Aldbury, situated on the edge of the Chiltern Hills, in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty close to Tring, is one of the most attractive villages in Hertfordshire. It is regarded as a chocolate box village and consequently, much visited by tourists. The heart of the village is its triangular green and duck pond. On the green are the old stocks and whipping post, no longer sheltered by an ancient elm tree, which became a victim of Dutch elm disease. An oak tree was planted to replace it. The old stocks and whipping post date from the 17th century. The stocks have given their name to Stocks House, the largest building in Aldbury and Stocks Golf Club, an exclusive golf club off Stocks Road.
The Old Manor House and Manor Cottage, overlook the pond. The Old Manor House has never been a manor house (the residence of the lord of the manor) and certainly, since 1722, has been a house and cottage. It is timber-framed with a red brick infill and has lattice windows. The buildings are Grade II Listed. Close by is The Greyhound Inn, a long low creeper clad building. It is a former coaching inn, offering luxury accommodation and a highly regarded restaurant.
Most of the village’s cottages are timber-framed and date from the 16th and 17th centuries. Many of the thatched roofs have been replaced by tiles, but some remain. The Valiant Trooper pub consists of four hundred year old cottages and has been an alehouse for centuries, with evidence dating it back to 1752, when it was known as The Royal Oak. It became The Trooper Alehouse in 1803. It is thought it was named after the occasion when the Duke of Wellington addressed his troops there.
The backdrop to the village is the beech woods of Ashridge Park. They rise up to Moneybury Hill, where there is a massive Greek Doric column erected in 1832, as a monument to the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, the English canal builder. The Ashridge Estate extends to over 5,000 acres of open countryside and is owned by the National Trust. There is a Visitor Centre and cafe close to the Bridgewater Monument.
Standing back from the village green is St. John the Baptist Church. It has a tall slender flint-faced tower. Parts of it date from the 13th century. The most impressive feature is the Pendley Chapel, containing late medieval stone effigies of Sir Robert Whittingham and his wife. In the churchyard, is buried Mary Augusta Ward, (Mrs. Humphry Ward) the British 19th century novelist.
A visitor to Aldbury today, would find it difficult to believe that in the 1970s, had they been there then, they may well have rubbed shoulders in the Valiant Trooper pub, with Tony Curtis and other Hollywood film stars and entertainment celebrities. Aldbury could have been said to have had a notoriety for extravagant parties. This all began in 1972, when Stocks House, a forty-two room mansion built in 1773 and surrounded by the Ashridge Estate, was purchased by Victor Lownes. Victor Lownes was the original business partner of U.S. Playboy Magazine founder, Hugh Hefner. He ran the British Playboy Enterprises from the 1960s until 1981. Lownes operated Stocks House as a training school for “Playboy Bunnies” and organised many extravagant parties, attended by celebrities from the entertainment world, including Tony Curtis, Jack Nicholson, Mick Jagger, Ringo Starr, Warren Beatty, Bryan Ferry, John Cleese, Marilyn Cole (the English Playboy Playmate and Lownes future wife) and of course, Hugh Hefner. Victor Lownes supported local charities and gave elderly residents of the village Christmas hampers. One resident said, “Thank you Victor – you brought colour to life, showed a generosity of spirit and thought of others.”
Stocks House has an interesting earlier history, with several literary associations. It was built by Arnold Duncombe. In 1832, James Adam Gordon, a friend of the Scottish novelist, Sir Walter Scott, bought the house. It is believed that Sir Walter Scott stayed at Stocks House. In 1892, Mary Augusta Ward bought the house. She was the best selling British novelist who used the pen name, Mrs Humphry Ward. The house became a meeting place for intellectuals of the day, including Aldous Huxley and George Orwell. In 1944, Stocks House became an exclusive girls’ finishing school.
Being within easy reach of London and such an attractive ancient village, it is not surprising that Aldbury has featured in many films and television productions. The 1967 film, The Dirty Dozen and the 2004 film, Bridget Jones: the Edge of Reason, both used the Village Green in their productions. The television series, Midsomer Murders and Inspector Morse, have been filmed in Aldbury. Stocks House itself, has been a popular choice for television and music video promotional recordings. A 1967 episode of the television series, The Avengers, starring Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg, featured Stocks House. The 1982 music video for “Our House” by the pop group, Madness, was recorded there and in 1997, Stocks House featured on the cover of the pop group, Oasis’s album, “Be Here Now”.