A coulourful history and a thriving community
The village area of Great Amwell Parish dates back to the late Anglo-Saxon era when it was known as Emmeswell. It is believed it was named after the wife of King Canute.
Below St. John the Baptist Church, opposite the New River Islands is an old, often dried-up, spring known as Emma’s Well. At its entrance is a stone inscribed with a poem by the Quaker John Scott. The poem is titled “Emma”.
Emma’s Well was one of the sources for the New River – an artificial waterway opened in the early 17th century to carry fresh water to the Clerkenwell area of London.
The New River still exists. It is possible to walk alongside it for almost its entire original length. The main person behind its construction was Sir Hugh Myddleton (1560-1631).
Robert Mylne, who worked for the New River Company from 1767 until his death, designed and erected the monument to Myddelton on an island on the New River at Great Amwell in 1800.
The local parish church is dedicated to St John the Baptist. It has a Norman apse, rare in Hertfordshire, and an 11th-century window. Other features are of the 14th century and later. A number of literary figures are buried in the churchyard, notable for its abundance of snowdrops in the early spring.
These include the Elizabethan poet William Warner and opera singer Sybil Evers (1904-1963). They were joined in 1978 by Harold Abrahams (1889-1978), the Olympian of Chariots of Fire fame who won a gold medal in the 100 metres at the Paris Olympics of 1924.
A famous former resident of the village was Izaak Walton (1593 - 1683), the renowned 17th-century author of The Compleat Angler. Many fishermen will agree with Walton’s observation that ‘angling may be said to be so like the mathematics that it can never by fully learned’.
On 14 April 1610, Richard Warren, a passenger on the Mayflower in 1620, married Elizabeth Walker in the church. They are ancestors of two American Presidents, Ulysses S. Grant and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Amwell Nature Reserve, managed by Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, is one of the most important places for wildlife in the county and is well-used and enjoyed by the local community.
It hosts a mosaic of habitats including reedbeds, grassland and woodland, although Great Hardmead Lake is arguably the most striking feature. Formerly gravel pits, the reserve forms part of the Lee Valley, which connects the site with other nature reserves and habitats along the River Lee, providing a wildlife corridor stretching from Hertford to the Thames. It is home to large numbers of wintering wildfowl, together with outstanding communities of breeding birds and of dragonflies and damselflies.
The reserve can be accessed from Amwell Lane via a footpath (signposted) or from the River Lee Navigation towpath. The reserve can also be accessed from Hollycross Road. There is a walk around the reserve which takes 1-2 hours.
The New River Islands are beautifully kept by the Thames Water Authority and every year in June the Haileybury Madrigal Society, singers from the Haileybury public school a mile southwest of Great Amwell, and local communities, give a concert from the larger island to a throng on the banks. The music, the floodlight on the trees and the water, combine to create a magical atmosphere.
The event has been staged for more than seventy years. Most recently, proceeds from the event were donated to Isabel Hospice.