20 June 2011

Pushing boundaries in the home of Dick Turpin

The centre of Hoddeson ... a charming town in the Lea Valley, with timber-framed Tudor inns, market stalls and interesting shops and cafés (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am in Hertfordshire this week for the USPG Annual Conference 2011, which takes place from today [20 June]until Wednesday [22 June]. This year’s conference, ‘Pushing Boundaries,’ has a special focus on the importance of leadership development and health within Anglican global mission.

The conference, which runs from lunchtime to lunchtime, is being held at the High Leigh Conference Centre on the outskirts of Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire.

The speakers at the conference this week include:

• The Most Revd Mouneer Anis, Bishop of Egypt
• The Right Revd Trevor Mwamba, Bishop of Botswana
• The Right Revd Paul S Sarker, Moderator, Church of Bangladesh
• The Most Revd Maurício Andrade, Primate of Brazil

High Leigh ... the venue for the 2011 USPG annual conference (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I was last in High Leigh two years ago for USPG’s 2009 conference. High Leigh is set in the heart of the Hertfordshire countryside and stands in 40 acres of lawns, parkland and woodland.

From High Leigh, it’s a short walk into the nearest town, Hoddesdon (population 20,000), a charming town in the Lea Valley, with timber-framed Tudor inns, market stalls and interesting shops and cafés.

The White Swan ... a timber-framed, Tudor-style inn on the High Street in Hoddesdon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A number of these timber-framed inns lining the High Street date from the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, when the town was enlarged and her Secretary of State, Sir William Cecil, acquired the manor of Hoddesdonsbury. The Cecil family maintained its connection with Hoddesdon in the centuries that followed. This link is recalled in the name of the Salisbury Arms – the family has held the title of Marquis of Salisbury since 1789, although the pub itself dates back to the 16th century, when it was first known as the Black Lion Inn.

Many of Hoddesdon’s ancient inns remain to this day. As well as the Salisbury Arms, they include the Golden Lion (1535), the White Swan, which also dates from the 16th century, and the Bell (1660). Local lore says that it was from one of these inns that a “broad-shouldered, pock-marked man” called Dick Turpin operated during the 1730s, holding up travellers and stealing their possessions on the road between Hoddesdon and Ware.

Saint Augustine’s, Broxbourne ... a church in parish with a history that dates back to the 11th century (Photograph © John Salmon)

The local train station for Hoddesdon is at Broxbourne, and these two neighbouring villages, divided by Spital Brook but difficult to distinguish from each other, have been part of the same borough since 1935.

Broxbourne grew up on the Great Cambridge Road, now the A10, and Broxbourne High Street, like its counterpart in Hodesdon, is also lined with a number of old houses and inns dating from the 16th to the 19th century.

In the reign of Edward the Confessor, the Manor of Broxbourne was held by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The manor passed into Norman hands after the Conquest, and the Domesday Book mentions Broxbourne Mill. King John granted the manor to the Knights Hospitallers, and following the dissolution in the 16th century, the manor passed to John Cockin 1544.

Broxbourne’s parish church, Saint Augustine’s, stands a little to the east of the village and is Grade 1 listed building. The Domesday Book refers to a parish at Broxbourne in 1086 and to a priest, but not to a church.

The present church has a 12th century Purbeck marble font. But Saint Augustine’s was entirely rebuilt in the 15th century, probably funded by the Lord of the Manor, Sir John Say, who died in 1478. The tomb of Sir John and Lady Say remain in the church and is a National Monument. The church has other monuments and brasses dating from the 15th century, some of the Communion plate dates from the early 17th century, and three of the eight bells in the belfry date from 1615. Saint Augustine’s is now part of the Parish of Broxbourne with Wormley, formed in the late 1970s.

Today, Hoddesdon and Broxbourne are safer places for travelers and visitors than they were in the days of Dick Turpin. I look forward to some strolls around these streets and some walks in the countryside, as well as meeting some old friends and making some new friends.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a member of the council of USPG.

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