Parliament Square, Hertford
|Hertford and Stortford
Hertford is the county town of Hertfordshire. In 2006 East Hertfordshire was ranked within the top 10 places to live in the United Kingdom according to a survey commissioned by Channel 4. The 2001 census put the population of Hertford at about 24,180. Recent estimates place it now around 28,000.
The name of the town is Old English (Heortford), and means no more nor less than it says to the modern ear: "hart ford".
Hertford is at the meeting of four river valleys, where the Rib, Beane and Mimram join the River Lea at Hertford. South of Hertford Castle Weir, the River Lea has been canalised as the Lee Navigation. The shared valley of the Lea and the Beane is called Hartham Common and this provides a large park to one side of the town centre running towards Ware and lying below the ridge upon which the village of Bengeo stands.
The town centre still follows the mediæval layout with many timber-framed buildings hidden under later frontages, particularly in St Andrew Street. Hertford suffers from traffic problems despite the building in the 1960s of the A414 bypass (Gascoyne Way) which passes close to the town centre. Plans have long existed to connect the A10 with the A414, by-passing the town completely. Nevertheless, the town retains very much a country-town feel, despite the traffic and the close-lying major roads. Hertford has thankfully escaped the worst of modern London-overspill development as that has largely been diverted to Bishop's Stortford, Harlow and Stevenage, the latter two being new towns built specifically to take such development.
The first mention of the town is in the year 673. Then the first Synod of all the Bishops in England, the Council of Hertford was held in the town, called by Theodore of Tarsus, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Decisions of the Council included the calculation of the date of Easter.
In 912 AD, Edward the Elder built two burhs (earthwork fortifications) close by the ford over the River Lea as a defence against Danish incursions. By the time of the Domesday Book, Hertford had two churches, two markets and three mills. The Normans began work on Hertford Castle, while Hertford Priory was founded by Ralph de Limesi. King Henry II rebuilt the castle in stone, but in 1216, during the First Barons' War, it was besieged and captured after 25 days by Prince Louis of France. The castle was regularly visited by English royalty and in 1358, Queen Isabella, wife of Edward II, died there.
The priory was dissolved in 1536 and subsequently demolished and in 1563, the Parliament of England met at the castle because of an outbreak of plague in London. Hertford grew and prospered as a market and county town. Communication was improved by the construction of the Lea Navigation Canal in 1767 and the arrival of the railway in 1843.
The largest employers in the town are in public administration, healthcare and McMullens Brewery, one of a dwindling number of independent brewers in the United Kingdom. Many residents commute to work in London.
In comparison with neighbouring towns Hertford has no modern covered shopping centre and so the high street shops are allowed to thrive. It does have most of the usual supermarkets. There are very few of the usual chain shops found in most high streets and this makes Hertford stand out from other "clone towns". There are a high number of independent shops in the town, with a variety of boutiques and salons.
Of the town's several churches, All Saints and St Andrew's, are late and mid 19th century respectively, although both stand on the sites of mediæval places of worship. St Andrews has a 15th-century north doorway from an earlier church.
In the northern suburb of Bengeo lies St Leonard's, a two-celled Norman church of considerable architectural interest.
A Quaker Meeting House stands in Railway Street and is the oldest purpose-built Quaker Meeting House in the world, in use since 1670.
Sights of the town
- In the town are the remains of the original Hertford Castle, principally a motte. The castle's gatehouse, the central part of which dates to a rebuild by Edward IV in 1463, is the home to Hertford Town Council. The Motte, from the original Motte and Bailey castle in Hertford, can be found just behind Castle Hall, a short distance from the modern castle.
- The Parliament of England temporarily moved to Hertford during a plague outbreak in London in 1563. This is why the main square in the town, Parliament Square, is so named, although it is a twentieth century creation.
- The home of Alfred Russel Wallace (see above), now named Wallace House, can be found at 11 St. Andrew St. and is marked with a plaque.
- Built in 1779, the Shire Hall was designed by Robert Adam. The ground floor houses Court Rooms.
- The Hertford Corn Exchange was built on the site of a former gaol. After years of disuse, it has now reverted to being a live entertainment venue.
- In Cowbridge, there is a Prince Albert Cottage. The first of these cottages was originally built in Hyde Park by the Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes in 1851 at the time of the Great Exhibition. Prince Albert was involved in their design and financing.
- Hertford Museum is housed in a 17th-century historic town house, with a Jacobean-style knot garden.
- "Office for National Statistics, 2001 Census, Key Statistics for HCC settlements. Usual resident population (numbers)". http://www.hertsdirect.org/infobase/docs/pdfstore/tabKS01sett.pdf.
- Hertford Timeline
- Wallace's House
- Shire Hall, Hertford
- The Corn Exchange
- Victoria and Albert Museum information on Prince Albert Cottages