Churchgate — A Conservation Area
The original village of Cheshunt grew up just off the Roman Ermine Street (now Dark Lane at that point), around St Mary’s Church and the old manor house — the latter of which is now vanished. The main road of the old village is Churchgate, with Churchfield Path turning off it.
The name Churchgate derives from a gateway, similar to a small Temple Bar, that spanned what is now Churchfield Path. Its many historic buildings of the area lend it an old-world charm, and both Churchgate and its surroundings have been designated a conservation area.
The major buildings are dealt with in individual articles. These include the Grade-1 St Mary’s Church and the Grade-2* Dewhurst-St Mary School, as well as Bishops College (now the borough’s headquarters) and the former Green Dragon pub, both Grade-2. However, rather than highlighting each listing separately (which include several stretches of wall), it makes sense to look at the conservation area as a whole.
The Southern End of Churchgate
Churchgate starts at the southern end where College Road makes a ninety-degree turn to the right and both Cromwell Avenue and Bury Green Road turn off. The east side at this end is dominated by Bishops College and the modern council chambers, while the west side used to be taken up by Pengelly House, a large house now demolished, where former Lord Protector Richard Cromwell lived for many years.
Originally masking this from the road, a 17th century red-brick wall still stands in front of number 31, made of 15th century stone with Tudor hood moulding. A similar wall stands on the south and west sides of numbers, 39, 41 and 43.
The Remains of Whit Hern
On the eastern side of Churchgate, north of Bishops College and the former Green Dragon pub, once stood a substantial house called Whit Hern (sometimes spelt “Whiteurn”). This, along with some of the surrounding buildings, was used to house foreign ambassadors during the early 17th century, when James I and Charles I held court at Theobalds Palace. According to a local tradition recorded about a hundred years ago, the Spanish ambassador in particular used to be housed there to “keep him at a safe distance”.
Whit Hern and its grounds were bought by Cheshunt Urban District Council in 1958, but the house was considered beyond repair and was demolished. The grounds, however were made into a public park, and three sections of the old wall, still marking the park’s boundary, are listed: the entrance wall and screen, the wall near the entrance and the wall on the north and east sides.
In the northern part of the conservation area, the western side of Churchgate is dominated by St Mary’s Church and its churchyard. Opposite this, however, a small road turns off Churchgate, with part of its southern side made up of the wall around Whit Hern Park. This remains a road as far as Dewhurst St Mary School and then becomes a footpath that originally ran straight through to Church Road at the High Street end, although now the A10 cuts it in two. The whole thing is properly called Churchfield Path, but for street numbering purposes it’s counted as part of Churchgate.
Churchfield Path contains some of the oldest and most picturesque buildings in the conservation area. I particularly remember as a child coming that way around Christmas, and it felt as if I’d stepped straight into a Dickensian Christmas — though most of the buildings are far older than Dickens.
Perhaps the jewel of Churchfield Path is The Old Parsonage, at number 114. A large house, it dates back to around 1500 “as a hall with two cross wings”, though the whitewashed façade only goes back to around 1840. Featuring gables, a dormer window and a substantial garden at the rear, this attractive house is one of the first sights that greet you as you turn up Churchfield Path. As its name suggests, it was once the home of the parsons of St Mary’s Church and later, during the 19th century, was used to house the curates.
The Cottage at number 106 arguably comes a close second. Described in its listing as “C16 timber frame, encased in brick and extended to form square plan in late C17 or early C18. Altered c1830”, it was originally called Fernbank and still has a stable and carriage house with a hayloft, as well as a shed, wine cellar and dairy. A modern garden pavilion incorporates an 18th century screen that was originally part of Whit Hern, while the red-brick boundary wall that partly hides The Cottage from the road dates to the 17th century.
Approximately opposite The Old Parsonage are two red-brick houses, numbers 70 and 72, which are described as being “included for group value”, while after the right-angled turn in Churchfield Path just before the school, an 18th century red-brick wall runs along the east side in front of number 90.
There are, of course, modern buildings in the Churchgate area, but its conservation area status ensures that these are appropriate and add to the tone of Cheshunt’s most historic district, rather than detracting from it.
The follow books have been consulted and are available at HALS:
Edwards, Jack: Cheshunt in Hertfordshire, 1974, Cheshunt Urban District Council
Archer, Percy Charles, Historic Cheshunt, The Cheshunt Press, Limited