diamond geezer

 Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Beyond London (14): Broxbourne (part 2)

Yesterday I hastened down the Lea from Hoddesdon to Holdbrook. Today it's time to trek across Broxbourne from east to west. [11 photos]

Somewhere historic: Waltham Cross
Two Walthams coexist on either side of the River Lea - the more ancient Waltham Abbey on the Essex side, and the one we're interested in in Herts. Its name derives from the funeral procession of Queen Eleanor of Castile, beloved wife of King Edward I, who died in a village near Lincoln in November 1290. The queen's embalmed body was then transported to Westminster Abbey for burial, pausing overnight a dozen times, and the King later had memorial crosses built at each stop along the way. Waltham was the last stop before London, a diversion from Watling Street to Ermine Street so that Eleanor's procession would end with a ride through the City. Of the twelve Eleanor Crosses only three survive today - two in Northamptonshire and one here at Waltham, now Waltham Cross.

The monument has three hexagonal storeys, like an ecclesiastical wedding cake, topped off with a spire and cross. It almost didn't survive, having been ill-treated by villagers and clipped by several coaches over the years. In 1728 a certain Mrs Robinson "rebuilt part of her house and encroached upon the road and broke down a good deal of the cross to make way for her roof", and in 1796 "much of its beauty is concealed and many of its ornaments disfigured" thanks to extensions at the neighbouring tavern. The cross's exterior brims with 13th century symbolism, and features some especially fine carvings of the queen, but these are not the originals. When the cross was restored in 1950 the crumbling carvings were due to be binned, but Cheshunt's librarian far-sightedly rescued and rehoused them, and they're now in the care of the V&A.

Eleanor's cross now stands behind railings in the centre of a pedestrianised square and looks clean and cared-for, though surrounded by buildings that are anything but ancient. On Saturday the cross was being serenaded by two buskers, almost tunefully, while a man in a red trailer parked alongside attempted to flog me Virgin Broadband. The betting shop opposite is the site of the aforementioned tavern, Ye Old Four Swannes Inn, well known in these parts for the quartet of swans perched on a gantry across the High Street. Again these are replicas, the elm originals having been transferred to Lowewood Museum in 2007 (where I caught them earlier, and very splendid they are too).
by train: Waltham Cross,  by bus: 217, 279, 317, 327, 491

My next location is less than a mile distant, but excuse me while I make a pilgrimage to my grandparents' house along the way. I know this area well from visiting it a lot as a child, and my Mum knew it better because she grew up here. Their very ordinary semi still stands, though only just, being a hairsbreadth from the tarmac chasm bulldozed through Waltham Cross in the late 1970s to feed traffic onto the A10 bypass (whereas at least the M25 had the good manners to tunnel underneath). The diamond lights in my gran's front door might still be the same, but the solar panels on the roof are new, and the lawn in the front garden has been paved over so that two identical black Fords with matching personalised numberplates can be parked outside. On Saturday new neighbours were emptying their belongings from the back of a white van, while the oddball in the house at the top of the street had stuck a sign to their wall urging 'The Pigs' to STOP LEAVING RABISH NR MY DOOR OR TAKE IT TO YOUR MOTHER. Never go back.

Somewhere pretty: Cedars Park
Whereas Queen Eleanor only passed through Waltham Cross, King James I spent much of his time here. He took a particular shine to Theobalds Palace, and persuaded the Cecil family to swap it for Hatfield House, whereupon he had the place extended into a turrety mansion on the scale of Hampton Court. The estate was enormous, marked by a ten mile long wall around the perimeter, and swiftly became James's favourite place outside the capital. A menagerie of animals including five camels and an elephant was kept to entertain guests, along with grand gardens centred round a marble fountain with secret pipes to splash unwitting passers-by. Charles I spent much of his childhood at Theobalds, and the announcement of his accession to the throne was made at the gate after his father died here following a particularly nasty bout of dysentery. But Charles was also the palace's undoing, it being handed over to the Commonwealth after the Civil War who promptly demolished it.

A subsequent mansion called The Cedars is now a conference centre, privately owned, in whose grounds London's Temple Bar nearly crumbled away. But the spot where the palace once stood is now a 47 acre park, open to the commoners of Broxbourne, who flood in to enjoy a resource far better than your average recreation ground. One 17th century arched wall remains, which you can walk or ride or even skateboard through on your way to the rose garden. Down by the wildflower meadow is a spiral turf mound, or Venusberg, recently piled up to mimic a Jacobean viewing feature. The trees are particularly fine, as you tend to find on the estate of a former mansion, and a couple of older buildings contain a tearoom for the adults and a Pets Corner for the kids. The original Elizabethan palace had a hedge maze, and this has been recreated by volunteers from News International, whose monolithic 21st century printing works lurks less than half a mile away. And all across Cedars Park are impressively evocative plaques, really very well done, explaining what used to be here when this was Monarchy Central.
by train: Theobalds Grove

Somewhere musically famous (1): 12 Hargreaves Close, Bury Green
Cliff Richard is from Broxbourne, although not originally, neither was that his real name. Harry Webb was born in India in 1940, his family emigrating to England after independence, downsizing several notches from Empire comfort to suburban house-sharing. In April 1951 the family were offered a three-bedroomed council house in Bury Green, an estate on the western side of Cheshunt, at 12 Hargreaves Close. Young Harry went to the same school as my Mum (though she'd have left by then), and performed his first concert at the youth club behind the church where my parents got married (though he'd have been far too famous by then to appear at the reception). Band rehearsals took place in the front room at number 12, where the skiffle sometimes got too loud for the neighbours at number 11 who once begged the council to stop "these long, noisy evenings." Harry gave them short shrift, and played on. [map]

Hargreaves Close is rather quieter today, or at least it is on a Saturday afternoon. Not a soul was out of doors, which is probably just as well when you're stalking a cul-de-sac with a camera. Each side of the close is a single terrace, made up from what look like semi-detached houses merged together, with a central space of lawn and hardstanding for parking all the cars everybody now owns. Number 12 is down the far end on the right, now with porch and uPVC windows, and a small shrub in a grey stone pot by the door. The owner's probably tired of fans dropping by for a gawp, although it can't be as bad as the time in 2009 when Cliff himself popped back for a visit and an interview with Piers Morgan. I liked the estate, it had a sense of space and greenery, and endearing street signs with each road's name hand-painted with letters of somewhat variable thickness. All this plus an adventure playground on the green in Tudor Avenue - as I say, deserted, but still a good place to bring up The Young Ones.
by train: Theobalds Grove

I'd nearly been to Cliff's road several times, but not quite, because my grandparents are buried 100 metres away in Cheshunt Cemetery. I was never sure how they managed to get such a prime location near the chapel, and I still don't know which arm of the family comes down to keep the gravestone clean. I strode up the yew avenue and paused for a short while to say hello, like you do, then wandered up to the very far end where I failed to find my auntie. While walking back to the entrance I spotted a blue star-shaped helium balloon rising over my head into the sky, and looked across to see the small child who'd just released it. "Bye Dad!" he called, standing proudly with his brother, mum and nan as the balloon drifted higher and eventually out of sight. Always go back.

Somewhere musically famous (2): The Old School House, Goffs Oak
Victoria Adams is from Goffs Oak, the only significant village in the district of Broxbourne. She's better known as Victoria Beckham, perhaps better still as Posh Spice, one of the sparky girl group who owned the mid-Nineties. And having been to Goffs Oak I now see where the 'Posh' bit came from, indeed the adjective could hardly have been anything else. [map]

There are two bits to Goffs Oak, with the main village a commuter hub up a long hill from Cuffley. It's smart but not oppressively so - it has a laundrette and a Co-Op, so how could it be? By contrast the Adams family's bit of Goffs Oak is disjoint across the fields, a nucleus of homes unreachable by pavement, but then nobody around here doesn't drive. At its heart is a crossroads and a single pub, the Prince of Wales, off whose four arms curl a handful of more-than desirable cul-de-sacs. Not all the houses are gated, but the majority are, with spike-topped railings in black and gold, and intercoms to keep unwelcome visitors out. Personalised numberplates are the order of the day, so I wasn't surprised when three consecutive Range Rovers went by, nor when the only business on St James Road turned out to be a car wash.

Most of the houses are infill but Victoria lived in one of the originals, The Old School House, located halfway between the pub and the parish church. Two-storey and three-gabled, it's large without being massive, and nicely finished in cream and timber. Further back along the road is a double garage with a toy soldier on sentry duty outside, and space for a full dinner party to park alongside. Just a fraction of garden is visible from the road, complete with classical statue, and there's every hint that this would have been a delightful place to grow up. Indeed I understand Victoria's parents still live here, which says something when your daughter is a global brand who could fund a house anywhere. But who'd move when Goffs Oak appears to get posh right, still a compact community rather than a string of isolated fortresses, and quite some springboard for a girl with dreams of fame.
by train: Cuffley

So far: Dartford, Sevenoaks, Tandridge, Reigate & Banstead, Epsom & Ewell, Mole Valley, Elmbridge, Spelthorne, Slough, South Bucks, Three Rivers, Hertsmere, Welwyn Hatfield, Broxbourne

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