title="Offley Parish Council in Hertfordshire">

Local History

The picturesque hamlets of Cockernhoe, Mangrove Green and Tea Green are situated about 2.1/2 miles southwest of Offley and are mostly located within the ancient Manor of Cockernhoe which was an estate held with the Manor of Offley.

An early reference to Cockernhoe in a 10th.C document confirms the existence of a settlement at least 100 years before the Norman Conquest and Mangrove, too, clearly has a long history. The earliest known reference to Manegrave lies in a document dated 1240 but an aerial survey around the hamlet has indicated numerous circular features that have tentatively been identified as prehistoric ring ditches.

There seem to be no early records of Tea Green but the presence of the two listed 16thC. buildings at Crutchmore and Tankards farms show that there has clearly been a settlement there for several centuries. Strangely, a map of 1766, although showing a recognisable view of the hamlet, fails to refer to it by name; choosing instead to identify the general area as ‘Crutch Moor Green’. This may well have been an oversight, however, as it was certainly documented as Tea Green by the early 19thC.

Old Beer HouseThe King William IV at Mangrove (c.17thC) and The White Horse at Tea Green, have provided liquid sustenance to villagers and visitors alike for many years. Sadly, two beer houses, both situated nearby, were closed many years ago and have since been demolished.

Spiritual sustenance was provided by two places of worship, both on Cockernhoe Green, the Wesleyan Chapel (built 1837) and later the interesting ‘Iron Church’ of St Hugh’s (built 1904). Unfortunately the Chapel was closed in 1985 but, although there are now no regular Sunday services, St Hugh’s is still used by the school and for the occasional festive service such as Easter and Christmas.

Close to the Church lies The attractive St. Hugh’s  Cottage (early 16thC). Although extended and ‘modernised’ it retains many of its original features and is only one
of the several old and interesting buildings within the Hamlets.

St Hugh's CottageCockernhoe School, also on Cockernhoe Green, was built in 1881; on its first day of opening 61 pupils from the hamlets were entered on the register but it now teaches many more encompassing a much wider area.

A strong community spirit lay behind the planning of The Memorial Hall in Cockernhoe and after years of fund raising and with the help of many local volunteers in its construction it opened in 1956. For many years it provided a place of social contact for the village until structural problems forced its closure in 2007. Happily, its replacement has now opened and will surely once more help reinforce the sense of community that has sustained the hamlets over the centuries.

RFF 16.12.2009


A BRIEF HISTORY OF OFFLEY - Angela Hillyard

Tradition has it that, in the 8th century, Offa, the Saxon king of Mercia had his palace at Offley; thus the derivation of its name. It is said that Offa held court here and fought battles over the surrounding area always retiring victorious. An angel, the legend continues, appeared to Offa in a dream and directed that the king build an abbey dedicated to the first British martyr, Alban. This Offa did and five hundred years later a monk at the abbey, Matthew Paris, recorded these events in a set of delightful illustrations. But in all probability before Offa's time there was already a settlement here due to its close proximity to the prehistoric track - The Icknield Way.

The Domesday Census, completed in 1086, states that Offley was assessed as supporting 30 families therefore about 140 folk. In 1221 the Manor of Offley and Cockernhoe was held by Geoffrey St Legers. Geoffrey's great grand daughter, Isabella, added her surname to Offley to ensure the family name continued so the estate became Offley St Legers. It was at about this time the church, St Mary Magdalene, was erected although not as it is today. Only the nave and porch are left of the original mediaeval building.

In the fifteenth century the manor was held by Isabella's husband Thomas de Hoo but in 1543 the property was sold to Richard Farmer who in turn sold it to Sir John Spencer of Althorp, Northamptonshire. John's youngest son, Richard inherited the Offley estate and built Offley Place in about 1600 although only a portion of that building stands today. The Spencers and their descendants by direct line or marriage (Penrices, Salusburys and Hughes') owned the Offley Estate until 1929.

It was they who built the present Offley Place or Park and considerably altered the church by demolishing the Totternhoe stone chancel and tower and replacing them with a classical chancel and brick tower. The chancel is a mausoleum to the occupants of Offley Place and other village notables with its plethora of plaques and monuments from which one can read their family histories. The churchyard, too, with its many tomb stones tells of their passing. It was they who obtained an Act of Parliament for Enclosure of the Common Fields and also to change the course of the road from Hitchin to Luton which passed by the wall of Offley Place and then along West Lane.

They endowed the village school in 1841 which was 30 years before the government act made education compulsory for all. In the late eighteenth and nineteenth century, the Salusbury family who were also vicars of Offley Parish owned Wellbury Park, five farms, most of the cottages and all the large houses.

The one exception was Little Offley, an elegant William and Mary mansion with its Dower House in the village, Great Offley House. This estate was also handed down through one family either directly or through marriage until Richard Marsh sold the estate to Col C E Johnston in 1912.

In 1834 a new Workhouse was built at what is now Claypits Corner to comply with the Poor Law Act'. This replaced the old jettied one in Wheelers' Yard in the main street. The Pest House now named East, South and West Cottages still stands in School Lane. At one time there were eight public houses in the village but all that remain today are The Green Man, the Red Lion and the Gloucester Arms.

In the early 19th century there was a Methodist Chapel in the aptly named Chapel Yard just off the 'Street' and a replacement was built in the 1880's along Luton Road for its growing nonconformist congregation. It closed in 1983 and was converted into four cottages. The five storey windmill of which the brick base still survives was built in the mid 19th Century replacing an earlier one. It was still grinding corn in the 1880's. Sadly its sails were blown off in a violent storm in the 1920's.

Until the Great War Offley's economy was based on agriculture. Only four working class men worked elsewhere the rest were labourers on local farms or in trades supporting agriculture i.e. blacksmiths, wheelwrights or carpenters. A few were in trade i.e. butcher, baker, publican or shopkeeper whilst others were 'in service' to the local gentry. Women and girls supplemented family income by plaiting straw into braids and selling it to the thriving Luton hat factories.

In the early 20th Century the village began to change when many old cottages were demolished by the Harrison family from Kings Walden (who bought the Offley Place Estate) and replaced them with estate houses. Also after the Great War local authority housing was erected in School Lane and Offley Hill Top. In 1900 many of Offley village's 1000 inhabitants lived in The Street in small, tightly packed houses - homes to larger sized families than today. There were only half a dozen cottages north of the crossroads and no development south of West Lane except for Bottom End (near the Red Lion). The listed farmhouse, Westbury, with its dovecot and outbuildings were converted into accommodation in 2000. The village was further altered by the construction of the Bypass in the 1970's so Offley is not on the main route between Hitchin and Luton.