10 things you might not know about Watton-at-Stone
- Credit: Archant
Damion Roberts finds 10 things you may not know about the desirable East Herts village of Watton-at-Stone
1. Rupert Grint
Actor Rupert Grint rose to worldwide fame when he was cast to play one of the three main characters in the Harry Potter film series. His role as Ron Weasley saw him star in all eight of the films over a span of 10 years. Raised in Watton-at-Stone, Grint went to school just down the road in Hertford and owns properties in Kimpton and Hertford.
Watton-at-Stone is mentioned in the Domesday Book, the great property rights and tax survey ordered by William the Conqueror, which was completed in 1086. It is thought the village existed at least a century before this date. There are a number of buildings that date from Tudor and Georgian times, while a place of worship has stood on the site of St Andrew and St Mary church since the 13th century.
3. Heath Mount School
One of the oldest prep schools in the country, Heath Mount was founded in 1796. Originally located in Hampstead, it is now set in the 40-acre Woodhall Park estate. Among its many famous sons and daughters are the author Evelyn Waugh, John Spedan Lewis, founder of the John Lewis Partnership, and upcoming British sprinter Jodie Williams.
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4. Locomotion giant
A leading light in the world of locomotive design, Sir Nigel Gresley created the Flying Scotsman, the first steam train recorded at more than 100mph. Born in Edinburgh, Sir Nigel spent much of his adult life living in Hertfordshire, including at Watton-at-Stone, where he died in 1941. A statue will be erected in his honour at King’s Cross station in London this year to mark the 75th anniversary of his death.
5. River Beane
A tributary of the River Lea, the Beane runs the length of the eastern side of the village. For most of its journey, which starts near Sandon in the north-east of the county, it flows through open countryside before it joins the Lea at Hertford. Because of habitat-damaging low-flow issues due to over abstraction, activists set up the River Beane Restoration Association in 1991 to keep the river flowing freely. OFWAT accepted a proposal by Affinity Water in 2014 to reduce abstraction at the Whitehall Pump Station supplying Stevenage and the surrounding area by 90 per cent by 2018. A first reduction begins this year.
6. Boxing champion
Boxing promoter Frank Warren (above) who lives in the village, has managed some of the leading names in British boxing over the past 30 years, including Frank Bruno, Ricky Hatton and Amir Khan. The son of a housewife and a bookmaker, he left school aged 15 and entered the world of boxing after a spell as a solicitor and working on Smithfield Meat Market. He has since been involved in staging almost 300 world title fights.
7. Celtic beauty
Found between Watton-at-Stone and Aston, the Aston Mirror (above) is an Iron Age polished metal mirror decorated with an abstract Celtic design. It is in two parts found in 1979 and 1981, the mirror itself and the handle, probably originally from a grave disturbed by ploughing. It dates from between 50 BC-AD 50. It was donated to the British Museum.
8. Air raid terror
During the Second World War, the sleepy village was hit by bombs during an air raid by German planes. One hit a row of cottages in Workhouse Yard, killing two people, while a second landed in a garden and a third dropped behind the Methodist Church and, according to Watton-at-Stone: A Village Guide, ‘broke most of the stained-glass windows’.
9. Bull & dragon
The Bull pub on the High Street dates from the 15th century and has a large inglenook fireplace at its heart. It offers ‘leisurely lunches and light snacks’ as well as traditional Sunday roasts. Further down the High Street is the George and Dragon (left). It has a rustic feel, and is a charming place in which to spend a couple of chilly winter hours.
10. From destroyer to life-giver
A number of public water pumps can still be found around Hertfordshire, including this well-kept example in Watton-at-Stone. Located where High Street and Station Road meet, it is a curious cast-iron device sitting within an ornate wooden shelter and dates from the 19th century. It is thought the pump was created by converting a cannon. It was still in use in the 1930s.