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The Puddingstone Track: Deconstructed

  Puddingstone Track

Deconstructed:

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Along the Track: HERTFORDSHIRE

 

Part 3: St. Michael to Bovingdon

 

 

'Confirmatory evidence' (NOT ON FINAL VERSION OF TRACK)

Lord Bacon's Mound, Gorhambury:

In his talk to the Essex Field Club in late 1951, Dr. Rudge explained that, after leaving the Roman Theatre, his Track headed west for two-thirds of a mile, crossing the diagonal of the town site of Verulamium. This he thought no coincidence. Nor did he think it coincidence that the north-west corner of the town's defensive earthwork, the Fosse, pointed just beyond at "a moated mound at Gorhambury...named Lord Bacon's Mound".1 He didn't explicitly say so, but he evidently considered this to be another of the several ancient mounds along the Track that had once supposedly been host to a puddingstone, raised above the landscape for sighting purposes.

 

Lord Bacon's Mount, as it is properly named, still exists at TL1231407295, just within the northern edge of Prae Wood. However, although a scheduled monument, it is neither moated nor ancient. What remains is an earthen mound with gently sloping sides, square in plan, with a flattened top on which have been planted several trees. It was almost certainly built in the 1560s to the order of Sir Nicholas Bacon, who also built Old Gorhambury House further to the west. Although Prae Wood has now completely surrounded it, the Mount was formerly in a large clearing in parkland, and set as it is on a ridge of land, had wide views over St. Albans and Gorhambury itself. An estate map of 1634 shows it with an open-sided gazebo or viewing pavilion on top, which was of course its purpose. A similar mound or 'stand' for viewing was constructed near another of Bacon's country houses, at Redgrave in Suffolk.

 

When Sir Nicholas died in 1579, his son Francis Bacon took over the estate. Because there is a square pit lined with brick and flint sunk into the top of the mound, some have theorised that Sir Francis had an observatory built there. But in July 1608 he made the following entry in his notebook: "Plott to be made of my poole, and the waulk through Pray wood and ye stand thear on the hill for prospect".2 It seems fairly clear that this 'stand' was simply intended for obtaining panoramic views of the countryside.

 

Whatever its purpose, it was not prehistoric in origin. However, Dr. Rudge determined that, having come west from the Roman Theatre, at the Mount his Track made a slight change in direction to head south-west, to a puddingstone 1 miles away at Hill End Farm. After his talk to the Essex Field Club was printed in 1952, this version of the Track was never mentioned again. Instead, he believed it went directly SSW from the Theatre to a stone at Windridge Farm, 1 miles away.

 

1. E.A. & E.L. Rudge: 'The Conglomerate Track' in 'Essex Naturalist' Vol.29, part 1 (March 1952), p.22 (read 24/11/51.)

2. J.C. Rogers: 'The Manor and Houses of Gorhambury' (Gibbs & Bamforth Ltd, 1939), p.57.

 

 

Gorhambury (St. Michael) (NOT ON FINAL VERSION OF TRACK)

"Hillend Cottage stone" (only mention in print 1952; read 1951):

On the eastern side of Beechtree Lane is Hill End Farm. Directly opposite is a 17th century house that used to be called Stone Hall. Now it is divided into two properties, officially named Hill End Farm Cottages, but locally better known simply as Hillend Cottages (TL10880652.) At one of these, Rudge said that there were fragments of puddingstone on a garden rockery; once again, he assumed that they had been parts of a single boulder. And once again, neither property has a such a rockery today. However, sitting loosely on the surface just across the road near the main farm entrance is a small chunk of HPS about 35cm x 30cm x 35cm high.

 

 

St. Michael (NOT ON FINAL VERSION OF TRACK)

"Blackwater Wood stone" (only mention in print 1952; read 1951):

Without further explanation, Rudge simply said of this stone "now in yard of Corner Farm". The former farm sits in the angle between the A4147 Hemel Hempstead Road and Westwick Row, at TL09770611. This is just under three-quarters of a mile south-west of Hill End. The edge of Blackwater Wood - where I presume he was suggesting the stone came from - is another 300m further SSW. When I went there in 2017, I found that the farm site has become Corner Farm Place, another complex of residential barn conversions. The 'yard' is now completely brick-pavered, and there is no sign of any puddingstone.

 

 

Nash Mills (NOT ON FINAL VERSION OF TRACK)

"Well Farm stone" (only mention in print 1952; read 1951):

The stone here, which was said to be in the farmyard, broken, is probably also gone. I haven't visited, but the farm (at TL08960567) has changed considerably since Rudge's time, with new buildings, resurfaced yards and paved forecourt. It can be found just over half a mile south-west of Corner Farm, in the angle between Bedmond Road and Bunkers Lane.

 

 

Nash Mills (NOT ON FINAL VERSION OF TRACK)

"Nash Mill's stone" (only mention in print 1952; read 1951):

From near Well Farm, Bunkers Lane runs south-westerly in a narrow valley between two ridges of land, ending after 1 miles at Nash Mills. Just across the river Gade (here the Grand Union Canal), and just into the parish of Kings Langley, is the Red Lion pub. It stands on the corner of Nash Mills Lane and the A4251 London Road (TL06870431.) Dr. Rudge recorded the puddingstone here as being fragments in the inn's garden. But in 1951 he brought the Essex Field Club here, when their coach made a detour via Kings Langley and Nash Mills "to meet the track again at the River Gade crossing, where a stone was pointed out behind the Red Lion Inn".1 So whether it was an intact boulder, or merely pieces, is unclear.

 

On that outing Rudge remarked that his Track ran along the ridge through the Abbots Hill estate, on the south side of Bunkers Lane. But while on that lane, "stones were pointed out which Dr. Rudge confessed to puzzle him. He concluded that they were either an outcrop or had rolled from the hill slope above, along the top of which the trackway ran." The presence of a puddingstone or parts of one in the nearby pub garden is therefore little on which to base the route of his Track. That garden is very large, stretching down to the canal bank, but there is no boulder there today.

 

As I said at the beginning of this Hertfordshire section, this divergent - and later rejected - course of the Track was heading for Chipperfield, which would be the next village ahead. Here, therefore, we must go back to the first stone encountered after the Roman Theatre, on the 'final version' of the course.

 

1. 'Reports of Meetings' in 'Essex Naturalist' Vol.29, part 1 (March 1952), p.58.

 

 

Potters Crouch (St. Michael)

"Windridge Farm, in wall of barn" (first mention 1957):

The farm is at TL12480578, on the western side of Potterscrouch Lane, 1 miles south-west of the Roman Theatre at St. Albans.  Rudge said later that the stone here was "a large boulder built into the corner of an outbuilding on the eastern side".1 There is still an 18-19th century barn east of the main farmhouse, and two earlier barns on the north side, but the other structures and outbuildings were replaced in the 1970s and 80s, and any puddingstone here has gone with them.

 

1. E.A. Rudge (ed. John Cooper): 'The Lost Trackway' (1994), p.17.

 

 

Potters Crouch (St. Michael)

"Potterscrouch crossroads" (first mention 1957):

Two-thirds of a mile further along the same road is the hamlet of Potters Crouch. This has never been more than a few houses, a couple of farms and a pub clustered around the meeting of Appspond Lane, Blunts Lane and Bedmond Lane. Here Rudge described two large boulders on the verge, near a farm wall. There is and was only one wall at the crossroads, that belonging to Potters Crouch Farm, at TL1157605184 (shown left.) From photographs, any puddingstones against this wall were gone before 2005. The verge at this point, opposite Appspond Lane, has been scraped clean of grass, and I suspect that the stones were removed to allow for the installation of fire hydrants at the roadside. I haven't been able to find out when this happened, and when I visited in 2017, the farm had changed hands four years previously, so no one had any knowledge of the boulders.

 

210m east along the nearby Ragged Hall Lane I found three smallish lumps of HPS about 30cm across embedded in the grass verge outside East Farm, at TL11780525. If Rudge had known about them I suspect he would have included them on his Track - or just possibly, they might be fragments of the stones from the crossroads.

 

 

Pimlico (Abbots Langley)

"By Swan Inn, Pimlico" (first mention 1957):

The whole area south of Hemel Hempstead between Bovingdon and Bedmond contains many occurrences of Herts conglomerate. Just over a mile south of Pimlico "an old quarry at Sheppeys Farm was a source of puddingstone".1 The presence of outcroppings and water-worn deposits is probably what caused Rudge to say that this and the next site on the Track "may or may not belong to the series".2 He described a large boulder standing beside a cottage next to the Swan Inn on Bedmond Road (TL09370506.) The cottage used to be on the north side of the inn (now a private house) but was demolished in the 1960s - which is when I suspect the boulder was also lost. There was certainly nothing visible when I visited in 2017. Pimlico is 1⅓ miles west of Potters Crouch, and just more than half a mile north-east of the next site.

 

1. David Tyler: 'The pebbly conglomerate known as Hertfordshire Puddingstone' in 'Hertfordshire Countryside' Aug. 1979, p.24.

2. E.A. Rudge (ed. John Cooper): 'The Lost Trackway' (1994), p.18.

 

 

Pimlico (Abbots Langley)

"Hyde Farm, beside footpath" (first mention 1957):

The map reference given by Rudge is TL087045, which is on land belonging to Hyde Farm (but quite a way from it), and beside a path that leads from the farm to near the former Swan Inn at Pimlico (less than half a mile away.) The spot is high on a ridge, quite close to a relay station and its 99m transmission masts. Apparently there are or were two boulders at the edge of a field; one had been ploughed up 'recently' (in Rudge's time), while the other had a more 'weathered' appearance.

 

 

Nash Mills

"Hyde Lane roadside" (first mention 1957):

The next stone used to be three-quarters of a mile to the south-west. Rudge said that it stood at TL075040, against a wall bordering a field at the roadside, on the northern verge of Hyde Lane. Both the map reference and the wall can only mean a point near the former farmhouse that is now No.19 in that lane. There is no puddingstone there today, but just inside the gate I found a large boulder, 1.3m x 1.2m x 1m high. One of the owners kindly allowed me in to photograph it, but she said that it and a pile of smaller rocks further across the site had been there when they moved in several years ago. Unfortunately I'm fairly sure that this boulder is limestone (see photo, left.) There are certainly no pebbles in it, and a rock of that size would have severely restricted the single-track lane outside, which has virtually no verges. So, this appears to be another of Rudge's puddingstones lost to time.

 

 

Tower Hill (Chipperfield)

"Scatterdell's Lane stone" (first mention in print 1952; read 1951):

The puddingstone here was said to be in the garden of a bungalow, at the eastern end of Scatterdells Lane. Rudge's map reference of TL044026, however, is only just over halfway along the lane. When I first checked out the area on Google Street View in 2012, at TL0434502584 was a bungalow on the northern side, No.75, with what looked like fragments of puddingstone in the front garden, and two larger rocks closer to the house. Since then a detached house has been built on the site, and any such rocks are gone. But there are small boulders and lumps of HPS at many of the driveway entrances along the lane on both sides, including Nos.60 and 108 on the southern side. As has already been said, it is not an uncommon stone in this area. Having come two miles south-west of Hyde Lane, it's only half a mile WSW to the next point on the Track.

 

 

Tower Hill (Chipperfield)

"Towerhill stone" (first mention in print 1952; read 1951):

In 'Lost Trackway', Rudge mistakenly says that this stone is located "where Scatterdells Lane joins the Kings Langley road." Both his map reference and a letter to a correspondent1 make it clear that the stone in question is actually at TL0363902375, where Tenements Farm Lane meets the main road. (Both road and hamlet are called Tower Hill.) He specifically states that it's in a hedgerow by the roadside, on the northern verge of that lane, opposite Tuffs Farm. And indeed there is a small lump of HPS, 75cm x 50cm x 27cm high, embedded at the corner of the lane (although there's no hedge at that point nowadays.) At the opposite corner there is a slightly smaller lump of sandstone. On both sides there are other pieces of rock and concrete, making it fairly plain that they were all placed there to protect the corners.

 

Only two months before he read his 1951 paper to the Essex Field Club, Dr. Rudge took them on an outing along part of his Track. According to the report, "The coach then made an unavoidable detour from the line of the trackway through Bovingdon village, in the vicinity of which there is a considerable outcrop of conglomerate, and specimens were indicated at Rent Street Barns, Bulstrode crossroads and Towerhill".2 So at that time he disregarded the puddingstone at Tower Hill because of the nearby outcropping. Later, because it conveniently fit the route of his Track, he decided to include it.

 

1. Letter from Dr. Rudge to Mrs. R. Pilcher, 7/6/1950.

2. 'Reports of Meetings' in 'Essex Naturalist' Vol.29, part 1 (March 1952), p.58. 

 

 

Bovingdon

"Games House stone" (first mention in print 1952; read 1951):

Rudge could find no more puddingstones for the next 2 miles until, west of Tower Hill, he came across "a large rectangular block, weathered, and unlike any newly excavated stone".1 It was lying in the garden near what he called variously Games House, Games Farm House, or Games Farm Lodge. He was actually referring to the 'lodge' at the entrance lane to Game (never Games) Farm, at SP99820218. The house itself wasn't built until the 1930s, at which time it was called Few Onions Farm.

 

This was another stop on the Field Club's outing of September 1951. On this occasion, "Some amusement and consternation was caused by the owner [of the house] pointing out that there were several more puddingstones near the entrance gate, but it was satisfactorily confirmed that originally the spot had been a dumping-ground, and serenity returned".2 Despite this information, Rudge still included the large block in the garden as one of his Track-stones.

 

1. E.A. Rudge (ed. John Cooper): 'The Lost Trackway' (1994), p.18.

2. 'Reports of Meetings' in 'Essex Naturalist' Vol.29, part 1 (March 1952), p.58.

 

 

Bovingdon (NOT ON FINAL VERSION OF TRACK)

"Games Farm stone" (only mention in print 1952; read 1951):

"By wall of farm garden" is all that Rudge ever put in print about this, and discarded it soon afterwards.1 The actual farmhouse is at SP99940215, a little over 100m from the lodge called Game Farm House. In a letter of 1950 Rudge noted many large boulders in the farmyard, but never explained if the stone by the garden wall was one of them.2 The Ordnance Survey Six Inch map of 1897 shows an 'Old Chalk Pit' about 200m south-east of the farm buildings, which is where I suspect most if not all of the stones on the property originated, both at the farm and at the lodge.

 

1. E.A. & E.L. Rudge: 'The Conglomerate Track' in 'Essex Naturalist' Vol.29, part 1 (March 1952), p.29 (read 24/11/51.)

2. Letter from Dr. Rudge to Mrs. R. Pilcher, 20/2/1950.

 

Here the Track continues its westerly sweep for a few miles, as it enters Buckinghamshire.

 

Bucks Part 1: Ley Hill to Church Street, Chesham

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