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Travels Through an Unwrecked Landscape

Updated: May 5, 2023

The History, Heritage and Landscape of The Ayots in Perspective


The wonderful history, heritage and landscape of The Ayots is perfectly put into perspective by Candida Lycett Green, the daughter of poet laureate Sir John Betjeman, in her book England: Travels Through An Unwrecked Landscape, published in 1996. Lycett Green, described by Country life as “the finest writer of our time on the English countryside” and one of the foremost experts in landscape and buildings in England from the last 50 years, was given a brief to “set out on a quest to find unspoiled corners, hidden valleys and sequestered villages and buildings up and down the country that remain forever England.”

The sleeve notes of the book describe her writings as follows:

“at once nostalgic and reassuring, Candida Lycett Green’s explorations reveal an England off the motorway that remains haunting, enduring and timeless. Her account.....will inspire visitors and natives alike to take renewed pleasure in this green and pleasant land.”

The result is a personal collection of favourite locations, all defined by the author’s enthusiasms and her lifelong involvement with buildings and landscapes.

It is telling that this objective expert and enthusiast on the English countryside chose The Ayots as one of a small number of locations in the whole of England worthy of inclusion in her book. Her wonderful description of finding The Ayots, the beauty of the countryside, the history and heritage buildings therein is the most eloquent and objective argument one could find for dismissing any attempt to ruin the landscape with an industrial development such as that proposed by WGC Solar. She writes:

“There is a pocket of hidden Hertfordshire, tucked away from Welwyn....in the safety of old Whig estate country. Narrow holly-edged lanes twist this way and that through properly husbanded England. There are trees in the hedgerows, hunting copses, and well-loved woodland where the odd pheasant wanders alone through the undergrowth.

If you are belting up or down the A1, which slices through the countryside like an axe through a loaf of bread, you will never know what glory you are passing unless you leave time to branch off. Take the Lemsford to Wheathampstead road. You will very soon get a good square-on view northwards, through the grand wrought iron gates of Brocket Hall, set gently down amidst elegant parkland laid out in the 1770s by Richard Wood of Essex. The house was designed by James Paine for Sir Penistone Lamb, later Lord Melbourne, and his father Matthew. Very soon afterwards there is a small sign for Water End on the right; here begins the magical mystery tour.

The lane leads down to the wandering river Lea, where a shallow ford rushes over the road and down a short waterfall towards Hatfield and on to join the Mimram at Hertford. Just above, within sound of water and set cosily into the rising slope of the hill, stands a beautiful small rose-brick Jacobean manor house. It has three gables, lashings of wisteria and its long side wall gently bulges outwards. It was once the modest home of Sarah Jennings, who married John Churchill the first Duke of Marlborough.”


Ironically, this property is occupied by the family who are believed to be the beneficiaries of the secretive offshore trust which owns the land on which the solar plant is proposed to be sited. It is for you to judge whether this fulfils the moral obligation which surely falls on them as custodians of such a historic landscape.

The Ayot Estate website emphasises the historic features of the land in the Ayots in which the solar plant is proposed:

“The estate incorporates many historic features, among these are a network of ironage earthworks. One of these, The Devils Dyke is thought to have been the capital of Cassivellaunus, who fought Julius Caesar in 54 BC.” It goes on to confirm that “The family are still actively involved in the management of the estate today.”

Lycett Green continues:

“If you travel on up the lane, which becomes almost a tunnel of steep banks and old nut trees, past a good red-brick farm and black weatherboarded barn (typical Hertfordshire), you can eventually curl off to the right for Ayot Green, a peaceful village estate of 18th and 19th century cottages studded around an arcadian green where old oak and chestnut trees spread their shade. The place is well kempt with only one unforgivable outbreak of cypress leylandii beside which the road leads down past a fine pair of estate cottages to the back gates of Brocket Hall.

Ayot St Peter is a lovely secret place where, if you try hard enough, you can make the continuous whine of traffic on the A1 sound like the sea. It is just a hamlet with a distant Jacobean manor and the most surprising little church of red, white and blue brick, with a blue mosaic clock face set in its spire and rose windows on its side.”


Lycett Green goes on to describe the church in more detail and “the wonderful rose- windowed schoolhouse next door”. It is from this Grade II listed building, adjacent to the footpath leading to The Ayot Greenway, that the undulating, open fields where the solar plant is proposed are first viewed. Lycett Green’s route then takes her towards Ayot St Lawrence through “narrow unmarked lanes full of old man's beard”. En route she would have had with clear views of the open landscape on which the proposed solar plant would sit. She then travelled up the narrow Hill Farm Lane, which, if the solar application is allowed to succeed, would have high security fences, CCTV cameras on posts and of course thousands of solar panels towering above on either side.

“At the next village of Ayot St Lawrence, narrow unmarked lanes full of old man’s beard brought us to red brick cottages with casement windows and leaded panes, the half- timbered Brocket Arms, the Old Rectory, red telephone box, and as romantic and ruined old church as could be, ivy clad and wildly overgrown. Sir Lionel Lyde, the Lord of the Manor in the 1770s, decided that the church spoiled the view from his nearby seat and began to demolish it while building a new church further away. The Bishop of Lincoln got to hear of it, and an injunction was issued to stop the church being further despoiled. Nothing was ever

done to repair the church and it still remains much as it was left at the end of the 18th century.”

The author describes the Palladian Church (built in 1778, Grade I listed) and the route “out of the magical spell of The Ayots” towards Bride Hall (Grade II listed), the ancient home of the Parr family, past Shaw’s Corner (Grade II Listed), the home of George Bernard Shaw and now a much visited National Trust property.

Lycett Green, who died in 2014, was a foremost expert on landscape and buildings. She is described in her obituary in the Guardian as “a lifelong campaigner for conservation” and “never negative or nostalgic” in her approach. She was a commissioner for English Heritage from 1992 until 2001. Her independent, objective description of the landscape, setting, history and heritage of The Ayots cannot be ignored when it comes to assessing the harm a solar plant would do to the area.

In fact, the title of her book says it all – Travels Through an Unwrecked Landscape. One can be certain that had the countryside in The Ayots been wrecked by this proposed solar development when she was alive, it certainly would not have found its way into her book describing some of the loveliest and most unspoilt corners of England. We are sure that were she alive today she would be fully supportive of our campaign.

The book describes “unspoiled corners, hidden valleys and sequestered villages and buildings up and down the country that remain forever England”. This is a perfect description of Ayots, the last place an industrial development like a solar plant should be considered. We hope you agree.

Please help us make sure that this landscape is not wrecked for current and future generations. Go to https://www.stopwestwelwynsolar.co.uk

If you would like to be inspired “to take renewed pleasure in this green and pleasant land,” you can buy a copy of the book, England: An Unwrecked Landscape here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Unwrecked-England-Candida-Lycett-Green/dp/1901170101

Candida Lycett Green’s obituary in The Guardian can be found here: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/aug/20/candida-lycett-green

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