Recognised as the county of Hertfordshire’s smallest town, Buntingford has character and history that are anything but diminutive. While enjoying the sights and activities of this charming town, one might like knowing a bit about its long and unique history.
Let’s begin with the name. While it might seem natural to assume that the town is named for the bird known as the bunting, that actually isn’t the case. The easiest way to debunk that misconception is the simple fact that the town had its name before the bird did.
In actuality, the name probably comes from a couple of different sources. One of those was a Saxon chieftain or tribe called Bunta. The other was the local ford of the River Rib, a feature that still exists today. Buntas Ford and Buntigeford are the earliest recorded versions of the town’s name, and they date back to 1185 in a Knights Templar document. The name Buntingford itself dates back to 1255. Bunting translates from Old English to “place or people of Bunta,” and the translation of the permanent name is “ford of the people of Bunta.”
Centuries ago, the Romans constructed a road known as Ermine Street. This thoroughfare was the main connection between London and York. Buntingford was located along the Ermine Road, so despite its small size, it came to see a great deal of traffic.
That traffic helped transform Buntingford into an important staging post, which is a location where travellers can replace weary horses with fresh ones before resuming their journeys. For those travellers, this was a significant improvement over the former system, which was resting their horses, resulting in longer journeys.
As a result of its status as a major staging post, Buntingford saw the construction of several coaching inns. These provided food, shelter, and rest for travelers, and they were a critical part of England’s transportation infrastructure prior to the development of railways.
By royal charter via King Henry III, Buntingford became a market town in 1253. This meant the town was allowed to host a regular market, which obviously added to its importance and appeal. In 1360, with permission from King Edward III, Elizabeth de Burgh, the 4th Countess of Ulster, relocated her own market to Buntingford and then gave the rights to it to the people of Buntingford. By this, Buntingford’s market was one of England’s first community-owned ones, and to this day, the market continues every Monday.
In 1663, the stretch of Ermine Street between Huntington and Wadesmill, and passing through Buntingford, became England’s first turnpike road. Over the years, as times and technology changed, new industries replaced Buntingford’s traditional ones, and the town, which wasnlt made its own town and parish until 1935, is thriving.
When you visit Buntingford and enjoy all it and the surrounding area have to offer, just make sure to be a gracious guest. By the ford at the end of Church Street, an 18th century one-cell prison called The Cage still stands, and no one wants to be its guest!