The name Henlow is believed to derive from the old English ˜henna hlaw˜ hill frequented by wild birds’ and was mentioned in the Domesday survey of 1086, when the village came under the possession of 3 separate manors: Henlow Warden, Henlow Llanthony and Henlow De Grey. This accounts for the abundance of Manor Farms in the village. There was a moated manor house on the ‘island’ of land which runs about 40 yards to the North of the High Street behind the War memorial along to the rear of Manor Farm at 87 High Street, which formed part of the De Grey manorial system. Henlow Grange, the earliest parts of which date from 1680, was built on land that formed the heart of the Henlow Llanthony estates.
The Parish church is dedicated to St Mary the Virgin. The church is in a beautiful setting on a rise above the Pit with the village pump in the foreground and a horse trough built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The current church building has a tower and North aisle constructed of clunch and the remainder is of ironstone. The North arcade dates to the 13th century, the Eastern bays are early 14th century and the entire is mainly in the perpendicular style, although the later Victorian Chapel incorporates a Norman window from the original aisle-less church. The church has Registers dating from 1558. Although the tower now contains a ring of 8 bells, enhanced from 6 in the 1980’s, prior to 1925 there was a ring of 5 bells, wherein the origin of the name of the local Public House.
St. Mary’s Church above the Pit
Two Henlow families were amongst the passengers on the Mayflower in 1620. They were John Tilley, his wife Joan (Nee Hurst, previously Rogers) and his daughter Elizabeth and Edward Tilley, his wife Agnes (nee Cooper) and nephew and niece Henry Samson and Humility Cooper. This has led, through Rev Ashford, a former vicar, to a link with the Pilgrim John Howland Society in Rhode Island, USA. Their members have made pilgrimages to the 12th century church of St. Mary’s making generous donations including a pewter spoon, a replica of one carried on the Mayflower.
The Boyd Gates
Henlow Grange’s most notable occupant was Alan Tindall Lennox-Boyd, who represented Mid-Bedfordshire in Parliament from the 1930’s until the 1950’s. Later he became Colonial Secretary and finally Lord Boyd of Merton and was responsible for the granting of independence to most of the former British overseas colonies.
The gates leading to the Pit recreation ground were erected in his memory and his family donated the Boyd Field (formerly known as Paddling Ditch Meadow) to the Scouts of the district. A much earlier occupant of the Grange in the 17th century was a Richard Raynsford, reputed to be Chief Justice of the King’s Bench. Raynsford Lower School bears his name. For several hundred years, the squire made contributions to the parish houses, schools and employment on the estate and farms. The majority of families depended in one way or another on the land and were very poor, often existing on a staple diet of turnip and potatoes and living in grossly overcrowded conditions. The main cottage industry was straw plaiting and quite young children had to do their share, often before going to school. This seems to have died out at the end of the 19th century. In medieval times Henlow was best known for bowstring making. On 23 June 1885, in The Sun Hotel in Hitchin, almost half of the physical areas of the village of Henlow was sold at auction by Firbrothers, Ellis & Clarke Ltd of London. The sale was the result of the bankruptcy of one Thomas Alexander Addington, who had inherited the Grange from his kinsman Rev. Henry Addington who had held the estate since 1868.
Cricket on the Pyghtles
In 1961, after spending several years uninhabited, Henlow Grange was acquired by Leida Costigan who transformed the near derelict house into the first Beauty Farm in the United Kingdom.
In 1819 Thomas Hare built a smock windmill, which had a revolving cap to turn the sails into the wind. Sadly, this fell into disrepair and was finally demolished when the flourmill was extended.
In modern times the village has become best known for RAF Henlow, first established in 1918 for the then new Royal Flying Corps. It later housed the School of Aeronautical Engineering and Parachute Testing Unit. This gave name to the ˜Parachute™ Public House on the High Street in Henlow Village. This Public House no longer exists. Later RAF Henlow became an RAF Officer Cadet Training Unit.