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Residents of Hunsdon have been celebrating after deservedly scooping the top prize in this year's Village of the Year competition...

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ITS surely a title every village would love to boast and the residents of Hunsdon are as proud as they could be to have been named not just the Village of the Year East but also the overall Village of the Year.


In their comments on why Hunsdon won the accolade, the judges from CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England)Hertfordshire Village of the Year 2011 are unstinting in their praise. In their comments the judges say the environment was strongly represented with both preservation and a local history society.


They add, There are footpath groups, conservation groups, a gardening club, litter picking action days and work parties. The first class primary school maintains a garden in which the children take great pride. The community is well provided for with a newly-refurbished village hall of which they are justly proud. A good social centre at the heart of a village is an important focus for all kinds of activity. It is a remarkable example of multi-use and includes a doctor and pharmacists surgery, a small museum and internet facilities.


Judges continue, All ages are well cared for in the village with a wide range of activities throughout the year. Communications are first class with an enviable welcome pack, a regular newsletter filled with information and a village directory. Local businesses are supportive in many different ways and are all environmentally friendly.


There is a voluntary police presence in the village. Volunteers feature in every activity and the church fulfils a real need in the village. The well established primary school gains high praise from Ofsted. Hard work has continued to fight off a massive housing scheme that would inevitably damage this attractive village.


David Gibbs, Chairman of Hunsdon Parish Council, couldnt agree more. I dont know how many villages there are in East Herts or the whole county, but I would recommend those who have never entered the CPRE competition to seriously consider doing so. But, and it may be a big but, you have to start with a community which loves its village, he says.


Contentment comes about from the very beginning; a successful school. Jo McGregor, headteacher, instils love and discipline to a full house plus integrating the parents into a current and future community, which, if they are lucky enough to stay can only evolve to a stable existence.


I am happy and the parishioners are proud of their village, but there is still a lot to do. The new Village Hall is complete bar a lick of paint to the ceiling. We have just won Best Village Hall which carries a 10,000 reward in the Village Hall Challenge Award competition run by East Herts Council so the listed front can now be professionally restored.


Meanwhile the new internet-caf - three computers installed is up and running with 80+ year olds running headlong into the 21st century wonderful!


Hunsdons two village of the year awards carry a prize of 250 each. Hunsdon villagers gathered for the awards ceremony and speeches on July 23 which was held in the centre if the village and included a tour of the newly-refurbished Village Hall and a buffet lunch.



The annual CPRE Hertfordshire Village of the Year Competition is sponsored by Hertfordshire Community Foundation in association with Hertfordshire County Council and North Hertfordshire District Council.
www.cpreherts.org.uk



What the judges said



This years entrants were a mix of friends old and new. Each and every one was up to the high standard that the judges have come to expect. It does not matter how big the village is, its the way each village uses the resources it has which counts. The competition looks at how the community comes together and works together to help everybody in it. Sometimes the project is quite small, but often it is a major undertaking, such as the building of a new village hall.



And the winners were


Environment: Standon & Puckeridge.
Lots of green spaces and an obvious intention to keep them that way.


Community: Redbourn.
This thriving community never stands still.


Well Kept Village: Cottered.
Residents really care what their village looks like.


Peterkin Award
for outstanding contribution to village life: John Harwood Bee of Cottered. The winner has become involved and stayed involved with every aspect of village life.


Dorothy Abel Smith Award for a young persons outstanding contribution to village life: Carina Panchal, 13, of Redbourn.
She has brought enthusiasm to her community as the newly elected Chairman of the Redbourn Youth Council and is a dynamic force behind the revitalised youth organisations.


Small Village of the Year: The Hormeads.
It was the work so many people have put in for the new village hall that impressed judges most.


Village of the Year East: Hunsdon.
A good social centre at the heart of a village is an important focus.


Village of the Year North: Pirton.
The village school gives a warm heart to the village and teachers, parents and many others make a contribution to its success.


Village of the Year West: Park Street.
In spite of being deep within the commuter belt, the village has a heart and identity of its own.




So what makes Hunsdon so special?



ON the edge of the county, five miles east of Ware, the village of Hunsdon is an isolated pocket of historical and environmental importance with ancient buildings, a very royal connection, a heroic role in WWII and miles of fine walking countryside.


Many of the oldest houses in this well-kept village are centred on the High Street. Most, despite their different ages dating back to the 15th century, have been dressed in white clapboard or render giving a pleasing unity to the heart of the village.


Here along this winding stretch of road you will find a quintessential English village, with white picket fencing, wisteria climbing over doorways and a classic timber-framed village hall.


Pubs are a good feature here. The Fox and Hounds, a former coaching inn dating back to the 17th century, is a relaxed traditionally decorated gastro pub with an award-winning chef. The Crown is a handsome real ale pub with a large garden.



Royal history


Away from the heart of the village, beside St Dunstans churchyard, is Hunsdon House. Originally built in 1447 by Sir William Oldhall, it was bought by Edward IV in 1471 and then rebuilt and much enlarged into a Tudor palace by Henry VIII from around 1525.


Henry was a regular visitor to the house from where he would go hunting as well as retreat from the dreaded plagues of sleeping sickness in London. The palace also became a childhood home for the kings children, Mary, Elizabeth and Edward. A painting of Edward in 1546, when he was nine years old shows the building in the background.


What remains of todays privately owned house with its formal gardens is thought to be based on one wing of Henrys much larger building.



The church


Next door, St Dunstans Church dates predominantly from the 15th century, although a church has been recorded in the village since the 13th century and a priest was here at the time of the Domesday records of 1086.


The building has close ties to the Tudors, with monuments to the royal household and aristocracy of the time. The font, which dates from around 1500 is thought to have been used by Queen Mary when she was godmother to a Hunsdon child in 1537.


Restoration in the church in 2006 revealed medieval wall paintings on the north wall of the nave that had been whitewashed over as early as the mid 15th century.



Wildlife areas


Nearby Hunsdon Mead, a 600-year-old area of common land, still grazed by cattle and sheep, is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest.


Today the 28-hectare site is managed by The Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust using the ancient Lammas method of allowing the flowering plants to self-seed before cutting the hay in July.


Thanks to this you can find a wide-ranging profusion of seasonal wildflowers including marsh marigolds, ragged robin and meadowsweet. Smaller clumps of the exotically named green-winged orchid and adders tongue fern can also be found. Many butterfly, moths, dragonfly and mayfly species that have suffered from modern agricultural practices are established here too.



War time


Hunsdon was also home to an airfield created by the RAF to defend London from the Luftwaffe during WWII.


The outlines of the criss-crossing former runways from where fighter pilots launched their sorties and the associated ring roads, barracks and hangers can still be seen.


Towards the end of the war, RAF Hunsdons role became increasingly offensive. From here in 1944 bombers took off on a low level precision raid on a Gestapo prison in Amiens, France, to free 180 French resistance fighters who were due to be executed. After the attack prisoners were seen escaping through the breached walls, but two British planes were shot down, killing three airmen.


At its height over 2,000 personnel were stationed at Hunsdon. A memorial to the memory of the men and women who served and died during the four years of wartime operations here was erected on the former airfield in 2005.



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