Area Guide: Flamstead
- Credit: Archant
Perched on the edge of the River Ver, Flamstead drips with tradition and pageantry – with a skyline of Saxon towers and scarecrows, and haunted by an 11th century martyr...
Flamstead is a very ancient community with a documented history going back 1000 years. The parish was formerly vaster, but acres were subtracted in order to form part of the parish of Markyate in 1897. 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.
In 1298 the last of the line, Robert, was granted permission to hold a market every Thursday and a fair for five days annually at the Feast of St Leonard (events like this didn’t happen in places of no importance!) The village was also known for trout and oat farming.
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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 many other buildings of importance within the parish like the mansion at Beechwood (today a preparatory school). The first recorded building on the site was the little nunnery of St Giles-in-the-Wood, founded around 1120 and dissolved by Henry VIII in 1537. 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.
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In 2008 Channel 4’s Time Team discovered a previously unknown major Roman temple complex near the parish at nearby Friar’s Wash. This was particularly monumental given the fact that the team were yet to conduct such an excavation in all the years the show had been in production. 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.
Flamstead Scarecrow Festival
Since 2002 the residents of Flamstead have been making over 120 scarecrows every year, which are placed around the village, attracting about 5000 visitors over the three day festival. Visitors pick up a trail map and voting form on arrival and make their way around the village, noting their favourite scarecrows and enjoying the other attractions on the way - the tombola, cake stalls, puppet shows, morris dancers and music. The Festival takes place between 12pm – 5pm on the Friday, 10am – 6pm on the Saturday and 10.30am – 5pm on the final Sunday. The proceeds are split between two charities – the Hertfordshire Multiple Sclerosis Therapy Centre in Letchworth and the Friends of St. Leonards in Flamstead.
Flamstead has a pre-school and a primary school. Flamstead Village School is a half-form entry primary with a morning Nursery set in beautiful grounds overlooking valleys and woodland. Children new to Nursery and Reception have opportunities for taster sessions before they start, supported by home visits, to ensure a well supported start to their learning experience. Roundwood Park, St George’s, Sir John Lawes and Townsend secondary schools can be found in the nearby areas.
Christina of Markyate & 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. Christina ran away from an arranged marriage with a nobleman. Legend has it that her parents tried many tricks to force her to marry - including an attempt at slipping love potions into her tea. Eventually, she sought sanctuary in St Albans Abbey, under the protection of deacon of the abbey, who placed her in Markyate Cell.
Coffee & Wine
Coffeedog – the village coffee house – is open 7 days a week. It’s got WiFi and is the ideal spot to have a winter warmer before starting a walk, grab a take out coffee prior to heading off on your errands, or just kick back at the weekend with the complimentary papers and a cuppa. 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, now carefully renovated into a warmly inviting space in which to relax and linger. 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 that alfresco dining experience. The acclaimed head chef recently joined the team from Champneys.
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* restaurants such as Paris House, through to managing kitchens within traditional country pubs in the surrounding villages. There is table football for the children, a pool table, darts and BT Sports.