Royalty, war and history in Hunsdon

PUBLISHED: 00:16 21 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:31 20 February 2013

St Dunstan Church

St Dunstan Church

With its royal connections and important role during World War II, Hunsdon is a village with a rich and interesting history, as Louise McEvoy discovers

NESTLED within the Hertfordshire countryside, charming Hunsdon lies close to the border with Essex and boasts a strong and unique identity.
The village has two pubs The Crown and The Fox and Hounds as well as a village shop/post office, a petrol station, and a well-supported primary school with about 100 pupils.
The village hall, which dates back 500 years, is at the heart of Hunsdon and was once a school certainly during the early 1800s, when the building underwent a major renovation and extension.

A place to worship

It is thought St Dunstan Church in Hunsdon dates back to the 11th century, with the north wall of the nave probably part of the original church, with frescos depicting the seven deadly sins under the whitewash. The bell tower and north porch are early 15th century, and the south chapel was built in about 1610 by John Carey the third Lord Hunsdon to hold a tomb for himself and his wife. A monument is on the north wall of the chancel to Francis Poyntz, who was a member of the court of Henry VIII before he died in 1528 of the sweating plague a mysterious and highly virulent disease which resulted in a series of epidemics between 1485 and 1551. The onset of symptoms was dramatic and sudden, with death often occurring within hours.
The recent transcription of some old wills suggest the church was originally dedicated to St Mary, and from the time of the Reformation was known only as Hunsdon Church, before it was dedicated to St Dunstan in 1880 by the rector at the time.

Henry and the kids

Hunsdon House, which was originally built in the 15th century by Sir William Oldhall, became home to Henry VIII and his three children Mary, Elizabeth and Edward in 1525, and was transformed into a lavish palace with royal apartments and a moat.
In 1558, Queen Elizabeth gave Hunsdon House to her cousin, Sir Henry Carey, along with the title Lord Hunsdon, and the house changed hands several times through the 17th and 18th centuries, undergoing numerous changes over time. Hunsdon House is now privately-owned and is less than a quarter of the size it was under Henry VIIIs ownership, with archaeologists in recent times uncovering the old moat, where many very old shoes were found.

An inn with a past

In Hunsdons High Street stands The Fox and Hounds pub, which was originally built as a yeomans house in 1670, before it was bought by Edmund Calvert of Hunsdon House and turned into The Horse and Groom coaching inn, with the name later changed to the one it still carries today. Situated on the main coach route between London and Bishops Stortford, and with a large yard and ample stables, it was a thriving business.

Joining the war effort

To the east of Hunsdon is farmland which was requisitioned in 1939 by the Air Ministry to provide an RAF base for additional air defence of London during World War II, with the airfield becoming operational in May 1941. More than 2,000 personnel were stationed at RAF Hunsdon at its peak. On February 18, 1944, Operation Jericho - the bombing raid on Amiens Prison in German-occupied France to free French Resistance fighters and political prisoners the day before they were due to be executed was flown from Hunsdon. Operations from RAF Hunsdon stopped shortly after VE Day in May 1945, although the airfield received personnel and material returning from Europe until June 1946. The land was returned to agriculture, with several owners over the years, and is currently privately-owned by a company which has plans strongly opposed by residents to develop the land for housing, but which has been refused planning permission on several occasions.
In 2005, the Hunsdon Airfield Memorial Group organised a memorial service at the former airbase to honour the squadrons and personnel who were stationed there, and the service was attended by veterans returning for the first time to the airfield. Also honouring those stationed at RAF Hunsdon is a plaque put up by Hunsdon Parish Council on the front of the village hall building in 1998.
It is little wonder that the community in Hunsdon is so proud of the villages impressive history, which has not only helped shape the identity of the village, but which has also contributed significantly to the retention of Hunsdons uniqueness.

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