Puckeridge nestles in an area of natural beauty, 27 miles north of London, between the villages of Standon and Braughing both recorded in the Domesday Book. The earliest known settlement was founded by the Catavellauni, Celts from north-eastern France. The Celts began to arrive around 250 BC.
By 200 AD, rich from the proceeds of agriculture, they built a town at the northern end of the village identified as Ad Fines. This was a regional capital, the starting point for three major Celtic roads to Colchester, St Albans and Baldock – all important Celtic centres before the Romans took over. Ad Fines had a large temple dedicated to Minerva, at least two bath houses on the banks of the River Rib and survived until the end of the 5th Century AD. The departure of the Romans caused the collapse of the grain trade. Now commercially weak, the townspeople could not resist the Saxon invaders of 600 AD. The Saxons, typically, eschewed the ready-built township on the hill and built their rude settlements elsewhere, at Braughing and Standon. They referred to Ad Fines as the Devils Hill or in their tongue, “Puck’s Rigg”.
The Standon and Puckeridge Village Index used to live at SPEC – the Standon and Puckeridge Electronic Centre in Standon.
The idea for the Index developed from a chance discussion during a meeting of the Amenities Society Committee in 1998. We had been talking about our two recent publications – the Village Appraisal and the Village Study – and how we were going to store them. A Library was suggested, perhaps a Museum – but where would it be housed and how could a building, preservation facilities and a curator be funded. Clearly a physical collection of artefacts and publications was beyond the resources currently available in the Villages.
I suggested that a first step would be to prepare an index of what was available so that people needing to research and study material would be able to locate useful items. This idea caught on – and, of course, I was delegated the task of progressing the preparation of the index.
At that time I was preparing a talk on the History of Puckeridge. My main sources were the Hertfordshire County Council Library in Ware and the Local Studies Library at County Hall. It did not need a great deal of extra effort to annotate my abstracts with a reference to the source publications and Hey Presto! – the beginnings of a Village Index. Since then the Index expanded to include items suggested by Members of the Amenities Society Committee and others.
I have been using computers since 1967 – anyone remember Autocode and Fortran 1? – so naturally I kept my records on my Mac. The systems worked like this. I kept the Master File of the Index and a copy was held at SPEC on a floppy disc. Anyone could go into SPEC, open the Village Index file, view it, print it out, add to it, correct it and download that version to their own disc.
Times changed. SPEC closed and the Village Index was never extended. The records were handed on to my successors and the files fell into desuetude.
But now, with www.puckeridgevillage.co.uk up and running it is time to rebuild our Virtual Museum. The facilities available now on the Internet for data storage, indexing and retrieval should make the task much more straightforward. Work on reconstituting the Village Index has been put in hand and I will do my best to have a workable system ready before May Day.
However, the material to be indexed belongs to everyone in the Villages and it is your records which need to be preserved. All sorts of ideas can now be realised – we could have our own index of Births, Deaths and Marriages culled from Parish records: we could have a Village Memories section with videos of your recollections of times past for future generations to watch and enjoy: we could store your photographs of the way things were: we could store bus timetables to show our children how we got around before everyone had a car: we could hold records of buildings and woods and fields and crops before memory of them is lost for ever: we could store the names of pupils in the schools: we could record details of the shops and work shops which crammed the High Street. But those are just my ideas – you will have many more.
The core data collected in 1998 is still around, waiting to be collated. If you would like to add to those historical records, call me on 01920 822271 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org - and accept my thanks in anticipation.
This piece started life as a set of notes used for an informal talk presented to the Standon and Puckeridge Amenities Society in 1995. The backcloth used at that time was a mosaic of 1/1250 scale map sheets – the set produced by Hertfordshire County Council in 1984 – so much of the story was illustrated by reference to those maps.
This published version will suffer until I manage to get permission to reproduce details from that backcloth for use on the small screen.
Now, as then, I must preface the story by expressing gratitude to the authors whose work I have consulted, to the staff of the Local Studies Library at County Hall and the friends who have helped me string the words together.
My intention is that the story will develop as more researchers come forward with their versions of the events, add some of my words to theirs and, over time, produce a coherent history of our village.
What you are reading now is just the framework. I look forward to watching the tale unfold and flesh out – with your help.
Histor is the Greek word for knowledge. We use the word History to describe the truthful records of what went on before us – and the word Story to describe, amongst other things, works of fiction.
This piece lies somewhere in between.
The trouble with history is that there is too much of it and it is difficult to find the bit you want. It is either buried in the ground, waiting for the archaeologist’s spade or buried in libraries – both public and private.
There are Government papers, Church Records, weather records, museums, old monuments, crop marks, ditches, mounds and circles to find and research.
Inevitably the record is incomplete. I have not changed any of the facts I discovered, but I have tried to put some flesh on them to make the bare bones look better.
So my aim is to set up a framework for the history of Puckeridge to which detail can be added as time for research is found.
At this juncture I must describe the Village Index. This is intended to be a set of records describing the whereabouts of artefacts and documents of interest and importance to understanding the history of Puckeridge and Standon. The database was set up under the aegis of the Amenities Society and an early version was held at SPEC. Its new home will be this web site.King John Stopped at Puckeridge.
The Early Years
I started exploring the South East after moving here in 1977. I was surprised to find that Puckeridge appeared on road signs as far apart as Cambridge, Colchester and Harwich when, at the time, it was not on a main road, it had little accommodation for travellers, it had no church, no major shops – none of the things one would expect to find at a route centre.
Perhaps, at some time in the past, Puckeridge had been important.
I discovered that there had been a Roman township at the north end of the village so I wondered if the history of Puckeridge started with the Romans.
The answer is No! It existed before that and to understand why, we have to go back in time and look at the way the land here was shaped by nature.
Around 100 Million years ago the European Plate was just north of the Equator and a shallow sea covered most of the surface. Thick layers of what is now known as the Gault clays settled on the sea bed.
After about 40 million years, the water became less muddy and vast reefs of coral appeared. As these animals died, a layer of calcium carbonate was formed between 300 and 500 metres thick. This material compacted under its own mass to form chalk.
As the plate moved north into colder latitudes the chalk on the sea floor became covered with gravels and sands and clay. The lower levels of the gravely materials became compacted and bonded together with silica – Hertfordshire pudding-stone was created.
All these materials were pushed up out of the sea and forced into folds about 30 Million years ago when Africa collided with Europe. South-East England was covered by a dome of chalk from Salisbury to Canterbury and beyond. A second dome extended from The Wash to Oxford.
Clay materials washed into the lowlands. This bed – we know it as London Clay – formed on top of the thin layer of pudding-stone.
As the surface clays and chalks were eroded, water was trapped within the porous chalk, above the impervious Gault Clays. This moisture encouraged the growth of a rich plant life, and habitats suitable for animals developed. Stone tools dated to 400,000 BC, found south of Ware, demonstrate that Man came here to hunt and fish all those years ago.
From 200,000 BC to about 15,000 BC, the earth cooled down and a thick layer of ice covered most of the British Isles, forming and melting several times. This glaciations destroyed the upper layers of the chalk and flooded the valleys with clays, sands and gravels from as far north as Derbyshire.
You can still find rounded pebbles at many places near the village. These are clearly foreigners and were worn smooth in a river bed before arriving here on the back of a glacier.
When the ice finally retreated, North West Europe became forested. Generally the low lying clay areas supported damp oak woods, with tangled undergrowth and the chalk and the sandy valleys supported more open woodland. The trapped water kept the land fertile. Man first came back here around 12,000 BC to hunt. Eventually he turned to agriculture and found that the chalk uplands could be cleared by slashing and burning. The thick oak forests on the heavy clays were too much for farmers without metal tools and they remained intact.
Farming developed on the south facing lower slopes of the chalk hills and when trade started up between farming groups, travel would have taken place along those foothills. By 2000 BC, a considerable civilisation in Wessex was worshipping at the 500 year old temples at Avebury and Stonehenge and flints mined at Grimes Graves in Norfolk were being traded along the Icknield Way to Wiltshire and beyond. The Wessex people traded with Egypt and Crete for faience beads, with Wales and Ireland for gold, with Scandinavia for amber and with Europe for bronze. And we were exporting jet, tin and pottery to all those places – as well as farm produce.
Studies of grave goods confirm that one of the trade routes was along the line of the A 120. Although we have no direct evidence, traders must have been passing near Puckeridge at that time and the wealthier farmers would have traded their surplus produce for these goods.
Around 1400 BC things began to change. The population of a cultural group centred on Peterborough began to expand. Their grave goods have been found in Caithness, Galloway and Ireland and across the Channel in Holland and Northern France.
This settled population – the Urn Folk, named for their use of Urns to hold their cremated remains – used bronze more than flint and were around for about 700 years. They were subsistence farmers and hunters, and very set in their ways. In all the time they held sway over England they made few changes in the design of their pottery – or their bronze tools. There are shadowy traces of their culture in East Hertfordshire but no proof that they came to Puckeridge.
Throughout that period miners in the North and West of England were producing bronze for the world market. It was this industry that decimated the forests in those areas and explains why the south east remained forested. There are no metal ores in this area.
Journeyman smiths would have been a common sight, travelling between villages buying up old bronze and making and selling new implements and weapons. There are traces of this activity in East Hertfordshire, and hoards of bronze scrap, resulting from this trade, have been found all over England.
By 700 BC people from the Rhine Valley had invaded East Anglia and with them came iron. They buried the cremated ashes of their dead in urns – of a different design from the Urn people – and they placed the urns in groups. They have been named the Urnfield People.
They used iron for their ploughs and axes – and they certainly came to East Hertfordshire. From the evidence of pollen counts their arrival markedly altered the numbers and types of trees which came into flower in the area. They were the people who, using their iron axes, made big inroads into the forests and cleared land for planting corn.
No Urnfield burials have been found in Puckeridge but there are some indications that they were in Braughing and the valley of the River Quin.
What they did do was to develop the land, grow corn on a large scale and make the land more valuable. It was not long before their wealth attracted invaders. A second invasion, by the Celtic Hallstadt people – originally based in Austria – took place in about 600 BC. This invasion is marked by an increase in the production of weapons and defensive enclosures. It appears to have been a bloody business. It is probable that the hill fort at Gatesbury was first built at this time, but whether by Urnfield people or Hallstadt Celts has not been determined.
Finally, after 300 BC, East Hertfordshire was overrun by La Tene Celts, displaced from what is now the Franco-Belgian border area between Brussels and Lille. They landed near Colchester and came in along the line of the A120, already a well worn trade route. They were the Catuvellauni.
The Celtic Settlements
The Celts were – are – very artistic people. They were able to produce the most delicate objects in a range of metals, including polished silver and bronze mirrors. Also it was probably these late arrivals that brought the potter’s wheel to England.
Their presence produced big changes in the countryside – they built hill forts: they made iron weapons – and iron tools: they continued to clear the forests around Puckeridge – this time not only on the uplands, but in the thickly wooded valleys as well.
Gatesbury is a typical hill fort of the period. This settlement was used from about 250 BC to 350 AD, protected by its ditch and palisade. Possibly it contained a few permanent buildings for the leaders of the group, but its main purpose was to protect livestock from marauding animals – and people.
It is very likely that the need for protected enclosures reflected the growing pressure for land in Northern Europe. By 60 BC the Romans had occupied much of France, possibly displacing Gaulish tribes who fled to England.
Southern England was wealthy. The land was fertile and there was a considerable trade in corn across the Channel. We know that the port facilities at Ware were being used at the time, and some of the trade goods flowing back to Hertfordshire, and found in excavations in Puckeridge, would have passed through Ware.
The local ruler was Cassivelaunus. From his Palace near St Albans he kept an eye on what was happening along the Channel coasts on both sides of the water, as much of his wealth accrued from trade with Gaul. It was probably he who built the metalled roads from Colchester to Puckeridge and from Puckeridge to both St Albans and Baldock. They were long believed to have been built by the Romans, but excavations in 1964 (for the Puckeridge By-pass) proved that they were built by the Celts before 60 BC Cassivelaunus knew what was happening in Calais and Boulogne – well known Celtic ports – so that when Caesar brought his fleet across the Channel, in 54 BC, Cassivelaunus was ready and waiting.
The Celts were fierce and determined fighters but the disparate tribes whose members made up Cassivelaunus defence force failed to work in harmony. They defended their land from seizure by the Romans for two seasons – between the planting and the harvest – but the army fragmented as soldiers returned to their farms to bring in the harvest.
The Romans were better disciplined and remained a coherent fighting force throughout the campaign. By the end of 55 BC, Julius Caesar had defeated Cassivelaunus’ forces in Kent, chased them up to Colchester and on to the last battle at their inland capital – probably the Iron Age fort at Prae Wood, just north of St Albans. The armies would have used the Celtic road from Colchester to St Albans, so Julius Caesar may have passed through Puckeridge in 53 BC, although he did not leave his mark.
After Prae Wood, famously excavated by Mortimer Wheeler before World War II, Cassivelaunus surrendered and paid a substantial tribute. It is believed that one of his sons, or a grandson, was taken to Rome as a hostage, was educated there and adopted Roman ways. The evidence is glimpsed in the excavations which looked at the remains in Puckeridge from the period between the Roman invasions.
With the departure of Julius Caesar the Catevellauni were left to their own devices. Their wealth and power increased as cross-channel trade got under way again and gradually took over the whole of southern England. The rulers were the grandsons of Cassivelaunus, Togodumnus and Caractacus.
Around 15 BC the Catevellauni had developed a contiguous township extending from the north end of Puckeridge, near the White Hart, along the valley of the Rib by the railway station at Braughing, northeast of the old hill fort at Gatesbury and as far South as the village school. Archeological studies found that the dwellings, workshops, footpaths and roads were used until at least 45 AD.
During that time Colchester had become their capital, although the richness and variety of the finds in Puckeridge might indicate that Puckeridge, in the corn growing heartland of the Celts, may have been a substantial regional capital shipping its goods through its port of Ware.
The success was short lived. In AD 43 Verica, Ruler of the Atrebates of Sussex, was trying to recover his Kingdom from the Catuvellauni and he sought help from the Roman Emperor Claudius. Claudius jumped at the chance to tame the upstart Catuvellauni and improve his political status in the same way as Emperor Caesar had, 100 years before. The Romans invaded through Kent and defeated Caractacus forces at Richborough and Rochester before crossing the Thames, near Southwark, possibly, and heading northeast across the chalk hills to attack Colchester.
At the battle there, Togodumnus was killed and Caratacus fled to the west – probably through Puckeridge – to St Albans. Once again a Celtic army was slaughtered near St Albans. The Romans took over Britain.
Romans in Puckeridge
The base for the first Roman campaigns in England was Colchester. Psychologically and physically Colchester was a good place for the Romans. Firstly it was the capital of their defeated enemy, and their occupation of it confirmed their superiority. Secondly, it was the communications centre for the existing State. Metalled Celtic roads connected Colchester to the major townships of Celtic southern Britain and it is very likely that the speed of the Roman subjugation was aided by these ready made routes.
Within four years of their invasion the Romans had advanced right up to the line of the Fosse Way, between Exeter and the Wash, and built metalled roads on the line of the old Celtic roads from Colchester through Puckeridge to St Albans and beyond, from Puckeridge to Baldock and beyond and from Colchester to Lincoln. They also built a new road from London to Lincoln – the A10 – and that too went through Puckeridge.
In around AD 45 the settlements in the Celtic village of Puckeridge were relocated and this almost certainly reflects the arrival of the Romans.
Post invasion Celtic occupation sites have been found on the ridge south of Whickham Hill and south-east of the roundabout on the A10. The finds included the remains of metalworking – in bronze and iron – and evidence of the use of horses. Shops and houses were found and these were in use between 45 AD and 75 AD – right throughout the early Roman period. There is also a tantalising glimpse of settlement in Puckeridge itself – from a chance find at No 16 Buntingford Road.
The materials found in the digs show that the land was used for corn and for grazing cattle, sheep and pigs. Horses were used. The great variety of produce and artefacts found would imply that Puckeridge, at the centre of a series of cross-country routes, may have been a market place.
Archeological investigations between 1969 and 1973 established the line and dating of the roads around Puckeridge. The Roman road to Baldock has been traced within the Whickam Hill site but its pre-roman existence has been confirmed by the discovery of building foundations and pits, dated to 45 BC, which penetrated the hard packed surface of the earlier tracks. The Pre-Roman road from Colchester to St Albans probably ran from Horse Cross over Standon Hill to Colliers End. with a connecting road running up to Puckeridge. The Romans appear to have used that route. Although no agger has been found, Roman finds have been located on the line at Standon Hill and at the presumed site of the ford.
We know that Legion XIV, based on Colchester, undertook the pacification of the Midlands between Leicester and Cirencester up to the line of the Fosse Way. They would have developed the Celtic road from Colchester to Baldock, the line of which is now used by present day field boundaries. It goes straight to the Celtic site east of the White Hart and then turns north through the Celtic village before heading for Baldock. Another road turns to the south towards Colliers End.
The Legion may have had a fort here. We can still see the practise forts the garrison trainees built between Braughing and Dassels, on the east side of the River Quin – evidence that there was a military presence nearby – but the location of a main Fort has never been determined.
Roman troops were removed from the south by 84 AD and the towns and cities became self-governing – often under Celtic civitates. We know from Roman sources that many upper-class Celts became Roman citizens.
But we do not know what was happening in Puckeridge between 75 AD and 250 AD
Around 250 AD there was an upsurge in Romanisation. Whickham Hill was cleared of trees and the town of Ad Fines was built. We do not know what triggered this off but it may have been due to an increased demand for farm produce and a consequent influx of farm workers and traders.
As wealth increased villas began to be built – at first on the outskirts of towns and on existing Celtic sites, later in newly cleared country.
The Roman Villa at Mentley dates from this period, and a second villa is believed to exist near Braughing.
Ad Fines was a substantial town. A large structure at the SE corner, near Braughing Station was probably a Civic building, although its identification as a temple has not been confirmed. Two quite luxurious bathhouses were built alongside the River Rib – evidence of a sophisticated urban lifestyle for the wealthy owners. The dwellings associated with these bathhouses have not been found.
Meanwhile, also around 250 BC, east of Colchester, Saxon boat people started to enter British waters, their numbers increasing during the 4th Century. They were probably seen as refugees, not invaders.
Britain was prosperous at the time because it did not suffer the Barbarian invasions which were sapping the strength of the rest of the Roman Empire. Things got so bad for Rome that, in AD 397, all the troops in England were withdrawn to help defend Rome itself.
By 407 AD the Celts, together with the non-military Romans left in Britain, were being harried by the Picts (of Scotland) and the Scots (from Ireland) along the northern coasts and Emperor Honorarius was asked to send troops.
His response was to authorise the cities to provide for their own defence, presumably by retaining tax monies.
Around 430 AD, Vortigern (The name means Great Leader) a Celtic warlord, invited Saxon families to settle and garrison vulnerable areas around the estuaries of the East coast and in the area around Oxford.
Within two years the settlers revolted, calling in their fellow Saxons for help. Celtic Britain fought back – calling vainly for help from Rome in 446 – and kept the enemy at bay throughout the 5th Century. In 500 AD the shadowy figure of Arthur won a mighty victory at the now unknown site of Mons Badonicus and the Chronicles of Gildas record that Britain was at peace for the next 50 years – presumably ruled successfully by post-roman Celts.
The evidence for Ad Fines is that occupation ceased around 400 AD.
It was not a garrison town and it had no defensive walls. It must have been a market town and its demise implies that, when the military market for produce collapsed, the traders went out of business and left.
Although the Anglo Saxons were a pretty irritable bunch, there is no evidence that they indulged in ethnic cleansing. Modern research suggests that the bulk of the artisan population stayed where they were.
Perhaps the Anglo-Saxons merely chased off the existing landowners, built new houses for themselves, seized whatever land they needed to match their previous life-style, and set the available serfs to work.
There is no detailed evidence yet for the presence of Anglo-Saxons in Puckeridge but the report of the excavation in Buntingford Road suggests that some of the ditches were later than 450 AD.
But we can infer that, by 550 AD, they were definitely here. Practically every place name in the Parishes of Standon, Braughing and Westmill has a Saxon provenance and the names themselves tell of forest clearing – Brent Pelham (which was cleared by burning) Stocking Pelham (where the trees were felled) and Mentley (A clearing for cattle).
The only confirmed Celtic name is that for the River Beane, although some sources consider the name Rib to be Celtic or Romano-British.
Modern field boundaries still mark the lines of the Roman Roads. If the land around Puckeridge had fallen into disuse after 400 AD, then the Celtic boundaries marked by the Roman roads would have disappeared by 550 AD.
I think it is safe to say that the land around Puckeridge remained in use, and was divided up between Celtic, Saxon, and Norman farming communities on the original boundaries right through from 15 BC to the present day.
I am sure the Saxons came to Puckeridge.
From 550 AD The Saxon Kings engaged in 400 years of fraternal slaughter, but there were new forces at work. St Augustine from Rome converted the people of Kent to Christianity in 597 AD, although he had no success when he crossed the Thames to Essex.
Around 653 AD Celtic Bishops from Lindisfarne converted Mercia and Essex – and presumably the people of Puckeridge. The Synod of Whitby established a uniformity of Christian worship in accordance with Roman traditions in 664 AD and by 669 AD the Christian Church was established throughout England under the leadership of Theodore of Tarsus.
In 672 the first Synod of the unified English Church was held in Hertford. Presumably Puckeridge was still a route centre and cross roads.
The rich burial mound of Raedwald of East Anglia at Sutton Hoo reveals 7th Century Saxon contacts with Scandinavia, Byzantium, France and the Mediterranean. England under King Offa in the 8th Century continued to be a wealthy nation, but as far as Puckeridge is concerned, despite the evidence of Saxon place names, the physical evidence for Saxon occupation is missing.
The wealth of England was envied by the land hungry tribes in Norway and Denmark, and around the time Offa died – in 796 AD – The Danes had started raiding on a small scale.
From 838 AD, the raids were carried out by large groups of Danes, who wintered in England.
Alfred fought the Danes throughout his reign. He savaged the raiding Danish Army to a standstill in 896, hemmed the settlers within the Danelaw along a defensive boundary on the line of the Lea and the Rib and promised payments to those Danish leaders who kept the peace.
Edward took over after Alfred’s death in 899 AD continuing his father’s policy of rolling back the Danes. In 912 he constructed a ring of burghs on his northern and eastern perimeter, which included Hertford, and then campaigned eastward, securing Essex, East Anglia and the East Midlands.
I am of the opinion that it was during that period that Puckeridge fell into decline. Until the creation of the Rib/Lea boundary, trade had been possible in any direction and all the old roads were in use.
After the enforcement of the boundary from the fortress at Hertford, trade across the Rib was cut off and Puckeridge languished in no mans land. The old Roman roads to Baldock and St Albans were closed, and only limited trade was carried up and down Ermine Street. Puckeridge was on the wrong side of the Rib – and died. Standon and Braughing were east of the Rib – and flourished.
This is pure surmise, but it is the only explanation I can find for the closing of the easterly Roman Roads, once pre-eminent for trade.
The Normans came in 1066 – dispossessed the Saxon landowners, killed off the potential opposition in some places, reduced the villagers to slavery and took the profits for themselves.
Puckeridge is not mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. This is not surprising as the Domesday Book is a record of the Saxon Manors, not the smallholdings attached to the Manors. But all the villages with Saxon names must have existed before 1066.
Which brings us to the vexed question of the name Puckeridge.
There are three possibilities:
- It is named after an old name for the nightjar. The only reference I have for this naming was researched by Frank Ryan who found it in the Oxford English Dictionary – the big one.
- the root is the same as the family name Pocha found in Pockendon Field on the east bank of the Rib
- The name is made up of the Saxon words for devils ridge.
In respect of the first definition it is significant that the OED does not mention an Anglo-Saxon derivation for the name of the bird.
In The Place Names of Hertfordshire there is a thorough examination of the early spellings of the name of the village and a clear indication that it was Anglo Saxon. The two names, for the village and the bird, now spelled the same, appear to have nothing in common.
I do not think Puckeridge was named after a bird although the reverse may be true.
Regarding the second definition, The Place Names of Hertfordshire gives a derivation for the root Pocha different from that for Puckeridge.
Although the similarity is attractive I don’t think the names have anything in common.
The third alternative is, to me, the most attractive. All the early spellings for the word – from 1232 onward – take the form of the Saxon words meaning Devils Ridge or Devils Hill. But if that is the case who were the Devils and where was the hill?
As in many other sites throughout the South East, the Saxons did not reuse the Roman town. No trace of Saxon occupation has been found overlying the numerous Roman finds.
I think that the Saxons shunned Ad Fines and the ridge to the south, and settled on the west side of Ermine Street. The few Romano British traders left at Ad Fines were either ignored or taken as slaves. They were the Devils on the Hill. In time the name was used by travellers as a guide. You will find our houses just beyond Puckeridge.
The truth is – we will never know.
The Normans, like the Saxons, kept records. Many of the old Saxon records were destroyed by the Danes and by the Normans, but the Norman records have survived rather better.
Not that we have much detailed evidence for Puckeridge in the early days, but we do have sufficient to understand what was happening to the locality.
The increasing wealth from agriculture and forestry from 1100 AD to 1500 AD can be seen in land leasing records. During these years the holdings of the Manor of Standon were split into new estates to satisfy an increasing demand for good quality land. It was very profitable for the Manor of Standon, which changed hands a number of times in the period.
What we now know as Standon Friars was leased to the Knights Hospitaller in 1120 – during the reign of Henry I.
In 1175, Mentley estate was created and leased.
Puckeridge lay within the Mentley Estate, and in 1314, during the reign of Edward II, the owner was granted the right to have a weekly market in Puckeridge on Thursdays, and a fair on the 29th August each year. The right to a monthly fair existed in the 17th Century, but I have not found a date for the Grant.
So by 1314 Puckeridge was well and truly on the map. A thriving market village.
And here I digress for a little story.
In 1346, during the 100 years war, the English, under Edward III invaded Normandy. Edward’s troops turned east, won the Battle of Crecy, and besieged Calais, which was taken in 1347. That was the year of the Black Death when a third of the population of England died. The campaigning ceased.
By 1355 the epidemic was over. The Black Prince took command of the forces in France and headed south to meet the French head-on at Poitiers, on the 20th September. The French suffered a terrible defeat, and their leader, King John, was captured taken to London and held to ransom.
On 4th April 1359 King John was transferred from the Savoy in London – the Mansion
The Duke of Lancaster – to Hertford Castle, together with a retinue of 39 Courtiers and their servants.
On 29 July 1359 they were all transferred again to Sommerton Castle in Lincoln. Their goods were carried in 11 large wagons guarded by mounted soldiers. The servants travelled on foot.
They stopped at Puckeridge for a midday meal – hence my title – and night found them in Royston – quite a journey for the footmen.
Moving a Royal prisoner was quite an undertaking. The market town of Puckeridge must have had considerable facilities to cope with the King and his entourage. Puckeridge was obviously a good place to stop.
But the story of King John himself is worth telling. After nearly a year at Sommerton he was returned to France on the 8th July 1360, leaving the Duke of Anjou as hostage for the ransom. On October 24th the first instalment was paid, and John and King Edward signed a solemn contract of peace.
At this point the Duke of Anjou broke his parole and fled back to France. King John was mortified. Of his own volition he took ship to England and surrendered again to King Edward. He remained in England, true to his code of honour, until his death 4 years later on the 8th April 1364.
But back to Standon Manor
In 1337, the Marshalls estate was first leased and the Sootes (or Doos) Estate – both names are used – went in 1412. They are north-west of High Cross.
In 1477 Stonehouse – or Brickhouse – lying between Mentley and St Edmunds, was created. This holding included a new inn in Puckeridge, The Swan – more evidence for trade in the Village.
In 1515 Riggory – the old Saxon word Wigfrith – estate was leased for the first time. This was later bought by St Edmunds College.
In 1540, at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII, Standon Friars Estate was snatched from the Hospitallers and given freehold to Ralph Sadlier for services rendered.
Standon Lordship was built shortly afterwards, and Charles Perowne records that the Palace was built near the old bridge on the road from Hadham to Colliers End.
This may describe the suspected direct Celtic route from Horse Cross to Colliers End, believed to have been used as the Roman road to St Albans. The report on Ad Fines, presented at Oxford in 1975, records that Roman coins had been found where the line crosses the Rib.
Back to Puckeridge. A Free Chapel and Chantry was granted to the village by Edward II at about the same time as the weekly market was granted in 1314 – this was also the year of the King’s defeat at Bannockburn.
The Chapel was repaired during the reigns of Henry IV and Henry V and was in use right up to 1656 – during the Commonwealth – when George Rogers was the Churchwarden. He was the man who minted Puckeridge farthings because of problems getting coinage in Puckeridge. Some things never change.
I can find no evidence for the Chapel after that – perhaps it disappeared when Charles II came to the throne in 1660.
So by 1359 Puckeridge was a place with a well known name, and it had a weekly market. It had recovered from the frightful experience of the Black Death and could provide food and drink and a place of safety for a large Royal entourage.
No records of that Puckeridge remain, but recent research by Bob Street and others has established that No 15 High St and No 22 opposite were first built, either side of the existing road, in about 1450. This was during the reign of Henry VI.
No 36 was built around 1500 when Henry VII was King – 8 years after Columbus discovered America.
There are other houses in the High St still undated, but the three mentioned demonstrate from their size and structure that the village was wealthy and that trade was important.
In 1642 when Pepys described his visits, the chapel was still there and there were at least five inns – The Old Bell opposite the George, The Rising Sun on the corner facing the side of the Crown and Falcon and the White Hart at the junction, with all its buildings on the west up to Mentley Lane. The weekly market would still be held but the lumbering wagons of 1350 had been replaced by partly sprung coaches – of which 24 a day called at Puckeridge. Apart from the Inns, there would have been livery stables, blacksmiths, chandlers for fodder and horse troughs. We forget what a horse-drawn society was like.
On New Years Day In 1796 the road north of Puckeridge was blocked by snow and we have a record of the coaches stuck in Wadesmill that night. There were the mails for Edinburgh, Boston and Wisbech, the Cambridge, Red River, Telegraph and Bee Hive stage coaches and the Stamford, York and Star heavy coaches. That was the traffic in mid-winter – the summer trade would have been much greater.
Then in 1863 the Buntingford Branch of the Great Northern Railway opened. This must have had a calamitous effect on business. The wagon-loads of corn which used to go down to Ware to join the river route to London would have been taken by rail. There would have been a sudden collapse in the market for horse drawn carriage. Stables would have closed down, cartwrights and wheelwrights would have been made redundant and all the supporting trades would have felt the pinch.
There was still work for blacksmiths and chandlers for farm horses, and it remained the shopping centre for the considerable farming community, but the coaches gradually disappeared and with them the passengers – and, most likely, the publicans.
I don’t think Puckeridge ever recovered. It would be very interesting to research this period and to find out the extent to which Puckeridge changed.
The steam engine also took its toll as steam tractors and threshers replaced horse drawn machinery in the latter part of the 19th Century.
There may have been a gradual improvement in trade with the arrival of the motorcar in 1895 – and this probably lasted until 1950. But then the motor vehicle took over the village street and when the railways were made so uncompetitive that they closed, the traffic was so heavy that all other activity was crushed. Some of the traffic stopped in the village, but most of it went straight through – albeit slowly.
The 2000 year old trade in supplying horses and their food and equipment had gone for ever and no other trade took its place.
The by-pass opened in 1973, and when I arrived in 1977 the village still appeared to be in shock. There were very few cars on the High Street, but there was an hourly bus service to Ware, from 6.30 in the morning to about 9.00 pm at night, and you could leave for London on the coach at 6.45 arriving at Victoria by 8.30 – the fare was £1.20 return.
Now Puckeridge is a dormitory for car owners who work outside the village or a place of retirement for those of us who have stopped work. It has no industry and there is land only for houses – insufficient space for children to play near their homes and none for civic amenities. Puckeridge now is a town full of houses with none of the advantages of a town.
What a pity I had to end on a sad note because there is so much to admire in Puckeridge and its people.
I hope that you have read something of interest.