Saturday morning and Quinn wakes up early so that he can get on to ‘World of Warcraft’ before his brother does. As the weather has turned cold again he decides that he should wear his dressing gown and is rather pleased that he found the cord for it the day before. He gets the dressing gown and looks again for the cord. It isn’t in his room. He checks back downstairs, it isn’t there either. After 20 minutes of fruitless searching he gives up and goes to the bathroom. There is the dressing gown cord. It has been hanging around his shoulders the entire time.
Because the boys had organised to go out with friends on Sunday, we decided to do some travelling on Saturday this week instead. Jumping into Kylie we set out for the relatively short trip across the county to Hemel Hempstead. Those of you who watched the television detective series ‘Pie In The Sky’ might be interested to know that the series was filmed here, and the restaurant in the series still exists by that name today. The first recorded mention of the town is the grant of land at Hamaele by Offa, King of Essex, to the Bishop of London in AD705. The settlement was called by the name Henamsted or Hean-Hempsted, i.e. High Hempstead, in Saxon times and in William the Conqueror's time by the name of Hemel-Amstede. The name is referred to in the Domesday Book as 'Hamelamesede', but in later centuries it became Hamelhamsted. After World War II, the government designated Hemel Hempstead as the site of one of its proposed New towns designed to house the displaced population of London where slums and bombsites were being cleared. The Government purchased 5,910 acres (23.9 km²) of land and began work on the 'New Town'. The first new residents moved in during April 1949 and the town now has two parts, the “Old Town” and the “New Town”.
While it was interesting to drive around (and Meg decided to return and visit the substantial shopping districts at another time when the boys were elsewhere) it was in the driving that one of the most interesting parts of Hemel Hempstead was encountered. Many people consider a normal roundabout difficult enough to negotiate, but Hemel Hempstead is home to the “Magic Roundabout”. This is one very large roundabout with six smaller roundabouts within. Consequently as you drive toward the roundabout you can see cars within it driving in opposite directions. To complicate things a little more there is also a river running through the roundabout. Wayne had an interesting time driving through it while Meg screamed every time another car came toward us and the boys laughed uproariously.
As we drove out of Hemel Hempstead (before WWII the residents affectionately called it simply Hempstead, these days it is referred to as Hemel???) we made another stop at Kings Langley. This village got its name because Henry III built a palace named ‘Langley’ there. In 1399, Richard II stayed there before his overthrow by Bolingbroke (who became Henry IV) and in Shakespeare’s play ‘Richard II’ when the Queen hears of her husbands overthrow she says, ‘Gardener, for telling me these news of woe, Pray God the plants thou graft’st may never grow’. (Act 3, Scene IV). Both the palace and the garden are now gone with just a few stones remaining. However, it wasn’t for the palace that we stopped but rather for the Grand Union Canal which passes through as it travels the 137 miles between London and Birmingham. The boys had been intrigued about locks on the river and people living on barges. We were able to stop at one of the 166 locks on the Canal and watch how the gates were used to raise and lower water levels so that shipping can continue on its way. It was very windy and cold in the shadow of the viaduct for the M25, so we didn’t stay long.
Our main aim had been to get to Abbots Langley (distinct from King’s Langley because the land was given to the church rather than the king). Why Abbots Langley? (we hear you ask). The answer lies in the fact that there has only ever been one Pope from England. Most people don’t even realise there has been one, England not being known for its encouragement of Roman Catholicism. Amazingly, Abbots Langley is where the only British Pope, Nicholas Breakspear who became Pope Adrian IV, was born in 1100 AD. Sadly, his reign as Pope was only short, from 1154-1159, but it is in the Anglican Church of St Lawrence at Abbots Langley (which was built around the same time) that the monument to Pope Adrian IV is situated. Brock, Quinn and Meg were all confused about the monument to a Roman Catholic British Pope being in an Anglican Church until they discovered that these events took place around 400 years before the Reformation of the Church in England, when the Anglicans broke away from the Roman Catholics. The village itself is lovely and quaint and after having a really good look around the church we wandered back through it observing at all the street names, buildings and other things which were all named for the pope.
On our way back home we travelled down through Watford, along Elton Way (for those who had forgotten, Sir Elton John is former Chairman of Watford Football Club) and around the village of Bushey. One of Meg’s friends from her days working at Sales and Distribution Services for the Queensland State Government had been born at Bushey back in the days when it had been a beautiful little village with a pond and a heath. Nowadays it is just part of the urban sprawl of Watford linking it with Elstree (where the famous film studios are still situated). Once again as we drove we commented on how so much is crammed into so small a place, where there seems to be something of interest everywhere you go.
That was true on Sunday as well. After we had dropped Quinn off at the Clocktower in Hoddesdon, Meg and Wayne headed up to Hertford (about 6.2 miles from our house). We have been to Hertford many times (for shopping, to do banking, and to buy our car for example) and even walked around large parts of it, but we had never seen a Castle there. As we were driving around looking for a coffee shop we saw a sign pointing in the direction of a castle, so we followed it. Sure enough there was a castle, which had been donated by the Marquess of Salisbury in 1997 and is now used by the County Council as Offices. What is left is just the motte, the gatehouse (which was built in 1461), part of the bailey wall and some beautiful gardens, but it is amazing. We wandered through the gardens, admiring the swans on the river and the wildflowers growing from crevices in the stones. As we walked back to the car we laughed at a squirrel who was playing on one of the lawns and we chatted to the policeman who unintentionally made the squirrel jump into a rubbish bin. As we drove back into the centre of Hertford we realised that the Castle itself was on the other side of the theatre, which we had passed by multiple times.
Finding a park down near the church, we paused to take a photo of a beautiful old building which is now an antique shop. For some reason the entrance to the shop is a step down below street level but, even so, the roof is remarkably low. The shop was closed but, had it not been, even Meg would have had to stoop to get through the door. It was a good reminder that humans have got taller over the centuries. We occasionally joke with Brock that he would have been considered a giant hundreds of years ago. Hertford also contains numerous examples of pargetting (decorative plaster on the outside of buildings), a meeting house dating back to 1670 and said to be the oldest remaining purpose built meeting house, and many other buildings dating back hundreds of years. The town of Meryton in Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice' was based upon Hertford. In 1563 Parliament moved to Hertford Castle to avoid the Plague. It was here in 1712 that the last woman was condemned to death as a Witch in England. The band Deep Purple formed here in 1968. 'Eastenders' (a television soap) has filmed here a couple of times. There is even a statue for the Reverend Samuel Stone who co-founded and named Hartford, Connecticut (USA) after the town of his birth. Other notable residents include W.E.Johns (the author and creator of 'Biggles'), and Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley from the Harry Potter film series).
One of the reasons that Hertford has a county named after it, even though it is not even close to being the largest town, is because of something that happened way back in AD 673. The first ever National Synod of the English Church took place where the modern town is situated. The five bishops of the Ancient Kingdoms were called together by Theodore of Tarsus the seventh Archbishop of Canterbury and the first Primate of All England. This event still governs what happens in the English Church today, almost 1340 years later. While we loved visiting Dover (where there was another option of a job for Wayne) and no doubt we would have loved Birmingham as well (the other option) we are really glad we picked Hertfordshire. It is conveniently close to the major routes to the rest of the country, as well as a relatively a short distance from the Channel Tunnel. We are 20 minutes on the train away from the centre of London and a similar distance away from two airports (Stansted and Luton) which can cheaply take us into Europe.
Before picking Quinn up and heading back home to Brock (his friends had cancelled on him and he elected to stay at home and play ‘World of Warcraft’ rather than come out for coffee with us) we stopped in at Wayne’s school to walk through the grounds. The woodland, the orchard, the farm, the ovals, the river, the enormous number of flowers, and the wildlife, all make it a beautiful place to walk. We have also gone there with Brock and Quinn because there is so much to look at and the grounds really don’t feel like a school. Even the chilly weather doesn’t bother us, we can just rug up and go out walking. As they have become more comfortable in the area, Brock and Quinn like taking walks down to the shops or up to the New River which is a short distance from our home. Quinn’s friends walk from the Clock Tower in Hoddesdon down to the park near the boy’s school as a fun thing to do. Wayne and Quinn even went jogging last weekend, inspired by the London Marathon which had taken place that morning.
Thanks once more for those who keep in contact, letting us know what is happening in your lives, by far the majority of those contacts are positive. Keep coming with your letters, emails and even phone calls because we love hearing from you. Oh, and in case you didn't know, the names in the subject of this letter are from the television series 'The Magic Roundabout' which was filmed in the late 1960's and early 1970's. Time for bed!!!!!