I took a diversion when I spotted some strange shapes in the distance and came upon an artist’s studio in a farmyard on the edge of Woolmer Green
The village straddles the old Great North Road and you’d think nothing of it – a bit of Knebworth gone astray or a chunk of Oaklands (bizarre place that is) stranded on the wrong side of the railway. Passing by on the train, it gets a nameplate sign despite having no station – perhaps a relic of the war time halt for troops training in woods around Mardley Heath.
But it’s an ancient crossroads of the Great North Road and the Roman road from St. Albans to Braughing. Turn off the main road and you’ll find a village pond and clutch of pretty cottages hidden among the newer housing. Footpaths lead off to Datchworth and over the top of the railway tunnels to Welwyn North.
What links a hamlet on the very edge of Hertfordshire – Luton’s outskirts lurking a field’s length away – to sub-tropical swamps? Nothing. The name Mangrove Green derives from ‘thicket in common use or possession,’ from the Old English gemǣne , ‘common,’ and græfe, says the Survey of English Place Names, not from the mangrove (a word likely taken from the Portuguese mangue).
One of the pleasures since lock down has been walking up from Lilley Bottom to the villages and greens at the top of the western slope, with skies mastered by wheeling and keening Red Kites and Buzzards. Pre-virus, the air was ripped by the howl and rush of Easyjet and Buzz Airlines flights out of Luton. The airport’s sullen sleep is bad news for employment and council service provision in the town but a good omen for all the householders with Stop Luton Airport Expansion signs in their gardens.
There’s a pub on the green, the usual barn conversions in the lane that leads past the farm to views across the bottom towards Lilley and Offley. An old brick wall, overgrown by brambles on the stretch abutting Mangrove Green, and dilapidated in parts of its long run down to the bottom, marks out the estate of Putteridge Bury.
For a brick-built chapel, a corrugated iron church and a village school you walk the couple of hundred yards to Cockernhoe, a route infilled in the last century with functional housing.
Coleman Green, not to be confused with Colemans Green, near Breachwood Green, comprises the John Bunyan pub and a handful of cottages surrounded by woodland and a hollow lane leading to Ayot Green and Welwyn.
The association with Bunyan, Puritan preacher, author of Pilgrim’s Progress, and Parliamentary trooper during the civil war is the preserved chimney of a cottage where he lived for a while.
I’ve given up trying to take a photograph of Wateringplace Green, so I’ve settled on a couple about it. It’s near Moor Green and just yards off Back Lane, the stretch of one-time Roman road that runs from Hare Street to Cherry Green. The ponds may have provided water for drovers’ stock moving down the lane as well as local farmers. They are a pretty muddy affair these days. Not a hope of finding it on Google Maps – Ardeley is about the best it can do, so use the OS.
What I always remember about Wateringplace Green is the scattering of ancient oaks like the one part-pictured above. There’s also a derelict cottage of no great age that adds some melancholy to the place. You’d have thought it ripe for renovation and gentrification but there has been no sign of any work in the years I’ve been walking past.
Moor Green, like Roe Green, continues as a swathe of grassland with a handful of houses and farms dotted around it, several of them listed buidlings. There’s a moated manor set back from the green and nearby meadows and ancient woodland are a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
With tall grass, high skies and few people around, it’s atmospheric and has an old and isolated air. Ardeley and Wood End are the nearest villages. It’s a good starting place for walks in all directions. Ardeley is the nearest Google Maps gets to locating it.
Turning off the old Roman road of Back Lane just before it peters out at its eastern end, there’s a track up through the green of Cherry Green, the hamlet lying beyond this house. The green was uncut hayfield.
At the top of the track, a disused gatepost is adorned with an antique, roughly made horse shoe, an ancient symbol of luck as long as it a displayed this way up so the luck doesn’t drop out.
We walked down the old Roman road that is now Back Lane from the expansive grassland at Moor Green, passing through Wateringplace Green to Cherry Green (all of which will have their blogs some time soon). Then we headed towards the farm at Wakeley to look across the site of a medieval village of the same name towards the empty fields that still carry the name Berkesdon Green.
Just before a patch of land called Westmill Green is Button Snap. On the verge in front of the thatched, timber frame cottage lies a bust of Charles Lamb who lived there from 1812 to 1815 and gave it its name. The essayist, poet and antiquarian sold the house for £50.
Redcoats Green isn’t named as such on the current Ordnance Survey, simply marking it as Redcoats. But the 1896 map has the complete name and there’s a road sign with the full name there. The venerable British History Online (BHO) recognises it, as do estate agents (although with less than half a dozen houses, they aren’t often troubled by the hamlet). So, Redcoats Green it is.
James Lucas, the ‘hermit of Hertfordshire’ lived here and was once visited by Dickens. His house fell into decay around him and was pulled down after his death in 1874. But he is commemorated by the Hermit of Redcoats pub a few hundred yards down the road in Titmore Green, which was counting the days to liberation when we walked by.
Out of sight in a vast pit just to the north west of Redcoats Green lurks the Wymondley transforming station, starting point for the three pylon columns that file eastwards to Stevenage and far into the countryside beyond. In the shot below, old metalwork is dwarfed by new.
Roe Green near Buntingford is a favourite of mine. (There’s another that is now part of Hatfield.) I first stumbled across it on a walk along the ridge from Therfield to Clothall, emerging from the footpath across the fields from nearby Sandon and faced with an expanse of grassland. The edges of the green are dotted with antique houses and cottages and a few unobtrusive newbuilds. There’s an ancient moated farmstead set back from the green, a cricket club pavilion, and an imposing retired Congregationalist chapel. This is part of a local pattern – church in the village, chapels in hamlets. The Congregationalists were not the only non-conformists here. The Primitive Methodists preached on the green when weather permitted, until someone let them use a house and eventually they established a chapel too, though if it’s still there I haven’t spotted it.
It’s probably fair to say you have to make your own entertainment in Roe Green. That was more difficult during the pandemic lock down with the modest playground taped off and even nets practice ruled out.
There are two Damask Greens in Hertfordshire. This one is now part of Weston, which lies high up on the chalk above Baldock. The other is part of Hemel Hempstead. An 1896 map shows Damask Green as wholly distinct from Weston and there’s still clear space between the two in the 1946 map. The name refers to Damascus. Why? Probably because it was held by the Knights Templar during the Crusades. They also controlled Baldock, which has a Templar church. Although Baldock is an ancient settlement, its current name too recalls medieval attempts to conquer the Middle East, deriving from Baghdad.
Damask Green proper lies behind the ridiculously large truck negotiating narrow lanes. The building is the Red Lion, closed for lock down (hopefully to re-open) when the picture was taken in June 2020. The Cricketers is at the other end of Damask Green. The green itself is now the cricket ground and a vast cow field on the other side of the lane.
Rainbow paintings and flags appeared in houses and gardens and workplaces during the lock down. Painted pebbles and tokens, singly or in large collection, turned up on footpaths, and painted prayers were pinned to trees. As an incompetent government, the best of our scientists, and devoted health and care workers were swamped by a deadly tide, was folk memory returning people to an older trust signified by votive offerings?