Area Guide: The quaint Hertfordshire village of Gustard Wood
- Credit: Archant
Situated northeast of St Albans, past Wheathampstead and Harpenden, Gustard Wood is comprised of Blackmore End and Lower Gustard Wood and is mostly rural, featuring lots of green land. This land makes up the Common, the local golf course and the fields of Blackmore End.
St Peter’s Church
The church was opened in 1910 as an outlying daughter church in the parish of Wheathampstead, serving the growing communities of Gustard Wood and Blackmore End. The cost of the building was provided generously by Mrs Laura Pearce of Tunbridge Wells in memory of her late husband, a former vicar of Ayot St Lawrence. In the 100 years since, St Peter’s has become a much loved landmark and place of Christian worship, and has enriched the work of St Helen’s, its parent church, in the process.
Amenities and Leisure
By the end of the 19th Century it was agreed by landowners that Gustard Wood Common and its neighbouring forest would be converted into a golf course. Nine holes were ready for play by 1893, and the famous golfer and course designer James Braid later developed it into an 18-hole course. Today the Mid-Herts Golf Club is one of the oldest English golf courses, and is well known for being unusual and challenging.
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The Cross Keys pub on Ballslough Lane is a traditional 17th century pub that benefits from the architectural style of its era, with exposed beams, inglenook fireplace and quirky, higgledy-piggledy structure. The pub accommodates many local walkers, rambler groups and cyclists who pop in for a spot of lunch. A bed and breakfast service is also available and a welcoming restaurant, with seating for 25 customers.
With just four miles between Gustard Wood and Harpenden and six to Welwyn Garden City, there is no end to the shopping, dining and entertainment options. If you’re looking for something more cultural, the historic villages of Kimpton, Whitwell, Knebworth and Ayot St Lawrence surround Gustard Wood, with tales of historic figures, drama, scandal, deception and love to be found around every corner. The previous home of playwright and author, George Bernard Shaw, known as Shaw’s Corner, is just two miles away and will provide the whole family with a delicious dose of literary history.
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Now, this may not make you want to purchase a property in Gustard Wood but it should spark some intrigue in you. In the 1800s, a man named Thomas Wheeler prowled the area and neighbouring Marshalswick for loot. On Marshalswick Farm he had a rude interruption while he made an early morning raid. The farmer, hung from his bedroom window to see what the ruckus was about and was shot dead at the merciless hands of Wheeler.
Mary Wheeler Pearcey was another local killer, some say she became psychotic after the hanging of her father, others say they were unrelated and coincidentally carried the same name. Her story, however, grows to be even more fascinating and dark. Mary’s secret lover revealed that he was married and expecting a child. In a mysterious twist of events Mary invited the new mother to her home. When inside, Mary attacked her with a poker and proceeded to sever her throat with a kitchen knife before chucking the body onto a rubbish heap nearby. The body of the baby was also found.
Over time, stories of Mary Wheeler’s hideous crimes circulated and she began to emerge as one of the ‘Jack the Ripper’ suspects, the first woman to ever have been connected with the infamous murders.
At the time Madam Tussauds’ museum was so taken with the stories of Mary’s wrath that they dedicated a section of their Chamber of Horrors to her, complete with her own wax figure, parts of her blood-spattered kitchen and the baby’s stained pram. The exhibition attracted swathes of people, with 30,000 visitors ogling at the sight.
On the bright side, Gustard Wood is home to many fond historical accolades. For example, during WWI the largest of the auxiliary hospitals was built in Blackmore End, providing care and recovery for the injured with over 214 available beds. Many locals and supporters from further afield kept the hospital running with their donations.
Gustard Wood can be viewed from a number of perspectives, from quaint country village to golfing hub to convenient getaway to historical mine. All of them are equally as impressive, all of them unforgettable.