Chillies, cakes and children in Benington

PUBLISHED: 08:35 23 August 2010 | UPDATED: 17:45 20 February 2013

St Peter’s Church during the flower festival

St Peter’s Church during the flower festival

The village of Benington is a hive of activity, as Damion Roberts discovers

SET in the Hertfordshire countryside to the east of Stevenage is the beautiful, bucolic Benington.
With a strong farming history, the village is a country-lovers paradise; it feels welcoming, it smells fresh and with the array of footpaths that criss-cross its parish there are some energetic walks with wonderful views to be had.
Probably the most remarkable of Beningtons places of interest is Benington Lordship Gardens, a Georgian Manor House set among seven acres of land encompassing a variety of gardens, ponds and a Norman keep.
The Lordship hosts a number of popular annual events which are attended by thousands of people, one of which is the Chilli Festival held over the August Bank Holiday weekend.
Started in 2006 the festival offers visitors the opportunity to buy all-things chilli from plants to food, as organiser Susanna Bott explains.
My husband Richard loves chilli and we always used to host events but wanted to do something different and to make it more exciting.
As he loves the food and they look their best at the end of August we decided that wed have a celebration of chilli where people can come along, look at plants and try chilli-based foods.
We normally have around 2,000 plants and lots of stall holders and
its a fantastic event which smells
just wonderful and looks pleasing on the eye. Its very colourful and its a great weekend.
The manor house was built around 1700 and in 1905 was bought by the present owners great grandfather Arthur Bott who went on to build the Edwardian extension on the west side of the building.
The festival itself is held within the gardens of the house and takes place on Sunday 29 and Monday 30 August. from 10am until 5pm, with entry 5 for adults and half price for 12 to 16-year-olds.
One person who may be tempted to take part in the next Chilli Festival is Jean Ridley, the driving force behind the Benington Cake Book.
Although none of the 45 recipes in the book, brought out recently to raise money for the refurbishment of the parish hall, contain chilli Mrs Ridley admits it could be something to look into in future.
So too could be a new book possibly a Benington joke book after the success of the Cake Book which has sold over 350 copies including 20 sent across the pond to the USA.
At the moment weve only got about 35 left and because its been successful my brother-in-law said why dont you bring out a joke book, the amateur publisher said.
We wanted to raise money for the hall so I asked for recipes from the ladies in the village and had almost 130 come through the door.
I cooked about 90 of them and tested them all three times. They
were eaten at coffee mornings by friends and colleagues and after we finished it was only a month afterwards that our waistlines went back to their proper sizes.
To finance the publication of 400 copies the costs were donated by a generous benefactor, an example, Mrs Ridley believes, of the villages togetherness.
It was fantastic that the benefactor came forward to help, everyone has worked together on this and its been a fantastic achievement, she says.
Janice Spencer would agree with Mrs Ridleys assertion of a village pulling together.
Mrs Spencer and a group of her friends decided to set up a youth club Benington Posse, located in the village hall in 2003 as a place for 11 to 16-year-olds to meet and play games.
The club has established itself as a permanent fixture in the village and offers youngsters a fun environment in which to enjoy themselves.
Its been running now for about seven years, Mrs Spencer said. We have a meet every fortnight for children who can come along and enjoy themselves and just stay for a bit and have a bit of fun together.
We have lots for activities; a snooker table, table tennis, weve been to take the youngsters ice skating and weve had sport coaches coming along to help and weve also put things on with help from the
Youth Association.
We also sometimes put on a barbecue at the villages recreation ground but it was burnt down not long ago and were hoping to get a new building there if we can raise enough money for that project.
The youth group has been popular and weve really enjoyed ourselves down the years working with all the youngsters that have come through our doors.

Chillies & cakes

The Chilli Festival takes place on August 29-30, 10am to 5pm.
Entry 5 for adults and half price for 12 to 16-year-olds.

The Benington Cake Book costs 5 plus postage and packing, and copies can be ordered by emailing

Latest from the Hertfordshire Life