Berkhamsted Old Town Hall
The town coat of arms
Berkhamsted shown within Hertfordshire
|Population||20,641 (2011 est.)|
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Ambulance||East of England|
|EU Parliament||East of England|
|UK Parliament||South West Hertfordshire|
Berkhamsted // is a historic market town, in the Chiltern Hills, on the western edge of Hertfordshire in England, 26 miles (40 km) north-west of London, within the Metropolitan Green Belt. Berkhamsted is a civil parish with a Town Council within the borough of Dacorum (which also includes the towns of Tring and Hemel Hempstead).
Berkhamsted's most prominent moment in national affairs was in early December 1066 and was recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: after his defeat of King Harold II of England's Anglo-Saxon army at the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror received the surrender of the Anglo-Saxon English at Berkhamsted. During the following period 1066 to 1495 Berkhamsted Castle became a favoured royal residence held by English monarchs, queen consorts and other royals (including the Edward, the Black Prince), royal favourites, and historical figures like Thomas Becket and Geoffrey Chaucer. Later, Berkhamsted born Colonel Daniel Axtell, was the captain of the Parliamentary Guard at the trial and execution of Charles I of England in 1649.
Amongst the Grade II listed buildings on the High Street, there is the oldest known (1277–97) extant timber framed building in Great Britain. Reviewing the town's high street, the Academy of Urbanism said of Berkhamsted in November 2014, "It would appear that, by any measure, Berkhamsted is a successful town." The town is also the home of 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.
- 1 History
- 2 Buildings of interest
- 3 Geology and Geography: Evolution of the Landscape
- 4 Governance
- 5 Demography
- 6 Transport Routes
- 7 Local economy, employment and commerce
- 8 Religion
- 9 Education
- 10 Leisure and Culture
- 11 Sport
- 12 Literary Connections
- 13 BFI National Archive at King's Hill
- 14 Associations with the town
- 15 Footnotes
- 16 References
- 17 Further resources
Origin of the Town's Name
The earliest recorded spelling is the 10th century Anglo-Saxon Beorhðanstædæ, and is thought to mean "homestead amongst the hills or birches". While the latter part of the name 'hamsted' derives from the Old English for homestead, the first part of the town's name originates from either Old Celtic Bearroc, meaning "hilly place" or the Old English beorg "hill" or berc or beorc meaning "birch". The local historian Percy Birtchnell identified over 50 different spellings and epithets since the Domesday Book, the present spelling was adopted in 1937. Other spellings included Berkstead, Berkampsted, Berkhampstead, Muche Barkhamstede, Berkhamsted Magna, Great Berkhamsteed and Berkhamstead. The town's local nickname is Berko.
Prehistoric and Roman
The Roman engineered road of Akeman Street (on which the town's High Street now lies) was a major communications route before, during and after the Roman period, from St Albans (Verulamium) to Cirencester (Corinium). Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman artefacts show that the Berkhamsted section of the Bulbourne valley has been continuously settled for over 5000 years. Several settlements dating from the Neolithic to the Iron Age (about 4500-100 BC) have been discovered south of Berkhamsted. There are three sections of a late Bronze Age to Iron Age (1200-100 BC) bank and ditch (5 metres wide and 2–4 metres high) known as Grim’s Ditch, on the south side of the Bulbourne Valley (it may have served as a boundary ditch between tribal territories, or between areas of differing land use such as woodland and pasture) Another Iron Age dyke with the same name can be found on the north side of the valley on Berkhamsted Common. Prior to the Roman invasion the valley would have been within the Catuvellauni tribe's territory.
The Bulbourne Valley was rich in timber and iron ore, which led to the 4 square mile (10 km2) area around Northchurch (a mile north of Berkhamsted) in the late Pre-Roman Iron Age to develope into a major iron production centre, of regional or national importance (and considered as one of the most important late Iron Age and Roman industrial landscapes in England.) Iron production led to the settlement of a Roman town at Cow Roast, about two miles north-west of Berkhamsted. There is evidence of industrial activity within Berkhamsted, in the form of four 1st century iron smelting bloomeries at Dellfield (Bridgewater School), production ceased by the end of the Roman period. There is further evidence for Romano-British occupation and activity in the Berkhamsted town area (including a pottery kiln on the Bridgewater Road).
By the later Roman period the valley appears to have been divided into three farming estates. Each of these complexes included one or more masonry buildings of villa form, with tiled roofs and underfloor heating:
- Northchurch Roman villa: the remains of a substantial villa were found close to the river in 1973. The earliest building, of timber, was put up in AD 60, rebuilt in stone in the early 2nd century, and enlarged to a ten-room building around AD 150. The house may have been empty for a period, then reoccupied in the 4th century and abandoned in the late 4th or early 5th century.
- Building north of Berkhamsted Castle: two flint and tile walls of a substantial Roman building were seen in a gas pipeline north of the Castle in 1970. The construction of the castle's medieval earthworks may have damaged this earlier site. The exact nature and extent of this Roman building are unknown.
- Berkhamsted Common Romano-British villa, dyke and temple: 1.25 miles (2 km) NNW of the Castle building, near Frithesden, at the edge of Berkhamsted golf course. Small-scale excavations in 1954 revealed masonry foundations and tesserae floors. The villa, dyke and temple together form a unique complex, reflecting occupation in the late Iron Age and Roman period.
The earliest definite reference to Berkhamsted is in the will of Ælfgifu (AD 970), queen consort of King Eadwig of England (r. 955–59),[Notes 1] in her will she bequeathed extensive estates across five counties including Berkhamsted. This may have referred to the adjoining village of Berkhamsted St. Mary or "Berkhamsted Minor", known after the 14th century as North Church or Northchurch as it is today, to distinguish the village from the town of Berkhamsted one mile east. 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 was probably once a substantial minster attached to a high status Anglo-Saxon estate, which became part of the later medieval manor of Berkhamsted after the Norman Conquest.
Northchurch has been regarded as the location of pre-conquest Berkhamsted, however finds of early to late Anglo-Saxon pottery suggest that from the 7th or 8th century onwards an Anglo-Saxon settlement probably was in existence between Chesham Road and St. John's Well Lane (close to the centre of Berkhamsted). At some stage a small church was built near St John's Well, the Chapel of St James, which was the base for a small community of monks, the Brotherhood of St John the Baptist, in the 11th and 12th centuries. The parish of this church appears to be an enclave within the parish of Berkhamsted St Mary's.[Notes 2][Notes 3] Water mills were in use in the late 9th century near Mill Street (close to the centre of the modern town). There is also mention of land called "Oldeburgh", in the same area of the High Street, which supports several historians' belief in a pre-Norman conquest fortified settlement.[Notes 4]
1066 and the Domesday Record
It was at Berkhamsted, in early December 1066, that the Anglo-Saxon state surrendered the crown of England to William the Conqueror. After the defeat of Harold II at the Battle of Hastings in October and a possible attempt on London, William led his army around London, crossing the River Thames at Wallingford, "laying waste" to his route through south-east England. At Berkhamsted he was met by Edgar the Ætheling (heir to the English throne), Ealdred (archbishop of York), Earl Edwin, Earl Morcar and the chief men of London. It is not known why Berkhamsted was the meeting place. William was crowned in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066. After the surrender at Berkhamsted and even after his coronation there remained some resistance to the Norman conquest of England. Following his coronation William granted the "Honour of Berkhamsted" to his half-brother, Robert, Count of Mortain (the largest landholder in the country after the King) who began work on a wooden fortification that later became a royal retreat for the Norman to Plantagenet dynasties.
The entry for the town in Domesday Book in 1086 describes Berkhamsted as a burbium (borough) in the Tring Hundred (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 at the time of the conquest had been Edmer Ator (also referred to as Eadmer Atule), Thegn of Edward the Confessor (and in 1066 of King Harold).[Notes 6] The Domesday survey reported that there was land for 26 plough teams, but only 15 were being used; common land for 1000 pigs and two mills – Upper and Lower Mill – essential for grinding flour and a vineyard. The total population has been calculated at either 37 or 88 households: the families included 14 villagers, 15 smallholders, 6 slaves, a priest, a dyke builder (presumed to be building the castle) and 52 burgesses. The reason for the wide variation in the household/population figures presented here is due to disagreement amongst historians regarding the record of fifty-two burgesses in Berkhamsted in the Domesday Book. This is a high number for a small town: Professors John Hatcher and Edward Miller have argued that the town burgesses were probably involved in trade, while other writers consider the figure a clerical error.
Royal Castle and Prosperous Medieval Town
History of the Castle
Berkhamsted Castle is a well-documented example of a Norman castle and royal residence with historical records dating from the twelfth to the fifteenth century Low-lying next to a river, Berkhamsted Castle was a high-status residence and administrative centre for extensive estates rather than a stronghold. Throughout its occupancy the castle had an impact on the town, creating employment for the local population, not only within the castle itself but also for instance in the large royal deer park and in the vineyard which was maintained alongside the castle. The were three main building phases of the castle, first under Robert, Count of Mortain in the 1070s, then under Thomas a Becket between 1155–1165, and finally under Henry III's brother Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall in 1254. 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.
- Circa 1070William the Conqueror's, half-brother, Robert of Mortain, built a timber castle. –
- 1104Robert's son, William rebelled against Henry I and the castle was confiscated. –
- 1123Henry I granted Berkhamsted to his chancellor, Ranulf, who died within sight of the castle. –
- 1155-1165Henry II's favourite Thomas Becket was granted the honour of Berkhamsted. The castle was rebuilt in stone, the surviving flint-work curtain wall probably dates from this period. Becket was later alleged to have spent over £300 on renovations to castle, a claim which lead Henry to accuse him of corruption and could have contributed to his falling out of favour in court. –
- 1163Henry II liked Berkhamsted and subsequently used it extensively himself. –
- 1199Richard I gave the castle to his queen Berengaria of Navarre. –
- King John gave the castle to his queen Isabella of Angouleme. –
- 1206King John the castle was entrusted to Geoffrey Fitz Peter, who rebuilt much of the town. –
- 1216The castle was besieged during the civil war, known as the First Barons' War, between King John and rebel barons backed by France. It was successfully taken on the 20 December 1216 by Prince Louis, the future Louis VIII of France "the Lion" (1187–1226), who attacked it with siege engines (including for the first time in England counterweight trebuchet) for twenty days, leading the garrison to surrender. –
- 1217Reclaimed by royal forces the subsequent year, the castle returned to royal hands. –
- 1227Henry III's younger brother, the Earl of Cornwall, was granted the manor and castle, beginning the long associate with the earldom (and the later duchy) with the castle. Richard redeveloped the castle as a palatial residence and the centre of his administration of the Earldom of Cornwall. A three storied tower was built in 1254 along with improvements being made to the residential parts of the castle around 1270. –
- 1260Henry 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 in 1283 Ashridge Priory, a college of the monastic order of Bonhommes. –
- 1300After Edmund died without issue, the castle returned to the crown Edward I who subsequently granted it to his second queen, Margaret of France. –
- 1309King Edward II granted Berkhamsted (then belonging to his mother) to his favourite Piers Gaveston. –
- 1317Edward II's wife Isabella of France was granted 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 extended the hunting grounds. –
- 1353The castle was used to hold royal prisoners, including John II of France –
- 1361The 'Hero of Berkhamsted', Edward, the Black Prince and Joan, the Maid of Kent spent their honeymoon here in 1361. The entire court celebrated the marriage for five days in Berkhamsted and on Berkhamsted Common. His lieutenants included Berkhamsted men 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 and was rewarded with 2 d a day and appointed porter of the royal castle at Berkhamsted. –
- 1377Richard II inherited Berkamsted Castle in 1377; and gave it to his favourite, Robert de Vere and, then in 1388, to John Holland. –
- 1400Henry IV lived in the castle after he deposed Richard in 1400, and he used the property to detain rival applicants to the throne. –
- 1389Geoffrey 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 (the model for his Doctor of Phisick in ‘The Canterbury Tales’). –
- Both Henry V and Henry VI owned the castle, the latter making use of it until his overthrow in 1461. –
- late 15th centuryBerkhamsted Castle became increasingly unfashionable and was left to fall into decline. –
- 1469Edward IV granted the castle to his mother, Cecily Neville, Duchess of York. –
- 1495Cecily Neville, Duchess of York passed away and the castle was abandoned. –
- Early 16th centuryHenry VIII it passed through the hands of three of his wives: Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour. –
- mid 16th centuryThe castle was described as being in ruins and unsuitable for royal use. Much of the stonework was plundered for building materials for the town and the nearby manor house Berkhamsted Place. –
- 1830sThe barbican and half of the third moat were were demolished and lost during the construction of the London and Birmingham Railway. The rest of the castle become the first building in Britain to receive statutory protection from Parliament. –
- Second World War – Many of London's statuary (including the statue of Charles I now found at the top of Whitehall on Trafalgar Square), were relocated to the grounds of Berkhamsted Castle.
- 1930The remaining walls, impressive earthworks and ditches passed from the Duchy of Cornwall to the care of the state, and in the 21st century the historical site is managed by English Heritage and is open to the public. –
Though the exact layout of the Anglo-Saxon settlement of the Berkhamsted valley remains unclear, with the construction of a castle the emphasis of the local settlement shifted away from Northchurch along Akeman Street. Henry II officially recognised Berkhamsted as a town in a royal charter in 1156, 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 decreed that no market could be set up within seven miles (11 km) of the town.
In King John's reign, Geoffrey Fitz Peter (c. 1162–1213)[Notes 7] 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, the latter gave its name St John's Well Lane) and much of the early town. Berkhamsted developed in the 12th and 13th centuries as an undefended trading centre on an important trade route, rather than as a fortified town. The town grew up on the High Street (the old Akeman Street) on the west side of St Peter's church, around a triangle of Mill Street, Castle Street, and Back Lane.
In the 13th century under Henry III's brother, Richard, Berkhamsted Castle became permanently associated with the Earls and Dukes of Cornwall. Richard's coat of arms, as Earl of Cornwall, with a group of bezants, is incorporated in Berkhamsted's coat of arms. Meanwhile, in addition to the castle and trade along the highway (a major trade route), the growing wool trade brought prosperity to Berkhamsted in the 13th and 14th centuries. Berkhamsted merchants sold cloth to the court. Berkhamsted was granted several more royal charters, Henry III freed the men and merchants of the town from all tolls and taxes wherever they went in England; Normandy, Aquitaine and Anjou in 1216 and in a second charter in 1217 recognised the town's oldest institution, Berkhamsted Market (originally held on a Sunday it was changed to Monday, by charter, when the rector of new church of St. Peter's Church objected to the noise).[Notes 8]
Early in the 13th century, as well as farmers, 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 and wine producers. In the mid-13th century we hear of a banker, the wealthy Abraham of Berkhamsted, the "king's Jew", financier to the Earl of Cornwall (unusual for a small town in the time of heightened persecution of Jews). In the early part of the thirteenth century we find reference to the manufacture of roofing tiles, and in 1440 to lime kilns.
Edmund, 2nd Earl of Cornwall founded Ashridge Priory in 1283, two miles (3 km) from the town, 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. King Edward I held parliament at the abbey in 1290 while he spent Christmas in Pitstone. 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, a huntsman. 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).
By the 14th century, Berkhamsted (recorded as "Berchamstede") was considered to be one of the "best" market towns in the country. Four wealthy Berkhamsted wool merchants were amongst a group in Bruges to whom Edward III wrote in 1332. The burgesses returned two members to parliament in 1320 and again in 1338 and 1341, but was not represented again. 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), including woodland pasture stretching over the Chilterns, eventually producing a park covering 991 acres (401 ha). In a survey of 1357 Richard Clay was found to own a butcher's shop 12 feet (3.7 m) wide, William Herewood had two shops and there were four other shops eight feet in length. 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 eleven miles (18 km).
Loss of Royal Patronage (16th and 17th centuries)
The 16th century saw the town in economic decline, with the death of Cicely, 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 (Elizabeth I). It later became her private residence and it was here that she was arrested in 1554, under suspicion of treason in connection with Wyatt's rebellion in her sister Queen Mary I's reign. 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. Stone from the castle was used to build Berkhamsted Place, a local school and other buildings in the late 16th century. 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).
In 1612, Berkhamsted Place was bought by Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales for £4000. Henry, who died later that year, bequeathed the house to his brother Charles (later King Charles I) who leased the property to his tutor Thomas and Mary Murray, who had been his nurse and Lady of the Privy Chamber to the prince's mother. John Norden, writing in 1616, says that the making of malt was then the principal trade of the town. In 1618 James I granted Berkhamsted another charter making the town a borough. 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. In 1643 Berkhamsted was visited by a violent pestilential fever.
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. 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." 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. 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.
Growth of the Early Modern Town
Transport and Trade Routes
In the 18th and 19th centuries the trade route through the town towards London played a big part in the town's development.
- · Road: From 1762 the town's high street was part of the Sparrows Herne turnpike, notorious for its rutted and pitted state even after becomingo a toll road. Many coaching inns thrived along its route, including in Berkhamsted the King's Arms and the Crown.
- · Canal: In 1798 the Grand Junction Canal (built by William Jessop) from the River Thames at Brentford to Berkhamsted was completed, and it was then extended to Birmingham in 1805. 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, and all the people that served these industries, 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.
- · Railway: 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 first building to receive statutory protection from Parliament, the railway embankment obliterated the old castle barbican and adjacent earthworks. Ironically most of the raw materials used to build the railway were transported by canal.
19th century Urban Growth
In 1801 the population of St Peter's parish was 1,690. In 1831 this had risen to 2,369 (484 houses). The town in 1835 consisted of two streets: the High Street, extended about half a mile along "the high road", and Castle Street that branched out from the church towards the old castle. "The houses are mostly of brick, and irregularly built, but are interspersed with a fair proportion of handsome residences". The town population increased as hundreds of men arrived to build the railway line and needed lodging: by 1851 it was 3,395. and by 1887, John Bartholomew's Gazetteer of the British Isles recorded the population as 4,485.
Land Dispute: The Battle of Bekhamsted Common
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. In 1866 Lord Brownlow of Ashridge House tried to enclose Berkhamsted Common with 5 foot 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. 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.
19th Century Industry and Utilities
Known industries included:
- · 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, and 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 site of W H Smith and Boots). Mains drainage was first supplied in 1898-9 when effective sewerage was installed.
Early 20th Century
During the First World War under the guidance of Lt Col Francis Errington, the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps took men from the legal profession and trained them 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: 13 kilometres (8 miles) of trenches were dug across the Common (of which 500 metres remain). The Inns of Court War Memorial on the Common illustrates Lt Col Errington's affection for the area.
Buildings of interest
- Berkhamsted Castle
Situated behind the 19th century railway station are the fragmentary walls and impressive earthworks of Berkhamsted Castle a large royal 11th century motte-and-bailey castle. Berkhamsted Castle by tradition belongs to the eldest son of the reigning English monarch and is managed by English Heritage, under the guardianship of the Secretary of State for National Heritage.
The castle was built at the end of a small dry combe where it joins the marshy valley of the river Bulbourne. The motte mound is c.14 metres high and c.55 metres in diameter at the base. On top of the motte are the foundations of a shell keep, about 18 metres in diameter and containing a well. The bailey, which covers an area of about 3.2 acres (1.3 ha), measures c.130 metres north-south by c.100 metres east-west. Enclosing the bailey is a flint-built curtain wall with semicircular towers at intervals of about 55 metres. On the west side of the bailey are the remains of a rectangular building which is thought to be a chapel. Circling the bailey and the motte, on the north-west side was a double and on the other sides a triple moat; beyond the defences was marshy ground. Before the canal's construction, the River Bulbourne provided water for the moats. The ground level falls from the north to the south, and on the higher ground north and east of the castle there is another bank. This bank is unusual in that it has eight, possibly nine, earthen bastions set against its outer face: it is unclear if they were part of the defences or siege platforms built in the two-week siege of December 1216. Access to the castle was provided by the main gateway on the south of the bailey, which would originally have had a wooden bridge (not the current gravel path).
The castle has been unoccupied since 1495. English historian John Leland noted it was "much in Ruine" in c.1540. The bailey and outer bank to the south were obliterated with the construction of the railway. Partial excavations were carried out in 1962 and 1967 in the south-eastern area of the curtain wall at the location of one of the half-round towers.
- 173 High Street: a Victorian façade hides what is considered to be the oldest extant jettied timber-framed building in Great Britain, dated by dendrochronology of structural timbers to between 1277 and 1297. 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. It also represents an early example of transition in carpentry technology, from the use of passing braces to crown posts. The 13th century structure was discovered by chance in 2000 by local builders who began 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."
Main article: Church of St Peter, Great BerkhamstedThe parish church of St Peter stands on the High Street and is recognisable by its 85-foot (26 m) clock tower; it is one of the largest churches in Hertfordshire. Built between the 13th and 15h centuries, it underwent a restoration by William Butterfield in 1871. 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. Originally part of the Diocese of Lincoln from 1877, it became part of the newly formed Diocese of St Albans. Because of its proximity to Berkhamsted Castle, the reigning monarch was patron of Berkhamsted rectors for several centuries. The church is in the Latin cross plan, with a tower at the crossing. 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. The poet William Cowper was christened in St Peter's, where his father John Cowper was Rector.
- 125 High Street: A house and shop opposite St Peter's church, 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 8 metres 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Main article: Berkhamsted SchoolBerkhamsted School is a public school founded in 1541 by Dean John Incent and attended by the celebrated author Graham Greene. The Old Building was built in 1544 and is Grade I listed.
- 129-31 High Street, is the Grade II* listed Dean Incent's House, John Incent, Dean of St Paul's, founded Berkhamsted School. A 16th century half-timbered house, the interior has original exposed timber framing and several Tudor wall paintings. (The house is not normally open to the public.)
- 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 9] or Borough Court was held.
- Sayers Almshouses: 235–41 High Street, a single-storey row of almshouses built in 1684. They were founded under the Will of John Sayer, chief cook to Charles II.
- The Bourne School: 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.
- 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.
Main article: AshridgeAshridge House is a Grade I listed building, constructed 1808–1814 to a design by James Wyatt with later work by his nephew Jeffrey Wyattville, the former seat of the Bridgewaters and later the Brownlow family. Architect critic 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 the Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, affectionately known as the Father of Inland Navigation. 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. 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.
- The Town Hall, a Victorian gothic market house and town hall, designed by architect Edward Buckton Lamb (built in 1859, extended in 1890, restored 1983–1999) was built by public subscription from Berkhamstedians. 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 Borough Council Dacorum, (based in Hemel Hempstead) there were plans to demolish the site, this was stopped by a 10-year citizens' campaign during the 1970s and 80s, which eventually ended at the High Court, the site was saved).
Main article: Ashlyns SchoolAshlyns School is a large building built in 1935 which contained the former Foundling Hospital, which relocated from London in the 1926. It contains stained glass windows, especially around the Chapel, a staircase and many monuments from the original London hospital founded by Thomas Coram in 1740. The School Chapel housed an organ donated by George Frideric Handel. The school was used a backdrop to the 2007 comedy, Son of Rambow.
Main article: The Rex, BerkhamstedBuilt in 1937, 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 and opened in 1938. Its interior features decorations of sea waves and shells. Closed in 1988, the cinema was extensively restored in 2004, to become one of the most popular and sought-after entertainment attractions in the area. In 2014 the Rex was awarded Britain's Best Cinema in the inaugural Guardian Film awards. Prior to the cinema an Elizabethan mansion had occupied the site for 350 years, Egerton House, which stood at the east end of the High Street. 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 and whose five sons were the inspiration for Peter Pan.
- In the neighbouring village of Great Gaddesden and on the site of a medieval convent, is to be found an Amaravati Buddhist Monastery of the (Ajahn Chah) Theravadin tradition, complete with a purpose built brick and oak-wood temple. Developed out of wooden buildings erected by the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War 2 as a transit camp. The site was then used as a school and evacuation centre for bombed out London children. Later it became a reform boarding school, or Borstal before coming a monastery.
- Berkhamsted Canadian totem pole on 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 their hospitality, commissioned a totem pole from the Canadian First Nations artist Henry Hunt. The western red cedar pole, 30 feet (9.1 m) long and 3 feet (0.91 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 only be viewed 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. The carvings on the totem pole represent four figures from North American 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 who 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.
Geology and Geography: Evolution of the Landscape
The Chiltern Hills are part of a system of chalk downlands throughout eastern and southern England, formed between 84–100 million years ago in the Cretaceous Period — the area then being a chalk depositing marine environment. Berkhamsted's valley is at the southernmost limit of the Pleistocene glaciation ice erosion through the Chiltern scarp; the smooth rounded form is evidence that the valley was once a glacial meltwater channel which deposited alluvial soils in the valley, with chalk, clay and flint on the valley sides. The valley cuts through the Chiltern Hills in a north-west to south-east direction; the relatively narrow valley is at 105 metres above sea level and rises to 180 metres to plateau areas to the north and south. The River Bulbourne is a chalk stream that runs for 11 km (7 miles) in a south-east direction from Dudswell and the adjoining village of Northchurch, through the adjoining town of Berkhamsted, then on through Bourne End and Boxmoor to where it joins the River Gade at Two Waters in Apsley near Hemel Hempstead.
During the early Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age, mid to late 8th millennium BC) the landscape was largely a pine woodland and the valley bottom area of central Berkhamsted was probably grass-sedge fen. Some 4000 years later, during the Neolithic (New Stone Age, mid to late 3rd millennium BC), the woodland changed to one dominated by lime trees, with alder trees growing on the flood plain. Before the canal was built, the river was often full and fast moving, yielding a healthy crop of eels and other fish. The valley floor remained a flood plain with wetland vegetation, with frequent localised flooding. The area closest to the river probably remained open ground until the mid 19th century and was used principally for the grazing of stock. The valley landscape changed dramatically, with increased urbanisation after the construction of the Grand Junction Canal (Grand Union) in 1798 (which intersects the river at numerous points, taking much of the Bulbourne's water supply, and helped drain the valley) and later the construction of the London to Birmingham railway in 1836-7.
Today Berkhamsted is an "affluent", "pleasant town tucked in a wooded fold in the Chiltern Hills", The town has been shaped by its relatively narrow valley; the residential area is elongated and follows the valley topography. The main road skirts the edge of the hill – the south west side of the valley is the more developed with side streets running up the steep hillside, while on the north-east side the ground slopes away more gently to the canal and small river. Berkhamsted was a medieval market town; the town centre has slowly developed over the years and contains a wide variety of properties of varying age, quality, character and appearance, with some buildings protected within its conservation areas.
The countryside surrounding the town includes land in 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 rise to a gently undulating and open plateau with a mix of arable farmland, common land, mixed oak, ash and beech woodland. On the north-east side of town are the Berkhamsted and Northchurch commons, the largest commons in the Chilterns at some 1,055 acres (427 ha), in a large arc that stretches from Northchurch towards Frithsden and down to Potten End. Beyond the common is the large historic wooded parkland of Ashridge (formerly part of the castle's hunting park) which is part of The Chilterns Beechwood Special Area of Conservation for habitats (SAC) (a nationally important nature conservation designation) and also designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (Ashridge Commons and Woods SSSI). Ashridge is owned by the National Trust, Berkhamsted Common is owned partly by the National Trust and partly by the Berkhamsted Golf Club. To the south of town, close to the Buckinghamshire border, are two former large country estates Ashlyns and Rossway and the ancient woodland at Dickshills.
||Tring||Little Gaddesden||Great Gaddesden|
|Climate data for Berkhamsted|
|Average high °C (°F)||6
|Average low °C (°F)||3
|Precipitation mm (inches)||69.3
Near-Real-Time weather information can be retrieved from Berkhamsted Weather Station on the Met Office WOW: http://wow.metoffice.gov.uk/weather/view?siteID=195933 and view station status information at https://sites.google.com/site/berkhamstedweatherstation/
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 population in 2011 was 145,300.
Until 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 of the UK Parliament since 2005 by David Gauke, a Conservative. It is the third safest Conservative seat in Hertfordshire. The constituency seat forms a thin strip along the south-west border of Hertfordshire from South Oxhey (near Watford) in the south, through interspersed settlements and countryside to Tring in the north (including Chipperfield, Chorleywood, Croxley Green, Moor Park, and Rickmansworth).
Click expand to view demographic statistics of the Parishes of Great Berkhamsted,
St Peter and Great Berkhamsted, All Saints.
|Age breakdown 2011:||0–4 years ~ 8%, 5–15 years ~ 13% 16–64 years ~ 63%, 65 plus ~ 17%.|
|• 2001 ~ 11,900 (proportion Christian ~ 73%).
• 2011 ~ 14,000 (proportion Christian ~ 59%, the was a slight rise in other religions, which in total make up less than 4%).
|Ethnic Heritage:||• British 90%,
• Other white ~ 4%,
• Irish, Indian, White and Asian and Other Mixed each ~ 1% each.
• Gypsy/Irish Traveller, Arab, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Other Asian, African, Caribbean, Other Black, White and Black Caribbean, White and Black African, Other Ethnic Group ~ each less than 1%.
|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% (dependant children 22%, non-dependent children 5%, no children 14%); Lone Parent households ~ 7% (dependent children 5%); co-habiting couple ~ 9%; 65+ ~ 9%).
• Single person ~ 29% (Lone 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%
• Intermediate occupations Lower managerial, administrative and professional occupations ~ 35%
• Higher managerial, administrative and professional occupation ~ 25%
|Employment, hours worked:||Over 49 hours ~ 19% , 31~48 hours ~ 53%, 16 to 30 hours ~ 16%, less than 15 hours ~ 11%.|
|Education:||* 50% ~ Residents 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 lot 5%
• Day-to-day activities limited a little 7%
|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:
- Berkhamsted Castle Ward (external link).
- Berkhamsted East Ward (external link).
- Berkhamsted West Ward (external link).
In 2006 the mean age of the population of Berkhamsted as a whole was 38.74 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 16.36% and the average percentage of people aged 16–74 with the highest qualification attained at level 4/5 was 37.48%. Berkhamsted’s population grew by +0.95% per year from 2001 to 2011 and consisted of 64.3% working age, 16.2% retirement age and 19.4% children.
Road: The town's historic high street is now the A4251. Originally proposed in the 1930s, in 1993 a by-pass was opened, and the main A41 road now passes south-west 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). 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. Buses are managed by Hertfordshire County Council's Intalink transport service.
One and a half million journeys are made annually to and from Berkhamsted, the vast majority by commuters to and from London. 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.
Canal: Once an important trade artery, today the Grand Union Canal, Canal Fields and river provide an important open space, leisure 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.
Local economy, employment and commerce
Commuting, particularly to London, is of local significance. Of the employed residents living in both Berkhamsted and Tring, 35% live and work in the towns, whilst 65% commute to workplaces out of the towns. Alternatively of the 7,100 people who work in Berkhamsted, 58% commute to Berkhamsted to work. In 1986 farming, service and light industry were characteristic local occupations. Schools and retail (predominantly Waitrose) constitute the town’s largest employers and these are both situated in Berkhamsted Castle ward. 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 a unique and important local employer to the south of Berkhamsted. In April 2013 benefit unemployed rate in the UK was 7.8%, but for Berkhamsted's parliamentary constituency it was 1.7%.
November 2014, the Academy of Urbanism's Urbanism Awards found Berkhamsted's High Street to be a "vibrant" "bustling" road, that "worked extremely well as a quality high street." They considered that 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, 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 a 100% retail occupancy, independent traders and a 'cafe culture'. The high street is easily accessible on foot from the rail station and has several cross-cutting pedestrian routes generated by the medieval plan of the town. The Academy considered a particularly strong aspect of the street was the good working collaboration between individual businesses and the Chamber of Trade. In 2014 arguments concerning the proposed development of Lidls supermarket in the affluent town made the national news – it was seen as a dispute between those who thought the supermarket might "lower the tone of the town” versus those who referred to the former as "toffee-nosed twits”.
There are three Anglican churches in the town (St Peters and St. Michael and All Angels, Sunnyside), one of which (All Saints Church & St Martha's) is combined with a Methodist church, one Baptist, one Roman Catholic (Sacred Heart Catholic Church), a Quaker Friends Meeting House, a Pentecostal Church, a United Reformed church and a Mormon church. The Anglican churches cater for 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.
- 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 1200 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 1742-5 he established the Foundling Hospital in London. The school relocated from London in 1926, and between 1951–5 Hertfordshire County Council took over running the school.
- Berkhamsted School, a public school, formed by the amalgamation of two schools in 1988: Berkhamsted School founded in 1541 by Dean John Incent, Dean of St. Pauls, and Berkhamsted School for Girls, founded in 1888. The school has 1500 pupils. Berkhamsted School was attended by the celebrated author Graham Greene, whose father was headmaster there.
- Egerton Rothesay School, an independent school founded in 1922, catering for 150 pupils between the ages of 5 and 19.
Leisure and Culture
The Rex is a thriving independent local cinema. Regarded by some, including the BBC and the Telegraph as Britain's most beautiful cinema, Dame Judi Dench described the cinema as "absolutely awe-inspiring" and the Rex was voted the best cinema in the UK, in the Guardian film awards 2014. Restored and managed by its owner James Hannaway, the cinema is a "movie palace with all the original Art Deco trimmings". The Rex frequently has sold-out houses for evening showings, with Rex regulars come from south of the Thames, from east London and rural Oxfordshire. 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 (one at the back of the stalls). The owner James Hannaway introduces films and sometimes there is a question and answer session from directors and actors involved in the film, including Dame Judi Dench, Charles Dance, Mike Leigh and Terry Jones.
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 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 is the oldest archery club in England.
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, realist children's literature and was a significant figure in the evolution of the novel in Europe, lived in Berkhamsted as a child in the 18th century. Between 1904–1907, the Llewelyn Davies boys were the inspiration for the author and playwright J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan. A little later the English novelists, Graham Greene, was born and educated at Berkhamsted School alongside literary contemporaries Claude Cockburn, Peter Quennell, Humphrey Trevelyan and Cecil Parrott. Children's authors H. E. Todd and Hilda van Stockum both moved to Berkhamsted.
BFI National Archive at King's Hill
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 awarded United Nations status and are listed on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) UK Memory of the World Register. The archive collects, preserves, restores and shares – the films and television programmes which have shaped and record British life and times since the development of cine film in the late nineteenth century. The majority of the collection is British originated material, it also features internationally significant holdings from around the world and films which feature key British actors and the work of British directors.
Associations with the town
* Twin towns
Berkhamsted is twinned with:
The town also has an informal relationship with Barkhamsted in Connecticut, USA. The latter presented a gavel and block on 4 July 1976 which Berkhamsted Town Council now uses in meetings.
- Æthelgifu's will is one of only seventeen extant wills in Old English, and it is by far 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.
- For many centuries, the Berkhamsted town fair was held on the feast day of St James the Greater rather than at Petertide, which points to the older parish before St Peter's
- 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 in order to prevent the worship of nymphs and spirits at the well.
- The Anglo-Saxon word burgh hints at a pre-conquest fortification. The notable early 20th century historian G. M. Trevelyan, and two earlier historians Samuel Lewis and Sir Henry Chauncy, considered the town to have been onceḬ an important Mercian settlement.
- 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 wrongly transcribed as "Danicorum" and subsequently shortened to "Dacorum".
- Edmer Ator was evidently a senior landholding noble who had held 36 places over 7 counties prior to the Conquest, as recorded in Domesday Book.
- The patronymic is sometimes rendered Fitz Piers, for he was the son of Piers de Lutegareshale, forester of Ludgershal.
- The market is now held on a Saturday.
- Also referred to as Portmanmoot or portmoot. The name had Anglo-Saxon origins, the court had aspects both of court and of council meeting.
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- Hastie 1999, p. 60.
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- Caroline Taggart (2011). The Book of English Place Names: How Our Towns and Villages Got Their Names. Random House. p. 153. ISBN 978009194043-0.
- British History online – Berkhampstead St Peter. Retrieved 26 June 2009.
- Cobb, John Wolstenhol. Two Lectures on the History and Antiquities of Berkhamsted. BiblioBazaar. ISBN 978-0-559-17029-4.
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- Sherwood 2008, p. 227.
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- Sherwood 2008, p. 228.
- William Page, ed. (1908). Victoria County History: A History of the County of Hertford: volume 2. pp. 162–171. Retrieved 7 December 2010.
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- References 2 (Off-line Bibliography)
- 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.
- 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.
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- 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.
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- 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.
- 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.
- Whitelock, Dorothy (1968). The Will of Æthelgifu. Oxford: Roxburghe Club, Oxford.
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