Hertfordshire A Fascinating County. Bovingdon

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

Bovingdon is a large village, standing on high ground on the edge of the Chilterns near the Buckinghamshire border, with a memorial well, one of the largest churchyards in Hertfordshire, a church tower where a man would watch for the arrival of the parson from Hemel Hempstead so he could nip down and ring the church bell, and a reminder of Uncumber, the Saint looked to by women who wished to ‘uncumber’ themselves of their husbands.

The village also has memories of American Airmen who served at Bovingdon Airfield, famous American visitors and actors, and the infamous Graham Frederick Young – “The Bovingdon Poisoner”.

During World War II after being used by the Royal Air Force, American airmen serving at Bovingdon Airfield came to the village. B17 Flying Fortresses flew from the airfield on combat missions over Germany. Clark Gable, James Stewart, and William Holden served as airmen and flew from here. The airfield subsequently served as a training base housing a Combat Crew Replacement Centre.

Bovingdon Airfield also housed the 8th Air Force HQ and Air Technical Section. General Eisenhower’s personal B17 was housed here.

Famous visitors to the airfield included Glenn Miller, Bob Hope, and Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt. After the war the airfield returned to the Royal Air Force, eventually becoming a civilian airfield.

During the 1960’s several productions were filmed here including ‘The War Lover’ starring Steve McQueen, 633 Squadron starring Cliff Robertson and George Chakiris, Mosquito Squadron, and in1978 flying scenes for the film ‘Hanover Street’ starring Harrison Ford were shot here.

The airfield also appeared in several TV episodes of ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Blakes Seven’. The airfield closed in 1972. HM Prison The Mount was built on part of the airfield and the runway now holds the Bovingdon Market on certain days.

In 1972 Bovingdon appeared in the headlines with the sentencing of Graham Young at St Albans Crown Court charged with murder after poisoning his work colleagues at Hadlands in 1971. Ten years earlier, at the age of 14 Graham had poisoned his stepmother, and attempted to poison his father, sister, and a school friend. He was committed to Broadmoor as criminally insane. After nine years he was remarkably judged as having been cured, and released, even though he had made a threat that he would poison one person for every year he spent there. He was sent on a government training course and subsequently applied for a job at Bovingdon. It was here that employees started to fall ill with the “Bovingdon Bug” after he had poisoned their tea. Bob Egle and Fred Biggs died. He was sentenced to four life sentences and in 1990 Graham Young died in Parkhurst prison at the age of 42.

At one time straw plaiting was a thriving cottage industry in the village for the hat industry. Straw was brought from Luton to the Well where local people collected it, and the plaits made at home were brought to be taken back to Luton. “The Well” can still be seen today at a crossroads in the village. The original shelter was built in 1881 in memory of Granville Dudley Ryder who was Lord of the Manor, as a shelter over the village well which ceased to be used after piped water came to the village.

A window was erected in St Lawrence church to St Uncumber, also known as St Wilgefortis. Legend has it that Thomas More referred to the belief that if a wife was weary of her husband and made an offer of oats to her shrine, the saint would relieve her of her troubles and uncumber the wife of their husband.

Bovingdon today has many reminders of both its distant and more recent past.