Friday 29 September 2023


It was only a matter of time till I felt compelled to investigate.

Travelling along a busy road amongst the delivery vans and commuters I kept noticing the same road sign. It pointed off down a lane of medieval narrowness, between earthen banks overhung with branches. It soon disappeared out of sight around a bend. What drew my attention was the strange and singular name on the sign; it didn't fit this area, or even this country, at all. In the evening I opened up the lap-top. Despite all their talk of AI and algorithms, sometimes using Google is like being led through a vast museum by an enthusiastic five-year-old. This time we ended up at an oral history site where an elderly Mrs Cissie Pratt claimed that during her childhood they simply called it "Sniplets".

The village of St Ippolyts takes its name from the church which is dedicated to St Hippolytus, a rather shadowy figure, or possibly three separate saints. He is usually associated with horses, though probably just because of his name; hippo being the Greek for horse. There's a story that he was martyred by being torn apart by horses and some have him as the patron saint of horses. The village sign portrays the happier of the two scenarios:

The other side of the sign depicts other aspects of village life, but you'll have to wait to see that, till I've collected some more and can make a collection. Since there were some questions about the signs in a recent post I can tell you that this sign was cast at the foundry of Henry Isaac, now a seller of fireplaces, but whose website still proudly proclaims that they started out at St Ippolyts as agricultural engineers and iron founders. It was designed by a local man, Peter French.

Not far from the church I noticed this striking sixteenth-century building. Up until 1971 it was a pub called The Olive Branch.

There are more attractive houses a little further down the lane.

And if you venture down this little footpath, near the end of the churchyard, you'll soon be rewarded.....

....with views out over the surrounding countryside. Les speculated that this path would once have been taken by people from the big house as they made their way to church, and I can now confirm that he's right.

If scenery is not your thing then you can glance to your left to enjoy the contented munching of a herd of cows.

A few more steps will lead you to the pretty St Ibbs Bridge. I've just looked it up on the Listed Buildings Register and have found that it was built for the splendidly named Reverend Lax in 1801 so that he could make his way more easily from his house to the church. And speaking of splendid names: if we'd followed this track a little further we would have found ourselves in Half-Handkerchief Lane - now how did that name come about?

But you knew I'd have to poke my nose into the church eventually. There's been a church here since 1087, funded by one Judith, the niece of William The Conqueror. However it was much altered over the centuries, especially in the nineteenth.

It's a rather cosy and colourful church which I couldn't help but like immediately. Much of the colour comes from the east window....

It shows the twelve-year-old Jesus (centre) disputing with the learned Doctors (left) while Mary and Joseph (right) look on with some astonishment.

Then there's a rather battered tomb of a priest.

And here's a more modern lectern with again a horse recalling St Hippolytus. Behind it is one of those mysterious faces that are known architecturally as corbel-heads. It's impossible to ever find out any information about who they depict and it's generally assumed that the stonemasons rather improvised these details, so they may be people to do with the church, the masons' family members or indeed the masons themselves. You can meet them, if you like, and decide for yourselves....

But there we must leave them and go outside once more into the sunshine, start the car, then tiptoe back down the winding lane and chance our luck turning out on to the busy A602.

Take care.

Wednesday 27 September 2023

Country Byways

Hertfordshire continues to delight. Away from the modern shopping malls and the madness of the motorway there are areas where places are hardly big enough to count as places and roads barely wide enough to be called roads. Of course, these secluded enclaves are bounded by busy highways and surrounded by bustling towns, but the wandering pedestrian can still escape for an hour or two in landscapes that seem remote in both time and place

We're starting today in the well-heeled village of Preston, though it wasn't always so opulent. It didn't have it's own church till 1900 and the Red Lion is only here because in 1982 the villagers got together to run it as the country's first community pub. But today's Monday so it won't be open at lunchtime.

Soon we're out of the village and strolling down one of the narrow roads where passing places are few and parking spaces non-existent. Luckily traffic is infrequent and we can stand around searching the hedgerows for bird life.

Autumn berries are thick on the branches this year, which is said to foretell a severe winter, though it's more likely just the result of a warm but showery summer, such as the one just drawing to a close.

There you are: this bizarre countryside in a single photo. A farm lurks behind luxuriant pathside vegetation while a jet makes its way in to nearby Luton Airport, all watched by an unconcerned Buzzard perched in a tree.

This is farming country, but with a fair scattering hedges and trees. We were just congratulating ourselves on the wide grassy path when we were suddenly directed across a recently ploughed field with no sign of a track.

We came out, just as we should have done, near Whitehall Farm. There were some interesting old farm buildings but a man was leaning on the gate, enjoying a cigarette, and I didn't feel I could ask him to move just so I could get a photo.

We now entered Kingswalden Deer Park, though the hedges no longer look high enough to contain deer. We wandered in a large loop around the parkland and though we didn't see any deer, or even cattle, we saw plenty of ancient oak trees.

This cluster of trees are well past their best but still look as though they're prepared to fight off anyone who means them harm!

But they can't fight off the natural forces that are slowly breaking them down. One of the chief beauties of this old park is that everything appears to be left to its own devices with only minimal interference from meddlesome mankind. Apart from the occasional walker it seems to be little visited - probably because there's hardly anywhere you can park nearby.

Old trees often take on this "stag-headed" appearance, but this one is taking the look to extremes. Those wooden posts mark the position of drains; I think this grassy path must once have been the main approach to Kings Walden House, where horse-drawn coaches would have brought visitors and given them an impressive first view of the estate

I loved the way the high cirrus clouds gave this tree a twirly top-knot! We came out in the wonderfully-named Miserable Lane and made a brief stop for a drink of squash and the buttered scones that Les had been carrying for us.

I said we were walking in a circle around the park and here we are back at the farm. The smoker has withdrawn and I can get my photo of what I first thought to be a dovecot, but I'm now sure is a traditional granary, raised up off the ground to prevent access to mice and rats.

Then we began to weave our way back through the fields towards Preston.

Much of our route was along shady paths that were once minor roads - Whitehall Lane, across Back Lane and finally a section of Deadwoman's Lane. There must be a story to that last name, but I doubt it's a happy one.

Then we had just a few meadows to cross to complete the walk.

It was quite a short section but not without its charms and still felt quiet and remote from modern life. We reflected that all morning we'd only seen a couple of dog walkers, a man on a bike and a smoker leaning on a gate. There are another 1.2 million people hiding somewhere in this small county!

Like the whole of today's excursion there was no shortage of photogenic trees and we lingered a while to drink in the last drops of a lovely ramble.

As I mentioned at the beginning, the pub is closed today and even the old well is no longer functional. Luckily we know of another pub just 10 minutes' drive down the road.

Take care.

Friday 22 September 2023

Village Identity

Earlier this month I showed you the village of Mistley and one or two of you commented on its superb sign. Many villages have such signs, usually somewhere near the centre of the settlement. It is however quite a new tradition and I remember seeing some of the first examples. Now they are everywhere. Some are carved and painted wood and others are metal silhouettes. Some show similarities that make me think they are the work of the same person, others are so individual that they must be the work of someone in the village.

Did you spot the other side of the Mistley sign? Now I shall have to begin on the next collection!

Take care.

Tuesday 19 September 2023

Cars, Gravestones And All That Jazz

I'm sometimes asked how the churches which I show you manage to raise enough money to pay for their upkeep. It's always a struggle and many organise money-raising events over the year. But there can't be many that have car shows in their churchyards, like my local church does every year.

Lets have a wander around and see what we can find.

Morgan Plus 4 Flat Nose - 1951

MG owners' corner
in the centre an MG TC from 1949

Inside an MG
I love that dashboard

Rolls Royce 20/25 Sports Saloon - 1935
designed to be driven by the owner rather than a chauffeur

"All that jazz" was provided throughout the afternoon
by these fine musicians

There were a few motorbikes too
like this 1950 Ariel 500 with sidecar
and a Triumph Trident 750cc from 1975

This Blackburne 550cc bike dates from 1924

This 1973 Ford Mustang was found rotting in a field...'s had a lot of work done on it since then!

Strange reflections in a highly polished headlamp.

Jaguar E-type 1966

A glimpse of a 1960 Austin Sprite...

...and inside the Sprite

MG WA 2.6L Saloon
Only 297 of these were ever produced,
this is one of just two still on the road in the UK

An Ultima GTR
its 7 litre V8 engine makes it capable of
0-60 mph in 3 seconds
and 0-100 mph in just 6 seconds

At the other end of the scale
this Austin 7 Special from 1937 has an engine of just 747cc
- about the same as the Triumph motorbike we saw earlier.

I'm no "petrol-head" and the details I've given here are from the programme we were given when we paid for entry. But I love to see the cars I remember from my youth, I enjoy the stylish design of the classic models and I can't help but admire the single-minded enthusiasm of those who dedicate thousands of hours of their lives to restoring these wonderful machines.

Take care.