Hexton

Not much of old Hexton exists now as much of the hamlet was redeveloped as a model village during the 1920’s. Therefore little of the original village structure remains, even although it dates from pre-saxon times. The town is linked to Ravensburgh Castle an Iron Age Fort, with reference to the castle in the pub name.

The name of Hexton is from the Anglo saxon Heahstānes Tun and then through time changed.
Hehstanstuna, Hegestanestone during the 11th century, then later Hextenestona during the 14th century, then nearer to now Hextone in the 15th century

Although the village structure is relatively contemporary the area is steeped in legend. Taking a look at the ordnance survey map of the area and many places are strange and give an indication of times past. One of the locations not shown on the map below is to the right of Claypit Plantation known as Wayting Hill, this mound is the site of a local festival the Hocktide feast.

Notable locations in the area are:

  • The Meg: the location that a local witch was executed.
  • The Devil’s Ditch: perhaps another location of a Roman camp.
  • Fairy Hole: A haunt of the Faerie Folk

To the North of the Pointer Ravensburgh Castle (Iron Age Hill Fort), is Fairy Hole to the South is Church Hole.

To the North of The Meg is Devil’s Ditch. So a place of mystery especially as much of the area is restricted access with barbed wire across openings in the vegetation you wonder what are the landowner doing there?Wicker Man comes to mind.

The festival on Wayting Hill (this is just North of Ravensburgh Castle, on a lower hill outside Hexton, is especially interesting and there and several references to the Hocktide feast on the internet but perhaps the best is ……

from https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/herts/vol2/pp352-354

“The account given by Francis Taverner of the Hocktide revels celebrated yearly in the village, ‘in the memorie of some yet lyving,’ is most interesting. Hocktide, he says, ‘signifies a tyme of skorne and contempt which fell upon the Danes by the death of Hardicanute their king’ and was ‘solemnized by the best inhabitants, both men and women in Hexton, in the fields and streetes with strange kind of pastyme and jollities.’ He then proceeds to give a detailed account of the game of Pulling at the Pole, which was played by the men and women of the place on the slope of Waytyng Hill, the women attempting to pull the pole down the hill in defiance of the men. The game would last some two or three hours, but in the end the women always succeeded in bringing the pole to the cross by the town-house door, after which a feast was held in the town house, and a collection made, the proceeds of which were given in part to the poor, and part to the church-wardens for the repair of the church—the latter share amounting on an average to some 20s. The feast was followed by further sports, the women once more against the men at Base and other games. The roughness of the play would seem open to obvious objections, but Taverner concludes his account with the criticism that ‘these nice tymes of ours would not only despise these sports, but also account them ymmodest if not prophane, but those playne and well-meaning people did solace themselves in this manner, and that without offence or scandall.”

Ariel photo of area around Ravensburgh Castle (near Hexton)

So it sounds as if there was a good time had by all!

From: Hertfordshire, by Herbert W Tompkins

Hexton (about 6 miles N.W. from Hitchin Station, G.N.R.) lies on a tongue of the county surrounded W., N. and E. by Bedfordshire. The Church of St. Faith, W. from the village, was rebuilt, with the exception of the embattled tower, in 1824, as a Perp. edifice. The St. Nicholas Chapel, N. side of chancel, takes the place of the chapel bearing the same name in the former church. There is a memorial to Peter Taverner (d. 1601), who was, I suppose, father to that Francis Taverner, Esq., who compiled a record of the antiquities of Hexton and [Pg 122]set it in the chapel. Little space can be spared for excerpts in this volume, but the details which Taverner brought together are so interesting that I transcribe a part of them from a copy in my possession:—

“Near unto the Roman military Way called Icknild or Ikenild-Street, which passeth by this Parish upon a very high Hill is to be seen a warlike Fort of great Strength, and ancient Works, which seemeth to have been a Summer standing Camp of the Romans: And near it on the Top of another Hill called Wayting-Hill, a Hillock was raised up, such as the Romans were wont to rear for Souldiers slain, wherein many Bones have been found. The Saxons call’d this Fort Ravensburgh, from a City in Germany, whereof the Duke of Saxony beareth the Title of Lord at this Day. And this Town, which the Britains perhaps call’d Hesk of Reed, which doth abound much in this Place; the Sazons call’d Heckstanes-Tune, that is the Town of Reed and Stones, if not rather Hockstanes-Tune, that is, the Town of Mire and Stones, for old Englishmen, call deep Mire, Hocks: Or may be from Grates set in Rivers or Waters before Floodgates, which are call’d Hecks; neither is it unlikely but that the Danes made some Use of this Fort, for a Parcel of Ground near thereunto is called Dane-Furlong to this Day. Some of these Conjectures may be true, but this is certain, that Offa, a Saxon King, of the Mertians about 795, founded the Monastery of St. Albans, in [Pg 123]Memory of St. Alban, and that Sexi an honourable and devout Dane (as it is in the Chartulary of the Abby) about Anno Dom. 1030, gave to the said Monastery the Town of Heckstane-Tune and the Abbot of St. Albans held this Mannor in the time of King William the Conqueror.

“This Vill at that time did lie in the Half-hundred of Hiz, and from that time during the Space of 510 Years, the Abbots of St. Albans were Lords of the Mannors now call’d Hexton. They were also Patrons of this Church (dedicated to St. Faith, which Saint had her Statue erected over a Fountain near this Church Yard, call’d St. Faith’s Well) for John de Hertford, the 23d Abbot, did appropriate this Church of Hexstoneston to the said Monastery. The Cellarers of which Monastery kept the Court Leet and the Court Baron, and received the Rents of the Demeasnes and Customary Tenants of this Mannor; and the Sacrists had the disposing of the Profits of the Rectory.

“The said Fort, which the common People call Ravensborough Castle, is cast up in the Form of an Oval, and containeth sixteen Acres, one Rood, and fifteen Poles of Ground, and is naturally strengthened with mighty deep and very steep Combs, which the inhabitants call Lyn.

“The Town of Hexton is seated at the Foot of the Mountains, whence issue many Springs of Water; the Mountains are a continued Rock of Stone.”

The area around Hexton is certainly steeped in History and legend even if much of this history has been lost through redevelopment, or restricted due to the privatisation of land and the cessation of festivals.

The church in the village although rebuild, is worth a visit.

The church is near to a spring and this spring has been blamed for the problems with the church tower resulting in costly repair.

The spring like many of the springs in the area linked with tales and mythology of ancient times.

If you have the opportunity to walk the area make sure that you take advantage of the landscape and soak up the atmosphere as you pass through, and add to the story of the area.