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Not to be confused with Little Berkhamsted.
—  Town  —
The Victorian Gothic style Old Town Hall Berkhamsted
Berkhamsted Old Town Hall
The towns coat of arms, a castle surrounded by 13 solid gold circles or heraldic bezants.
The town coat of arms
Berkhamsted is located in Hertfordshire
 Berkhamsted shown within Hertfordshire
Population 20,641 (2011 est.)[1]
OS grid reference SP993077
Shire county Hertfordshire
Region East
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district HP4
Dialling code 01442
Police Hertfordshire
Fire Hertfordshire
Ambulance East of England
EU Parliament East of England
UK Parliament South West Hertfordshire
List of places

Coordinates: 51°46′N 0°34′W / 51.76°N 0.56°W / 51.76; -0.56

Berkhamsted /ˈbɜrkəmstɛd/ is a historic market town on the western edge of Hertfordshire, England. The town is located in the Chiltern Hills, 26 miles (42 km) northwest of London.[2][3] Berkhamsted is a civil parish, with a town council in the borough of Dacorum.[4] The small town of Tring and the large town of Hemel Hempstead are also in Dacorum.

Berkhamsted's most prominent period in national history was in December 1066. After William the Conqueror defeated King Harold II of England's Anglo-Saxon army at the Battle of Hastings, the Anglo-Saxon leadership surrendered at Berkhamsted. The event was recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. From 1066 to 1495, Berkhamsted Castle was a favoured royal residence. It was occupied by English monarchs, queen consorts, and other royals, including Edward, the Black Prince, royal favourites, and historical figures such as Thomas Becket and Geoffrey Chaucer.[5] Amongst those born in Berkhamsted was Colonel Daniel Axtell, the captain of the Parliamentary Guard at the trial and execution of Charles I of England in 1649.

The oldest known existing urban jettied timber-framed building in Great Britain, built between 1277 and 1297, is among the Grade II buildings on the high street.[6][7] The town is also home to the British Film Institute's BFI National Archive at King's Hill, one of the largest film and television archives in the world, which was endowed by J. Paul Getty, Jr.[8]

Geology and geography[edit]

aerial picture of the town surrounded by green fields.
Berkhamsted and Northchurch from the air, looking south across the valley

The Chiltern Hills are part of a system of chalk downlands throughout eastern and southern England, believed to have formed between 84 and 100 million years ago in the Cretaceous Period. The area was then a chalk-depositing marine environment.[9] The valley in which Berkhamsted is located is at the southernmost limit of the Pleistocene glaciation ice erosion throughout the Chiltern scarp. Its smooth, rounded appearance suggests that the valley was once a glacial meltwater channel that deposited alluvial soils in the valley, with chalk, clay, and flint on the valley sides.[10][11] The valley runs through the Chilterns in a northwest to southeast direction. The relatively narrow valley is 344 feet (105 m) above sea level and rises to 590 feet (180 m) in plateau areas to the north and south. The River Bulbourne is a chalk stream that runs for seven miles (11 km) in a southeast direction. The river starts at Dudswell and the adjoining village of Northchurch and runs through Berkhamsted, Bourne End, and Boxmoor, where it merges with the River Gade at Two Waters in Apsley, near Hemel Hempstead.

During the early Mesolithic period (Middle Stone Age, mid to late eighth millennium BC), the land was mostly a pine woodland, and the low area of central Berkhamsted was probably a grass-sedge fen. About 4,000 years later, during the Neolithic period (New Stone Age, mid to late third millennium BC), the woodland became dominated by lime trees, with alder trees growing on the flood plain. Before the Grand Junction Canal was built in 1798, the river was often full and fast-moving, yielding many eels and other fish. The valley floor remained a flood plain with wetland vegetation, with frequent localised flooding. The valley landscape changed dramatically due to increased urbanisation after the construction of the canal. The canal intersects the river at numerous points, taking much of the Bulbourne's water supply and helping to drain the valley. The area was further urbanised when the London to Birmingham railway was built in 1836–37.[10][12]

 Photograph of the Parish church surrounded by trees.
Looking South towards St Peter's Church on the high street.

Today, Berkhamsted is an affluent,[13] "pleasant town tucked in a wooded fold in the Chiltern Hills."[14] Once a medieval market street, the linear high street, roughly aligned east–west on the line of the Roman Akeman Street, is the centre of the town. The town centre slowly developed over the years and contains a wide variety of properties that date from the 13th century onwards. It is protected as a conservation area.[15][16] The town has been shaped by the relatively narrow valley; the residential area is elongated and follows the valley's topography.[15][17] The main road borders the edge of the hill. The southwest side of the valley is more developed, with side streets running up the steep hillside; on the northeast side, the ground gently slopes down to the canal and small river.

Map of the town
2014 Map of Berkhamsted and Northchurch.

The countryside surrounding the town includes parts of the Green Belt and the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Urban Nature Conservation Study (UNCS) recognises the town's hinterland as a biodiversity resource. The hills gently rise to an undulating and open plateau, which has a mix of arable farmland, common land, and mixed oak, ash, and beech woodland. On the northeast side of town are the Berkhamsted and Northchurch commons. These are the largest commons in the Chilterns, at 1,055 acres (427 ha). The commons form a large arc, running from Northchurch, through Frithsden, and down to Potten End. The Berkhamsted Common is partly owned by the National Trust and partly by the Berkhamsted Golf Club. Beyond the common is the 5,000-acre (2,000 ha) historic wooded parkland of Ashridge; once part of Berkhamsted Castle's hunting park, it is now managed by the National Trust. Ashridge is part of the Chilterns Beechwood Special Area of Conservation (SAC), a nationally important nature conservation area, and is also designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (Ashridge Commons and Woods SSSI). To the south of the town, close to the Buckinghamshire border, there are two former large country estates: Ashlyns and Rossway. The ancient woodland at Dickshills is also located here.[15][18]

Neighbouring settlements[edit]

Local Villages[edit]

Bourne End, Nettleden, Frithsden Potten End, Aldbury, Ringshall, Little Gaddesden, Great Gaddesden, Northchurch, Cow Roast, and Ashley Green (Buckinghamshire)


Like most of the United Kingdon, Berkhamsted has an oceanic climate (Köppen climate classification Cfb).

Climate data for Berkhamsted
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 6
Average low °C (°F) 3
Precipitation mm (inches) 69.3
Source: [19]

Near-real-time weather information can be retrieved from Berkhamsted Weather Station on the Met Office Weather Observation Website, with station status information at Berkhamsted Weather Station


Origin of the town's name[edit]

The earliest recorded spelling is the 10th-century Anglo-Saxon word Beorhðanstædæ, which is thought to mean either "homestead amongst the hills" or "homestead among the birches." The latter part of the name, "hamsted", derives from the Old English word for homestead, and the first part of the town's name originates from either the Old Celtic word Bearroc, meaning "hilly place", the Old English work beorg, meaning "hill", or berc or beorc, meaning "birch".[20][21] Local historian Percy Birtchnell identified over 50 different spellings and epithets for the town's name since the writing of the Domesday Book; the present spelling was adopted in 1937. Other spellings included: "Berkstead", "Berkampsted", "Berkhampstead", "Muche Barkhamstede", "Berkhamsted Magna", "Great Berkhamsteed" and "Berkhamstead".[22][23] The town's local nickname is "Berko".[24]

Prehistoric and Roman[edit]

The Roman-engineered Akeman Street, on which the town's high street now lies, was a major communication route before, during, and after the Roman period; the road spanned from St Albans (Verulamium) to Cirencester (Corinium). Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Roman artefacts show that the Berkhamsted area of the Bulbourne Valley has been continuously settled for over 5,000 years.[25] Several settlements dating from the Neolithic to the Iron Age (about 4500–100 BC) have been discovered south of Berkhamsted. Three sections of a late Bronze Age to Iron Age (1200–100 BC) bank and ditch, sixteen feet (five m) wide by seven to thirteen feet (two to four m) high and known as Grim's Ditch, is on the south side of the Bulbourne Valley. It may have served as a boundary ditch between tribal territories, or to separate different landscapes, such as pasture and woodland.[26] Another Iron Age dyke with the same name is on Berkhamsted Common, on the north side of the valley.[17][27] Before the Romans invaded, the valley was in Catuvellauni territory.

The Bulbourne Valley was rich in timber and iron ore. In the late Iron Age, a four-square-mile (ten km2) area around Northchurch became a major iron production centre, considered to be one of the most important late Iron Age and Roman industrial areas in England.[10][17] Iron production led to the settlement of a Roman town at Cow Roast,[28] about two miles (three km) northwest of Berkhamsted. Four first century iron smelting bloomeries at Dellfield (Bridgewater School) provide evidence of industrial activity in Berkhamsted.[29][30] Production ceased at the end of the Roman period. There is further evidence for Roman-British occupation and activity in the Berkhamsted area, including a pottery kiln on Bridgewater Road.[17][27][31]

The valley appears to have been divided into three farming estates in the later Roman period. Each of these estates included one or more masonry villa buildings, with tiled roofs and underfloor heating.

  • The remains of a villa were found close to the river in 1973. The oldest building, made of timber, was built in AD 60, rebuilt using stone in the early second century, and enlarged to a ten-room building around AD 150. The house may have been empty for a period, reoccupied in the fourth century, and abandoned in the late fourth or early fifth century.[32][33]
  • Two flint and tile walls from a Roman building were found north of Berkhamsted Castle in 1970. The construction of the castle's earthworks in the Middle Ages may have damaged this building. The exact details of this Roman building are unknown.[17][34]
  • A Roman-British villa, dyke, and temple were found 1.25 miles (2.01 km) NNW of the castle, near Frithesden, at the edge of the Berkhamsted golf course. Excavations in 1954 revealed masonry foundations and tesserae floors. Together, the villa, dyke, and temple form a unique complex, suggesting occupation in the late Iron Age and Roman period.[35]

Anglo-Saxon settlement[edit]

The earliest definite reference to Berkhamsted is in the will of Ælfgifu (d. AD 970), queen consort of King Eadwig of England (r. 955–959).[26][Notes 1] In her will, she bequeathed large estates in five counties, including Berkhamsted. This[clarification needed] may have referred to the adjoining village of "Berkhamsted St Mary" or "Berkhamsted Minor". After the 14th century, the village was known as "North Church", a predecessor to the modern name of "Northchurch", to distinguish the village from the main town of Berkhamsted, located one mile (two km) east.[22][37] The parish church of St Mary's Northchurch is one of the oldest churches in Hertfordshire. Parts of the south and west walls are Anglo-Saxon, and contain Roman bricks. The church may have been an important minster, attached to a high status Anglo-Saxon estate, which became part of the medieval manor of Berkhamsted after the Norman conquest.[26][38]

Until 1999, the only known local archeological remains of the Anglo-Saxon period were the south and west walls of St Mary's church.[17][32][38] The discovery of seventh to eleventh century Anglo-Saxon pottery between Chesham Road and St John's Well Lane, with water mills near Mill Street in use from the late ninth century, suggest that a separate Anglo-Saxon settlement existed within modern-day Berkhamsted.[17] The Chapel of St James, a small church, was near St John's Well.[Notes 2] The parish of this church appears to have been an enclave within the parish of Berkhamsted St Mary's.[17][39][40][Notes 3] Recorded mentions of a land called "Oldeburgh", located around the same area of the modern-day high street, support several historians' belief in the existence of a pre–Norman conquest fortified settlement.[44][Notes 4]

1066 and the Domesday Record[edit]

The Anglo-Saxons surrendered the crown of England to William the Conqueror at Berkhamsted in early December 1066.[46][47][48] After William defeated and killed Harold II at the Battle of Hastings in October, he failed in an attempt to capture London from the south. William led his army around London, crossing the River Thames at Wallingford, "laying waste" while travelling through southeast England. At Berkhamsted, he was met by Edgar the Ætheling (heir to the English throne), Archbishop Ealdred, Earl Edwin, Earl Morcar, and the leaders of London. It is not known why Berkhamsted was chosen as the meeting place. William was crowned in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day, 1066.[48] After the surrender at Berkhamsted, and even after William's coronation, there was still some resistance to William.[47][49] After his coronation, William granted the "Honour of Berkhamsted"[22] to his half-brother, Robert, Count of Mortain, who was the largest landholder in the country after William himself. Robert built a wooden fortification that later became a royal retreat for the monarchs of the Norman to Plantagenet dynasties.[50][51]

Berkhamsted's entry in the Domesday Book describes Berkhamsted as a burbium (borough) in the Tring Hundred.[52] (Later, at an uncertain time, the Tring Hundred merged with the Danais Hundred, "which overlapped it", to form the new Dacorum Hundred.[Notes 5]) The lord of Berkhamsted at the time of the conquest was Edmer Ator (also referred to as Eadmer Atule), thegn of Edward the Confessor, and of King Harold before the Norman Conquest.[Notes 6] The Domesday survey reported that there was enough land for 26 plough teams, but that there were only 15 working teams. There were 1,000 pigs and two flour mills – Upper and Lower Mill – and a vineyard.[55] The total population was calculated to be either 37 or 88 households; the families included 14 villagers, 15 smallholders, 6 slaves, a priest, a dyke builder (possibly working on the earthworks of the castle) and 52 burgesses.[56] The wide variation in the household figures is due to disagreement amongst historians regarding the Domesday Book's record of fifty-two burgesses in Berkhamsted, a high number for a small town. Professors John Hatcher and Edward Miller have argued that the town burgesses were probably involved in trade,[57] while other writers believe that the figure was a clerical error.[58][59]

Royal medieval castle (11th and 15th centuries)[edit]

Main article: Berkhamsted Castle
Alt = Plan of the motte and bailey castle, showing the remaining walls and complex arrangement of moats and earthworks

Berkhamsted Castle was built at the edge of a small, dry combe, where it borders the marshy valley of the Bulbourne River. The motte mound ("B" on the plan) is 46 feet (14 m) high and 180 feet (55 m) in diameter at the base. On top of the motte is a well and the foundation of a shell keep, about 59 feet (18 m) in diameter. The bailey (C and F on the plan) covers about 3.2 acres (1.3 ha), measuring 430 feet (130 m) from north to south by 330 feet (100 m) from east to west. Enclosing the bailey is a wall made of flint, with semicircular towers at intervals of about 180 feet (55 m).[60][61] On the west side of the bailey are the remains of a rectangular building that was probably a chapel. Moats encircled the bailey and motte. On the north and west sides were a double moat, and on the other sides a triple moat.[62] Before the canal was built, the Bulbourne River provided water for the moats. The ground level falls from north to south. On the higher ground north and east of the castle, there is another bank that is unusual in that it has eight, or possibly nine, earthen bastions (A on the plan) on its outer face. It is unclear if the bastions were part of the castle's defenses or platforms built during the 20-day siege of December 1216.[64][65][66][67][68] The castle was entered through the main gateway to the south of the bailey (G on the plan), which originally had a wooden bridge, not the current gravel path. Beyond the defenses was marshy ground.

Alt = Picture looking towards the castle, showing three sections of the broken flint wall of the castle.

Berkhamsted Castle is a well-documented example of an 11th-century motte-and-bailey Norman castle, with historical records dating from the 12th to 15th centuries.[48][69] The castle was a high-status residence and an administrative centre for large estates.[70][71] Throughout its occupancy, the castle created jobs for the local population, both in the castle itself, and also, for example, in the large deer park[72][73] and in the vineyard, which was maintained alongside the castle.[71]

The castle was built in three phases. The first phase took place in the 1070s under Robert, Count of Mortain, the second under Thomas Becket between 1155 and 1165, and the third under Henry III's brother, Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall, in 1254.[Notes 7] Under Richard, Berkhamsted Castle became permanently associated with the Earls and Dukes of Cornwall.[74][75][76] Richard's coat of arms as Earl of Cornwall, along with bezants, is included in Berkhamsted's coat of arms. By tradition, Berkhamsted Castle belongs to the eldest son of the reigning English monarch, per the Duchy of Cornwall.[77] It is managed by English Heritage, under the guardianship of the Secretary of State for National Heritage.[69] The timeline below shows that from 1066 to 1485, the castle was held by the royal family or by a leading member of the royal court. (Henry I and Henry II held court at the castle in 1123 and 1163, respectively.)[78]

Expand for a timeline of historical holders, occupants, and events at the castle.[51][79]

  • Circa 1070 (Circa 1070) – William the Conqueror's, half-brother, Robert of Mortain, built a timber castle.
  • 1104 (1104) – Robert's son, William, rebelled against Henry I, and the castle was confiscated.
  • 1123 (1123) – Henry I granted Berkhamsted to his chancellor, Ranulf, who died near the castle.
  • 1155-1165 (1155-1165) – Henry II's favourite, Thomas Becket, was given Berkhamsted. The castle was rebuilt with stone; the surviving flint-work curtain wall probably dates from this period. Becket was later alleged to have spent over £300 on renovations to the castle, a claim which led Henry to accuse him of corruption and could have contributed to Becket's falling out of favour.
  • 1163 (1163) – Henry II extensively used the castle, making it one of his favourite residences.
  • 1199 (1199) – Richard I gave the castle to his queen, Berengaria of Navarre.
  •  () – King John gave the castle to his queen, Isabella of Angouleme.
  • 1206 (1206) – Geoffrey Fitz Peter, who rebuilt much of the town, resided at the castle.
  • 1216 (1216) – The castle was besieged during the civil war between King John and rebellious barons supported by France, known as the First Barons' War. Prince Louis, the future Louis VIII of France (1187–1226), captured the castle on 20 December 1216. The castle was attacked with siege engines and counterweight trebuchets[80] for twenty days, finally forcing the garrison to surrender.
  • 1217 (1217) – Recaptured by royal forces.
  • 1227 (1227) – Henry III's younger brother, the Earl of Cornwall, was given the manor and castle, beginning the long association between the earldom (and the later duchy) and the castle. Richard redeveloped the castle as a palatial residence and the centre for the administration of the Earldom of Cornwall. A three-story tower was built in 1254, with improvements being made to the residential parts of the castle around 1270.
  • 1260 (1260) – Henry III's wife, Sanchia of Provence, died in the castle in 1260.
  •  () – Richard was succeeded by his son, Edmund, 2nd Earl of Cornwall, who founded Ashridge Priory in 1283, a college of the monastic order of Bonhommes.
  • 1300 (1300) – After Edmund died, Edward I took the castle, and subsequently granted it to his second queen, Margaret of France.
  • 1309 (1309) – King Edward II granted Berkhamsted, which then belonged to his mother, to his favourite, Piers Gaveston.
  • 1317 (1317) – Edward II's wife, Isabella of France, was given the castle in 1317.
  •  () – Edward III further developed the castle in the fourteenth century, and gave it to his son, Edward, the Black Prince, who expanded the hunting grounds.
  • 1353 (1353) – The castle was used to hold royal prisoners, including John II of France.
  • 1361 (1361) – The "Hero of Berkhamsted", Edward, the Black Prince, and Joan, the Maid of Kent, spent their honeymoon here in 1361. The court celebrated the marriage for five days all throughout Berkhamsted. His lieutenants included men from Berkhamsted, such as Everard Halsey, John Wood, Stephen of Champneys, Robert Whittingham, Edward le Bourne, Richard of Gaddesden, and Henry of Berkhamsted. At the Battle of Poitiers, Henry saved the prince's baggage. As a result, he was rewarded with 2 d a day and appointed porter of Berkhamsted Castle.
  • 1377 (1377) – Richard II inherited Berkamsted Castle in 1377, and gave it to his favourite, Robert de Vere. In 1388, Richard gave the castle to John Holland.
  • 1400 (1400) – Henry IV lived in the castle after he deposed Richard in 1400, and he used the castle to imprison others attempting to obtain the throne.
  • 1389 (1389) – Geoffrey Chaucer, later famous for his Canterbury Tales, oversaw renovation work on the castle in his role as Clerk of the Works at Berkhamsted Castle and other royal properties. It is unknown how much time he spent at Berkhamsted, but he knew John of Gaddesden, who lived in nearby Little Gaddesden. John was the model for the Doctor of Phisick in The Canterbury Tales.
  •  () – Henry V and Henry VI owned the castle, the latter making use of it until he was overthrown in 1461.
  • 1469 (1469) – Edward IV gave the castle to his mother, Cecily Neville, Duchess of York.
  • 1495 (1495) – Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, died, and the castle was abandoned.
  • Early 16th century (Early 16th century) – The castle passed through the hands of three of Henry VIII's wives: Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, and Jane Seymour.
  • mid 16th century (mid 16th century) – The castle was described as being in ruins and unsuitable for royal use. Much of the stonework was plundered to obtain building materials for the town and the nearby manor house, Berkhamsted Place.
  • 1830s (1830s) – The barbican and half of the third moat were demolished during the construction of the London and Birmingham Railway. The remainder of the castle became the first building in Britain to receive statutory protection from Parliament.
  • 1930 (1930) – Ownership of the remains of the castle passed from the Duchy of Cornwall to the care of the state. In the 21st century, the historical site is managed by English Heritage and is open to the public.
  • Second World War (Second World War) – Many of London's statues, including the statue of Charles I (now at the top of Whitehall on Trafalgar Square), were relocated to the grounds of Berkhamsted Castle.

The castle has been unoccupied since 1495. Around 1540, English historian John Leland noted that the castle was "much in Ruine". Partial excavations were carried out in 1962 and 1967 in the southeastern area of the curtain wall, near one of the half-round towers.[60][61] The castle is now behind the 19th century railway station. Construction of the railway embankment obliterated the castle's barbican and outer earthworks on the south side. The castle became the first building in the United Kingdom to receive statutory protection from Parliament.[48][81]

Medieval market town (12th and 15th centuries)[edit]

Berkhamsted developed on High Street (formerly Akeman Street) to the west of St Peter's church, in a triangle formed by Mill Street, Castle Street, and Back Lane.[82][83] In 1156, Henry II officially recognised Berkhamsted as a town in a royal charter, which confirmed the laws and customs enjoyed under Edward the Confessor, William I, and Henry I, and freed the town's merchants from all tolls and dues. The charter also stated that no market could be set up within 11 kilometres (7 mi) of the town.[84] During King John's reign, Geoffrey Fitz Peter (c. 1162–1213),[Notes 8] the Chief Justiciar of England (effectively the king's principal minister), was instrumental in the building of St Peter's Church, two hospitals (St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist), and much of the early town.[85][86]

Tomb of Henry of Berkhamsted (who served under Edward the Black Prince at the battles of Crécy and Poitiers) and his Lady

The town became a trading centre on an important trade route in the 12th and 13th centuries, and Berkhamsted received more royal charters. In 1216, Henry III relieved the men and merchants of the town from all tolls and taxes everywhere in England, and the English Plantagenet possessions in France Normandy, Aquitaine, and Anjou[87] The growing wool trade brought prosperity to Berkhamsted from the 12th century until the early Tudor period.[59][88] Four wealthy Berkhamsted wool merchants were amongst a group in Bruges to whom Edward III wrote in 1332,[17][57] and Berkhamsted merchants sold cloth to the royal court.[57]

Henry III in 1217 recognised by another royal charter the town's oldest institution, Berkhamsted's pre-existing market.[87][89][Notes 9] Trades within medieval Berkhamsted were extensive: early in the 13th century the town had a merchant, two painters, a goldsmith, a forester, two farriers, two tailors, a brewer of mead, a blacksmith, carpenters, wood turners, tool makers, a manufacturer of roofing tiles, and wine producers.[59][22] In the mid–13th century, a banker, the wealthy Abraham of Berkhamsted, financier to the Earl of Cornwall, lived in the town; this was unusual for a small town in a time of heightened persecution of Jews.[90] In 1290, a taxation list mentions a brewer, a lead burner, a carpenter, leather workers, a fuller, a turner, a butcher, a fishmonger, a barber, an archer, a tailor, a cloth-napper, a miller, a cook, a seller of salt, and a huntsman.[59] At this time, larger houses of merchants and castle officials appeared on the south side of the high street (including 173 High Street, the oldest known extant jettied building in England).[inconsistent] The population in 1307 has been estimated at between 2,000 and 2,500.[59] In 1355, there were five butchers, two bakers, nine brewers, two cobblers, a pelter, a tanner, five cloth dyers, six wheelwrights, three smiths, six grain merchants, a skinner, and a baker/butcher.[59] In the 14th century, Berkhamsted (recorded as "Berchamstede") was considered to be one of the "best" market towns in the country.[91] In a survey of 1357, Richard Clay was found to own a butcher's shop twelve feet (four m) wide, William Herewood had two shops, and there were four other shops eight feet (two m) in length. In 1440, there is a reference to lime kilns.[22]

The town benefited when Edmund, 2nd Earl of Cornwall founded Ashridge Priory in 1283, two miles (three km) from the town and within the castle's park. At the foundation of the abbey, the Earl donated a phial claimed to contain Christ's blood. Pilgrims from all over Europe passed through the town to see the holy relic. The abbey grew quite wealthy as a result.[92] Edward I held parliament at the abbey in 1290 while he spent Christmas in Pitstone.[92] Berkhamsted burgesses sent two members to parliament in 1320, 1338, and 1341, but the town was not represented again.[58] In the mid-14th century, the Black Prince took advantage of the Black Death to extend the castle's park by 65 acres (26 ha), eventually producing a park covering 991 acres (401 ha).[74][93] By the 15th century, the town was a borough with a royal charter, granted by Edward IV (1442–1483), that decreed that no other market town was to be set up within 11 miles (18 km).

Castle abandoned, the town in decline (16th and 17th centuries)[edit]

Main article: Berkhamsted Place
Berkhamsted Place 1832

In the 16th century, the town went into economic decline after the death of Cicely Neville, Duchess of York (the last occupant of the castle) in 1495, and the rise of the nearby town of Hemel Hempstead (which was granted a Charter of Incorporation by Henry VIII on 29 December 1539). After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Henry VIII bequeathed Ashridge Priory to his daughter Elizabeth.[94] The priory became her private residence during her sister Mary I's reign.[95] The population of the town in 1563 has been estimated at only 545.[59] In 1580, the castle ruins and the park were leased by Elizabeth I to Sir Edward Carey, for the nominal rent of one red rose each year.[96] Stone from the castle was used to build Berkhamsted Place, a local school, and other buildings in the late 16th century.[97][98] Around 1583, a new market house was erected west of St Peter's Church at the end of Middle Row, also known as Le Shopperowe, in 1357, and Graball Row (it was destroyed in a fire in 1854).[clarification needed]

In 1612, Berkhamsted Place was bought by Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales for £4,000. Henry, who died later that year, bequeathed the house to his brother Charles (later King Charles I),[99] who leased the property to his tutor, Thomas Murray, and his wife, Mary Murray, who had been his nurse and Lady of the Privy Chamber to the prince's mother. John Norden wrote in 1616 that the making of malt was then the principal trade of the town.[22] In 1618, James I granted Berkhamsted another charter, making the town a borough.[inconsistent] The castle's park, which had reached 1,252 acres (507 ha) in size by 1627, was broken up over the next two decades, shrinking to only 376 acres (152 ha), to the benefit of local farmers.[100][101] In 1643, Berkhamsted was visited by a violent pestilential fever.[22]

Born in Berkhamsted, Colonel Daniel Axtell(1622 – 19 October 1660), a Baptist and a grocer's apprentice, played a zealous and prominent part in the English Civil War, both in England and in the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. He participated as a lieutenant colonel in Pride's Purge of the Long Parliament (December 1648), arguably the only military coup d'état in English history, and commanded the Parliamentary Guard at the trial of King Charles I at Westminster Hall in 1649. During Cromwell's Protectorate, he appropriated Berkhamsted Place. Shortly after the Restoration, the unrepentant Axtell was hanged, drawn, and quartered as a regicide.[102] After the Restoration of the monarchy under Charles II, the town lost its charter given by James I, and the surveyor of Hertfordshire recommended that a new tenant and army officers were needed at Berkhamsted Place "to govern the people much seduced of late by new doctrine preacht unto them by Axtell and his colleagues."[103] The estimated population of the town in 1640 and in the 1690s was 1075 and 767, respectively.[59] The town was a centre of religious nonconformity from the 17th century: about a fifth of the population were Dissenters in the second half of the century, and in 1700, there were 400 Baptists recorded as living in Berkhamsted.[104] Three more shops are mentioned in the row next to the church, and the Parliamentary Survey of 1653 suggests that the area near the Market House was a centre of slaughtering and the selling of meat.[17]

Growth of the early modern town (18th to 20th century)[edit]

19th century urban growth[edit]

Georgian Berkhamsted barely extended beyond the medieval triangle and the High Street. An 1835 description of the town found that "the houses are mostly of brick, and irregularly built, but are interspersed with a fair proportion of handsome residences".[105] With the coming of the Industrial Age, Berkhamsted was well placed at a gateway through the Chilterns, between the markets of London and the industrial Midlands. The town became a link in the growing network of roads, canals, and railways. These developments led Berkhamsted's population to expand. In 1801, the population of St Peter's parish had been 1,690, and in 1831, this had risen to 2,369 (484 houses). The town's population increased as "hundreds of men arrived to build the railway line and needed lodging"; by 1851, the population was 3,395,[106] and by 1887, John Bartholomew's Gazetteer of the British Isles recorded the population at 4,485.[107]

19th century industry and utilities[edit]

Industries in the 19th century included:[17]

· Timber: Based on the extensive woodland resources of the area (principally alder and beech), the milling and turning of wood was the town's most prominent industry. In the mid-18th century, Berkhamsted was noted for turned wood products. The largest manufacturer was East & Sons.
· Brush making: An offshoot of the timber industry. The largest employers were Goss brushworks at the west end of the High Street (closed 1930s) and T H Nash in George Street (closed 1920s).
· Chemical: Cooper's sheep-dip works; William Cooper was an animal doctor who arrived in Berkhamsted in the early 1840s and experimented in treatments for scab in sheep. He formulated an innovative arsenic and sulphur sheep-dip.
· Nurserymen: Henry Lane's nurseryman business, founded in 1777, became one of the largest employers in the town in the 19th century. Extensive nurseries are shown on the 1878 OS 25 inch plan, at the western end of the town.
· Iron working: Wood's Ironworks was set up in 1826 by James Wood.
· Boat building: A yard for building canal barges and other boats between Castle Street and Raven's Lane wharves, owned by John Hatton, was one of three important boatyards in Hertfordshire.
· Watercress: The construction of the canal had helped to drain the marshy areas along the valley of the Bulbourne river. In 1883, the Berkhamsted Times congratulated Mr Bedford on having converted the remaining "dirty ditches and offensive marshes" into watercress beds.
· Gasworks: The Great Berkhamsted Gas, Light & Coke Co., at the junction of Water Lane and the Wilderness, was set up to provide street lighting in 1849. In 1906, the Berkhamsted Gas Works moved to Billet Lane; it closed in 1959.
· Water and sewage: The Great Berkhamsted Waterworks Company was set up in 1864; the waterworks were on the High Street (on the present site of W H Smith and Boots). Mains drainage was first supplied in 1898–1899, when effective sewerage was installed.[17]

Land dispute: The Battle of Berkhamsted Common[edit]

In 1761, the wider estate and the castle were separated, the former being leased to the Duke of Bridgewater, while the latter remained in the direct control of the Duchy of Cornwall. In 1863, the estate and park were sold off to Earl Brownlow, who agreed to rent the castle from the duchy for a nominal rent.[100][108] In 1866, Lord Brownlow of Ashridge House tried to enclose Berkhamsted Common with 5-foot (2 m) steel fences (built by Woods of Berkhamsted) in an attempt to claim it as part of his estate. Augustus Smith MP led gangs of local folk and hired men from London's East End to break the fences and protect Berkhamsted Common for the people of Berkhamsted, in what became known nationally as the Battle of Berkhamsted Common.[109] Sir Robert Hunter (later co-founder of the National Trust) and the Commons Preservation Society instituted legal action that ensured protection of Berkhamsted Common and other open spaces threatened with enclosure.[110][111]

First World War[edit]

During the First World War, under the guidance of Lt Col Francis Errington, the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps trained men from the legal profession as officers. Over the course of the war, 12,000 men travelled from Berkhamsted to fight on the Western Front. Their training included trench digging: eight miles (thirteen km) of trenches were dug across the Common (of which 1,640 feet (500 m) remain). The Inns of Court War Memorial on the Common illustrates Lt Col Errington's affection for the area.[112][113]


Berkhamsted has a town council, the first tier of local government that represents the local people to two higher tiers of local government, Dacorum Borough Council and Hertfordshire Country Council. The local government district of Dacorum also includes the towns of Hemel Hempstead (the largest town in Hertfordshire), Tring, and the western part of Kings Langley. The modern district of Dacorum was formed in 1974 under the Local Government Act 1972; the district's population in 2011 was 145,300.[114]

Until the 1997 general election, Berkhamsted was, with Hemel Hempstead, part of the former West Hertfordshire constituency. The town is now in the South West Hertfordshire constituency represented in the House of Commons since 2005 by David Gauke, a Conservative. The constituency seat forms a thin strip along the southwest border of Hertfordshire, from South Oxhey (near Watford) in the south, through interspersed settlements and countryside including Chipperfield, Chorleywood, Croxley Green, Moor Park, and Rickmansworth, to Tring in the north.[115]


Expand to view demographic statistics of the parishes of Great Berkhamsted, St Peter and Great Berkhamsted, and All Saints.[116]

Age breakdown 2011: 0–4 years ~ 8%, 5–15 years ~ 13% 16–64 years ~ 63%, 65 plus ~ 17%.
(Percentage Religious):
• 2001 ~ 11,900 (proportion Christian ~ 73%).

• 2011 ~ 14,000 (proportion Christian ~ 59%, there was a slight rise in other religions, which in total make up less than 4%).

Ethnic Heritage: • British ~ 90%,

• Other white ~ 5%,

• All others ~ 5%.

Housing stock: 4450 owner occupied, 900 private rented, 600 social rented (social rented = 10% of all homes); unoccupied 4%.
Households: • One family ~ 67% (married/civil partnership 41% (dependent children 22%, non-dependent children 5%, no children 14%); Single-parent households ~ 7% (dependent children 5%); Co-habiting couple ~ 9%; 65+ ~ 9%).

• Single person ~ 29% (Single person aged over 65 ~ 13%).

• Other households ~ 4%.

Employment: • Not classified (Full-time students or not classifiable for other reasons) ~ 6%

• Never worked and long-term unemployed ~ 2%

• Routine occupations ~ 4.5%

• Semi-routine occupations ~ 7%

• Lower supervisory and technical occupations ~ 4%

• Small employers and own account workers ~ 9%

• Lower managerial, administrative, and professional occupations ~ 35%

• Higher managerial, administrative, and professional occupation ~ 25%

Employment, hours worked: Over 49 hours ~ 19% , 31 to 48 hours ~ 53%, 16 to 30 hours ~ 16%, less than 15 hours ~ 11%.
Education: * 50% ~ Residents who had achieved a Level 4 qualification (bachelor degree or higher), compared to 27% nationally.

• 11% ~ Residents aged 16+ with no qualifications.

Health: • 88% in good to very good health,

• Day-to-day activities limited a little ~ 7%

• Day-to-day activities limited a lot ~ 5%

Shortage of money: • Proportion of working age population who are in receipt of a key out-of-work benefit ~ 4%.

• Children under 16 in poverty ~ 6%.

• Proportion of population aged 60+ who are in receipt of the guaranteed part of pension credit ~ 7%.

• No access to car/van ~ 13%.

The Office for National Statistics's The Neighbourhood Statistics Website 2011 Census – Key Figures for 2011 Census: Key Statistics for Berkhamsted's three wards:

In 2006, the mean age of the population of Berkhamsted as a whole was 39, and the number of residents aged 16–74 was 11,870 (with 1,553 in retirement). There were a total of 6,810 residential dwellings. For all three wards, the average percentage of people aged 16–74 with no qualifications was 16%, and the average percentage of people aged 16–74 with the highest qualification attained at level 4/5 was 37%.[inconsistent][117] Berkhamsted's population grew by +0.95% per year[inconsistent] from 2001 to 2011 and consisted of 64% working age, 16% retirement age, and 19% children.

Transport routes[edit]

A strip map showing Berkhamsted on the route of the Sparrows Herne turnpike. From Bowles's Post Chaise Companion of 1782


The former Roman-engineered Akeman Street through the town became, in 1762, part of the Sparrows Herne turnpike, notorious for its rutted and pitted state even after becoming a toll road. Many coaching inns thrived along its route, including, in Berkhamsted, the King's Arms (where the exiled King Louis XVIII of France carried on a romance with Polly Page, the innkeeper's daughter).[118][119] The town's historic high street is now the A4251. A bypass, originally proposed in the 1930s, was opened in 1993, and the main A41 road now passes southwest of Berkhamsted. A study of car ownership in Berkhamsted, Northchurch, and Tring found that 43%–45% of households had two or more cars (compared to the county average of 40% and the national average of 29%). Conversely, the proportion of households who did not own a car was 14%–20% (about 7% lower than the national average).[120] A number of local bus routes pass through Berkhamsted town centre, providing links to Hemel Hempstead, Luton, Watford, and Whipsnade Zoo. Services include the 30, 31, 62, 207, 500 (Aylesbury and Watford), 501, 502, and 532.[121][122] Buses are managed by Hertfordshire County Council's Intalink transport service.

Berkhamsted's first station (1838) on the London and Birmingham Railway with the Grand Union Canal to the right-hand side.[123]


In 1798, the Grand Junction Canal (built by William Jessop) from the River Thames at Brentford to Berkhamsted was completed; it was extended to Birmingham in 1805.[124] Castle Wharf (The Port of Berkhamsted), on the south side of the canal between Ravens Lane and Castle Street, was the centre of the town's canal trade, navigation, and boat building activities. It was a hub of the country's inland water transport system, linking the ports and industrial centres of the country. Main activities included the transport of coal, grain, building materials, and manure. Timber yards, boating wharves, breweries, boat building, and chemical works flourished as a result of the canal, with over 700 workers employed locally. It is still known as the "Port of Berkhamsted". Separately, Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater (the "Canal Duke" and "father of the inland waterway system"), lived in Ashridge, near Berkhamsted. The canal became part of the Grand Union Canal in 1929. Once an important trade artery, today the Grand Union Canal, Canal Fields, and river provide an open space, recreational opportunities, and a wildlife corridor running east–west through the centre of the town. A family-friendly map of this green space received international publicity in 2014 when it went viral on both social media and in the press: some commentators considered the map to look phallic.[125][126][127]

Berkhamsted's current railway station next to the Grand Union canal.


The next stage in the town's transport history occurred in 1834 when, after opposition from turnpike trustees and local landowners was resolved, the first Berkhamsted railway station was built by chief engineer Robert Stephenson. Though the castle was the first building to receive statutory protection from Parliament, the railway embankment obliterated the old castle barbican and adjacent earthworks. Most of the raw materials used to build the railway were transported via the canal.[128] One and a half million journeys are made annually to and from Berkhamsted, the vast majority by commuters to and from London.[129] The present station was built in 1875, when the railway was widened. Principal services, operated by London Midland, run between London Euston and Milton Keynes Central, with additional trains running to Northampton and Birmingham New Street. The Southern train company also runs an hourly service directly to South Croydon via Clapham Junction.

Local economy, employment, and commerce[edit]

Of the employed residents living in both Berkhamsted and Tring, 35 percent live and work in the towns, whilst 65 percent commute to workplaces out of the towns, particularly to London.[130] Of the 7,100 people who work in Berkhamsted, 58 percent commute to Berkhamsted to work. In 1986, farming, service, and light industry were characteristic local occupations.[131] Schools and retail (predominantly Waitrose) constitute the town's largest employers; these are both situated in Berkhamsted Castle ward.[120] The Berkhamsted West ward (especially around Billet Lane, close to the canal and railway) is where most of the town's small to medium-sized industrial firms are located. The British Film Institute (BFI) is an important local employer to the south of Berkhamsted. In April 2013, the benefit unemployed rate in Berkhamsted's parliamentary constituency was1.7 percent, compared to 7.8 percent for the UK.[132]

In November 2014, the Academy of Urbanism's Urbanism Awards found Berkhamsted's High Street to be a "vibrant" and "bustling" road, that "worked extremely well as a quality high street."[133] They considered the layout for the street to be exemplary for its time (it was put in place following the construction of a bypass in the early 1990s), creating a "pleasant" and "successful" shopping environment and allowing people to take advantage of a good "range of specialist shops and numerous cafes, restaurants and pubs", together with the "strong supermarket" offering set in "well-crafted re-configured streetscape". The long high street featured one hundred percent retail occupancy, independent traders, and a "cafe culture".[134] The high street is easily accessible on foot from the rail station and has several cross-cutting pedestrian routes mad possible by the medieval plan of the town. The Academy considered a particularly strong aspect of the street to be the good working collaboration between individual businesses and the Chamber of Trade. Berkhamsted has an active Transition Town community.[14]


State schools[edit]

In the 1970s, the town adopted a three-tier education system. The primary stage is provided by Greenway, St Thomas More, Swing Gate, Victoria (founded in 1838), and Westfield. The two middle schools are Thomas Coram and Bridgewater.

Ashlyns School has 1,200 pupils aged 11 to 19 years; it is a specialist language college. The school's history began when Thomas Coram, a philanthropic ship captain, was appalled by the abandoned babies and children starving and dying in London. In 1742–1745, he established the Foundling Hospital in London. The school relocated from London in 1926, and between 1951 and 1955, Hertfordshire County Council took over running the school.[135][136][137] The large school building, built in 1935, contains stained glass windows, especially around the Chapel, a staircase, and many monuments from the original London hospital. The School Chapel houses an organ donated by George Frideric Handel.[135] The school was used a backdrop to the 2007 comedy film, Son of Rambow.

Independent schools[edit]

Berkhamsted School is a public school formed by the amalgamation of two schools in 1988: Berkhamsted School, founded in 1541 by Dean John Incent (Dean of St Paul's)[138] and Berkhamsted School for Girls, founded in 1888. The school has 1,500 pupils. Berkhamsted School was attended by the author Graham Greene, whose father was headmaster there.[139] The Old Building was built in 1544 and is Grade I listed.

Egerton Rothesay School, an independent school founded in 1922, has 150 pupils between the ages of 5 and 19.

Religious sites[edit]

St Peter's Church

The parish church of St Peter, one of the largest churches in Hertfordshire, stands on the high street.[140] The church is in the Latin cross plan, with a 85-foot (26 m) clock tower at the crossing, and measures 168 feet (51 m) from the west door to the east window, and the width across the transepts is 90 feet (27 m). The oldest part of the church is the chancel, which is dated at c. 1200; it is in the Early English style common in that period.[141] Further additions were made up until the 15th century; in 1871, it underwent a restoration by William Butterfield. The foundation date of St Peter's is uncertain; however in 1222, Robert de Tuardo, the first known rector, was instituted by the Bishop of Lincoln, Hugh of Wells.[142] Because of the church's proximity to Berkhamsted Castle, the reigning monarch was patron of Berkhamsted rectors for several centuries. There are two altar tombs with alabaster effigies dating from the 14th century: the tombs are of a knight (thought to be Henry of Berkhamsted, one of the Black Prince's lieutenants at the Battle of Crecy) and his lady. In 1648, St Peter's Church was requisitioned during the English Civil War by General Fairfax as a military prison to hold soldiers captured from the Siege of Colchester.[143] The poet William Cowper was christened in St Peter's,[144] where his father John Cowper was Rector.[145]

There are two other Anglican churches in the town, St Michael and All Angels,[clarification needed] Sunnyside and All Saints Church & St Martha's which is combined with a Methodist church,[clarification needed]. There are also one Baptist church, one Roman Catholic church (Sacred Heart Catholic Church), a Quaker Friends meeting house, a Pentecostal church, a United Reformed church, and an LDS church. The Anglican churches cater to a wide range of spiritual appetites and practice, from the evangelical to the Anglo-Catholic stance. In 1986, there were three voluntary aided (church) schools in the town; two are first schools, and the other was a middle school.[146]

Culture and leisure[edit]

Literary connections[edit]

Geoffrey Chaucer was clerk of works at Berkhamsted Castle from 1389 and based his Doctor of Phisick in The Canterbury Tales on John of Gaddesden, who lived in nearby Little Gaddesden. William Cowper was born in Berkhamsted rectory in 1731. Although he moved away when still a boy, there are frequent references to the town in his poems and letters. In Victorian times, Cowper became a cult figure, and Berkhamsted was a place of pilgrimage for his devotees. Maria Edgeworth, a prolific Anglo-Irish writer of adults' and children's literature who was a significant figure in the evolution of the novel in Europe, lived in Berkhamsted as a child in the 18th century.[27] Between 1904 and 1907, the Llewelyn Davies boys were the inspiration for the author and playwright J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan.[147] A little later, novelist Graham Greene was born in Berkhamsted and educated at Berkhamsted School, alongside literary contemporaries Claude Cockburn, Peter Quennell, Humphrey Trevelyan, and Cecil Parrott.[148] Children's authors H. E. Todd and Hilda van Stockum both lived in Berkhamsted.


The Rex cinema, Berkhamsted

The Rex Cinema is regarded by some, including the BBC and The Daily Telegraph, as Britain's most beautiful cinema.[149][150] Described by Dame Judi Dench as as "absolutely awe-inspiring", in 2014, the Rex was declared Britain's Best Cinema in the inaugural Guardian film awards.[151][152] Built in 1937 and opened in 1938, the Rex has been recognised by English Heritage as a fine example of a 1930s art deco cinema. The cinema was designed by architect David Evelyn Nye for the Shipman and King circuit.[153] Closed in 1988, the cinema was extensively restored in 2004 and has become a thriving independent local cinema.[154] The Rex frequently has sold-out houses for evening showings, with Rex regulars coming from south of the Thames, east London, and rural Oxfordshire. The cinema is a "movie palace with all the original art deco trimmings" (its interior features decorations of sea waves and shells). Inside is a step "back into the golden age of film" when going to the movies was an experience; the cinema features luxurious seating and two licensed bars. It is managed by its owner James Hannaway, who introduces films. Sometimes there is a question and answer session with directors and actors involved in the films; these sessions have included Dame Judi Dench, Charles Dance, Mike Leigh, and Terry Jones.[155]

Prior to the cinema's construction, an Elizabethan mansion, Egerton House, had occupied the site at the east end of the high street for 350 years. The house was occupied briefly (1904–1907) by Arthur and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, who were close friends of the author and playwright J. M. Barrie.[147]


There is a sports centre off Douglas Gardens, managed by the Dacorum Sports Trust (Sportspace). The facilities comprise a large indoor multi-purpose sports hall, squash courts, swimming pool, and outdoor all-weather pitch. This facility is complemented by dual use of the leisure facilities of Ashlyns School and Berkhamsted Collegiate School. A deficit in leisure space is compounded by a high level of sports participation locally and consequent heavy use of outdoor sports pitches. Two sports and social clubs can be found at either end of the town (Kitcheners Field and Northchurch). The town's football club, Berkhamsted F.C., play in the Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division. They were formed in 2009 after the demise of Berkhamsted Town F.C., which had been established in 1895. Berkhamsted has a small football stadium and a nearby private tennis club, both close to the town centre. Berkhamsted and Hemel Hempstead Hockey Club is based just outside the town at the Cow Roast, playing their matches at Tring School. Berkhamsted Cricket Club competes in the Herts League. The Berkhamsted Bowmen are the oldest archery club in England.[148]

British Film Institute National Archive at King's Hill[edit]

Main article: BFI National Archive

The BFI National Archive's "The J. Paul Getty, Jr. Conservation Centre" in Berkhamsted is a department of the British Film Institute. With over 275,000 feature, non-fiction, and short films (dating from 1894) and 210,000 television programmes, it is one of the largest film archives in the world. Two collections have been listed on the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) UK Memory of the World Register.[156] The archive collects, preserves, restores, and shares the films and television programmes which have shaped and recorded British life and times since the development of motion picture film in the late nineteenth century. The majority of the collection is British-originated material, but the archive also features internationally significant holdings from around the world and films that feature key British actors and the work of British directors.


Main article: Ashridge
Spire of chapel, Ashridge Management College, showing Ashridge forest behind

Built within Berkhamsted castle's former park, Ashridge House is a Grade I listed building, constructed between 1808 and 1814 to a design by James Wyatt with later work by his nephew Jeffrey Wyattville. It is the former seat of the Bridgewaters and later the Brownlow family. Architecture critic Nikolaus Pevsner described it as the "largest of the romantic palaces near London ... a spectacular composition". The house occupies the site of the earlier Ashridge Priory, a college of the monastic order of Bonhommes founded in 1283 by Edmund, 2nd Earl of Cornwall, who resided in the castle. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Henry VIII bequeathed the property to his daughter, Elizabeth. The formal gardens are by Humphry Repton and Wyattville, together with work attributed to Capability Brown at Golden Valley. In 1800, it was the home of Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, affectionately known as the Father of Inland Navigation.[157] His climbable monument (a Grade II* listed building) is a tall Doric column with urn that stands in a grove within Ashridge, an estate managed by the National Trust of 5,000 acres (2,000 ha) of native broadleaf woodlands, commons, and chalk downland on a Chiltern ridge.[158] The estate was used as a barracks for troops during both world wars. Ashridge Common has been featured many times in film and television series due to its distinction as an area of natural beauty. Scenes were filmed for Sleepy Hollow at Golden Valley and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at Ashridge's ancient Frithsden Beeches wood.[159]

Further sites of interest[edit]

173 High Street Berkhamsted. Behind this shop front is the oldest extant timber-framed building in England dated at between 1277–97.
  • 173 High Street is a Victorian façade hiding what is considered to be the oldest extant jettied timber-framed building in Great Britain,[inconsistent] dated by dendrochronology of structural timbers to between 1277 and 1297.[6][7][160] The building was originally thought to be a shop, with a workshop behind, that may have been a jeweller or goldsmith, or it may have been a jettied service wing to a larger aisled hall house.[26] It also represents an early example of transition in carpentry technology, from the use of passing braces to crown posts. The 13th-century origin of the structure was discovered by chance in 2000 by local builders who had begun work on what appeared to be a Victorian property. The shop was, from 1869, Figg's the Chemists; post-restoration (with expertise and a £250,000 grant from English Heritage), the shop remains in use, presently as an estate agency. Dr Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said "This is an amazing discovery. It gives an extraordinary insight into how Berkhamsted High Street would have looked in medieval times."[161]
  • 125 High Street, a house and shop opposite St Peter's church, is a timber-framed building with a wing that is one bay of a 14th-century open hall. The plan of the hall suggests that it once had a second bay of similar size – a length of 26 feet (8 m) in all. This was an unusually large house; its size and central position suggests a manor house or other high status house, possibly supporting the castle. The building underwent extensive alterations in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.[17]
  • The Swan, 139 High Street, contains the remains of a medieval open hall. Parts of the roof date from the 14th century, and the street range was extended and a chimney stack added c. 1500.[26]
  • To the northwest of Berkhamsted stand the ruins of Marlin's Chapel, a 13th-century chapel standing next to a medieval fortified farm. The walls and moat surrounding the modern farm still remain and are reputed to be haunted.[109]
Dean Incent's House, residence of John Incent (1480–1545), Dean of St Paul's Cathedral and founder of Berkhamsted School in 1541.
  • 129–131 High Street is the Grade II* listed Dean Incent's House. John Incent, Dean of St Paul's, founded Berkhamsted School. A 15th-century half-timbered house, the interior has original exposed timber framing and several Tudor wall paintings. The building incorporates part of an even older structure and was used as public meeting place before the Court House was built. The house is not normally open to the public.[119][162][163]
  • The Court House, next to the church, dates from the 16th century, and is believed to lie on the site of the medieval court where the Portmote [Notes 10] or Borough Court was held.[26]
  • Sayers Almshouses, at 235–241 High Street, comprise a single-storey row of almshouses built in 1684. They were founded under the Will of John Sayer, chief cook to Charles II.[17]
  • The Bourne School, at 222 High Street, was the result of a legacy by Thomas Bourne (1656–1729) (Master of the Company of Framework Knitters) to build a charity school in Berkhamsted for 20 boys and 10 girls. The front was rebuilt in 1854 in Jacobean-style red brick; it is not clear if any part of the building predates 1854. In 1875, the pupils were transferred to the National School and the funds used for scholarships.[17]
  • The site now occupied by the Pennyfarthing Hotel dates from the 16th century, having been a monastic building used as accommodation for religious guests passing through Berkhamsted or going to the monastery at Ashridge.
  • The Town Hall, a Victorian gothic market house and town hall, designed by architect Edward Buckton Lamb (built in 1859, extended in 1890, restored in 1983–1999), was built by public subscription from Berkhamstedians.[167] It comprised a market hall (now Carluccio's restaurant), a large assembly hall, and rooms for the Mechanics' Institute. When Berkhamsted became part of the new Dacorum Borough Council (based in Hemel Hempstead), there were plans to demolish the building, these plans werer stopped by a ten-year citizens' campaign during the 1970s and 1980s, which eventually ended at the High Court.[167]
The totem pole at Berkhamsted
  • The Berkhamsted Canadian totem pole sits adjacent to the canal, close to Castle Street bridge. In the early 1960s, Roger Alsford, a great-grandson of the founder of the timber company, James Alsford (1841–1912), went to work at the Tahsis lumber mill on Vancouver Island. During a strike, he was rescued from starvation by a local Kwakiutl community. Alsford's brother, William John Alsford, visited the island, and in gratitude for the local people's hospitality, commissioned a totem pole from the Canadian First Nations artist Henry Hunt.[168] The western red cedar pole, 30 feet (9 m) long and 3 feet (1 m) in diameter, was carved by Hunt at Thunderbird Park, a centre for First Nation monuments. The completed pole was shipped to Britain and erected at Alsford's Wharf in 1968. Alsford's warehouses were replaced in 1994 by a private housing development which limit access to the pole, so that it can be viewed only at a distance from the public road. It is one of only a handful of totem poles in the United Kingdom, others being on display at the British Museum and Horniman Museum in London, Windsor Great Park, Bushy Park, and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.[169] The carvings on the totem pole represent four figures from First Nations legend: at the top sits Raven, the trickster and creator deity; he sits on the head of Sunman, who has outstretched arms representing the rays of the sun and wears a copper (a type of ceremonial skirt); Sunman stands on the fearsome witch-spirit Dzunukwa; at the base is the two-headed warrior sea serpent, Sisiutl, who has up-stretched wings.[170]

Associations with the town[edit]

Twin towns[edit]

Berkhamsted is twinned with:

The town also has an informal relationship with Barkhamsted, Connecticut, in the United States. The latter presented a gavel and block on 4 July 1976, the U.S. bicentennial, which Berkhamsted Town Council now uses in meetings.


  1. ^ Æthelgifu's will is one of only seventeen existing wills in Old English, and it is the most extensive of them. It gives much more detail on slave and land ownership in this period than any other document, and shows that a woman could have considerable wealth. The will is written on vellum in a minuscule hand, and the original still exists; an American consortium bought it in 1969, and it is now in New Jersey.[36]
  2. ^ The spring of St John's Well may have had a pre-Christian ritual significance: the Bishop of Lincoln visited the well in the late 12th century to prevent the worship of nymphs and spirits at the well.
  3. ^ The parish of Berkhamsted St Mary's formerly included the hamlets of Dudswell and Bourne End. Between 1087 and 1104, there was a reference to a chaplain called Godfrey and to a chapel with parochial status within the former parish. The chapel was the base for a small community of monks, the Brotherhood of St John the Baptist, in the 11th and 12th centuries.[17][41][42] In the 11th century, a parish of about 4,000 acres (1,600 ha) was carved out of the middle of Berkhamsted St Mary's, leaving a detached portion of the St Mary's parish (which later became the village of Bourne End) southeast of the later parish of Berkhamsted St Peter. For many centuries, the Berkhamsted town fair was held on the feast day of St James the Greater rather than on Petertide, which suggests that an older parish church was in this enclave before St Peter's was built in the thirteenth century.[43]
  4. ^ The Anglo-Saxon word burgh hints at a pre-conquest fortification. The notable early 20th century historian G. M. Trevelyan, including earlier historians such as Samuel Lewis and Sir Henry Chauncy, believed that the town was once an important Mercian settlement; however, there is no clear archeological evidence to support this.[45]
  5. ^ Danais referred to Danish settlers in the area. A monk writing about this area described it as "the Hundred of the Danes", using the word Daneis. The word was later incorrectly transcribed as "Danicorum" and subsequently shortened to "Dacorum".[53]
  6. ^ Edmer Ator was evidently a senior landholding noble who had held 36 places over 7 counties prior to the Norman Conquest, as recorded in the Domesday Book.[54]
  7. ^ One of the wealthiest men in Europe, Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall, was elected King of Germany, or Holy Roman Emperor, in 1256.
  8. ^ The patronymic is sometimes rendered "Fitz Piers", since he was the son of Piers de Lutegareshale, forester of Ludgershal.
  9. ^ The market had been in existence since at least 1086. It was originally held on a Sunday, but by this charter it was changed to Monday, as the rector of the new St Peter's Church objected to the noise. The market is now held on a Saturday.
  10. ^ Also referred to as Portmanmoot or portmoot. The name had Anglo-Saxon origins; the court had aspects both of court and of council meeting.[164][165][166]


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Partial Bibliography[edit]

  • Birtchnell, Percy (1988). Short History of Berkhamsted. Book Stack. ISBN 9781871372007. 
  • Brown, Reginald Allen (1989). Castles from the Air. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521329323. 
  • Goodall, John (2011). The English Castle. New Haven, US, and London, UK: Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300110586. 
  • Hastie, Scot (1999). Berkhamsted, an Illustrated History. Alpine Press. ISBN 0-9528631-1-1. 
  • Liddiard, Robert (2005). Castles in Context: Power, Symbolism and Landscape, 1066 to 1500. Macclesfield, UK: Windgather Press. ISBN 9780954557522. 
  • Mackenzie, James Dixon (1896). Castles of England: Their Story and Structure 1. New York, US: Macmillan. OCLC 12964492. 
  • Pettifer, Adrian (1995). English Castles: a Guide by Counties. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press. ISBN 9780851156002. 
  • Pounds, Nigel J. G. (1994). The Medieval Castle in England and Wales: A Social and Political History. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-45099-7. 
  • Purton, Peter Fraser (2009). A History of the Early Medieval Siege, c.450–1220. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press. ISBN 9781843834489. 
  • Remfry, Paul (1998). Berkhamsted Castle. Dacorum Heritage Trust. ISBN 0-9510944-1-6. 
  • Rowe, Anne (2007). "The Distribution of Parks in Hertfordshire: Landscape, Lordship and Woodland". In Liddiard, Robert. The Medieval Park: New Perspectives. Macclesfield, UK: Windgather Press. pp. 128–145. ISBN 978-1-9051-1916-5. 
  • Sanecki, K.A. (1996). Ashridge – A Living History. Phillimore & Co. ISBN 1-86077-020-7. 
  • Sherwood, Jennifer (2008). "Influences on the Growth of Medieval and Early Modern Berkhamsted". In Wheeler, Michael. A County of Small Towns: the Development of Hertfordshire's Urban Landscape to 1800. Hatfied, UK: Hertfordshire Publications. pp. 224–248. ISBN 9781905313440. 
  • Tearle, John (1998). The Berkhamsted Totem Pole. Lillydown House. ISBN 978-0952813118. 
  • Whitelock, Dorothy (1968). The Will of Æthelgifu. Oxford: Roxburghe Club, Oxford. 
  • Williamson, Tom (2010). The Origins of Hertfordshire. Hatfied, UK: Hertfordshire Publications. ISBN 9781905313952. 
  • Wolstenholme, John (1883). Two Lectures on the History and Antiquities of Berkhamsted (2nd ed.). London, UK: Nichols and Sons. OCLC 693003587. 

Further resources[edit]