In 2013, at the instigation of The Stevenage Society for Local History (now apparently defunct), Stevenage Borough Council mounted this information board at the entrance to The Avenue, the ancient path between St. Nicholas Church, the heart of the original village of Stigenace (Stevenage), and Burymead, at what is now Stevenage High Street. The text reads as follows:
For several centuries St Nicholas’ Church, once the centre of the Saxon village of Stigenace (Stevenage) has been linked to the High Street by the path now known as The Avenue. It was planted with trees in three stages.
In 1756 the Revd Nicholas Cholwell, Rector of Stevenage, planted alternate limes and horsechestnuts along the middle section of the path.
One hundred years later, in 1857, John Bailey Denton, Assistant Enclosure Commissioner for Stevenage, paid for the planting of trees along the section leading into the High Street.
The third planting, leading to Rectory Lane opposite St Nicholas’ church, took place in 1935, when the people of Stevenage raised enough money to create an avenue in honour of the Silver Jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary. At the same time, the path was diverted and the 1935 trees were planted along a route slightly to the north of the original. A commemorative board (since removed) was erected where the old and new trees joined and this place can still be identified, just south of the modern footbridge which replaced part of The Avenue when Martin’s Way bisected it in 1966.
Following the great storm of 1987 when many ancient trees were destroyed, Stevenage Borough Council replaced them with young trees donated by British Aerospace.
The Avenue path ran through glebe land which was farmed by successive rectors of Stevenage until modern times. It now belongs to the Burymead Trust, whose Trustees are the Rector and churchwardens of St Nicholas’ church and it is leased to Stevenage Borough Council for a peppercorn rent.
The Avenue gates
The oak gates which stood at the High Street entrance to The Avenue until the 1970’s were a memorial to James Flack (1856 – 1930), a former pupil and later a Governor of Alleyne’s Grammar School. He was Chairman of Stevenage Urban District Council, Captain of the Stevenage Fire Brigade, and Chairman of the Stevenage Magistrates’ Bench, as well as being instrumental in setting up the Stevenage Cricket and Football Clubs. Throughout his life he was a generous friend and benefactor to the school and the town.
Burymead is the last undeveloped remnant of the ancient common land alongside the minor Roman road which became Stevenage High Street. First squatters settled on the common at its south end (100yd north of Sish Lane) around a century after the Norman conquest. Then, at the beginning of the 13th Century, the Abbot of Westminster laid out a planned town of burgage plots, which signalled the end of the old village of Stevenage on the hill and its replacement by a market town. The parish church of St Nicholas has remained at the site of the old village; the common[,] of which Burymead is the last vestige, originally stretched down to the site where Holy Trinity church would be built in the 19th Century.
St Nicholas’ School
The National School, later St Nicholas’ School, opened on Burymead in 1834 and was moved to Six Hills Way in 1963. All that remains is the headmaster’s house, and the school’s distinctive bell-turret.
St Nicholas’ church
There has been a church on this site since Saxon times. In the 12th century its flint and stone tower was built, although the spire was not added till the church was enlarged two centuries later, and the south transept was added in 1841. The trademark church mice of the wood craftsman Robert Thompson can still be found on the pews.