Wheathampstead... A Brief History

 

It is likely that Wheathampstead has been continually settled since the middleIron Age, around 400BC. In the late Iron Age it was part of the tribal area of the Catevellauni. Mortimer Wheeler, writing in the early 1930s, suggested that there was an important earthwork enclosure at the Devil’s Dyke. According to Wheeler this oppidum (or hillfort) was the early capital of the atevellauni and this was where Julius Caeser defeated the British chieftain Catevellaunius in 55BC. However modern historians are sceptical that the battle took place at Wheathampstead or that an oppidum existed.

 

After the Roman invasion of 43AD there is a lot of evidence of Romano-British activity.

A major villa site at Turnershall farm was excavated in 2002 to 2004.

Other nearby sites included a possible villa site to the south of the village near own Green.

After the collapse of Roman Britain the Saxons were slow in moving into the area around St.Albans and the Chilterns. The first evidence in

Wheathampstead was the discovery of a high status chieftain burial

overlooking the village that has been dated to the early seventh century. The grave goods are now in the British Museum. Recently a small Saxon cemetery of a similar age has been discovered at Batford.

The Saxon settlement is thought to have developed into a Royal estate

around an early minster church and a hall. In 1060 Edward the Confessor gifted the manor of Wheathampstead to the Abbey of Westminster. At this time the name of the manor was Watamestede. The signed document that confirmed this transfer still exists and is in the Hertfordshire Archive collection.

 

The manor at the time was far larger than the modern parish and it is believed to have included the modern parishes of Harpenden and Harpenden Rural.

During the next three centuries the manor provided the Abbey of Westminster with regular shipments of wheat and other provisions. In the eleventh century much of the manor was woodland apart from the land the estate farmed in the Lea Valley. Later in the twelfth century the Abbey began to lease out the wooded upland areas that were unsuitable for medieval arable farming.

These free tenancies evolved over time into the sub manors and minor country estates that survived into the modern era. These included Lamer, Raisens, Piggots, Herons, Kingsbourne and Rothhamsted. The Abbey continued to own the Bury estate in the Lea valley until it finally sold up in 1945.

During the 18th and 19th century Wheathampstead was eclipsed by the rapid growth of Harpenden. Harpenden had been little more than a clearing in the woodland in the early medieval period. This led to the division of the ecclesiastical parish in 1856 when Harpenden became independent.

Wheathampstead continued to have slow growth until the 1930s when it began to rapidly develop into the dormitory village it is today.

For more information visit   Wheathampstead History Society

 

Wheathampstead Station

The Beeching report was the death knoll for many small train stations and Beeching’s findings meant that Wheathamspetad, originally opened in 1860 was finally closed to passenger traffic in April 1965 although it remained open for freight for a further two years until 1967.

The site overgrown and virtually obscured from sight sat forgotten for more than 40 years until in 2009 a volunteer group took on the ambitious project to restore the station to its former glory.

In 2016 a statue of the celebrated playwright George Bernard Shaw was commissioned and now sits comfortably on a station bench, looking down the platform, waiting for the arrival of his train

One of the many notable personalities that used Wheathampstead station, Bernard Shaw, as he preferred to be called, was probably one of the most well known and important writers of the 20th century and surely is worthy of this carved work of art.

He lived just three miles from Wheathampstead in Ayot St Lawrence for the last forty years of his life and, apparently, he rode his bicycle from his home down to the station leaving it for safe keeping at the Station Hotel, where the landlord looked after it for a charge of 6d per week. 

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