So much to life in Hunsdon
PUBLISHED: 12:54 10 July 2008 | UPDATED: 15:18 20 February 2013
Jessica Clark visits a small village renowned for being a commuter area and finds a rich history and a community very much alive
HUNSDON, sitting just inside the Hertfordshire border with Essex, is often described simply as a commuter village because of its great transport links to nearby Ware and Harlow, and of course London. But this village is far from bland and lonely as the term may suggest. If you look a little deeper you will find Hunsdon boasts all the key ingredients of a great country village. From a rich royal heritage to a well supported primary school, Hunsdon, which boasts 1,100 residents, has an enjoyable way of life to offer both its residents and visitors.
The appeal of Hunsdon's great location is heightened by the attractiveness of the pretty village centre and rolling countryside enveloping the village. Residents and visitors can walk for miles around the area on designated footpaths that also encompass the neighbouring parishes of Widford, Eastwick and Gilston, Stanstead Abbots and Wareside. Eight years ago Hunsdon Parish Council appointed a Parish Path Warden to ensure the well trodden routes are maintained and improved where necessary, and the last few years have seen the popularity of the village with walkers grow as a result.
The Parish Path Warden, John Ashley, 77, who lives in a cottage along the High Street, has lived in the village for 39 years and previously served as a parish councillor and later the parish clerk before taking on his new role. As the owner and sub-postmaster of the village shop with his wife Betty for 22 years, John has always been closely connected with the life and community of Hunsdon and is enjoying his latest involvement.
He says, 'We have tried to make the upkeep of the footpaths a priority and to increase peoples awareness of the countryside. We have a lot of walkers and rambler associations visiting the village to admire the wonderful views and enjoy the variety of walking.
'The parish council published a booklet in 2005 of the 12 walks around the village and erected a map board in the village centre to encourage greater use, and that has been very encouraging. Over the last few years we have also put 14 benches along the routes in really well thought-out positions which shows how important this side of village life is.'
The appeal of Hunsdon's great location is heightened by the attractiveness of the pretty village centre
The walks take you eagerly through woods, across fields and a few through Hunsdon Airfield, a RAF base built during the war. The airfield is one of the most celebrated parts of the village's history, playing an important role in WWII and probably most famed for its bombing of a Gestapo prison in Amiens, France, releasing French Resistance fighters on the eve of their execution in 1944.
Parts of the village, including woodland, cottages and the Old Turkey Cock Pub were knocked down to make way for the site which was requisitioned by the Air Ministry in 1939. Many personnel were drafted in from all over England and the commonwealth to the base and it wasn't long before the lives of the personnel and the village residents were wholly entwined. Shortly after VE day the base was closed down and today it is privately owned by a company attempting to develop it for housing, although this has been met by strong local opposition.
A memorial was laid on the former airfield in 2005 to commemorate and honour the squadrons and personnel who were stationed there. It was a result of hard work undertaken by Hunsdon Airfield Memorial Group and the service was attended by many of the local residents and veterans returning to the airfield for the first time. A plaque on the front of the village hall, erected in 1998 by the parish council, also honours the airmen and airwomen.
A royal link also remains in the parish, but perhaps the history of Hunsdon House is less prominent because of its place in the past and as it is now privately owned. The grand tower house became home to King Henry VIII and his children in 1525, nearly 100 years after it was built, transformed by the king into a Tudor-style estate complete with royal apartments and a moat. But the house has undergone a number of changes over the centuries, and is less than a quarter of the size it was under the king's ownership, minus the moat, and renovated into more of a Victorian style.
A lively and well-used village hall, dating back 500 years, is key to the village, along with a number of thriving organisations including the Hunsdon Local History and Preservation Society, a youth club and a Cub and Scout unit to name a few. The small village centre also boasts two pubs - The Crown and The Fox and Hounds - and a village shop with a post office, central to country village life in Hunsdon, and a petrol garage.
James Rix, 34, took over as owner of the Fox and Hounds pub in the High Street three years ago after the building, more than 300 years old in parts, had been left vacant for a few years. He partly renovated and partly refurbished it with his wife Bianca before revealing the new gastro pub. James and Bianca moved to the village from the bustling lights of London to start a family in a more community-friendly environment.
He says, 'We wanted to move to the countryside so we could have more space for the children and generally a better quality of life with the fresh air and countryside. You open your door and you're in fields, it's just beautiful.
'We have a lot of locals in the pub who we have become friends with, but also a lot of visitors to the village who always comment on how lovely Hunsdon is and how lucky we are to live here.
'We love living here. We can walk our three year-old son Dylan to the local nursery, which is connected to Hunsdon JMI School, and take our two year-old daughter Amelia to the park, which is something you can't get everywhere. It's great for us.'
Whether you're looking for an afternoon out in the countryside or picking your next home, Hunsdon is worthy of consideration and certainly able to offer humble, country living, with few signs to show that busy towns lie just beyond the hills.