Area Guide: The Hertfordshire village of Great Offley
- Credit: Archant
Tucked away on the edge of Hertfordshire, Great Offley is a sleepy village brought to life by its grand history.
Sitting on the top of a hill in the centre of the parish of Offley, this apparently isolated village is moments from a main dual carriageway leading residents to the local major towns of Hitchin and Luton within minutes. An ideal situation - the attraction of peace and quiet of pleasant surroundings just a stone’s throw from great road links.
There could be many fanciful tales of what put the ‘great’ in front of Offley, but history suggests a fascinating royal link that is still celebrated in the village today. Legend has it that in the 8th century King Offa discovered the bones of Saint Alban and set about creating St Albans Abbey in a tribute to him. While it was being completed he looked for a place to call home and discovered the area. After building a grand palace, the village is thought to have become known as Great Off Lee.
Young learners at Offley Endowed Primary School – rated ‘good’ by Ofsted – have strong links to two local churches, St Mary Magdalene in Offley and St Peter’s in Lilley. The pretty village church of St Mary’s dates back to the 1800s. It was retouched by Sir Thomas Salusbury in the 18th century and remains a proud feature of Great Offley.
But arguably a stronger pride is felt for the 17th century manor house Great Offley Place in Kings Waldon Road. Rebuilt in 1810 but still retaining a Tudor porch and a 17th century wing, the grand house has a long and winding history which saw the same family line keep ownership for an impressive 350 years. In 1929 the family ownership was brought to an end when the last owner, Guy George, sold the estate to a director of WH Smith who was well liked in the village and built a cricket pavilion and pitch. When World War II broke out it was sold again, this time to become a teacher training college, and then finally in 2003 it was taken over by Hamid Sabahipour and transformed into Offley Place, the luxury hotel, wedding venue and restaurant it is today.
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Formerly a farming village, the traditional trade in Great Offley has expectedly reduced but the vestiges of the trade are still visible in the rolling fields that enfold the area. Beautifully converted barns and old farm buildings are a modern tribute to the area’s beginnings along with the old chapel that has also been transformed into housing, whilst retaining its historic facade.
Amongst the pretty housing and scenery there are amenities to keep residents away from the major towns for a few days - a post office and convenience store in one is a great asset for locals, as well as a hairdressers and of course two pubs and a Chinese restaurant. The three offer a meeting place, entertainment and a rest stop for weekend walkers.
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