The civil parish of St Ippolyts is set in predominately agricultural countryside just to the south of the market town of Hitchin, with plenty of natural vegetation and parkland. The parish comprises the villages of Gosmore and St Ippolyts, the hamlets of Ashbrook, Little Almshoe, St Ibbs and former New England. The parish is fortunate in having some fine buildings, lovely countryside, archaeological areas and two conservation areas. Since the First World War there have been extensive housing developments within the parish boundaries.
Early civilisation in the area is indicated by traces of Bronze Age burial mounds and a later local Roman road and tumulus. The manor of Almshoe, in the south of the parish was recorded in the Domesday Survey as having land for one plough, three bordars (cottagers) and ‘pannage’ (woodland) for sixty pigs.
The traditional date for the church’s foundation is 1087 and this is borne out by architectural evidence that includes a blocked Norman window. The church built under the patronage of Elstow Convent is dedicated to St Hippolytus, a Roman theologian. In the 14th century a tower was added, the chancel was extended, arches were cut through the thick nave walls and decorated with carved heads and the aisles were added. The stone effigy of an unknown priest dates from this time. In the 15th century the north and south porches were added, the chancel arch and some of the windows enlarged and the tower also assumed its present appearance. After the dissolution Henry VIII give the church to Trinity College, Cambridge and the care of the chancel still rests in their hands.
There are some fascinating legends about blessing of horses in the church and one such story concerns a priest who continually attended to bestow such fragments of ’Epollett’s miracles upon the ‘untamed colts and old wanton and foreworn jades’ as he had in store. Another story goes that before the mounted Knights Templar went out to fight they rode over to the church to have their horses blessed and as they left they took out their swords and carved crosses on the stonework.
The little village that grew up around the church naturally took its name but it was not until 1283 that name S Yppollitus, then Polytes in 1406 and Seynt Ippollitts in 1518 appeared. There are various spellings extant today although the 19th century parochial spelling of St Ippolyts is now the official one for both the village and the parish.
There are notes written in the daily household accounts that on 26 July 1358, Queen Isabella, wife of Edward II and her daughter Joan, wife of David Bruce, King of Scotland ‘spent the day at Almesho; on the following day at Madecroft Park’. The present house Almshoe Bury (Listed Grade 1) incorporates the timber frame of an aisled hall house which has been dated to the mid 13th century. Maydencroft Manor (Listed Grade 11*) a late medieval former open hall house with 16th and 17th century extensions was to have further royal associations when King Henry VIII inherited it from grandmother Margaret, daughter of John, Duke of Somerset. It is reputed that in his younger days, he occasionally stayed there using it as a hunting lodge. It is recorded that on one occasion in 1525, “the King following of his hawk, leapt over a ditch with a pole and the pole broke, so that if one Edmond Moody, had not leapt into the water and lifted up his head, which was fast in the clay, he had been drowned; but God of his goodness preserved him”.
During the 17th century yeoman farmers left bequests of land and dwellings in trust for the poor people in the parish and these united as the St Ippolyts Endowed Charities were distributed annually on old Thomas’s Day until they were finally closed in 2007.
It is reputed that John Bunyan, the non-conformist, preached in the Wain Wood to large clandestine gatherings of Baptists from Hitchin and surrounding villages. Maydencroft barn is also associated with him.
In the 18th century increasing long-distance traffic through the parish prompted the formation of a Turnpike Trust to improve the main roads and roadside inns such as the former Greyhound, rebuilt in 1900 and The Black Horse (now New England) did a good trade. However this was to change with the opening of the Great Northern Railway in 1850 but the roads became busy again with the advent of the bicycle and even more so with motor vehicles.
The main activity in the parish was farming or related jobs. At first, under the feudal rules laid down by the manor courts of Almshoe and Maydencroft (the latter functioned until 1929 and was often held in The Bull at Gosmore) and later at the will of individual owners as the common land was gradually privatised culminating in the Enclosure Act.
When the first census was taken in 1801, the population was 464, and of the 228 males 211 were connected with agriculture. In the 19th century the population increased rapidly leading to overcrowded cottages and poor pay: riots flared up among the labourers during the Enclosure and again in 1831. To make ends meet, the women and children spent time plaiting straw into long braids to be stitched into straw hats at Luton but this source of income faded in the 1870s when cheaper plait was imported from China.
However the better off people began to take more responsibility by founding the school in 1847 and the first of its many extensions in 1871, repairing the dilapidated church in 1838 followed by the restoration of the nave and aisles also building an organ chamber and north vestry in 1878.
At the beginning of the 20th century many people had left to find work in the towns and the population fell to 762, but improvements were soon to come. In 1914 Gosmore Green was established by the pond (now dry) that had given the name Goose Mere to the village; in 1921 the first council houses were built, piped water replaced the well-water that had caused earlier outbreaks of cholera; in 1931 electricity came; the Parish Hall was built in 1939 and soon after the Recreation Ground was laid out. In 1969 St Ippolyts green was created following the demolition of eighteen old cottages and a large area was set aside for an electricity sub-station. Dell Field, a community area was set out in 1981 and the parish hall was extended and refurbished in 1999 as a Millennium Project.
In recent years old houses have been extended and many new private ones built including Broadmeadow estate in the 1990’s. The Glebe and Townsend Place both housing association homes were built in 1995 and 2000. By 2011 the population rose to 2047 and is still growing but the hamlets and villages still retain their charm and roots in the past.
More history can be found in:
County history publications:
Local History publications:
* Copies available for sale please contact Pamela Skeggs
Document updated February 2014.
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