Visions of Buntingford


- Credit: Archant

Herts’ ‘smallest town’ is attracting property developers and is the subject of a light-railway proposal, all of which would substantially increase the size of the historic east Herts settlement. James Scott reports


- Credit: Archant

on retaining his seat as MP for North East Herts at the General Election, Oliver Heald said the greatest improvement to Buntingford would be better transport links to the town, and proposed a light-rail system linking Buntingford with Baldock and Royston or perhaps even Stevenage – which would open the gateway to London and beyond.

It is telling that Sir Oliver’s vision for the community, which has been without a rail service since the station was closed in the Beeching cuts in 1964, is for more people to visit and for residents to have a stronger connection to the surrounding county and the capital.

For those who have visited, said to include Elizabeth I during a stay at the Bell Inn on a journey north, the historic market settlement, which lies in the shallow Rib river valley, is a joy.

The smallest town in Hertfordshire, half-way between Royston and Ware on the A10, it boasts a high street steeped in history. Originally part of the Roman Ermine Street, it is lined with Georgian and medieval buildings.

Graham Bonner, events co-ordinator at Buntingford Chamber of Commerce, believes there is plenty to shout about. ‘Buntingford’s historic high street has buildings dating back to the 14th century, a varied range of independent shops and several high-quality eating establishments,’ he says. ‘The town’s almshouses date back to the 17th century and St Peter’s brick-built church (below), which dates back 400 years, is believed to be the oldest of its type.’

Where to go in Buntingford

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A day trip to the town must include browsing the varied shops; from the offerings of the green-fingered team at Crazy Daisy florist to the second-hand delights at Quiller Books and the high-end underwear at MyLingerie.

For refreshments, family-run cafés can be found in the form of Buntingford Coffee and Delissimo, while it is well worth stopping for cake or fresh bread baked by Hertfordshire stalwart Days of Ashwell.

Stay on for dinner and there is Chinese, French, Indian and Italian cuisine on offer, as well as the newest attraction, the Buntingford Kitchen, a fine dining restaurant in a Grade-II listed building.

To wet your whistle, there is a quartet of pubs on offer in the town including the Black Bull (left) on the High Street, a member of the McMullen brewery family since 1888, and the popular Greene King-run Fox and Duck in Church Street, built in the 17th century.

For ale aficionados, an impressive beer outpost to tick off is the Buntingford Brewery – located closer to Royston. It is worth a detour to sample cask offerings including Twitchell, Polar Star, Britannia and 92 Squadron.

Talking of further afield, ramblers can walk east over Haley Hill Ditch towards Hare Street to take the final leg of the Hertfordshire Way which finishes in Royston, while those heading in a westerly direction towards Throcking will pass the Milling Barn at Bluntswood Hall, one of Hertfordshire’s most popular wedding venues. Further on in Cottered lies the 15th-century manor house the Lordship, once home to home secretary Gwilym Lloyd-George, son of the Liberal prime minister.

Reintroducing the rail

Another reason for introducing rail back to Buntingford is the potential of the town – which has a population just shy of 5,000 people – potentially to double in the coming years due to government efforts to address the national housing shortfall. Surrounding areas, proposed by developers and outlined in the East Herts District’s Local Plan, could be built on. In the absence of a green belt and having seen only moderate post-war housing development compared to many rural communities, it could be a likely candidate for expansion.

Members of Buntingford Town Council are wary of any expansion, however, and have been at pains to create a neighbourhood plan for the area, which Sir Oliver is insistent cannot be ignored.

‘So many people in Buntingford have spent so much time surveying opinion and considering all the aspects of the heritage of their town in order to come up with a neighbourhood plan for their community,’ he says.

‘It is wrong that they can then be trashed by an application by a speculative developer. These plans need to have a proper place and respect.’

The residents clearly feel the attractions of the town need preserving – why not come to take a look for yourself?