One of the most quirky sights in England, Scott's Grotto was created in the 1760s by the Quaker poet and reformer, John Scott, making it the country's largest grotto. Tucked away in a street of modern houses to the south of the town centre, it has six underground chambers connected by passages, extending for 67 feet into the chalk hillside. The grotto is decorated with shells, fossils and minerals from all around the world and was restored in 1990 by the Ware Society.
Open: 2-4.30pm Sat. Admission: Free but a donation is appreciated.
The original friary was founded in 1338 (no one knows the story of how it came to be known as The Priory). After the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in the 1530s, the building has undergone many phases of construction and alteration during its 650 year life. Being in private ownership, a hospital during the first World War, and then in 1920 the owner, Mrs Anne Elizabeth Croft, daughter of Mr. Henry Page, one of the most influential maltsters of Ware in the 18th century, gave the Priory, then valued at the huge sum of £10,000 to the town. Many original features remain, including parts of the cloisters and a fine timber-roofed chamber with a massive crown post named the Hadsley Room, after a former owner. After a major refurbishment in 1994, this Grade I Listed Building was officially declared open by HRH the Duke of Gloucester. The Priory is licensed for weddings and extensively used for conferences and other functions.
The Ware Museum was established in 1986 and incorporates the town's World War II command bunker used during air raids, a medieval well discovered during building work (which you can walk on!) and an outside herb garden. Items from the museum collection on permanent display include Iron Age and Roman pottery, a Roman coffin, a unique collection of Hitch Patent Bricks and items from the pharmaceutical firm of Allen & Hanbury. There are new interactive experiences including an Archaeological Dig for children, a touch screen kiosk, talking figures and an illuminated satellite picture of Ware.
Open: 11am-5pm Tue, Thur & Sat. 2-5pm Sun. Admission: Free.
The Maltmaker state in the Ware Memorial Gardens outside St Mary's Church was especially commissioned to mark the Millennium. The bronze life size plus a quarter statue of a Ware maltster and his cat was erected in autumn 1999 to commemorate six hundred years of the malting industry in Ware which no longer exists except for the existing malting buildings.
The library was built in 1765 as a maltster's house on the site of the Crown, one of the homes of the Great Bed of Ware which dates from around 1590 and measures ten by eleven feet. It's now in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The building later became the town house of the wealthy maltster Henry Page (1813-94) before becoming the County Library in 1961.
The town hall was built in 1827 on the site of an earlier market as an arcaded corn market with a meeting hall above. It became a shop in the 1840s and was restored in 1985. It's now an estate agents.
The wonderful looking gazebos or 'Dutch summerhouses' were erected along the River Lea from 1690 onwards at the end of the gardens of the former inns to give guests a peaceful outlook, away from the hurly-burly of the High Street. This group is unique in England.
The River Lea flows through Ware and was made navigable as a canal between Hertford Castle and the River Thames in London. The canal provided excellent access for barges in Ware's main industry of malting but today is home to leisure barges. If you take a walk along the towpath you'll see the gazebos which were first erected in the 1690s (see next tip).
Place House was the medieval manor house of Ware for Thomas, Lord Wake (1297-1349). Dendrochronology has been conducted on timbers inside the building and suggested a date of around 1300, however the house may even date to as early as the late 13th century. Built as an aisled hall, it has a fine timber roof and a Tudor screen. It was restored in 1978 by the Hertfordshire Building Preservation Trust and opened by the late Queen Mother.
It became a school in 1685 for Christ's Hospital and the cottages in Bluecoat Yard were built for the children of the school and their nurses. A Bluecoat Boy statue stands over the entrance to Bluecoat Yard, while an older statue which once occupied the niche is now inside Place House.
This church was consecrated on 9th November 1858 by the Bishop of Rochester. The church, the then vicarage and the school was provided for by Robert Hanbury. It is built in the early English style of architecture, of ragstone from Kent.
Ware has some lovely houses, cottages and commercial buildings located along High St, Baldock St, Crib St, New Rd and Star St. Most date from around the 16th and 17th centuries and, unlike High Streets in most English towns, Ware's still has most of its original buildings without ugly 1960s-70s shopping arcades.
Located behind the Church of St Mary the Virgin, this building was formerly known as the Rectory Manor. It was once part of the Benedictine Priory of Ware which was suppressed in 1414. In 1546 it became part of King Henry VIII's endowment of Trinity College, Cambridge which owned it until 1951.
The Parish Church of Ware - once a French-owned Benedictine Priory - was rebuilt in the late 14th century by the family of Joan of Kent, the widow of the Black Prince and mother of King Richard II.
The church contains many images of Joan, who was Lady of the Manor. The octagonal font, featuring saints and angels with musical instruments, dates from her time. There are fine stained glass windows and many memorials, particularly to members of the town's malting families.
Open: 9am-3pm daily.
This 14th century building was rebuilt in 1624 to include a Roman Catholic Chapel. It became the Royal Oake Inn after the restoration of King Charles II in 1660.
The Old Punch House was a well known resort for elderly gentlemen in Victorian times. It's now a modern pub.