Aldbury: Be here now

From Playboy bunnies to Bridget Jones, Damion Roberts takes stock of Aldbury

IN 1997, Manchester band Oasis were searching for a location to be featured on the front cover of their soon to be released third album Be Here Now. They settled on a hotel which had, at one point or another during its history, been the private home of a famous female author, a girls' catholic school and the home of an American Playboy magazine executive.The resulting image of the band members standing outside Stocks House in Aldbury with assorted props and a Rolls Royce parked in the swimming pool could not be any further removed from the picturesque country postcard village that people know and love.The image of the village which local residents are proud of is that which was used as a backdrop to a scene for the film Bridget Jones 2: The Edge of Reason. Filmed in the village centre and in front of The Greyhound Inn, in Stocks Road, the scene featured the film's star Ren�e Zellweger attempting to try her hand at fox hunting for a news report.Although not in the final cut of the movie, the fox hunting scene can be seen in the deleted sections of the DVD with the stunningly lush village in the background.'It's a quintessential picture postcard English village with a traditional mix of nice village houses, rolling green fields and very nice people' So what makes the village so attractive? 'It's a quintessential picture postcard English village with a traditional mix of nice village houses, rolling green fields and very nice people,' says Paul de Koning, one of 20 members of the village's Morris Men outfit.'From a filming point of view it's beautiful to look at, it's close to London and has good transport links and so Aldbury is an ideal location for film crews.'And Paul and his Morris dancing colleagues are not averse to a bit of stardom themselves; the dancers have appeared on television shows Goodness Gracious Me and The Generation Game.But one of their most interesting gigs was when they were asked to dance at the wedding of Victor Lownes a couple of decades ago. Lownes was the American Playboy executive mentioned above, whose residence at Stocks House in Stocks Road was a 'training camp' for Playboy bunnies during the 70s and the venue which hosted the wedding celebrations.'There were lots of older guys with lots of younger women on their arms, lots of celebrities, and there was us performing for them. It was a very interesting event,' the 58-year-old Paul says.During Lownes' residence in the village other residents were often able to spot celebrities wandering their streets and the village's pubs were open to all.Tim O'Gorman, who has been the landlord of the village's Valiant Trooper pub, in Trooper Road, for 28 years and more recently also the landlord of The Greyhound Inn, in Stocks Road, says, 'It did used to be the training camp for the bunny club and there were lots of bunny girls about and celebrities too. Tony Curtis would come down to the village pubs and enjoy a drink, other A-list stars too.'They would come down to the village from time-to-time, especially on May Day when we have the May Day festival and a few thousand people come from all over to enjoy the celebrations.'The May Day celebrations are also an important fixture in the diary of the Morris Men. 'It's when our season starts,' adds Mr de Koning, who has been a member of the group for 20 years.'It's very traditional, it's like the traditional start of summer from when the crops have been gathered and it's a celebration. May 1 is a special day and we begin very early on that day with the first dance of our new year.'We have members all over, including Spain, who come to the village in the summer and dance. I think Morris dancing is generally finding it increasingly difficult to recruit people but we still have healthy numbers and are able to do a full programme every summer. I think the village really enjoys it and we really enjoy doing it here, it's a perfect location.'Aldbury is just three miles east of Tring and sits at the foot of the Chiltern ridge. It is surrounded by the Ashridge Estate, which is a 5,000-acre area of woodland, commons and chalk downland and is owned by the National Trust.And there are of course some very interesting buildings and locations within the villages for visitors to enjoy; not least the stocks and whipping post at the centre of the village near the pond.But the one location which stands out is the one which was once a meeting ground for Playboy bunnies and international superstars.The Stocks House property was built in the 1770s and is still going strong - it has recently undergone refurbishment and, at the time of writing, was about to be inhabited by jockey Walter Swinburn and his wife Alison.