History of Great Offley

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[ Offley Horizon ]


The following is an excerpt from David Baines' excellent book "Two Coats Colder":

Situated on a ridge high in the chalk downs of north west Hertfordshire, the village is said to be 'Two coats colder' than the rest of the district, meaning that a person needs warmer clothing to live in Offley, a saying well-founded in the writer's experience.

The earliest written mention of Offley is about the year 758 in the writings of the St. Albans monk Matthew Paris. It must be remembered that Matthew Paris was writing [in Latin] in the 1230's embracing the writings of Roger of Wendover along with other fables and legends handed down through the ages. [...]

[ Pegsdon Hills ] In the year 758, Matthew Paris tells us that the Anglo Saxon Chieftain Offa marshalled his forces at Hitchin and fought the Mercian usurper Beornred at Pirton, Pegsdon and finally at Offley where Beornred was vanquished. Offa was then elected King of the Mercians and decided to build a palace and a religious house on the site of his victory, staying at Hitchin while the work progressed. The site is said to have "stood between the stream and the Ickening Way", a description which fits Hitchin perfectly but not Offley which has no surface running water. It has however been suggested that such chieftains often built their palaces a few miles from their minsters ["King Offa In Hitchin" by Clifford Offer] which could mean that the religious house was in Hitchin and the palace at Offley was on the high ground three miles away. The religious house in Hitchin built by Offa was a Benedictine monastery on the site of what is now the parish church of St. Mary and was founded in AD 792. That Offa did have influence over the area can be inferred from the discovery of a silver coin in 1923 on a cart track between Hitchin and Offley near "Foxholes" and bearing the inscription OFFA/REX on the obverse and VULF/HAR on the reverse. [...]

On the 7th July 795 King Offa was "gathered to his fathers", having died at Offley according to Matthew Paris. ["Sketch of the History of Offley and its Church" by the Rev. Percy Gatty (1907)] His body was apparently not buried at Offley but taken for burial to a chapel at the side of the River Ouse at Bedford, which may support the view that there was no religious house at Offley. At some later time the chapel was washed away and the burial place lost.

[ Offley Village Green, with well and pond | 14th Century font in St. Mary's Church | St. Mary's Church Interior ]These pictures from the early 1900's taken by the Rev. Percy Gatty, the then vicar of Offley, show the village green, with its well and pond in front of The Green Man pub, the interior of St. Mary's Church, and Ark and Vine Cottages next to The Old Post Office, now known as Court Cottage.

[ Ark and Vine cottages | St. Mary's Church Interior | The Old Post Office and The Street ] Thanks are due to Angela Hillyard, whose 1993 book "Images Of Old Offley" is available from the author (email the_hillyards AT hotmail DOT com), all proceeds going to help restore Offley Church. These period photos all feature in her book, and are now cared for by Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies (HALS), who we thank for providing them in digital form (note - they still control the copyright).

© copyright Malcolm Smith 2002-08-16 - last updated 2006-04-09 - links verified 2018-05-05