PUBLISHED: 12:28 11 June 2008 | UPDATED: 15:14 20 February 2013
Jessica Clark visits Walkern and finds a sense of pride and healthy spirit that are as old as the village itself
CAREFULLY situated in the middle of a gentle valley, wrapped in greenery and spreading hills, it's hard to imagine that the small village of Walkern sits just two miles away from a bustling town. But take the winding country road east out of Stevenage and you'll arrive in the heart of this picturesque village - and if you dig a little deeper you'll discover a surprising amount of its own hustle and bustle.
The once self-sufficient village was a huge farming community which provided everything necessary for its residents, including a vast array of shops and pubs, until around 40 years ago. The development of nearby Stevenage prompted change and now the flour mill, water mill and cider brewery have accordingly been renovated into flats and houses.
Walkern has grown into a unique village with a spirit that's hard to come by
But Walkern has adjusted well and grown into a unique village with a spirit that's hard to come by. It boasts its own art gallery, a focal point for the village where local artists and photographers exhibit their work, as well as being a key attraction to visitors.
It still hosts three pubs - a favourite with residents and walkers alike who can take a comfortable break during the many walks that surround the expansive countryside. A sprinkling of period houses, converted barns and listed buildings means the village must be instantly impressive to first time visitors.
Chairman of the parish council Nigel Bennett, 41, who has lived in the village for 14 years, says, 'It's a beautiful little village - it's rural and peaceful. We're close to being in the middle of nowhere, but if you like town life then you're not far from it.
'The whole village is full of interesting and unusual buildings which makes it a delight to live in, and popular with walkers. There's a great spirit in the village, especially since we got the Jubilee Pavilion back from the previous tenant.'
The story of the Pavilion is one that best encapsulates the feeling in the village. Until a few months ago, Walkern Sports and Recreation Club had a lease that had reached its end after 21 years. But as the lease came to an end growing demand to claim back the building as a village community centre brought together residents from all corners who have pledged their time and money to help with the huge renovation of the building which hopes once again to become the centre of the village.
There are many elaborate tales of how Walkern came to be named, the most famous claims it was taken from the devil who would cry 'walk on' as he nightly moved stones intended for a church in nearby Boxbury through the area. But more believably, it is probable that the name was given when the Saxons settled, translating as 'foreigners' lurking place'.
The area is also famed for another dark story - home to the last ever convicted witch in England in 1712. Jane Wenham, a poor Walkern resident, was condemned to death after locals accused her of witchcraft. But after a national campaign to change the law, and a confession from a fellow resident to one the crimes, the conviction was eventually lifted.
The editor of the parish magazine, Dr Janet Woodall, 46, a scientific researcher who has lived in Walkern for 11 years, took a keen interest in the history of the village and is in the middle of writing a detailed book on its past with friend Eleanor Waldock.
She adds, 'I'm really enjoying writing the book; we've found out so much and discovered it's quite a well documented village. What has become very obvious during our research is the goodwill and spirit of the villagers to improve things, like health and sanitation during the Victorian period. I think that has continued over time - there seems to be a tradition of people doing good work in Walkern. People who have lived here all their lives would say Walkern has changed beyond all recognition, but in my view it still has that village feel.'
The pride of the village is St Mary's Church, the oldest village church in Hertfordshire with parts dating back to the 11th century. It sits in one of the prettiest areas of the village opposite Bridgefoot farm, a medieval thatched cottage surrounded by a moat. Through the scene winds The River Beane, crossing the village in a ford.
So whether you're rediscovering the area or visiting for the first time, Walkern can offer you a traditional afternoon in the countryside or a cultural day of art and history - this little village is quite surprising.