Hertfordshire A Fascinating County. Anstey

One of the places featured in the book Hertfordshire A Fascinating County is Anstey.

Anstey has a magnificent church dedicated to England’s Patron Saint which is described in Simon Jenkins “England’s Thousand Best Churches” as being “full of Norman mystery”.

There are also impressive earthworks of a Norman castle, a well preserved village well, and the legend of “The Blind Fiddler”.

In the north east of the county, Anstey is reached through country lanes near to the Essex border. The landscape around the village has been described as having “Breathtaking prairie views”.

On approaching the village from the south a visitor is greeted by the sight of the Parish Church of St George which Sir Nikolaus Pevsner in his “Buildings of England” series described as “Externally very impressive”. Built on high ground at a bend in the road it has the remains of the castle behind it. Other accolades bestowed on St George’s are “One of the most handsome village churches in the county” and “One of the most interesting churches in the county of Hertford”.

St George’s is reached through a large, covered, medieval lych gate. It was built of timber with three bays in the fifteenth century. One bay was bricked up in the nineteenth century and has an iron studded door. This served as the village “cage”, or lock up, and was still in use as late as 1914.

The south transept presents a remarkable sight with a round stair turret and a lancet window, giving the building a castle like appearance.

Inside St George’s has a Norman font, an unusual double piscina and triple sedilia, and chancel stalls. Seven of the stalls have carved misericords which include leaves, and a head with its tongue sticking out.

The font has rare carvings of four mermen holding their split tails with both hands, creating the effect of a boat. There is only one other motif of this kind to be found in England.

The window at the west end of the south aisle is dedicated in memory of the members of the 398th Bomb Group of the United States Army Air Force who gave their lives in world War II while stationed at nearby Nuthampstead. It was designed by Patrick Reyntiens and made by his son John Reyntiens. It was dedicated on 11th June 2000 and unveiled by HRH The Duke of Gloucester. It shows a pillar of smoke, the parting of the Red Sea, and an aircraft descending from battle out of a pillar of fire. Butterflies have inscriptions on their wings of the names of all those who lost their lives flying from Nuthampstead.

The road through the village leads to the Blind Fiddler Inn. Its name is a reminder of the legend of George and his dog. A tunnel was said to run to Anstey Castle from a cave entrance at Cave Gate. In spite of the belief that if anyone entered the tunnel they would not come out alive Blind George accepted a wager and entered the passage playing his fiddle, accompanied by his dog.  Suddenly the sound of the fiddle stopped, there was a loud shriek, followed by silence, and the terrified dog appeared tailless and without a hair on its body. Blind George was never seen again.

The road leads past delightful thatched cottages, and views across fields which bring to life the description that the landscape around has “Breathaking Prairie like views”.