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Cheshunt, Hertfordshire


A Roman settlement appears to have existed her and Roman Soldiers would certainly have passed through the area along Ermine Street on their way from London To York. Cheshunt appears in the Doomsday Book as "Cestrehunt". At this time there was a mill here, fed by waters from the Lea, which continued until bought by the Board of Ordnance in the late 18th century. A nunery, first mentioned in 1183 was built on the marshes at Turnford and survived until dissolution in 1536. Any traces of this were destroyed by the gravel workings of the 1950's.

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The old village of Cheshunt, known as Churchgate, lies to the west of the present A10 road and is now a conservation area with many grade I and II listed buildings, including the Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin, built 1418 - 1448, a timber framed house from around 1500 known as the Old Parsonage, the 16th century Green Dragon public house where trials were conducted, and Dewhurst School, built in 1640. Churchgate is the site of Pengelly House, home of Richard Cromwell, Protector of the Commonwealth after his father Oliver's death in 1659. Richard lived here from 1680 until his death in 1712. The house itself survived until burnt down in 1888. Nearby, the buildings formerly occupied by Cheshunt College are now used by Broxbourne Council. The college moved here in 1791, but moved again in 1905 to Cambridge. Re-opened for a while by the Church of England as Bishop's College, they were eventually bought by the Borough Council. Recent extensions to the site have been well designed to match in with the original buildings.

Queen Elizabeth I spent some time at Cheshunt as a girl and later stayed at Theobalds Park many times when it was owned by her Secretary of State, William Cecil. Another mansion existed at Cheshunt Park, built in 1795 by an Oliver Cromwell (a solicitor and descendant of the Oliver Cromwell). It was leased to Frank Gissing Debenham whose family bought and occupied the house until it was demolished in 1970. Elsewhere in Cheshunt, other wealthy gentlemen from London had houses built for them during the 18th century, but many have since been demolished.

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To the east of the A10 is the newer part of Cheshunt, which extends south to Waltham Cross and east to the Lea Valley railway line and the Lee Navigation. It is this newer part that many people think of as Cheshunt, as it contains the town's main shops and offices. Extensive development started here in the late 1800's when the nursery industry reached the area. Many large glasshouses were built and new houses were needed for their workers. In particular, the firm of Rochfords were responsible for the construction of workers cottages at Turnford and also the Turnford Institute, built by the company for the benefit of their workers. As well as tomatoes and cucumbers, more exotic fruit such as melons and grapes were grown under glass by the company, who later moved on to house plants. Although Cheshunt was already served by trains to and from Broxbourne on the Lea Valley route, another railway line from Edmonton to Cheshunt opened in 1890 in anticipation of more traffic. The construction of this line was too early to benefit from the later development of the area, and after competition from the tramway, which reached Waltham Cross in the mid 1900's, the line closed in 1909, until rediscovered and electrified in 1960.

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Large scale residential development began in the 1930's, together with the construction of buildings such as the New River Arms in 1936, which was to get it's trade from passing motorists on the A10 trunk road. Building work was suspended during the war years, but started again in the 1950's when land previously occupied by the then contracting glasshouse industry was sold off for further housing. Today there is still considerable new housing being built at Turnford to the west of the railway line, on the site of Rochford's old nursery. Road names such as Thomas Rochford Way give a clue to the land's former life.