News Archive 2009

April 2009

A Commemorative Plaque for Gainsford Court

The Hitchin Society, supported by Hitchin Historical Society, awarded its Civic Award this year to the architects David Kann Associates and developers Conack Homes Ltd for the conversion and restoration of Gainsford Court in Radcliffe Road. The award was presented by Hitchin Society’s new President, Paul Brenham MBE, at their AGM on 16th March, at which Scilla Douglas and Stephen Bradford-Best were our representatives.

Gainsford family at unveiling of Blue Plaque

                Gainsford Court 2008 Blue Plaque








Gainsford Court started life in 1868 as St Saviour’s School as part of a complex of church, almshouses, orphanage and educational facilities instigated by the Reverend George Gainsford. In 1956 the school became the Gainsford Memorial Hall and then, in 1977, the Sikh Temple Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara. In 2006 the Temple moved and the building was sold for redevelopment. Fortunately a combination of Conack Homes and David Kann devised a scheme to save and restore this important Victorian building and it now provides a group of attractive and individual flats.

Hitchin Historical Society organised the manufacture and wording of a commemorative plaque to mark the award, and on Friday 3rd April the plaque was unveiled.

Outing to Luton Hoo

Our first visit of the year took place on Thursday 12th March when we made the short journey to the grand and impressive Luton Hoo, now a sumptuous hotel.


Luton Hoo house

Members at Luton Hoo

The house we see today was built by Robert Adam for the 3rd Earl of Bute, Prime Minister to King George III. He employed ‘Capability’ Brown to landscape the park, including creating a man-made lake by damming the River Lea. In the next century, a later generation commissioned Sir Robert Smirke, architect of the British Museum, to remodel the west front. In the last century the house became the home of the wealthy diamond merchant Sir Julius Wernher who made further improvements to the house, notably to the State Dining Room and oval staircase. After him the house was lived in by his son Sir Harold Wernher, and his wife Lady Zia who was related to the Russian Royal Family. Their most famous visitors during their ownership were our present Queen and her new husband who spent part of their honeymoon in the house. Following the death of Lady Zia in 1977 the house and estate were inherited by Sir Harold’s grandson, Nicky Phillips, but sadly he died when the house was struggling financially. In 1997 the house was purchased by Elite Hotels and, after a major £60 million refurbishment, it was opened as a luxury hotel in 2007. The new owners commissioned copies of the art collection and tapestries to decorate the grand rooms.

Taking tea at Luton Hoo

Our guide was Zena Dickinson who has worked in the house for almost a quarter of a century. She had a wealth of information to tell us about the house, including the period in the late 90s when it became a major location for films such as Five Weddings and a Funeral with Hugh Grant, Eyes Wide Shut with Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, and several James Bond films. Zena really brought the place to life for us. We concluded our visit with coffee and home-made biscuits in the old ballroom. A memorable visit.

Stephen Bradford-Best

Beating the Bounds of Hitchin Parish

On Sunday 3rd May 2009 at 11.30am, in response to popular demand, the tradition of ‘Beating the Bounds’ is being revived in Hitchin. The event will involve a 12½ mile trek around the parish boundary, starting and finishing at St Faith’s in Walsworth. Everyone is welcome. For further details visit St Faith’s website.

June 2009

Outing to Bushey Museum and Reveley Lodge

A group of our members joined the first coach excursion we’d arranged for some years when we travelled to the far west of the county, to the small town of Bushey, on Thursday 7th May. Firstly we visited the museum, housed in the large, redundant council building, where we were greeted by Hugh Lewis, Chairman of Bushey Museum Trust. He took us to the former Council Chamber, now an art gallery, and whilst we enjoyed coffee and biscuits he gave us a brief history of the founding of the museum.

Outside Bushey museum

Bushey Museum is run by a large team of volunteers, and Mr Lewis explained what we would find in the various galleries: archaeology, local industries, education, transport, worship and a ‘before and now’ photograph exhibition. Two particular artists are associated with Bushey: Sir Hubert Von Herkomer RA, who set up an art school in the town, and Lucy Kemp-Welch, famous for her large paintings depicting horses. The collections include several examples of their work. In the grounds of the museum is the Frobisher Studio, a Victorian building rebuilt here recently and well used by local art groups for classes.

Reveley Lodge gardens

Revelely Lodge garden

Tea in Reveley Lodge drawing room

After a tasty (if hasty) lunch at the nearby ‘Blue Check’ restaurant, our coach took us to Reveley Lodge, an attractive, rambling, nineteenth-century house on the outskirts of the town. The house was bequeathed to Bushey Museum in 2003 by Mrs Eila Chewett, a late President of the Friends of Bushey Museum, who had lived in the property with her husband since 1931. His family moved here in 1910. The original small house was built in 1842 and was enlarged considerably in 1896. We were shown around the house by Jenny Just and her team, after which we had a tour of the extensive gardens and large vegetable plot with the knowledgeable head gardener. Our visit concluded with tea and biscuits in the drawing room.

A very successful visit made all the more comfortable and practical by Mandy, the efficient and skilled driver of our Landmark coach.

Outing to Hatfield House

We had a private tour of what is probably our most impressive local stately home, Hatfield House, on 14th May 2009. The present Jacobean house was built in 1611 by Robert Cecil, First Earl of Salisbury and Chief Minister to King James I, and has been the home of the Cecil family ever since. It is currently the home of the 7th Marquess of Salisbury who had made some changes, noticed by several members, particularly the unusual hanging of paintings on walls covered with tapestries.

Hatfield House

We toured the state rooms, starting with the Great Hall, followed by the Grand Staircase and including the dining room on the first floor and important bedrooms. From the windows we viewed the extensive gardens and the Old Palace, home of the child who became Queen Elizabeth I. The 3rd Marquess was Prime Minister three times during the closing years of Queen Victoria’s reign. Our knowledgeable guide brought the place to life with information about the contents of the house. We also had a chance to explore the gardens, including the famous knot garden, at our own pace.

Some members arrived early for lunch and others retreated for tea and cake following the visit – some did both! But all went away with new information about not only the house and the family who built it, but also a significant (and currently popular) period of our history, the Tudors.

Outing to Maydencroft Manor

There is no doubt that our most popular outing each year is the visit to beautiful home of Bob and Frances Williams at Maydencroft Manor. This year we went on Tuesday 19th May.

Bob took us on a tour of the grounds, starting with the impressive tithe barn which possibly has associations with John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress. It also has a protected bat colony. We then toured the extensive and immaculately-tended gardens maintained by our hosts with little outside help. Lastly we toured the house, which may have been a hunting lodge used by King Henry VIII, and saw Bob’s skilled and detailed embroidery.

Our host Bob Williams with members outside Maydencroft Manor

We ended with refreshments generously provided by our hosts. A magical evening enjoyed by all our members, which will definitely be repeated next year for any members not selected this time round. Perhaps they will be lucky next time.