Area Guide: Rich in history and culture, Flamstead offers rural tranquillity with a burgeoning cultural scene
PUBLISHED: 14:00 13 October 2017 | UPDATED: 09:00 14 October 2017
Just a few miles west of Harpenden is the pretty village of Flamstead, best-known locally for its annual scarecrow festival.
Flamstead is an ancient community with a documented history going back 1,000 years. Although the first record of the village does not appear until the year 1006 (mentioned in a Charter granted by King Ethelred to the Abbot of St Albans) there was a settlement present in Roman times.
The Domesday Book records the area, 80 years later, as being held by Ralph de Todeni, granted by William the Conqueror. The de Todeni family were Lords of the Manor for 244 years.
For an idyllic village deep in the Hertfordshire countryside, Flamstead is well connected with easy access to London. The M1 is a couple of minutes away and the nearest train station is a short 3.5 mile drive to Harpenden, with regular trains to London St Pancras.
Flamstead has 65 listed buildings. The church (dedicated to St Leonard, a somewhat obscure 6th century monk) is difficult to date as it developed in stages, but it’s estimated to trace back to Saxon times. The iconic tower dates from 1140 and a list of parish priests dating back to 1223 is recorded there. There are medieval wall paintings and the Saunders Memorial of 1670 also.
There are various other important buildings within the parish like the mansion at Beechwood (today a preparatory school). Beechwood Park gave its name to a song by The Zombies, written by the group’s bassist Chris White, who grew up in Markyate. Also of considerable interest are the Almshouses opposite the Three Blackbirds, which are dated 1669 and the Three Blackbirds pub itself, the western wing of which is 16th century.
Time Team come to Friar’s Wash
In 2008 Channel 4’s Time Team discovered a previously unknown major Roman temple complex near the parish at nearby Friar’s Wash. They ended up unearthing not one temple, but four - one of which is so rare it is only the second of its type ever found.
This came about when the team were presented with an aerial 30-year-old photograph showing double square cropmarks in a field. When a tessellated pavement was discovered, a whole complex of buildings were revealed, becoming one of the most important excavations in the show’s history. They also unearthed numerous bronze and silver coins and lead curse-tablets made by 3rd century worshippers.
Festivals and Culture
Since the creation of Flamstead Scarecrow Festival in 2002, residents have made over 120 scarecrows every year, attracting about 5000 visitors over the three day festival. Attendees pick up a trail map and voting form on arrival and make their way around the village, noting their favourite scarecrows. The proceeds are split between two charities – the Hertfordshire Multiple Sclerosis Therapy Centre in Letchworth and the Friends of St. Leonards in Flamstead.
2014 marked the inaugural Flamstead Book Festival and the event has grown year on year. In the past the festival has attracted best-selling authors such as Tony Parsons, Ian Ridley and Sophie Hannah. The 2017 bill included comedian and star of Have I Got News for You, Andy Hamilton.
Flamstead Village School is a half-form entry primary with a morning nursery set in beautiful grounds overlooking valleys and woodland. It was rated ‘good’ by Ofsted at its last inspection.
Three of the closest state secondary schools are Roundwood Park in Harpenden (rated ‘outstanding’), Townsend in St Albans (‘good’) and The Astley Cooper School in Hemel Hempstead (‘good’).
Christina of Markyate and St Leonard
St Leonard of Noblat was the patron saint of prisoners and women in labour. Why should a church in a Hertfordshire village be named for an obscure French saint? The answer probably lies in Christina of Markyate who spent much of her life in confinement at nearby Markyate Cell (on what is now the A5). She was revered for her divine ability to foretell events from her dreams. She was much honoured locally, but was never canonised, so it was impossible to dedicate a church to her. The next best thing was to dedicate the church to her birthday saint: she was born on 6th November 1096, which is St Leonard’s day.
Food and drink
Coffeedog – the village coffee house – is open seven days a week. It’s got WiFi and is the ideal spot to have a winter warmer before starting a walk. On top of the carefully crafted drinks they have a selection of fresh locally baked cakes and pastries and a range of very special home made cards to buy.
The Spotted Dog has been a public house since the 1600s and has since been carefully renovated into a warmly inviting space in which to relax. They serve great food, fine ales, delectable wines and quality coffee (supplied by Coffeedog). There’s always a roaring fire in the winter and the interior features unique reclaimed furniture from the 50s and 60s. A delightful intimate courtyard garden will be open in late spring for an alfresco dining experience.
The Three Blackbirds is ideally situated for a snack or meal for ramblers and horse riders. The traditional menu is designed by head chef and landlord Neil, who has a wealth of experience from producing food in 5 star restaurants to managing traditional country pubs. There is table football for the children, a pool table, darts and BT Sports.