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LEGENDARY: The many mythical tales of Hertfordshire county

 Published on: 14th April 2024   |   By: Bryn Holmes   |   Category: Uncategorized

The earliest evidence of humans in Hertfordshire is from 350,000 years ago.

With a history as long as that, myths and legends are bound to spring up. Here are a few from the county’s long history that have stood the test of time…

The devil went down to Hertfordshire
There are many stories of the devil having visited Hertfordshire. The Grim’s Dyke, the Chiltern earthwork that stretches across Buckinghamshire and past Berkhamsted, was said to have been built by the legendary medieval wizard Sir Guy de Gravade, who had sold his soul to Satan in return for magical knowledge.

Unfortunately for Sir Guy, it appears that the devil eventually came to collect his side of the bargain; legend states that the alchemist and his castle vanished into thin air one night.

In the 11th century, builders working on constructing Holy Cross Church in Sarratt were also troubled by Lucifer. It is said he would move bricks from the original construction site as quickly as they were laid. The workers eventually gave up on the original site, instead constructing the church on the site where it still stands today.

Elsewhere, Sir John Schorne, the rector of Tring in the 14th century, would supposedly get the better of the demon. Faced with the beast, Sir John was able to conjure him into his boot and trap him there. Souvenirs of this event are thought to have inspired the first jack-in-a-box toys.

The devil can also apparently be seen with his fiddle on moonlit nights around Bushey’s heathland lanes, playing away as the moon shines.

A dragon in St Albans
One of Britain’s oldest legends regarding dragons, or wyrms as they were sometimes known, comes from Hertfordshire’s cathedral city, St Albans.

According to the story, one of the earliest abbots of St Albans, Ealdred, wanted to rebuild the cathedral, and decided to do so using the remains of the Roman town of Verulamium.

While the works were being carried out, they discovered the lair of the Dragon of Wormenhert. There is no description of what this giant beast looked like, but the Abbot proceeded with his work regardless.

What happened to the dragon after that is anyone’s guess, as the legend ends there.

A rock to protect from dark magic
One part of geology that is unique to our local area is the Hertfordshire puddingstone, a sediment composed of flint pebbles cemented together by silica quartz. This type of rock can only be found in our county, and some surrounding parts of Buckinghamshire and Greater London.

Believed to have first been formed more than 56 million years ago, the useful material was used in the construction of several buildings, including churches in Sarratt and Bovingdon, as well as for grinding corn in Roman Britain. But it apparently has a supernatural use as well.

In local folklore, puddingstone is believed to protect from evil witchcraft. Parish records from Aldenham show that in 1662, some of the rock was placed on top of the coffin of a woman accused of being a witch, in a bid to prevent her escaping after burial.

In other parts of the county, it was known as grow stone, due to a belief that the rock could magically multiply itself.

A fig tree miracle?
A popular tourist attraction in Watford during the 19th century was a large tomb at the side of St Mary’s Church. Its inscriptions had been completely eroded away and a fig tree grew from the tomb.

So the story goes, an atheist had been laid to rest in the tomb. Before dying, he had asked if something that could be germinated could be buried with him, so if God did exist, he could bring forth life. Not long afterwards, the fig tree sprouted from the grave.

The fig tree that once grew there was sadly removed in the 1960s. Whoever is buried in the tomb remains a mystery to this day, with no records left remaining.

Photo Credit: Wellcome Trust

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