Letchworth Garden City

Thatched cottage in Rushden (Herts)

Thatched cottage in Rushden (Herts)

A lot of the historical research into our district has been focused on the four towns – Baldock, Hitchin, Letchworth Garden City and Royston – but they are only part of the story. Most places are villages and hamlets and these were the sorts of settlements most people have lived in over time. There are places that were once regarded as towns – Ashwell, Codicote and Knebworth – because they had markets, but which have become less important, even though they are now larger places than when they had their markets.

The district currently has 82 individual settlements (can you name them all?), spread between 37 parishes. Some parishes have only one settlement – Baldock, Bygrave, Caldecote, Hexton, Hinxworth, Holwell, Ickleford, Kelshall, Langley, Letchworth, Lilley, Newnham, Nuthampstead, Pirton, Preston, Radwell, Reed and Wallington – but the others have more than one. Whitwell is the main settlement in St Paul’s Walden parish, while Codicote and King’s Walkden have seven settlements each (Codicote, Codicote Heights, Driver’s End, Nup End Green, Oakhills, Pottersheath and Tagmore Green are all in Codicote parish, while Breachwood Green, Darleyhall, King’s Walden, Ley Green, Lye Hill, The Heath and Wandon End are the settlements in King’s Walden).


An iron water pump in Hexton

The village pump in Hexton

It gets even more complicated if you go back over 900 years to the time when Domesday Book was compiled, in 1085-6. This names places by vill, a manorial unit held by a specific person or institution. We use the term ‘held’ rather than ‘owned’ because in feudal law, everything belonged either to the king or to the church, so lords of the manor only had properties because their feudal overlords had granted it to them. The could throw out the lord at any time they wanted. Domesday Book lists 103 separate vills in North Hertfordshire; there are six in Reed alone, where today we recognise only one village. This complexity can make life very difficult for the local historian.

In coming weeks, I’m going to be writing about some of these smaller places in the district. I want to show that our history isn’t just about the bigger places, which we might think of as more important. Everywhere has its own story and these stories are every bit as interesting as those of the towns. The history that I am interested in goes beyond the lords of the manor and the parish priests to the lives of ordinary people, the places they lived and how they occupied their time.

If you couldn’t name all the settlements, here’s a list, which includes the name of the parish they are in, when they were first recorded in documents and what we believe the name to mean.

Hooks Green Farm, Clothall by Alfred J Bamford

Hooks Green Farm, Clothall by Alfred J Bamford (c) North Hertfordshire Museum

One of our many tasks while preparing for the new North Hertfordshire Museum is to understand the collections we hold and where they came from. This often helps to tell us more about the objects, and it is why, when people donate items, we collect as much information about the person giving the item as we do about the object itself.

The Bamford family were one of the families involved in setting up Letchworth Museum and providing items for the collection. We were in correspondence with current members of the family about some of these items shortly after Letchworth Museum closed, and this has led to helping them with an interesting Art Exhibition, The Artful Gene, currently at the Letchworth Arts Centre until the end of August.

This is an exhibition of paintings and drawings by A.J. Bamford (1849 to 1929)  and his great grandson M.J. Bamford (b. 1959) who lives in Australia. 100 years after the first exhibition of Alfred’s work this new exhibition explores the Bamford family tree and features sketches, drawings and more by both artists comparing the similarities in style and subject between the two artists, and exploring whether artistic talent and style exist in the genes.

Reverend Alfred J Bamford was born in Folkestone in 1849 and although he was interested in the study of animals and a talented artist and illustrator, he trained in Christian ministry. His first church was in Kent after which he served abroad for six years in India and China. He returned to England and became minister of a church in Lancashire for twenty years, but retired early, and moved to the new Garden City of Letchworth in 1907.

The Hidden Stream on Norton Common by Alfred J Bamford

The Hidden Stream on Norton Common by Alfred J Bamford (c) North Hertfordshire Museum

One of Letchworth’s earliest residents, he took an active role in many of the town’s organisations. He was a member of the Literary and Debating Society and became Chairman of the Naturalist Society in 1916 during the period when the Society ran Letchworth Museum. He was a member of the Brotherhood Church, he lived on Hillshott and was known locally for his art work. Some of his paintings were shown in an exhibition of local Arts and Crafts mounted for the newly extended museum in 1920. He died in September 1929. Seven of his paintings were donated to Letchworth Museum, and can be seen on the BBC Your Paintings website and copies of them form part of the current exhibition.

Do visit the exhibition, particularly as there are sketches on show of local scenes that the family have not been able to identify and they are hoping to make use of local knowledge to fill in the gaps. Look out too for the workshops run in connection with the exhibition over the coming weeks.



North Herts Museum is always happy to offer work experience placements for interested young people; many of us got our first taste of museum work in a similar way. Last week, Tom, a student from St Christopher School in Letchworth Garden City, spent some time looking at the finds from an old excavation. The finds were deposited with the Museum Service more than ten years ago but no-one had had the opportunity to look at them since then.

I was interested in looking at the finds because they were excavated from a site at the east end of Works Road in Letchworth Garden City, only a few hundred metres from the henge in Norton that I have been investigating recently. The original work was carried out between 1997 and 1999 by the Hertfordshire Archaeological Trust (now Archaeological Solutions), who discovered important Late Neolithic features, dating from about 3000 to 2000 BC. These included a hengiform monument with the crouched skeleton of a teenager at its centre, some deep shafts, a curious banana-shaped pit and an L-shaped ditch. A report on the flints found compared them with those found at Blackhorse Road, a site excavated between 1957 and 1973 by Letchworth Museum, just 200 metres away. I wanted to see for myself how similar they were to the flints from the henge and, perhaps more importantly, to see how their small quantity of pottery compared.

Smoothed slab with a groove along the centre

Smoothed slab with a groove along the centre

As expected, the types of flints were very similar, with some rather nice scrapers and denticulated blades. By the end of the week, Tom had learned how to spot the difference between scrapers, blades, débitage (waste flakes from striking the flint) and cores. He also spotted some stone objects that were rather more unusual, which had me puzzled at first. Two of these objects consisted of flat slabs of a gritty sandstone-like material, about the size of my hand. One surface on each had been polished smooth and, on one of them, a polished groove had been worn into the centre of the stone’s long axis. There was also a cube of stone with one face polished and a pebble with a pointed end that was damaged as if it had been used as a hammer, which is what I thought it was at first. Then I spotted that it was also worn along one edge and that it fitted into the groove on the slab almost perfectly.

Grinding stone, worn at the pointed end and along one side

Grinding stone, worn at the pointed end and along one side

This was the clue I needled to answer the puzzle.The slabs were hand-held palettes, used for grinding something, while the other stones were the grinders. The cube had not worn into the face of the slab, but the different shape of the pebble had gradually worn down a groove. Unlike larger querns, slabs that were used for grinding flour from grain, these were designed to be held in the hand for grinding small quantities of something. Palettes have been recorded in the Neolithic of other parts of the world – the decorated cosmetic palettes of Egypt are well known – but they are not widely reported from Britain. I suspect that the pair from Letchworth Garden City were used in a similar way to the more decorative Egyptian examples, for grinding pigment to use as cosmetics, perhaps for religious ceremonies rather than general beautification. To have two together is really quite unusual, if my identification of them is correct.

A palette and grinder from the same layer in the banana-shaped pit

A palette and grinder from the same layer in the banana-shaped pit

The discovery of these palettes has turned the site at Works Road from one that is merely interesting to one that looks to be rather significant. With the early henge only 300 m away, flint mines closer still and a hengiform monument on the same site, this is a complex to rival many better known sites. It goes to show that important discoveries can be made away from the site, by people who, like Tom, are not trained archaeologists. Thank you, Tom!