Royston’s Heroes & Villains Art Trail

From witches to war heroes: as you wander round town, discover some of Royston’s most colourful characters. Look out for the specially created depictions on fifteen ceramic plaques and discover the real-life stories behind them.

Trail leaflet and map
Tile Trail leaflet2
To view the leaflet online, click on the image. You can also print it out. Alternatively, pick up a copy at the Museum, Town Hall or Library.

Who are Royston’s Heroes & Villains?

1 Creative Royston_Thomas Cartwright 2

1: Thomas Cartwright (1535-1603)
Location: Methodist Church, Queens Road (SG8 7AU)
Thomas Cartwight was born two years after Elizabeth I. Although a loyal Anglican, he compared the Church of England and its bishops unfavourably with the simple values of the early church of the Bible.  Because of his outspoken beliefs, he was forced to flee to the continent. After his eventual return to England he was imprisoned. He is known as the father of English Presbyterianism.

2 Creative Royston_King James

2: King James I (1566-1625)
Location: Taylor & Co, Kneesworth Street (SG8 5AB)
James was the son of Mary Queen of Scots. When Elizabeth I died in 1603 without an heir, he came south to claim the English throne. On his journey he stopped at the hunting lodge in Royston which eventually became a home-from-home for him whenever he wanted to escape from London and enjoy the excellent hunting and horse-racing on the Heath. Amongst other things, he was obsessed with witches…

3 Creative Royston_Witches 2

3: Christina and Alice Stokes, the Royston witches (executed at Hertford, 4 August 1604)
Location: Cambridge Wine, Kneesworth Street (SG8 5AB)
Eager to ingratiate themselves, it was politic for the good townsfolk to provide James I with some witches of their own. It was also a perfect opportunity to rid themselves of two female residents who kept an inn, which may have doubled as bawdy house. When both Roger Gybbons and Richard Bland died from what appears to have been a sexually transmitted disease, Christina and Alice Stokes were arrested and their property searched. Tools of the black arts (bones and an indecipherable chart) were found. They were hanged In Hertford. Two years later, a  sensationalised account was published which curiously changed their names to Johane and A Harrison.  

4 Creative Royston_Lord Mounteagle 2

4: William Parker, Lord Mounteagle (1575-1622)
Location: Curwens, High Street (SG8 9AA)
William Parker was a member of James I’s court and consequently had a house in Royston. His wife’s brother was one of the conspirators with Guido Fawkes in the Gunpowder Plot (a scheme to blow up the King at the opening of Parliament on 5 November 1605). When Parker received an anonymous letter warning him to stay away, he informed the authorities and the terrorist attack was averted. We have been celebrating Bonfire Night ever since.

5 Creative Royston_Beech Wood

5: Beech Wood (died 4 July 1744, aged 25)
Location: Abbot Travel, Fish Hill (SG8 9LD)
Prevented from marrying the woman he loved by his father, Beech Wood pined away and died. Did his mother ever forgive her husband? His gravestone leans against the wall near the main door to the Parish Church. It has a carving of a hand pointing to Cupid’s darts and a skull and used also to bear this rhyme:

Beneath this peacefull Stone here lies
To cruel Love a Sacrifice;
But reader mind the youth was slain
By his Papa’s not Girl’s disdain,
For when the Lover went to woo

The Maid said yes, the Father no,
So through mere rage to be denied
He broke his heart, and so he died.
Young Men take care. Lest you have cause to grieve,
Nor Damsels court without your Parents’ leave.

6 Creative Royston_John Gatward 2

6: John Gatward (executed at Colliers End, 27 April 1757)
Location: Market Hill Surgery, Market Hill (SG8 9JN)
On 4 February 1757 John Gatward (also known as John Gard Green) held up the North Mail on its way to Royston and stole the mail pouches. He also got away with two horses belonging to Elizabeth Gatward of Royston. He was found guilty and hanged at Colliers End, 2 miles from Puckeridge (near the spot where the offence had occurred). Afterwards, his body was hanged in chains.

7 Creative Royston_Henry Andrews 2

7: Henry Andrews (1744-1820)
Location: Library, Market Hill (SG8 9JN)
The mathematician and astronomer Henry Andrews moved to Royston in 1766 and set up a boarding school in Fish Hill and a scientific instrument shop in Melbourn Street. His work for Old Moore’s Almanack contributed to a massive increase in its readership. He was also Calculator to the Board of Longitude. His obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine described him as ‘one of the best astronomers of the age’. He is buried in Royston churchyard.

8 Creative Royston_Joseph Beldam 2

8: Joseph Beldam (1795-1866)
Location: Royston Cave entrance, Melbourn Street (SG8 7BZ)
Joseph Beldam was a minor poet, lawyer and antiquarian who grew up in Shepreth and moved to Royston. He was the first official counsel to the Anti-Slavery Society and dedicated himself to the fight to abolish the injustice that is slavery. He also took a keen interest in history and wrote an important book about Royston Cave. He died at Thurnells and is buried in the churchyard.

9 Creative Royston_Joseph Towne 2

9: Joseph Towne (1806-1879)
Location: Royston Health Centre, Melbourn Street (SG8 7BS)
Cholera, smallpox and typhus were rife at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Like many small boys, disease and body parts fascinated Joseph Towne and he could be found making plaster casts of his fingers and then filling them with hot wax. He was apprenticed to a local sculptor and at the age of seventeen he made an entire wax skeleton. His obvious skill caught the attention of surgeons in London who were always on the look out for teaching aids. Towne went on to make hundreds of wax models illustrating various diseases for Guy’s Hospital.
10 Creative Royston_Jack Halstead 2

10: Jack Halstead (1897-1963)
Location: Market Hill Rooms, Market Hill (SG8 9JU)
Jack Halstead was an ‘ordinary’ gunner from Royston in the First World War. During his time on the front line at Ypres, Lens and the Somme he kept a diary and doodled seventy sketches of his wartime activities. His diary has since been published by Royston Museum. As Jack himself wrote,‘Keeping such a diary as this, I guess was against all the rules and regulations. If I had been captured no doubt it would have greatly interested the enemy!’

11 Creative Royston_Harold Ackroyd 2

11: Harold Ackroyd VC (1877-1917)
Location: Priory Memorial Gardens’ gate (opposite the Police Station)
Harold Ackroyd lived at Brooklands in Kneesworth Street. He served as a doctor with the Royal Army Medical Corps in the First World War. By all accounts he was a tremendously brave man who worked methodically to save men in the heat of battle. He was shot in the head by a sniper on 17 August 1917.  He was awarded the Victoria Cross: ‘For most conspicuous bravery. ..Utterly regardless of danger, he worked continuously for many hours up and down and in front of the line tending the wounded and saving the lives of officers and men. In so doing he had to move across the open under heavy machine-gun, rifle and shell fire…His heroism was the means of saving many lives, and provided a magnificent example of courage, cheerfulness, and determination to the fighting men in whose midst he was carrying out his splendid work.’

12 Creative Royston_EH Whydale 2

12: Ernest Herbert Whydale (1886-1952)
Location: Royston Museum & Art Gallery, Lower King Street (SG8 5AL)
The painter and etcher EH Whydale moved to Newmarket Road, Royston in 1918, by which time he had already had his pictures hung at the Royal Academy. He had his studio in Tannery Drift. He is best known for his depictions of horses and rural life. Each year he would take his summer holidays travelling by horse drawn caravan from the town, painting and sketching as he went. Whydale’s work is represented in many museums including the Victoria & Albert Museum and the National Gallery of Canada. During his thirty years in Royston he gave many of his pictures to local friends and the Royston Museum now has the pre-eminent collection of his work.

13 Creative Royston_Willie Stephenson 2

13: Willie Stephenson (1911-1985)
Location: The Old Barn, Upper King Street (SG8 9AZ)
There has always been horse-racing on the Heath. In 1947 racehorse trainer Willie Stephenson established his yard in the middle of Royston near the Old Barn. From there he trained Arctic Prince, the 1951 Derby winner, and Oxo, the 1959 Grand National Winner. He is the only Englishman ever to have achieved this double!

14 Creative Royston_Alison Balsom 2

14: Alison Balsom (1978-)
Location: Greneway School, Garden Walk (SG8 7JF)
Alison Balsom grew up in the town and attended Tannery Drift, Greneway and Meridian Schools. She played with Royston Town Band and in 2010 became the first Honorary President of Royston Arts Festival. She has won numerous awards including best Female Artist in the Classical Brits (twice) and Artist of the Year (Gramophone Classical Music Awards, 2013). She plays the trumpet exquisitely, tours extensively and is internationally acclaimed.

15 Creative Royston_John Warren 2

15: John Warren (1818-1884)
Location: Royston Town Hall, Melbourn Street (SG8 7AN)
John Warren was the ‘Mr Royston’ of his day. He had an ‘Art Repository’ on the High Street and a printing house which published  The Origin & Use of Royston Cave, was secretary of the town’s musical society and was instrumental in building the Royston Institute (the building we now know as the Town Hall). In his early career he worked in Downing Street proof-reading secret State Papers before going on to found the Royston Crow newspaper. His motto was ‘First be sure you’re right, then go ahead!’

Creating the trail

Liz Beardwell

This permanent art trail has been specially commissioned by Creative Royston.

Royston & District Local History Society and Royston Museum researched fifteen notable people and artist Liz Beardwell (above) created images for students from local schools to interpret (based on known-portraits, where they could be found). Liz also painted the sample tile, depicting Joseph Beldam.

All tiles featured on the trail have been painted by able, gifted and talented students for Greneway, Roysia and Meridian Schools.

Our thanks go to Glazed Creations for their support and all of the venues who are displaying the trail.

Making the trail 2Making the trail 4Making the trail 3


22 September to 1st October 2023