The Churchgate History Trail
By Jane Ruffell
Growing up in Cheshunt in the early ‘80s I enthusiastically attended several memorable talks on the history of the town led by local historians Jack Edwards and Peter Rooke.
Mrs Rooke was a dinner-lady at the Dewhurst St Mary JMI School of which I was a pupil and she encouraged me in my quest for knowledge, recommending some leaflets and books on the local area that her husband and his friend had written. Several of these I still have in my collection, most notably “Theobalds through the Centuries” by Peter Rooke and the “Cheshunt Past” series of photographic history books by Jack Edwards. However, recently I was delighted to come across a pamphlet that I had thought I had mislaid entitled “Churchgate History Trail”.
This A3 folded pamphlet, as the title suggests, is a walking trail through one of the oldest parts of Cheshunt and contains a map of the locale that pin-points stops of significant historical interest and some fascinating fact and pictures. I spent many glorious hours as a child with my younger brother in-tow re-tracing the route laid out in this map, taking pictures (alas, most of which have been lost or damaged through the years) and writing observations. I often walk the Churchgate area, past the Dewhurst School and via White Hern Park and Bishops College, and unfortunately, although only 30 years have passed and despite being given Conservation Area status, much of the landscape and buildings have changed significantly in the last few years.
The 17th Century wall which bordered the garden of the White House and was held in place by large, circular, iron tie-plates, date stamped C17th (exact date escapes me) and marked Chas Wells, Ware is sadly now gone and there are some modern dwellings that have been added which seem to be completely out of character for such an area. However, I am pleased to say that still standing is The Old Parsonage, one of Cheshunt’s oldest houses.
At Peace Close, the remains of the former Cheshunt Great House, once owned by Cardinal Wolsey, are in sad decline. In my youth there was no fence around them and the ruins were kept in pristine condition by the Council. Unfortunately, after years of abuse and being covered in graffiti these are now surrounded by large, metal railings and over-grown with weeds – a sorry sight indeed.
Since starting this piece on the trail I was delighted to bump into Mrs Rooke, who I have not seen since leaving primary school in 1983. Quite unbelievably she remembered me and the interest I had taken in her husband’s work and said that she is so glad that I am still pursuing my love of local history.
I have yet to re-trace the trail in full, but aim to do so in the summer and will be interested to see what other changes there have been over the years. Watch this space!…