Magazine. Until recently these reports were prepared by Barbara Reed of Holly Cottage and currently the work is undertaken by Shirley Summers, formerly of Sunset Cottage.
The Reading Room was demolished when the A1(M) was under construction in 1972. At the time of its demolition the hall was called the Reading Room but in the parish magazines of 1948 it was called the Parish Hall, and in those of the 1960s the Ayot Green Hall. The sum paid by way of compensation (over £7,500) became the capital fund or endowment of the Ayot St. Peter Recreation Ground Charity. As a result, since 1981 the residents of Ayot St. Peter have had the use of a hard tennis court on a site adjoining 31 Ayot Green.
The village sometimes entered the Best Kept Village competition organised annually by the Hertfordshire Society. In 1984 it came second in its group and won a prize of five trees which were strategically planted by volunteers around the parish. In July 1986 it was the winner of the Best Kept Hamlet. The Lord Lieutenant of the county, David Bowes-Lyon, attended a ceremony on Ayot Green at which the winner’s sign was unveiled. It stayed in place (where the lanes divide) for a year. In recent years the policy of the parish meeting has been against further participation in this competition.
There is ample scope for the golfers of the parish to indulge their passion. There has been a golf course at Welwyn Garden City for many years. It used to come right up to the rear fence of the Waggoners and run alongside the Great North Road - onto which balls could be hit all too easily. The course had to undergo major change to its layout when the A1(M) was built. There are recently built courses at Danesbury, Lamer Park and Mill Green and there is Mid-Herts Golf Club at Gustard Wood, which is over 100 years old. Two golf courses (and a nine-hole ‘executive’ course) have been built in Brocket Park. The first, called the Melbourne, was built when the current Lord Brocket was still involved with the management of the park and house. It opened in 1992 and has already been judged sufficiently good to be the venue for professional competitions. The inaugural Cantor Fitzgerald Laura Davies Invitational was played on the Melbourne course on 27-30 August 1999. The second course, named the Palmerston, was built in 1998-99 and nine of its 18 holes were officially opened on 9 September 1999. The remaining nine holes opened on 5 June 2000. Ternex (London) Limited supplied the fine timber structure for the clubhouse, which serves both courses.
Residents and visitors alike enjoy the network of footpaths and bridleways in the area. One of the best used routes runs from the side of the tennis court to the gate opposite Manor Farm but the map reveals that this is not, officially at least, a footpath. The trackbed of the former branch railway has been named the Ayot Greenway by the County Council and is used by walkers, cyclists and horse riders. There is an associated car park on the old station site but it has not been without its problems. A recognised cycle route runs along Ayot St. Peter Road.
WELFARE BEFORE THE WELFARE STATE
Poor law administration was in the hands of the vestry. The parish was in the Hatfield Union for these purposes. In the Hertfordshire County Record Office there are tables for the poor law rate for Ayott Parva for 1749, 1767, 1770 and 1772. The overseers calculated that at 6d in the £ the parish was worth £9.9.3 in 1749 but only £9.7.0 in the three later years. There was, therefore, modest deflation (probably to do with agricultural depression) and certainly no inflation. Of the £9.7.0 the principal overseer himself owed £4.5.6. In 1767 the total paid by way of relief to the poor of the parish was £34.18.6.
John Henry Peacock, who was living at Ayot Lodge in 1838, died on 27 November 1849 and in his will dated 4 May in the year of his death he established two charitable funds. First, he left £333.6.8 invested in 3% Consols for the benefit of the poor. The annual interest of £10 was to be applied in purchasing clothing, blankets and fuel on Christmas Day for the poor. Secondly, as already mentioned, he left another £333.6.8 invested in Reduced 3% Consols to produce £10 per annum for education. Both charities still exist. The Charity of John Henry Peacock for the Poor has the registered number 238481 and that for Education number 310960. At the beginning of 2000 their combined assets totalled just over £600. The Peacock family tomb is one of the finest in the old churchyard.
George, Lord Mountstephen (1829-1921) was tenant of Brocket Hall from 1892 until his death. He was President of the Bank of Montreal and first President of the Canadian Pacific Railway. He established the Ayot St. Peter and Lemsford Nursing Home, known as the Mountstephen Trust. The nursing home was closed and sold in 1952. The proceeds of sale were allocated as to two thirds to Lemsford and one third to Ayot St. Peter. On 26 March 1996 Ayot St. Peter PCC received the sum of £6,689.41 following the winding-up of this charity.
Under his will dated 18 September 1934 the 1st Lord Brocket (who died just under nine weeks later on 21 November) left £250 to the rector to be applied for the benefit of the poor of the parish of Ayot St. Peter. Like the two Charities of John Henry Peacock, Lord Brocket’s Charity for the Poor still exists. It has registered number 258076 and at the beginning of 2000 it had assets totalling approximately £225. It is proposed, during 2000, to wind up these three small charities (following the proper procedures laid down by the Charity Commission) and to remit their assets to Ayot St. Peter PCC.
The important Roman road from St. Albans (Verulamium) to Ermine Street at a point near Braughing (a distance of 19 miles) ran through the parish from the south west to the north east. Also near Braughing there was a connection to Stane Street (the modern A120), which ran eastwards through Great Dunmow and Braintree to Colchester (Camulodunum). It is known that the road through the parish forded the River Lea at Waterend and the River Mimram at Welwyn, very near to where the bridge in the High Street stands today. The hill up from the ford to Sparrowhall Cottages is on the line of the Roman road. It has been suggested that from this point to Welwyn it may have followed the line of an ancient trackway which passed through Warren Wood and past the old churchyard. It seems, however, that in typical Roman fashion it in fact took a straight course from Sparrowhall Cottages. The line of the road enters the parish very close to the southern buttresses of Hunters Bridge and continues in a north-easterly direction (for a short distance on the line of the dismantled railway) to the point where it crosses Ayot St. Peter Road between the old and new churchyards. The crossing point is marked by a barely discernible hump in the road and, on the north side, by a field gate into the grounds of Ayot Bury. Inside the gate the road ran in a long, narrow spinney for 150 metres to the small open area between the two stiles on the public footpath. On the 1838 tithe map the field (no. 59) abutting the spinney, which was part of the glebe and on which the Grange and the Old Rectory have subsequently been built, was called Strattons Field. This is a Saxon name meaning ‘the enclosure on the street’ and is good corroboration for the line of the road. From the northern stile the footpath runs on the line of the Roman road straight across a field to another stile in School Lane. The line then runs through Rectory Wood - where the road was known as Grimshalestreet in C14th and C15th - but no trace of the road can be seen today. It leaves the parish on School Lane, Welwyn, just to the west of the entrance to the Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital. Beyond the hospital entrance its line is marked by the hedges forming the northern boundaries of the houses in School Lane (which itself runs parallel to the line of the road). The Romans probably followed very closely, if not precisely, the line of a road made by the Catuvellauni to link what were their pre-Roman settlements at St. Albans and Colchester. There is evidence that this road remained in use until C6th. When it was built is unknown, but it presumably dates from some time between the successful invasion of Britain by Claudius in 43 and, say, 150.
Another Roman road, a lateral way about nine miles long, began (or ended) in the parish. It left the principal road at the open space between the stiles in the grounds of Ayot Bury and headed off in a west-north-westerly direction towards the old churchyard. A short length of Ayot St. Peter Road at Ayot Bury Cottage, and the field track beside Tamarisk Cottage, are on the line of this road. There is no trace of it as it crosses the field in a straight line towards Dowdell’s Wood, but in the wood itself the line of the road is clearly marked by a bank which runs parallel to the modern road until its junction with the road from Wheathampstead to Codicote. On the centre line of this road the line of the Roman road leaves the parish. The road continued in a slight arc until it joined Watling Street at Friar’s Wash, close to junction 9 on the M1. It crossed two other Roman roads leading north from Verulamium - at Bride Hall, Ayot St. Lawrence, and at Gustardwood Common - and was therefore a little like a Roman M25.
The minor roads of the parish in 1838 are, with one or two exceptions, in the same use and alignment today. They remain narrow (mostly single track). In Ayot Rectory Carola Oman described a journey along the lanes of the parish on the night of Thursday 22 September 1831 in this way: ‘They seemed to be driving into a tunnel of brilliant autumn leaves. Branches were interlaced overhead; tawny foliage, close on either side, brushed the sides of the new chariot. The sound was sweet, but the coachman began to mutter. The passengers moved strangely towards one another as they shattered over large bumps. These rural roads, under parish maintenance, unsurfaced, undrained, were not at all desirable for chariots, let alone those inside. Ellen wondered, but forbore to vex her caro-sposo by asking what happened if they met another vehicle. There certainly was not room for even a man on a horse to pass.’
The lanes are generally well hedged but there are certain stretches of weak hedging. One such, in Waterend Lane, was thinned and replanted at the end of 1999 with the support of the Countryside Management Service. It is hoped to undertake similar projects of reinforcement in the coming years. Nowadays the hedges are rather crudely cut by tractor-mounted flails, and the ditches and culverts are neglected. As a consequence there is localised flooding at several points when the weather is wet.
There was a track (as important in 1838 as any of the others) which ran from where Hill House stands on Waterend Lane to the north edge of Little Hocketts Wood (called Brocket Wood on the tithe map) where there was a T junction. To the right the track went on north along the side of Sauls Wood to emerge at the current T junction near the church and thus making it a crossroads at that time; to the left it went off in a great sweep around the eastern side of Ayot Place. No bridges were provided for these two tracks where they were intersected by the Dunstable branch railway so they both became footpaths only and for the most part survive as such today - at some points in quite deep cuttings betraying their more important former status. It is from such sunken or hollow roads that we get the name Holloway.
The minor roads of the parish were first surfaced in the 1930s by the Hertfordshire County Council. Responsibility for maintenance remains with the County Council. During the winter months salt is spread when necessary from the motorway bridge along Ayot St. Peter Road. It was announced in October 1999 that the County Council intended to impose 30 mph speed limits in villages and hamlets across the county. This will be welcomed in Ayot St. Peter. For over 30 years the minutes of parish meetings have been recording expressions of concern about excessive speed along the lanes.
The principal Roman road north out of London was Ermine Street, which ran up through Ware to Royston. By the late C17th this road, very heavily used by waggons and packhorses, had become unsatisfactory for ‘polite’ traffic. A reasonable road ran from London to Hatfield through Barnet and Potters Bar, and a branch of the Roman road from St. Albans to Colchester ran from Welwyn north through Stevenage to Baldock and thence on through Sandy to meet Ermine Street at Godmanchester. Minor tracks from Hatfield to Stanborough, Lemsford and Welwyn were improved to provide a link. This road through the middle of Hertfordshire became known as the Great North Road and the road through Ware became the Old North Road. It was, of course, the stretch from Lemsford to Welwyn which passed Ayot Green. For a few hundred yards the western edge of the Great North Road was the eastern boundary of the parish. Since 1986 that boundary has been along the middle of the central reservation of the A1(M), making ‘beating the bounds’ at this point both life-threatening and illegal.
A turnpike trust based in Welwyn was established in 1726 to improve and maintain the Great North Road between Lemsford and Baldock. The 1838 tithe map shows the toll house occupied by the Welwyn turnpike trust at Ayot Green on the east side of the Great North Road, and the gate (turnpike) itself blocking the road. The toll house was built in 1728 and taken over by the trust when the turnpike at Ayot Green was set up in about 1730. It is recorded that in 1735 Nicholas Ludford, the gatekeeper at Ayot Green, was accused of stealing tolls of £5.4.0 which he had reported to the turnpike trust as missing. The toll house remained in the hands of the turnpike trust until 1877 when it and another some miles away were sold together for £24.10.0. It is said that in 1877, when the toll-bar was removed and the trust ceased to function, the landlord of the Red Lion celebrated by putting a cask of beer on Ayot Green for all to help themselves. As we have noticed, the toll house was occupied by Mr Munday in the 1930s and known informally as ‘the house in the woods.’ In December 1947 Roy Pearce and his family are recorded in the register of baptisms as living at Sherrardswood Cottage, Ayot Green, which was its proper name by that date. The building was carefully demolished for removal elsewhere when the A1(M) was built and is now said to be in Norfolk or Suffolk.
The Great North Road from the early C18th presented opportunities for trade where it skirted the parish, and no doubt provided the spur for the eastward migration of its centre of gravity. It seems likely that most of the houses facing Ayot Green in 1838 had been built only in the previous 100 years since the establishment of the turnpike trust. People engaged in trade were attracted to the non-conformist churches and it is probably no accident that by 1822 there was a Wesleyan chapel attached to a cottage in owner occupation at Ayot Green.
Dorothy Cullum remembers that the Birch motor coach ran from King’s Cross to Welwyn on the Great North Road. There was a stop outside the Parish Hall or Reading Room. The fare in the 1940s was £0.2.6 return and the journey took about one hour.
What had been an opportunity became a threat in the 1960s when schemes for the improvement of the Great North Road, by then more prosaically known as the A1 trunk road, were under consideration. As already mentioned, under at least one of the proposals the new A1(M) would have sliced through the parish between Ayot Green and St. Peter’s church and, no doubt, completely ruptured any connection between the two parts of the parish. In all probability the eastern part would then have ended up amalgamated into Welwyn Garden City under the banner of rationalisation. It is worth noting here that in Louis de Soisson’s plan for Welwyn Garden City (1920) the woodland between Brockswood Lane and the branch railway line is entirely replaced by housing, with a new service road emerging onto the old Great North Road opposite the turn into Ayot Green. Had this plan been carried through the A1(M) would surely have had to be built further to the west. In the scheme for the A1(M) finally implemented (which was known as Scheme 19 of the Eastern Roads Construction Unit of the Ministry of Transport, and which was approved following a public enquiry held at Hertford on 17 March 1970) the parish was cut off from the Red Lion and the telephone box, lost Jeeves Cottage and the Reading Room (but not its monetary value) and gained Brickwall Cottage and the Waggoners. All in all this cannot be said to be too bad a result given the alternatives. Preliminary works for the new road began in May 1971. These included the construction of a temporary bridge just to the south of the line of the permanent structure. The main contract was let to Budge of Retford. Work began in February 1972 and the road was opened for traffic in August 1973.
Scheme 19 originally involved also the widening and straightening of Ayot St. Peter Road. This was vigorously opposed by Lord Sanderson, Rev. Hendrik Loysen and others and as a result of their efforts the only vestige of this part of the Scheme to be implemented was the removal of the railway bridge and buttresses, with some modest widening and landscaping, near the junction with Ayot Little Green Lane.
The A1(M) is the source of very considerable noise pollution which affects much of the parish, particularly when the wind is from an easterly direction.
By 1843 both the east and west of Hertfordshire were served by railways but there was no development in the centre. In 1845 a cross-country railway from Luton to Chelmsford and Maldon, which would have run through both Ayot parishes, was proposed but it failed to go ahead for want of capital. The intention of the promoters of the main line to Peterborough and the north was to go by way of the Mimram valley (so that the great expense and difficulty of the Welwyn viaduct and tunnels could be avoided) and this would have involved the line touching Ayot St. Peter at its north-eastern extremity. Great landowners in the Kimpton area blocked this scheme.
By 1850 the Great Northern Railway had opened its main line from King’s Cross to Peterborough over the viaduct. Two branch lines left the main line in open country at what is now Welwyn Garden City station: one went east to Hertford and the other west to Dunstable. The Act of Parliament sanctioning the Dunstable branch was obtained in 1856 and construction was finished by 1860. Services began on 1 September of that year. The Dunstable line entered the parish at the eastern end of Ayot station, crossed over a bridge at the junction of Ayot St. Peter Road with Ayot Little Green Lane and exited at Hunter’s Bridge on the western boundary - a total distance of about one mile.
Both branches terminated at Hatfield so that, until Welwyn Garden City station was built in 1926 (it was opened by Neville Chamberlain on 5 October), a journey from Ayot to Hertford involved a change of trains at Hatfield. In order to avoid this inconvenience the branch companies wanted to build a bridge or a level crossing over the main line at what is now Welwyn Garden City but the Great Northern Railway would never agree to the proposal.
The arrival of the railway in the area had an immediate impact: in the 1851 census Isaac Bracey appears as a ‘rail lab.’. He must have walked down from Ayot Green to the newly-opened main line to work, because in 1851 construction of the branch line through the parish had not even been authorised by Parliament. By 1861 the branch line had been built, and in the census for that year are recorded two railway porters (Alfred Jones and Joseph Harris) and two railway labourers (Isaac Bracey and William Throssell). It is also striking that from now on increasingly large numbers of those resident in the parish were born elsewhere. Isaac Bracey was still employed on the railway as a labourer in 1871 and he had been joined by a platelayer called George Munday (both of whom had been born in Hatfield). As appears below in relation to Clematis Cottage, George may have had family already here.
Ayot station was built in 1877 and stopping services were established to provide new amenities for the parish, which were destined to last only for the equivalent of one lifetime. In the 1881 census the first station master (George Young from Sandy, Bedfordshire) and Station House appear for the first time. By 1881 Isaac Bracey was calling himself a platelayer, and his son Frederick James was the signalman. Robert Cornell (the son of a gamekeeper) was employed by the Great Northern Railway as a clerk in 1881 - presumably dealing with tickets at the new station. Like Isaac Bracey, George Munday had been joined on the railway by his son William by 1881. By 1891 Isaac Bracey had retired and his lodger, William Wood, had taken over as signalman. George Young was still in post as station master in 1891; his son Jesse was by then the clerk and his lodger Harry Beadell from Watford was the porter.
Bradshaw’s for 1910 lists ten trains per weekday in each direction stopping at Ayot station. The journey time to Hatfield was 10 minutes and it took 6 minutes to reach Wheathampstead in the other direction.
In September 1920 the Jennings family arrived at Welwyn Garden City from Esher in a horse-drawn caravan. They claimed to be the first residents of the new town. Their horse (which had been hired) was sent back to Esher by train from Ayot station. There was a derailment at the station in 1926 (of which incident a photograph survives) but otherwise life along the single track line seems to have been uneventful. The Ayot station buildings were set on fire by a spark from a locomotive and burnt down on 26 July 1948. Services to Ayot ended shortly afterwards on 26 September 1949 - a long time before Dr. Beeching’s day! Ayot signal box survived the fire and did not close until 3 January 1966. Passenger services on the branch line ended completely on 24 April 1965 and freight services survived for only a few more months. From then until early in 1971 the line was used by trains bringing rubbish from Finsbury Park to a tip at Blackbridge, near Wheathampstead. The track was lifted between Blackbridge and Welwyn Garden City by July 1971, when the bridge over Ayot St. Peter Road and the by now gutted signal box were demolished. As soon as the track east of Ayot station was removed work began on the A1(M). Initially there were fears about how the Ayot station site would be used. Eventually it was acquired from British Railways by Hertfordshire County Council and (as we have seen) it is now a car park intended for use by people walking along the Ayot Greenway.
The Welwyn (or Digswell) viaduct and the two tunnels to the north of it accommodate only two tracks. This bottleneck severely constrains the expansion of railway operations on the East Coast Main Line. Studies which commenced in October 1997 have concluded that doing nothing about the bottleneck is not an option. It might be thought that no solution would directly involve the parish of Ayot St. Peter. In fact, however, one of the options considered was the construction of new ‘off-line’ routes. One of these would have run through the parish on a north-south axis; the other would have run to the east of Welwyn Garden City. It seems fairly safe to assume that the solution favoured by the engineering consultants (a new viaduct close to, and on the east side of, the existing viaduct) will be implemented and that the ‘off-line’ route through the parish will not be pursued but it will no doubt be wise to be vigilant.
There are really only two houses in the parish which can be called grand, and this appears always to have been the case.
Ayot Bury was the manor house of the Ayot Montfichet moiety. It is one of many houses in Hertfordshire with the word Bury as part of its name. This has the same derivation as borough (a fortified place) and signals that the house was originally the home of the lord of the manor. The present house was probably built in the early C18th as a small house of brick with two storeys and attics comprising two ground floor rooms, central staircase-hall and a back wing. A terracotta plaque bearing the date 1686 and the initials CH, now set in a modern chimney, most probably relates to Charles Horn, who became the rector in 1700. The house was enlarged and altered in the late C19th by Sir Alfred Reynolds JP. This is what is said of Ayot Bury in Pevsner: ‘A fine well-kept house, the centre block of which is of 1672. Additions of 1913.’ The house, together with the former bakehouse and a barn 20 metres south-east of the house, are listed buildings.
As already mentioned it was the rectory until 1866. At the time of the 1871 census the house was occupied by Rev. William Gould (charmingly described in the return as a ‘clerk in holy orders without the care of souls’ or, in prosaic modern terms, a retired clergyman) together with his wife and five domestic servants. It appears that Ayot Bury was purchased by George Robinson in the early 1870s. He and his wife Jane Ann are buried in the old churchyard and they did much towards the building of the new church in 1874-75. The range of windows in the west wall of St. Peter’s was furnished by Mr. Robinson as a memorial to his wife, who died on 30 December 1879 aged 84. At the time of the 1881 census the house was occupied by George Knowles (described in the return as a ‘bailiff’ - to which someone has added ‘farm’, presumably to rebut any suggestion of default!), his family and two domestic servants. George Robinson died on 27 September 1885 in his 93rd year. In 1891 the house was occupied by Alicia F Holdsworth (a widow ‘living on her own means’), her son George (a 28-year old lieutenant in the Hussars), her 26-year old unmarried daughter Alice and five domestic servants. Sir Alfred Reynolds was the next owner of Ayot Bury. He was previously Lord Cowper’s tenant at Digswell House. Sir Alfred became a JP on the Welwyn bench in 1899 and was its chairman from 1911 until the end of World War I. Sir Alfred died at Ayot Bury on 2 April 1931 at the age of 81. Lady Reynolds lived on until 5 October 1936. Their joint tomb (which also commemorates their son Lt. Frederick Howard Reynolds, Royal Welch Fusiliers, born 16 November 1877, buried at Meerut, India, 1 November 1904) is one of the latest to be found in the old churchyard but it is sadly now in a very poor state of repair.
On 29 January 1937 the executors of Lady Reynolds sold the freehold to Nall-Cain Estates Limited. By 1 November 1937 that company had either changed its name, or had transferred the title, to Brocket Estates Limited because on that date a company called Brocket Estates Limited sold Ayot Bury to Evelyn Constance Sanderson. From 1937 to 1971 it was the home of Basil, Lord Sanderson of Ayot. He was born on 19 June 1894 in New York and died on 15 August 1971 at Ayot Bury. In 1927 he married Evelyn Constance Ismay, the youngest daughter of Lord Sanderson’s father’s friend and business associate Lord Ismay. Basil Sanderson was chairman of Shaw Savill from 1947 to 1963 and he was a director of the Bank of England from 1943 to 1965. By letters patent dated 4 July 1960 (gazetted the following day) Basil Sanderson was created the 1st Baron Sanderson of Ayot, of Welwyn in the County of Hertford. The barony was conferred in the Birthday Honours of 1960 for services to industrial relations in the shipping industry - one such service was keeping the London docks open for business throughout World War II. In 1967 he published his autobiography Of ships and sealing wax. The Sandersons had three children: Pauline (b. 1929) and twins Alan and Murray (b. 1931). Lady Sanderson was killed on August Bank Holiday 1940 (Monday 26 August) by a rearing pony which fell over backwards when she was trying it out for the children. For many years Mrs Eleanor Coles Ainley was housekeeper at Ayot Bury. She was a family friend and the wife of a then famous actor called Henry Ainley. Lord Sanderson is the only person to have used the word Ayot as part of a title. His son and heir renounced the title under the Peerage Act 1963. After Lord Sanderson died Mrs Ainley remained in occupation, certainly until the end of 1972. The house was eventually sold to Robert David Charles Henderson, a banker, and his wife Odette Anne. By 1980 Ayot Bury and the land surrounding it were owned by David Michael Friend and by Staffhire Limited, a company which he controlled. On 2 August 1982 the property was purchased by Kenneth John Oliver. Ken Oliver died on 20 January 1986 and his widow Patricia then bought Sunset, where she lived for some years. She sold Ayot Bury to James and Jennifer Furlong, the present owners.
One of the four properties to be seen in 1838 which has no equivalent extant today was a small lodge on the right hand side of the front (School Lane) entrance to Ayot Bury. Oddly this tiny property, known as Rectory Lodge, was owned by the Earl of Mexborough, which is between Rotherham and Doncaster! The earl’s connection with the parish has been explained above under ‘Religion.’ In 1838 and 1841 the tenant was John Bayford (who was described as a farmer and probably ran a smallholding) and in 1851 George Foxlee (a member of the Manor Farm family) was in occupation. In 1861 the tenant was James Barrow, whose wife Rebecca Emily was the schoolmistress. The small school once supported by Lord Melbourne was, perhaps, for a time located in this property. In 1866-67 the new rectory was built, and by 1871 there was a purpose-built school house. In the census for 1871 no one seems to have been living in Rectory Lodge and it was probably abandoned at this time. An old white-painted gate post is still to be seen in the hedge close to the entrance to Ayot Bury and shows that there was once a dwelling here.
Ayot Montfichet was, until renamed recently following very extensive works to the house and its gardens, called Ayot Place. The earliest part of the present building is an open hall dating from about 1485 (the year of the battle of Bosworth and the start of the Tudor dynasty) and perhaps built by John Fyshe (or Fish), who was murdered in 1494. It is considered that the family would have lived upstairs in the hall house with their livestock driven in to occupy the downstairs at night. Sir George Perient probably carried out some important work to the house in about 1615, because in the open hall there is a minstrels’ gallery with a frieze with that date in the middle. On 15 September 1618 John Garrard of Lamer Park settled property including Ayot Place on his son, also John, of Waterend. It is recorded that in 1673 William Hales, a later owner of the house, purchased 12 new hearths; he is probably responsible for the cross wing to the north of the hall. In 1832 a later William Hales of King’s Walden sold Ayot Place to Viscount Melbourne and it became a tenant farm of the Brocket Estate. It was left unimproved by these landlords and throughout most of C19th remained a decayed, tenanted farmhouse and something of an architectural curiosity. The house, together with the garden wall to its south and east side and the pigeon loft in what was the farm courtyard, are listed buildings.
This was the manor (or home) farm of the Ayot Montfichet moiety. In 1838 it is shown on the tithe map as Ayott Place Farm and as owned by Viscount Melbourne and occupied by William Wright. William died on 9 July 1895 aged 80, and described himself as being of Place Farm, Ayot St. Peter. He is buried in the old churchyard, as are five other Wrights who may or may not be of the same family. Miss Eliza Wright is recorded as the farmer at Ayot Place in Kelly’s Directory of 1899 and 1902. In that of 1912 the farmer is recorded as John Pointon. It seems that the property was sold in 1912-13 to Sir Arthur Cory Wright Bt. and that he carried out extensive alterations and additions. There is a rainwater head bearing the date 1913. Sir Arthur must have lived locally prior to his move to Ayot Place, because he became a JP on the Welwyn bench in 1904. He was still in occupation in 1922. The Cory Wrights were coal merchants. The Wheathampstead by-pass is called Cory Wright Way. Further alterations to the house were made by Lady Kesteven in the late 1920s. Henry and Gladys Willis were in occupation from 27 October 1927 until 1947. He was an insurance broker and became the chairman of the Sun Life Insurance company. A bomb landed on the front lawn of Ayot Place in about 1940 - very possibly part of a stick of bombs which, as we shall see, also damaged Ryefield Farm. The property has had several owners since World War II, including Anthony Andrew Francis Tabor (1947-69), Julian Michael Edmund Byng (1972-79), Charles Gallagher (1979-82), Mr Ali (1982-92) and Isaac and Nurit Yardeni (from March 1993). Mr Tabor was a banker and his wife’s names were Margery Angela Hamilton. Two daughters and a son were baptised by Rev. Jim Davies at St. Peter’s. Julian Byng kept a light aircraft and used the field between the house and Sauls Wood for take-offs and landings. His airstrip was approximately on the line of the Roman road from Waterend to Welwyn. Byng is the family name of the Earls of Strafford, one of whose seats is at Wrotham Park between Monken Hadley and Potters Bar. These Straffords are the second creation, dating from 1847. The first Earl of Strafford was Thomas Wentworth, who was famously Lord President of the North and Lord Deputy of Ireland under Charles I and beheaded at Tower Hill on Wednesday 12 May 1641. Thomas Wentworth’s heirs are the modern Earls Fitzwilliam, but there is a distant family connection between the Wentworth and Byng families in the female line. Julian Byng’s father was Capt. Michael William Millicent Lafone and his mother was Lady Elizabeth Alice Byng (b. 1897), elder daughter of the 6th Earl of Strafford. In 1952, under the terms of the 6th Earl’s will, Julian Lafone (b. 1928) assumed the surname of Byng and his mother resumed her maiden surname, in each case by deed poll. Lady Elizabeth Alice lived at Wrotham Park; she died in 1987 and Julian Byng now lives there. The 6th Earl did not have a son, and the title passed to his nephew. Confusingly, the 7th Earl’s younger son (b. 1938) was named Julian Francis Byng. In August 1981 Charles Gallagher sold the fields surrounding the house at auction to the Ayot Estate. Mr Ali was the foreign minister of Pakistan in the time of prime minister Ali Bhutto. The house was looked after by Ron Seymour (who was the warden of the Ayot Greenway) from the departure of Mr Ali and his family in early 1992 until December of that year. From December 1992 until March 1993 it was empty. The current owners of the house and garden, Isaac and Nurit Yardeni, have removed all the C20th additions and returned it (much improved) to the proportions of C17th. This major project was managed by the Yardenis’ son Eris.
A second property to be seen on the tithe map but not extant today was what is there called ‘old house and garden’ which lay to the south of Ayot Place beside the western branch of the old track which divided at Little Hocketts Wood, close to where the branch railway line was later laid. A well-head and some rubble (broken bricks and tiles) scattered by ploughing are still readily visible in the field beside the present footpath from the Ayot Greenway to Ayot Place marking the site once occupied by this property. John Crawley and his wife were in occupation in 1838 and 1841 but by 1851 their place had been taken by Daniel Warner and his family. Both men were agricultural labourers. It seems from the census returns as if the property was abandoned immediately after the branch railway was built in 1860.
BUILDINGS AROUND AYOT GREEN
Ayot Green is the main green of the parish and has presumably existed in more or less its present form since the current Brocket Hall was built by Sir Matthew Lamb Bt. in C18th, and very possibly for long years before. The Hall lies in the neighbouring parish of Lemsford (until 1858-59, Hatfield) but it and its owners and occupiers have had a very great significance for Ayot St. Peter. Part of the park to the north of the Hall lies inside the southern boundary of our parish. In 1838 Lord Melbourne owned over 640 of the 1,100 acres in the parish (58%). Most of the houses facing the green were in the ownership of the trustees of the Brocket Estate (successors of Lords Melbourne, Cowper and Brocket) until (as already mentioned) they began to make sales of the freeholds following the death of the 2nd Lord Brocket on 24 March 1967.
Ayot Green was sometimes called Ayot Great Green to distinguish it from Ayot Little Green.
In Ayot Rectory Carola Oman has this passage: ‘Suddenly, after a long pull up a hill with a dark brick wall alongside, the sound of whirring wheels moving fast altered. They had turned off the turnpike road on to something much more countrified. They both sat up. "Ayot Green! We are getting near home, Ellen!" It was a miniature common, the prettiest thing in the world, with fine old oaks, a few cottages round the edges, and a couple of lanes branching in the centre.’ That was how the author imagined the scene in 1831. It would serve as a very fair description of the same scene today but for the ever-increasing traffic, much of it commercial and industrial, across the green and the noise from the A1(M), which together compromise the sense of countrification. Visitors evidently appreciate the green. It is much painted and photographed, and in the autumn gives up its bounty of ‘conkers’ to many (mainly) young collectors.
Early photographs show clearly that Ayot Green was not mown at all frequently prior to World War II, so that it had a rough or shaggy appearance. They also show that there were far fewer trees along the two lanes crossing the green than there are today. In particular there appear to have been no chestnuts at all; these were planted in the 1930s to mark either the silver jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary on 6 May 1935 or the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on 12 May 1937. Without the trees the green obviously had a much more open aspect. It has to be a matter of taste whether the unkempt and open appearance of the green of yesteryear is to be preferred to the mown and wooded scene of today. By the 1960s the minutes of parish meetings show that people no longer cared for an untidy green, and a contractor was employed by the parish to mow it several times a year. In 1997 eleven new oak trees were planted around Ayot Green under a ‘sponsor a tree’ scheme. These trees have small tags attached to them which identify the sponsors. In 1998 a further oak sapling was planted by Barbara Reed’s son Martin when he was visiting from his home in Johannesburg.
Pursuant to an application made by the Welwyn Rural District Council on 24 July 1967, Ayot Green was registered as common land under the Commons Registration Act 1965. Registration became final on 8 October 1971. As part of the A1(M) scheme, the site of the new access road leading to the old Great North Road and the Waggoners and a small piece of the green in front of the Reading Room were deleted from the registration but a compensating wedge of land adjoining the site of the tennis court was added. The registered area (which includes the wooded area on both sides of Waterend Lane as far as Crackendell Cottage and Sawmill Cottage) is 2.79 hectares (6.90 acres). The owner of 1 Ayot Green registered the right to graze two horses and four goats and to keep 60 fowls, turkeys, geese or ducks over the whole of the registered area. Similarly, the owner of 4 Ayot Green registered the right to graze six goats, one horse and 12 fowls or geese over the whole area. In the late 1970s Diana Golding of 4 Ayot Green was often to be seen grazing her two goats. The cost and responsibility for mowing passed to Welwyn Rural District Council (and thence to Welwyn Hatfield District Council) when the freehold title to Ayot Green was ceded by the Brocket Estate in connection with its registration as common land.
The current numbering system for the buildings around Ayot Green is of fairly recent origin but it is convenient to use it. It was certainly in use in 1954 but it had apparently then only recently superseded an earlier system dating from the early 1930s. Perhaps surprisingly, the earlier numbering system is nowhere used in the register of baptisms and the first use of the current system in the register is not until 21 October 1990 (17 Ayot Green). Under the earlier system the buildings around the green seem to have been numbered in sequence from the eastern half of what is now 4 Ayot Green (no. 1) along to Georgian Cottage (no. 10), then from the current 37 to 31 (nos. 11-14) and finally from the current 23 to 1 (nos. 15 to 23). A 1954 lease of 5 Ayot Green recites that the property was formerly 21 Ayot Green. Under the current system the even numbers up to 26 are along the north side of the green; the odd numbers run along the south side as far as the rear entrance to Brocket Hall and then back, via the sawmills and Saw Mill Cottage, to include the west side of the green and the west side of what becomes Ayot St. Peter Road, ending with no. 41.
In 1838 the corner site at the northern junction of Ayot Green and the Great North Road was a detached garden for the use of the occupier of the eastern half of 4 Ayot Green. The Reading Room stood here from 1884 until its demolition in 1972. According to the minutes of the parish meeting its furniture and fittings were, at the invitation of Mrs Ainley, moved to Ayot Bury for storage. Where they are now is a mystery. It is also recorded in the minutes that Michael Banks obtained permission from the main contractor, Budge, to remove any salvageable bricks free of charge. They were intended for use in the building of a new village hall. This did not go ahead and it is believed that these bricks are now to be found incorporated into the fabric of 11 Ayot Green.
Facing the Great North Road, between the Reading Room and the Red Lion, lay Jeeves Cottage or 13 Digswell Hill. This was demolished at the same time as the Reading Room and is a third property to be found on the tithe map but no longer extant. In 1838 it was owned by Lord Melbourne and occupied by John Chesher (who was perhaps the licensee of the Red Lion). On census night in 1841 the cottage (identified simply as ‘Digswell Hill’) was unoccupied. In 1851 it is recorded as housing two families, the Reids and the Westwoods. Thomas Westwood was a blacksmith and presumably worked at the smithy (now 39 Ayot Green). In 1861 there were no Reids or Westwoods present on census night, and the enumerator did not assign the address of Digswell Hill to any cottage, with the result that it is only possible to guess as to occupancy in that year. In 1871 the cottage was again providing a home for two families, the Shepherds and the Kimptons. Joseph Kimpton was a shepherd but Henry Shepherd was not! The name Jeeves Cottage must derive from the occupancy of Henry and Julia Jeeves and their large family. They were in the (by now single occupancy) cottage in 1881 and 1891. Their son Harry Jeeves was aged eight in 1891. He died on 30 January 1951 aged 68. He and his wife Annie Gray Matilda, who died on 21 January 1968 aged 80, are buried in the new churchyard. The last occupier was Rosalind Trench-Watson, who was a very keen gardener and a stalwart of the Ayots’ Horticultural Society. She donated four prize cups to the society. It is said, probably without exaggeration, that the prospect of her home being demolished and her beautiful garden destroyed to make way for the A1(M) broke Mrs Trench-Watson’s heart. Apparently she contracted pneumonia while waiting on a wet, cool day to get into the 1971 Chelsea Flower Show. The parish minutes record that she was in the Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital, Welwyn, on 1 July 1971 and that she had died by 28 March 1972.
Opposite the Waggoners and facing the former Great North Road (now prosaically called Brickwall Close after the brick wall which shielded Brocket Park from the Great North Road) is Brickwall Cottage, which was not in the parish until 1986 and is not included in the numbering scheme for Ayot Green. In the 1940s it was occupied by Mr and Mrs Crick and their daughter Rosemary. In March 1951 it was occupied by Horace and Rosemary Bones, who had moved to one of the lodges or gatehouses at the rear entrance to Brocket Hall by May 1952. In September 1955 they were living in Welwyn. Since it was incorporated into the parish Brickwall Cottage has been occupied by Bernard Speller.
There is a subsidiary green in the parish known as Ayot Little Green. As with Ayot Green, the Welwyn Rural District Council applied for registration of Ayot Little Green as common land under the Commons Registration Act 1965. Registration became final on 20 December 1972. The registered area extends to 0.22 hectare(0.54 acre). It comprises all the land lying between the lane and the fenced or hedged frontages of Manor Farm and Jabez Cottage and all the land between the lane and the fenced, walled or hedged frontages of Gayton and Clematis Cottage from the gate into the field to the point where the verge and the lane merge below Clematis Cottage.
Nowadays there are four dwellings around the green occupied by fewer than 10 people, but until the 1950s there would have been a working farm and five families of cottagers.
There are three working farms in the parish. In 1838 there were two more - Manor Farm and Soray’s Farm - and a couple of smallholdings.
Already mentioned is Whitehill Farm, which was not in the ecclesiastical parish in 1838 and therefore is not to be found on the tithe map. Some of the fields surrounding the farm were always in the parish. In 1838 they were all shown on the tithe map as owned by William Wilsher (sic) but there were three different occupiers. It seems that, of these, Joseph Barker was probably the farmer at what is now Whitehill Farm. The farmhouse was apparently built at about the same time as the neighbouring terrace of cottages - that is 1880. The last tenant farmers were the Irvines, who came from Northumberland. Nowadays it is the home of Christopher Burgess. He purchased the farm from Gerald Maunsel Gamul Wilshere on 9 March 1966 at an auction held at the Red Lion in Hatfield. Christopher Burgess’ great uncle George Burgess was the blacksmith at Ayot St. Peter, and his daughter Winifred (who died on Monday 1 March 1920 in her 15th year) is believed to have been the first person buried in the new churchyard. George died on 18 December 1934 aged 60 and his widow Harriet died on 31 August 1958 aged 79. Both of them are buried in the new churchyard. Christopher Burgess has never extended the farmhouse but he did extend the area of the farm under cultivation. Parish minutes include references to felling licences for Rectory Wood in January 1966 and Greggs Wood in December 1968.
Linces Farm is off Fullingmill Lane. It has been known as Lincy’s, Lince’s Lodge, Palmerston Grange or Lince’s Hall at various times, and it has extended over an area of between 260 and 320 acres. The word Lince is said variously to be a contraction of Lawrence or to derive from ‘hlinc’, meaning hill. In 1838 Lord Melbourne owned Linces Farm, which was worked by Abraham Batten from (at least) 1838 until some time after the 1861 census. A man called Henry Finnes Clinton owned a field through which the eastern boundary of the parish ran in 1838 and still runs today. Mr. Clinton’s name is therefore to be found on the tithe map in respect of a part of one field, the whole of which was let to Abraham Batten and formed part of the farm. No Battens are commemorated in the churchyards. In 1871 it was being farmed by John Barker. It may be that after 1871 John Barker lived elsewhere, because in the 1881 and 1891 censuses the occupier was George Coleman, his farm bailiff. The Baron family have been the farmers for 90 years. In 1910 Donald Baron’s father took a lease from the Wilshere Estate (by which it was then owned). There were four children - Donald, George, Ernie and Doris. George (born in about 1894) bred pigs at Manor Farm in the 1920s and later at Lockleys. Jim Day was a horseman at Linces in the 1930s and lived at Whitehill, next door to Hannah Chandler. He was engaged to the cook at The Frythe for about 30 years. When they eventually married his wife died after only three years. There were about six employees at Linces in the 1930s. Donald’s mother started a dairy in the late 1920s when farming was difficult. Donald delivered milk in Welwyn Garden City; one of his customers was Flora Robson, through whom he met Paul Robeson. Donald Baron and his wife Margaret worked the farm for many years. During their time the Wilshere Estate sold the freehold to Mr Tabor of Ayot Place. The Tabor family interest is now held by the Coruanan Trust. Under Donald and Margaret the farming was mixed - arable, cows and some pigs. They used to keep cattle in the park at Ayot Bury in Lord Sanderson’s time. Donald died in 1978 whereupon their son Richard and his wife Sheila moved into the farmhouse from 3 Linces Farm Cottages, where they had been living. Donald had transferred the lease to Richard before he died. The Baron family kindly donate a Christmas tree to St. Peter’s church each year. The farmhouse, together with the barn to the south-west and the former granary to the east, are listed buildings.
There are four cottages connected with the farm called 1, 2, 3 and 4 Linces Farm Cottages. None of these existed in 1838. Nos. 1 and 2 were built in 1868 so that from the time of the 1871 census onwards there were two cottages on the farm for the use of agricultural labourers and their families. A ploughman called William Fisher and his wife Emily had one of the cottages in 1902 and 1904. Another pair of cottages, nos. 3 and 4, were built in 1914. In July 1967 the address of Desmond and Anne Hart is given in the register of baptisms as 4 Linces Farm Cottages. Currently Martin and Sharon Teteris occupy no. 1; Jonathan and Hazel Stapleton are at no. 2; and Margaret Baron has nos. 3 and 4 but uses no. 3 as her address.
Ryefield Farm is entered from the Codicote to Wheathampstead road and is run by the Hawley family. According to the testimony of Joseph Garratt (who was born at the farm on 21 October 1853), he was told that the farmhouse was built in 1832. Apparently there was a date stone for 1832 on one of the gables. At about the same time an extensive range of barns, sheds and other outbuildings, together with a deep well and underground water storage tanks, were built. Many of these features survive today - but unfortunately not the granary which was demolished in the 1960s and is remembered as an attractive feature. The farm originally extended to some 220 acres and still includes some 200 acres. In 1838 it was owned by Levi Ames, who owned much land in Ayot St. Lawrence parish and was the tenant of Lamer Park. The tenant farmer at that time was Samuel Garratt (whose surname was incorrectly given as Garret on the tithe map, and who was the grandfather of Joseph). In the 1841 census it was called Rye Fields Farm. By 1851 Samuel had died (on 23 March 1850) and his eldest son, Thomas (b. 1829, d. 29 October 1855), was in occupation. In 1861 and 1871 Thomas’ widow Emily (née Kingsley) was the occupier (her two sons, Samuel and Joseph, with her in 1861 but only Samuel with her in 1871). By 1881 Emily had left and Thomas’ younger brother William (b. 1834) was the farmer, as he was in 1891. From 1851 to 1891 the farm was called New Farm - no doubt reflecting the fact that it is newer than its neighbours Linces Farm, Place Farm (Ayot Place) and Hill Farm (Ayot St. Lawrence). Mr Ames must have sold the freehold at some point because it is now owned by the Ayot Estate. It probably passed through the hands of the Cowper Estate on the way to its present owners. After the last of the Garratts left the farm was taken over by Walter Ivory. Mr Ivory and his wife Rosa were obviously not non-conformists like the Garratts because they took their daughters Olive and Frances to be baptised at St. Peter’s in 1899 and 1902 respectively. By 1936 the Orchard family were the farmers. It seems that there were two brothers, Alfred Joseph and Charles Ernest, and that they both lived in the farmhouse with their wives and children. Alfred was married to Constance Effie and Charles to Madge Beatrice (until 1936-37) and then to Hilda Florence. During World War II a German aircraft dropped a stick of bombs across the farm, damaging the house. This was probably in 1940, because by 17 November of that year Charles and Hilda had moved to Ryefield Cottage (now Tamarisk Cottage). When it was repaired the original Ayot bricks were rendered over, obliterating the 1832 date stone. The Orchards stayed until 1946 when Dudley Hawley (then aged only 21) moved with his parents from Luton to take over the tenancy. Beryl Hawley moved to Ryefield Farm (also from Luton) when she married Dudley in 1954. Dudley has lived in the parish for longer than any other resident apart from Margaret Baron.
In 1938-39 Joseph Garratt wrote up notes of his childhood in the 1850s and 1860s which give an invaluable picture of the times. Extracts have been published recently in the magazine of the Hertfordshire Family History Society. For instance, Joseph vividly remembered ‘the great comet’ as ‘a grand sight the big star with its long tail.’ He noted that the date of this spectacle was 1857; in fact he must have seen Donati’s Comet in 1858 when he was either four or just turned five years old. Joseph went to school in Codicote until March 1862. He went to Codicote and back either by donkey or on foot. From March 1862 until December 1864 he was a weekly boarder at a school in Hatfield. He remembered that the toll on the Great North Road at Ayot Green was 6d and that another toll was payable at Mount Pleasant (now Tesco, Hatfield); his family did not like paying the two tolls ‘so we did not very often get a ride to school’ to Hatfield. He walked the five miles to Hatfield on Monday morning and walked back again on Friday afternoon - in the dark in the winter months. ‘Sometimes someone would come and meet us.’ His last school was Prospect House at Tring. Whilst there in 1867 he drew and painted two notable views of Ryefield Farm.
As already mentioned, the Garratts were well-known non-conformists. They built the chapel in Codicote High Street in 1861 and contributed to the cost of building the one in Welwyn but had no involvement with the Wesleyan chapel on Ayot Green. Joseph Garratt went with his mother to Welwyn chapel on Sunday mornings. By law the family were supposed to attend the parish church. As a non-conformist Emily Garratt would not do so but young Joseph did attend the second (round) church on Sunday afternoons - presumably as the family’s token compliance. He recalled sitting in the gallery, from where he could look out of the window towards the separate bell-tower while Rev. Edwin Prodgers senior preached!
Amazingly, Ryefield Farm has spawned a second published testimonial. In the October 1998 edition of Best of British there is an article by Kenneth Orchard, who is the son of Charles and Madge and lives at Stotfold, remembering his childhood at Ryefield Farm before and during World War II. His mother died when he was only 10 months old and he confirms that when his father remarried the family moved to one of the two Ryefield Cottages and that the other cottage was occupied by the cowman (identified by Dudley Hawley as Charlie Woodhams). He particularly remembers seeing a formation of wartime bombers flying over the farm - he does not say whether they were German or not. Two of them collided and came crashing down. Sadly not all the crew managed to escape.
Also at Ryefield Farm is Ryefield Lodge, which was built in 1976 when Ryefield Cottages (Tamarisk Cottage) were sold. This property is occupied by Robert and Trudy Davis.
SAWMILLS AND JOINERY
There are two sawmills at Ayot Green but there were none in 1838.
The smaller, at 25 Ayot Green, is operated by Owen (‘Taffy’) Williams and his son Glyn, trading as Williams & Son. The business began in 1934 doing work for the Brocket Estate. Taffy was born on 16 July 1916 and comes from a farming family originating in North Wales. Glyn, who lives at 18 Ayot Green, joined his father in the business in 1954. An interesting and long-standing venture is that the Christmas tree from Trafalgar Square is brought to the sawmill to be made into a variety of goods which are sold to raise funds for charity, in particular Children in Need. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first in the series of Norwegian gifts of that famous tree Ralph Hentall of Hatfield carved a beautiful loving spoon from a piece of the 1997 tree. It was presented to the Queen of Norway by the City of Westminster.
The larger, at 27 Ayot Green with a frontage onto the Green, was established by the 2nd Lord Brocket in about 1952 as the sawmill for Brocket Park, dealing with timber from there. In 1960 it became the premises of Ternex (London) Limited, under a lease from the Brocket Estate. The company later purchased the freehold. The managing director is Vincent Nevel; he took over from his father Francis, the founder of the business. Francis Nevel was a designer and maker of furniture in London from 1930. He ran woodworking classes at an arts club near Regents Park and from these classes a business was established under the name The Betula. On 5 December 1936 its participation at the exhibition of the Home Arts and Industries Association was written up in The Cabinet Maker and Complete House Furnisher. Francis Nevel’s work was influenced by the arts and crafts movement initiated by William Morris. During World War II the firm was commissioned by the Ministry of Supply to make a wide variety of wooden components. The site has a tangled planning history going back to 1952 and the days of the Welwyn Rural District Council. From 1982 until 1985 part of the site was occupied by Lewis Tyler & Sons (Fencing) Limited - now located on the edge of Hatfield Park. Both Lewis Tyler and Ternex regularly advertise in The Welwyn Magazine. Vincent Nevel has always been ready to support the parish - providing machinery to clear up after storms, supplying benches for the Green and wood for the church and so on.
As we have seen, there is a third woodworking business in the parish. It is the joinery at 39 Ayot Green. For many years it was operated by Ken Bailey under the name Welwood Joinery but since his recent retirement it has been in the hands of his brother Ian under the new name of Timberline Joinery.
As already mentioned, 5 Ayot Green was a public house called the Horse & Jockey until it closed in 1922. According to local legend it had acquired something of a reputation as a house of ill repute but regretably no official confirmation of this colourful tale has been encountered in the course of our research.
In 1838, according to the tithe map, the parish boundary cut through the southern end of what is now the Red Lion. Between this building and Jeeves Cottage were a number of stables and other outbuildings (like Jeeves Cottage owned by Lord Melbourne and occupied by John Chesher). Later Ordnance Survey maps show that the outbuildings were demolished and that, more sensibly, the parish boundary ran along a footpath which separated Jeeves Cottage from the Red Lion. Since the construction of the A1(M) it has found itself separated from the village on the far side of the motorway. As already noticed, since 1986 the parish boundary has run along the middle of the A1(M), putting the Red Lion firmly outside the parish to the east of the cutting. It is, accordingly, right to regard the Red Lion as never having been in the parish of Ayot St. Peter - albeit, like the brickworks, it plainly had a significant impact on the lives of the inhabitants. The Red Lion was established in 1715 as the Shoulder of Mutton, some 10 years or so before the establishment of the Welwyn turnpike trust. It was renamed the Red Lion in 1746. It will have served travellers on the Great North Road for about 250 years before the road was replaced by the A1(M) in 1973. Nowadays its patrons mostly arrive by car from Welwyn Garden City. It was closed for extensive refurbishment during the winter of 2001-02.
The ecclesiastical parish included only the west side of the Great North Road and accordingly the Waggoners was in the parish of Hatfield. Until the 1986 boundary changes which followed the construction of the A1(M) and the renaming of the Great North Road as Brickwall Close, it was not in the civil parish either but it is now the only public house in the parish. It was originally a small cottage (probably of C17th construction) before the licence of a pub called the Angel was transferred to it in about 1850. From about 1720 the Angel had stood beside the Great North Road on the south side of the boundary between Welwyn and Hatfield parishes. Its site is at the southern end of the garden of the Waggoners, immediately across the road from Brickwall Cottage. The transfer of its licence and the subsequent demolition of the building were apparently carried out at the behest of Lady Palmerston. The Waggoners is a listed building. Joseph Howard was the first licensee of the Waggoners. From the time when it became part of the parish until 1998 it was managed by Kathy Pearce and her family. After she left it was briefly in the hands of the Red Rooster organisation but since just before Christmas 1999 it again became family-managed by Joe and Dawn McCullock, whose concept was to re-establish the Waggoners as a traditional family pub with wholesome home-cooked food. Sharnie Williams, daughter of Glyn and Barbara of 18 Ayot Green, was the chef. The McCullocks did not last long, however, and the property has been recently sold.
The character of the parish has changed enormously in C20th. In the 1920s and 1930s the cottages had neither water nor electricity and only outside sanitation and most of the cottagers drew their water from the pump on the green. Until the Brocket Estate began to sell freeholds after 1967 Ayot St. Peter was quite a poor parish with only its two grand houses, both standing apart from Great Green and Little Green, its several farms and the singular distinction of having had four parish churches. Most of the population were tenants dependent for their livings on the farms, the brickworks (in Welwyn parish) or the Great North Road. The break with the unchanging patterns of the past has been decisive. Nowadays the parish is quite wealthy and very few residents have any historical connection with the place where they live. The number of cars probably very nearly matches the number of adult residents. It can be said that what has grown out of the past is a peaceful and lovely village and, perhaps because most residents of working age find their employment in London or one of the neighbouring towns, they are anxious to preserve and enhance this beautiful part of the Hertfordshire countryside.
St Peter's Christmas Services - 2014
Details of the Christmas Services at St Peter's this year are as follows.
Advent Sunday - 30th November at 6:30pm
The Welwyn Team Ministry Advent Carol Service will be held on Sunday 30th November at 6.30pm in St Mary’s. It is a candlelit service with music, hymns, readings and prayers for the beginning of Advent.
Sunday 14th December
11:15 am - Carol Service
Sunday 21st December
11:15 am - Crib Service *
11:15 am - Holy Communion
* Services especially suitable for children
The address of St Peter's Church is :
St Peter's Church
Ayot Saint Peter Road
Ayot Saint Peter
How to find us
The church does not have a car park.
Cars are advised to park along the side of the road.
|First Sunday of the month||11:15am||Mattins|
|Second Sunday of the month||11:15am||Holy Communion|
|Third Sunday of the month||11.15am||Mattins and Holy Communion|
|Fourth Sunday of the month||11:15am||Holy Communion|
|Fifth Sunday of the month||11:15am||Holy Communion|
All services at St Peter's follow the Book of Common Prayer