A grand history in Great Offley

PUBLISHED: 12:03 12 September 2008 | UPDATED: 08:57 21 February 2013

St Mary Magdalene Church

St Mary Magdalene Church

From King Offa and Saint Alban to a 17th century restored manor house, this quiet village is steeped in history, as Jessica Clark discovers

TUCKED away on the edge of Hertfordshire, Great Offley is a delightful, sleepy village brought to life by its grand history and modern developments. Sitting on the top of a hill in the centre of the parish of Offley, the village is home to around 700 people who no doubt enjoy the appeal of this picturesque area. But surprisingly, after some twists and turns, you will discover this apparently isolated village is sat on top of a main dual carriageway leading residents to the local major towns of Hitchin and Luton within minutes. An ideal situation - the attraction of peace and quiet of pleasant surroundings just a stone's throw from great transport road links.
There could be many fanciful tales of what put the 'great' in front of Offley, but history suggests a fascinating royal link that is still celebrated in the village today. Legend has it that in the 8th century King Offa discovered the bones of Saint Alban and set about creating St Albans Abbey in a tribute to him. While it was being completed he looked for a place to call home and discovered the area. After building a grand palace the village is thought to have become known as Great Off Lee.
Young learners at Offley Endowed Primary School are taken on trips to St Albans Abbey to learn of their famous founder while the village church, St Mary Magdalene, often joins in events with the famed cathedral. The pretty village church, which dates back to the 1800s, was retouched by Sir Thomas Salusbury in the 18th century and St Mary Magdalene Church is a proud feature of Great Offley.
But arguably a stronger pride is felt for the 17th century manor house Great Offley Place in Kings Waldon Road. Rebuilt in 1810 but still retaining a Tudor porch and a 17th century wing, the grand house has a long and winding history which has seen the same family line keep ownership for an impressive 350 years. In 1929 the family ownership was brought to an end when the last owner, Guy George, sold the estate to a director of WH Smith who was well liked in the village and built a cricket pavilion and pitch. When World War II broke out it was sold again, this time to become a teacher training college, and then finally in 2003 it was taken over by Hamid Sabahipour and transformed into the luxury hotel, wedding venue and restaurant it is today.
Loren Wood, event co-ordinator at the hotel, says, 'We have had great feedback and support from the residents since it became a hotel and a lot of them have been round to see our renovation.
'I think they are just very pleased that something is being done with this great building because it means so much to them. It's as though the village almost look at it as theirs, which is really nice actually. Great Offley just wouldn't be the same without it.'
Formerly a farming village, the traditional trade in Great Offley has expectedly reduced but the vestiges of the trade are still visible in the rolling fields that enfold the area. Beautifully converted barns and old farm buildings are a modern tribute to the area's beginnings along with the old chapel that has also been transformed into housing, whilst retaining its historic facade. Amongst the pretty housing and scenery there are amenities to keep residents away from the major towns for a few days - a sandwich shop, post office and convenience store in one is a great asset for locals, as well as a hairdressers and of course two pubs and an oriental restaurant. The three offer a meeting place, entertainment and a rest stop for weekend walkers.
One man who was an integral part of the Great Offley community is parish council chairman Ron Sayer. As the village policeman for more than 20 years he got to know the village and its goings on intimately - and enjoyed every day of it. Now retired, Ron and his wife are looking forward to relishing in the beauty of the village for the rest of their lives as just normal residents.
Ron, who lives in Meadow Way, says, 'For me, the fact the village isn't buzzing and vibrant is the real attraction of Great Offley.
'We're in this beautiful contained village where you can enjoy wonderful peace and quiet, but then just next door is a dual carriageway which takes you to all major towns. 'You can enjoy the busy life when you want to, and then leave it behind.
'I have thoroughly enjoyed the long time I spent working here and know it, and all the friendly people, inside out - I just think it is a pretty and outstanding place.
'We have an admirable church, Great Offley Place - which really is a wonderful feature of the village - and an interesting history. What more could you want from a little village?'

  • Great Offley is part of the parish of Offley, also including Little Offley Cockernhoe, Mangrove Green, Tea Green and The Flints
  • The Offley Recreation and Social Centre hosts three football teams, a cricket club, a darts and pool team and tennis courts
  • The graves of many of the Offley Place owners can still be seen at St Mary Magdalene church
  • The village hosts an annual Bike Show in July

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