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Hertfordshire’s best villages: villages around Hitchin

PUBLISHED: 08:35 01 October 2010 | UPDATED: 15:54 21 March 2016

Pirton War Memorial

Pirton War Memorial

Set in the beautiful countryside surrounding Hitchin are charming villages offering a tranquil life and luxurious living, as Pat Bramley discovers

Princess Helena College in PrestonPrincess Helena College in Preston

THE market town of Hitchin is distinguished not only by the medieval layout of narrow streets preserving the character of the oldest part of the shopping centre but also by the beauty and individual charm of the 25 villages within a few miles’ radius.
St Ippolyts, Gosmore and Preston with its bluebell woods in spring are among the most sought after places to live because of what they offer.
The first, St Ippolyts or St Ippollytts as it’s sometimes spelt on maps, has a highly regarded primary school, church, village green, recreation ground and a village shop which has thrived, despite losing its sub post office, because of support from the local community.
Further down the road the pretty village of Gosmore has two excellent pubs, a recommendation in itself regardless of what a lovely place it is.
Further on still, the villagers living in Preston were so worried about losing their Red Lion that a number of them clubbed together and bought shares to buy it – that’s community spirit for you.
The villages surrounding Hitchin are hugely desirable. Those who live there have a country lifestyle yet they can hop in the car, head for the station and before they know it they’re in London. Only drawback: property isn’t cheap.


How much to live here
Youngsters who’ve grown up in a village generally can’t afford to buy their first home there but prices are cheaper in town.
Hitchin estate agent Morag Norgan says a two-bedroom cottage in St Ippolyts usually sells for a quarter of a million. ‘There really aren’t any small cottages in Gosmore or Preston, most are family-sized three or four-bedroom houses and larger properties. There’s very little new development because these three villages are surrounded by Green Belt. There are quite a lot of timber-framed places particularly in Preston where there’s a heavy Art & Crafts Lutyens influence in the architecture. A little cottage could cost you £500,000 and from there you find a wide range of property right the way up to great big houses which have been adapted and added to and then you’re talking about a couple of million.’


Schools
St Ippolyts and Preston both have good primary schools which accept pupils from a wider area.
By the time they reach secondary school age, most children from the villages transfer to one of the three state secondaries in Hitchin. For families who choose to go private, there’s Princess Helena College for girls in Preston which takes full-time and weekly boarders from the age of 11. The college is in a Grade II* listed mansion designed by Edwin Lutyens surrounded by grounds landscaped by Gertrude Jekyll. For families looking for a private school for the younger age group, there’s Kingshott in St Ippolyts, a co-ed prep school.
 
Getting around
Road: Although most families have a car, there is a regular bus service into Hitchin from the villages.
Rail: Trains from Hitchin reach Kings Cross in 27 minutes. Air: Luton Airport is within five miles.


Village life


Each of the villages within a few miles of Hitchin has its own character and close knit community.
Pirton has a talented am-dram group. Last season the Players staged A Man For All Seasons in the village hall in November followed by a Christmas opera which ran for two nights just a few weeks later at the beginning of December.
Offley has a cricket club, football club, fishing club and a group of model aircraft enthusiasts who meet regularly at the top of a hill in the village to fly their planes.
St Ippolyts has a singing group with a repertoire which includes soap, gospel, pop, rock, folk and world songs. They welcome newcomers. ‘No auditions - all learnt by ear,’ they trill.


Village dedication


Bluebell woods in PrestonBluebell woods in Preston

A group of volunteers from Pirton decided to take on the restoration of the village’s War Memorial and set up a committee to raise funds to get the work done. They walked from Pirton to the Cenotaph in London on a sponsored walk to raise the money and then with volunteers and professional help they carried out the restoration.
Villager and volunteer Chris Ryan said, ‘It has made such a massive difference and now the site is a real asset to the village and really does honour the men who sacrificed their lives for us.’
The group are also writing a book about the men who died in WW1 entitled The Pride of Pirton which will be published on October 23.

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