Stephanie, Jennifer and David and yours truly, I do not care to guess at the dates of these pictures...
The small market town of Buntingford is built around the ancient Roman Road of Ermine Street, one of the four major routes of old England. Connecting London with Lincoln and York, the section from Huntingdon through Royston and Buntingford and south to Wadesmill was the first turnpike road in the country.
The area Buntingford now occupies is part of the old parish of Layston (mentioned in the Doomsday Book) all that remains of Layston today is the Church (pictured below). The earliest reference to Buntingford was in 1185 when it was mentioned in records of land owned by the Knights Templar.
The name seems to have originated from a local tribe called the "Bunta" and the Ford on the river Rib between Buntingford and Layston. At its peak the town boasted fifteen coaching inns and taverns, located as it was at the junction of Ermine Street and the cross country road to Baldock in the west and Colchester in the east, (Via Puckeridge) it was destined to flourish and it did.
A few years ago I was fortunate enough to be taken up to the clock tower to see the new workings and the remains of the old workings, our guide told us how the children used to swing on the chains causing damage to the winding mechanism. I was eventually replaced by and electrical winding mechanism. The clock dates back to the early 1600s when minutes didn't really mean anything and had no defined measure of time. The first person to build a minute hand into a clock has been acredited to the Swiss clock maker, Jost Burgi in 1577.
This imposing two storey 18th century building was refurbished a few years ago and had a new roof in 2008. The main room is upstairs and reminds me of some converted corn exchanges I have seen in the past, no doubt built to a similar plan...
The picture above is of the archway that once lead through to the stables. Another one of the interesting aspects of this particular coaching house is the fact that thier stables were once in Baldock Road where Bell Barns is now. Did the inn have two blocks of stables? or were the original stables cleared to make way for other building, maybe trade was so good the inn needed more rooms for travellers? It is not difficult to guess why Bell Barns was so named.
All that remains of the ancient settlement of Layston, although the name has been kept alive. The Chancel (still under cover) was used for occasion services with the neighbouring cemetery until recently. It is being converted to living accommodation and considering its surroundings, it will make a lovely, peaceful home for someone. The cemetery is being cleared in strict accordance with the Church of England guidelines and with due respect.
As to the Church and the rights and wrongs of converting a Church to living accommodation I am in two minds. I think I would rather the Church was saved from irreversible decay and remained for future generations, than to slowly crumble to dusk. After all, Layston was the village long before Buntingford came into being. With the amount of unused Churches increasing, this may be the only way to preserve them. It seems the Church of England have neither the will or resources the maintain their own Churches once they become unused.