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ASTON HERTS Local history

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ASTON Herts Local History

I wrote this piece in 1990 for a publication called Monumental Inscriptions produced by the Stevenage group of the Hertfordshire Family & Population History Society.
I have updated the information where applicable.

Aston is a small village standing on a hill 31 miles north of London. The parish is bounded by Stevenage New Town on the west and north sides, a boundary that is constantly being overrun by urban sprawl. Walkern parish is in the north east. Benington in the east and Datchworth and Watton-at-Stone in the south.
During the reign of Edward the Confessor the manor was the freehold of three men. Their names are not known but they were vassals of Stigend, Archbishop of Canterbury.
At the time of the compilation of the Domesday Book (1086) some 25 families lived in 'Estone' as it was then named. This small community included a Priest which indicates the presence of a church. Not the present building but it would almost certainly have been on the same site.
King William II gave much land including the Manor of Estone to his ruthlessly ambitious half brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux. Odo's deceptions and aspiration to become Pope so offended the King that he sentenced him to perpetual imprisonment.
His treasure and estates including Estone reverted to the crown.
The manor remained in Royal possession until 1121 when Kind Henry I presented the land in dower on his second wife eighteen year old Adeliza. In 1135 the King died. On the first anniversary of his death the Dowager Queen visited Reading Abbey which had been founded by Henry in 1121. There she bestowed the gift of 'Easton' Manor and other possessions upon the Abbot and Monks of the Monastery of Reading.
Easton was under monastic control until the Dissolution. (1536-39) when King Henry VIII proclaimed himself Supreme Head of the Church. The Abbot of Reading and two of his clerks were publicly brutally murdered for refusing to surrender the Abbey.
Henry distributed his spoils among his courtiers. The local favourite to receive the Manor of 'Aston' was the Sheriff of Hertford, Sir Philip Boteler- 'For the tenth part of a
Knights fee and rent of 17/11d' (89.5p). Boteler ruled at Woodhall in the contiguous parish of Watton. To establish himself in his new territory he built himself a manor house. He chose the site of a ruined building probably of ecclesiastical origin, the Reading monks maybe? Some of the former building's structure and stone was incorporated in the new house called Aston Bury.

Sir Philip Boteler commenced the building of the Bury in 1540 but died five years later leaving the work unfinished. It was his great-great grandson. Sir Robert Boteler who completed the task, installing two magnificent oak staircases in the process. Some two hundred years later the Bury passed from the Boteler family to Sir Thomas Rumbold.
From then on this beautiful mansion has had many owners.
It was lovingly restored to its former glory in 1908 by a wealthy new owner, Vernon Malcolmson. He died in 1948 and his son sold it to Paul Petrocokino, a leading Member
of Moral Re-Armament. Herts County Council began converting the house to a teacher training centre in 1973. The cost was so great that the plan was abandoned.
In 1989 the Grade 1 Listed building was converted into eleven luxury modern apartments.

The Church was rebuilt about the year of 1230. One detail surviving from that period is the double headed piscina in the south wall of the chancel. The tower was added between 1390 and 1420 and the north aisle and vestry about 1856. The building has undergone many changes to its structure through the passing centuries. A serious fire gutted the tower in 1958 destroying the remaining 15th century stained glass and the ancient bells.
The Lych gate was erected to the memory of Rev. George Oddie. His father was also a Rector at Aston. Gregor House and the Dene were their respective rectories. The present incumbent resides in Stevenage as St. Mary's Aston and St. Mary's Shephall and are united in the diocese of St. Albans.
In the churchyard many gravestones have been vandalized others have suffered the ravages of time. One such wooden cross marking the grave of a victim of a second world war air-raid will disintegrate in a year or two, so it is gratifying to know that all the inscriptions have been recorded in this publication. Unfortunately two six inch thick 18th century ledger stones were recently cut in half and removed from the chancel floor. The incised halves are now in the churchyard to the north of the tower. They record the deaths of Dame Francis Clarges and
Elizabeth Butler.

Aston Parish provided a schoolroom for the children of the poor, well before the Education Act of 1870. At the time of the Act a second classroom was added. Eighteen years later a Parish Room was built onto the Church School to honour Queen Victoria's Jubilee and provide a community meeting place. All was demolished in 1966 and the site redeveloped. A new St. Mary's School opened in 1964 and occupies a larger piece of glebe land to the north east of the former location. This building has since been extended to provide a larger assembly hall and a library.

The beautiful Coach House and surviving garden walls are the only visible signs remaining of a once prominent 17th century house and estate opposite the church. The house was demolished by Stevenage Development Corporation after serving as its headquarters from the outset of building the New Town.

During World War II the whole site was requisitioned by the War Office. The house became the officers mess of a unit of SOE (Special Operations Executive) engaged in the design, production and testing of weapons and explosives for use in guerrilla warfare and sabotage operations. The area is named Yeoman's Drive after the last family to reside there.

Aston's 'Smithy' is over a 150 years old. It was originally much smaller than we see it today
Having been extended twice. Mr Robert Wright and his sons Will and Bert became well known in the district for their high class workmanship. The building was tastefully converted to a drawing office in 1970. The brick built furnace is still in place.
The drawing office closed and the forge is now part of Vine Cottage.

Sixteenth century Wisteria Cottage, (opposite the Pig and Whistle) is probably the most historically valuable cottage in the parish. Its interior is of unusual construction having access space around the central chimney. The bread oven is still intact. Recently some ancient wall paintings were discovered during renovation in two of the bedrooms. William Harmer moved from Weston around 1842 to start a wheelwrights business at this cottage.

In the early 1900's Aston Parish was served by six public houses. At Aston End 'The Crown' flourished until closure in 1987. The building remains but is boarded up, empty and silent.
The Crown reopened and is now a thriving pub and restaurant

The 'Live and Let Live' was a beautiful sixteenth century cottage until demolition in 1959. Fortunately 'The Fox' a cottage of the same period has survived but is no longer a pub.

In Aston village the 'Rose and Crown' is still in business but suffered modernisation around 1927 when the massive chimney and inglenook fireplace were removed and the front wall projected forward to provide more interior space. 'The Beehive' is now an antiques shop.
The antiques shop has since closed.
'The Pig and Whistle' formerly 'The Boot' was enlarged and the facade totally changed in 1956.

Cottages that have withstood time and have not suffered unduly by modernization are Beehive
Cottage, (behind the Village Shop, now closed)late 16th early 17th century. Waterbridge is extremely attractive. Asmores and Elizabethan Cottage are both delightful thatched structures though sadly the latter has been severed from Aston End by the New Town's Gresley Way. Glebe Cottage late 16th early 17th century and 41 Benington Road early 17th century are attractive but extended.

It would be an asset to acquire a cottage as a village museum. In the meantime I have donated many items to Stevenage Museum on permanent loan. Here you may also see replicas of the major Roman and other finds that have occurred within the parish. I am compiling a book on the history of Aston and would be pleased to receive information, documents and photographs etc.

Des Turner (January 1990)
2 Benington Road


The Monumental Inscriptions of Aston were first recorded by Mr W.B.Gerish prior to the First World War and then in 1988 by the Stevenage group of the Hertfordshire Family & Population History Society.
The main listing is of inscriptions transcribed in 1988 followed by a list of inscriptions made by Gerish but not found in 1988. A list of people buried in the churchyard between 1885 and circa 1934 with no inscriptions is also included. These names are taken from a plan of graves kept at the church. The burial registers kept at County Hall, Hertford will provide more information.

A special word of thanks should go to Mrs J. Bandy, Mrs R. Dulley, Mrs J. Gate, Mrs B. Palmer Mrs V. Palmer and Mrs P. Skeggs who worked so hard transcribing and plotting the graveyard. Jean Laidlaw