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Great Amwell


I mile south-east of Ware
The village centre in Great Amwell is like no other in Britain. With its shaven lawns and willows overhanging a pooi of olive-green, slow-writhing waters, its gracious monuments and its islands inhabited by haughty swans, it looks like an exercise in 18th-century landscape gardening in miniature. Which is more or less what it is.
The prospect, which is seen best from the bridge leading to the church, was created in 1800 by the architect Robert Mylne as a memorial to Sir Hugh Myddleton, creator of the New River. Myddleton constructed the river in the early 17th century to feed water from the springs at Amwell and Chadwell to London, some 40 miles away. This enterprise gave London its first supply of clean drinking water, or, as one of the monuments puts it, brought ‘health, pleasure and convenience to the metropolis of Great Britain’.
The pool lies in a hollow, with the church rising above it on one side and the main street curving upwards and round to join the Cambridge road on the other. The New River begins its journey to Clerkenwell on the left, as well-stocked with fish as it was in Izaak Walton’s day, though perhaps it was not so expensive to take a rod to it then. All in all, with its air of discreet, if slightly antique, prosperity, it is one of the prettiest villages in the shire.
There are several large houses, all in different styles and generally connected with the Mylne family. The late-l8th-century Amwell Grove, white fronted and pillared, was Robert Mylne’s home, and W. C. Mylne built the Flint House in 1842-4. The garden contains a moss-covered pillar from the old Blackfriars Bridge, which Robert Mylne designed in 1768. In St John’s Lane, near the pleasant four-square Victorian pub, there is an absurdly attractive 19th-century house, all
pink wash, glowing brick and lofty chimneys. A stepped path climbs up through the rhododendrons to the churchyard, which contains several large monuments, the most imposing of which, not entirely surprisingly, is the mausoleum of the Mylne family. The church itself is of great age, dating in part, possibly, from the 11th century. But the main impression is of Victorian and later prosperity.