St Albans District
Postal Code: AL4 8AA
|Cemetery notes and/or description:|
Wheathampstead is a village and civil parish in the City and District of St Albans, in Hertfordshire, England.
Settlements in this area were made about 50 BC by Belgae invaders. They moved up the rivers Thames and Lea from what is now Belgium. Evidence for them was found in Devil's Dyke, at the eastern side of Wheathampstead. The Devil's Dyke earthworks are part of the remains of an ancient settlement of the Catuvellauni tribe and thought to have been the tribe's original capital. The capital was moved to Verlamion (which after the Roman conquest the Romans would rename Verulamium, which in turn would become modern St Albans) in about 20 BC. The Devil's Dyke is reputedly where Julius Caesar defeated Cassivellaunus in 54 BC, although this claim is disputed. Some historians suggest that the Dyke was part of the same defensive rampart as nearby Beech Bottom Dyke, which, if correct, would make the area one of the largest and most important British Iron Age settlements.
Later, the village is recorded in the Domesday book under name Watamestede. It appears that a church existed at Wheathampstead before the Norman Conquest, as Wheathampstead was given by Edward the Confessor to Westminster Abbey, but it is very difficult to determine whether any portion of the present St Helen's Church is of Saxon work. The original structure was demolished in the reign of Henry III, the oldest portion of the present church, in the chancel, is assigned to the year 1280.
Cruciform in shape, the plan of the present building was completed by the end of the fourteenth century and has remained largely unchanged for the last 600 years.
St. Helen's is built of flint rubble, or Totternhoe clunch, with flint facings and limestone dressings. There being no stone in the area, it is thought that the medieval builders used stone from the Midland quarries shipped down the River Ouse to Bedford and from there conveyed by horse and cart along the Roman roads to Wheathampstead.
Crowning the tower rises a splendid "broach" spire constructed of wood set at a very steep angle on a square base, and rising to a diminishing octagon. It is clad externally with strips of lead arranged in a herringbone pattern. The present spire is an 1865 reconstruction of an imagined earlier medieval version.In the churchyard can be found no less than four true Cenotaphs [empty graves]-these were erected in memory of war casualties and it is very rare to find even one in any churchyard or cemetery.There are however, five wargraves in the churchyard.(text added by Geoffrey Gillon)