View from Market Square in Hitchin, with St Mary's Church in the background
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Postcode district||SG4, SG5|
|Ambulance||East of England|
Hitchin is first noted as the central place of the Hicce people, a tribe holding 300 hides of land as mentioned in a 7th-century document, the Tribal Hidage. Hicce, or Hicca may mean the people of the horse. The tribal name is Old English and derives from the Middle Anglian people. It has been suggested that Hitchin was the location of 'Clofeshoh', the place chosen in 673 by Theodore of Tarsus the Archbishop of Canterbury during the Synod of Hertford, the first meeting of representatives of the fledgling Christian churches of Anglo-Saxon England, to hold annual synods of the churches as Theodore attempted to consolidate and centralise Christianity in England.
By 1086 Hitchin is described as a Royal Manor in Domesday Book: the feudal services of Avera and Inward, usually found in the eastern counties, especially Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire, were due from the sokemen, but the manor of Hitchin was unique in levying Inward. Evidence has been found to suggest that the town was once provided with an earthen bank and ditch fortification, probably in the early tenth century but this did not last. The modern spelling of the town first appears in 1618 in the "Hertfordshire Feet of Fines".
The name of the town also is associated with the small river that runs through it, most picturesquely in front of the east end of St. Mary's Church, the town's parish church. The river is noted on maps as the River Hiz. Contrary to how most people now pronounce the name, that is to say as spelt, the 'z' is an abbreviated character for a 'tch' sound in the Domesday Book (as in the name of the town). It would have been pronounced 'River Hitch'. The Hicca Way is an eight-mile walking route along the River Hiz Valley, believed to have been used for trade between the Danes and English in the Anglo-Saxon age. It is also likely that Hitch Wood, which lies some half a dozen miles south of the town also derives its name from the Hicce tribe, who gave their name to Hitchin.
St. Mary's Church is remarkably large for a town of its size and was once a Minster. The size of the church is evidence of how Hitchin prospered from the wool trade. It is the largest parish church in Hertfordshire. Most of the church dates from the 15th century, with its tower dating from around 1190. During the laying of a new floor in the church in 1911, foundations of a more ancient church building were found. In form, they appear to be a basilican church of a 7th-century type, with a later enlarged chancel and transepts, perhaps added in the 10th century. This makes the church older than the story (not recorded before the 15th century) that the church was founded by Offa, king of Mercia 757-796.
In 1697, Hitchin (and the nearby village of Offley) were subject to what is thought to have been the most severe hailstorm in recorded British history. Hailstones over 4 inches in diameter were reported
The town flourished on the wool trade, and located near the Icknield Way and by the 17th century Hitchin was a staging post for coaches coming from London. By the middle of the 19th century the railway had arrived, and with it a new way of life for Hitchin. The corn exchange was built in the market place and within a short time Hitchin established itself as a major centre for grain trading.
The latter half of the 20th century has also brought great changes in communication to Hitchin. Motorways have shortened the journey time and brought Luton, a few miles away on the M1, and the A1 (M) even closer. By the close of the 20th century, Hitchin had developed a strong commuter interest being midway between London and Cambridge. Hitchin also developed a fairly strong Sikh community based around the Walsworth area.
During the medieval period, both a priory (Newbigging, now known as The Biggin) and a friary (now known as Hitchin Priory) were established, both of which closed during Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries. They were never reformed, although The Biggin was for many years used as almshouses.
The British Schools Museum in Hitchin is home to the world's only surviving complete Lancasterian Schoolroom, which was built in 1837 to teach boys by the Lancasterian method (peer tutoring). This unique community project demonstrates the foundation of education for all.
Girton College – a pioneer in women's education – was established on 16 October 1869 under the name of College for Women at Benslow House in Hitchin, which was considered to be a convenient distance from Cambridge and London. It was thought to be less 'risky' and less controversial to locate the college away from Cambridge in the beginning. The college moved to Cambridge a few years later and adopted its present name, Girton College.
Hitchin is in the local government district of North Hertfordshire which was formed in 1974 by the amalgamation of rural and urban councils. There is now no town council in Hitchin. Residents elect 13 members to the North Hertfordshire District Council. There are five electoral wards in Hitchin: Bearton, Highbury, Oughton, Priory and Walsworth. Before 1974 the town was administered by Hitchin Urban District Council Council, which was based at Hitchin Town Hall.
The town is represented in Parliament by the constituency of Hitchin and Harpenden. The incumbent Conservative Party MP Bim Afolami was elected in 2017. Between 1983 and 1997 Hitchin was included in the constituency of North Hertfordshire. Before that it was in the constituency of Hitchin.
In the European Parliament, Hitchin was represented by the East of England constituency. Prior to 1999 and the adoption of proportional representation, it was in the European constituency of Hertfordshire.
Hitchin railway station is on the East Coast Main Line Great Northern Line, and is also on the Cambridge Line as the last stop before it diverges towards Cambridge, 1.42 kilometres (0.88 mi) to the north east of Hitchin. The station is a call on services provided by Govia Thameslink Railway under its Great Northern and Thameslink brands. These provide direct connections to Cambridge, Letchworth Garden City, Peterborough and London Kings Cross; as well as St Pancras International, Gatwick Airport, Three Bridges and Brighton. Journeys to London and Cambridge typically take 33 minutes. Journeys to Stevenage take 5 minutes, Peterborough 45 minutes, and Gatwick Airport 78 minutes.
Hitchin Rail Users Group serve as the local voluntary group actively consulting with train companies on behalf of local people.
Hitchin is about 14.48 km (9.00 mi) from Luton Airport, with a direct bus service linking the two. The connections are provided by National Express (number 787) or Arriva in Herts and Essex (100 Saphire services).
There are several primary schools in Hitchin. Secondary education is provided at Hitchin Girls' School, Hitchin Boys' School and the Priory School. There is a campus of the North Hertfordshire College in Hitchin, and it is also the home of the Benslow Music Trust which provides music education for adults, while North Herts Music School adjoined to Hitchin Girls' School delivers music lessons & activities for children & young people.
The Emil Dale Academy is located on Wilbury Way in Hitchin. EDA is a drama school where students train and study for a BA (hons) degree in Musical Theatre in partnership with the University of Bedfordshire. The school also has a sixth form and a weekend school.
North Hertfordshire Museum has an extensive collection that tells the story of the town and wider area from prehistoric times. The British Schools Museum is housed in original Edwardian and Victorian school buildings.
Culture and community
Hitchin hosts an annual Arts and Music Festival with over 100 events taking place during the month. Hitchin Festival includes picnics, concerts, theatre, ghost walks, art exhibitions, comedy club, talks, summer fetes and fireworks. Since 2014, Hitchin has hosted the yarn festival, organised and run by members of Hitchin Stitchin.
Music plays a very big part all year round with many venues hosting regular gigs. Hitchin Folk Club is one of the longest running and most respected clubs in the country meeting at The Sun Hotel on Sunday evenings; Hitchin Light Orchestra, Hitchin Symphony Orchestra and Hitchin Chamber Orchestra give regular concerts often in St Mary's Church and Hitchin Band perform around the country in brass band championship competition as well as the home town.
An independent music venue, Club 85, hosts an "eclectic mix of contemporary bands and DJs" in the area.
There are three theatres in the town. The Factory Playhouse is located on Wilbury Way and is the theatre of Emil Dale Academy. They host several full scale musicals each year with professional producers, directors, choreographers and West End musicians. The Market Theatre, Hitchin is a professional theatre, has a year-round programme including comedy plays, thrillers, historical shows, jazz nights and cocktail evenings. The Market Theatre is known for its annual Adult Panto (running between December and May) which also tours nationally. Additionally, the Queen Mother Theatre hosts the town's Bancroft Players, Big Spirit Youth Theatre and occasional visiting companies as well as Hitchin Films in the Richard Whitmore Studio.
Hitchin Market remains one of the largest in the area with general markets every Tuesday and Saturday, a bric-a-brac and collectables market on Fridays, and a Sunday Car Boot. There are also Local Produce and Crafts specialist markets on the last Saturday of each month. A Lifestyle market is held on every second Saturday of the month, while infrequently there are occasional Art Markets. Hitchin Markets is also the venue for the annual Duck Race during Hitchin Festival.
The town centre has a wealth of independent retailers in food and drink and fashion and the historic core is a place to find niche boutiques. Since 1995, Hitchin has benefited from award-winning town centre management and in 2009 established one of Hertfordshire's first Business Improvement Districts.
The main burial ground for the town is Hitchin Cemetery on St. John's Road.
Hitchin is twinned with:
Sport in Hitchin
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Hitchin Rugby Club was founded in 1954 and competes in rugby union at all age levels within the Hitchin area. This includes teams at ages 7 to 12, 13 to 17, under 19s, seniors, over 35s, and a Ladies side.
The club's highlights have included playing at Twickenham in the final of the national Junior RFU Cup in 1993 and the establishment of the country's first Academy. Currently membership stands at over 500 people. The club are also active as a voluntary group with their community development programme.
Hitchin Town F.C. was established in 1865 and later reformed in 1928. It is one of only three clubs who competed in the inaugural FA Cup, paying the then £25 entry fee (£2,892 in 2019 adjusted for inflation), and continue to compete. They claim to be the second oldest club in English football, but some dispute this due to the reformation in the 1920s.
The side currently compete in the Southern League Premier Division Central, the seventh tier of English football. The club play at 4,554-capacity ground Top Field, in the north of the town, and came close to achieving promotion in the late 2010s, but have recently come into a more troubled spell.
Their highlights include wins in the F.A. Cup against higher ranked sides Hereford United in 1994 and Bristol Rovers in 1995 during which period they developed a reputation for "giant-killing".
The side count Hitchin-born England international Jack Wilshere among their supporters. Wilshire studied at the Priory School in the town and now runs a youth scheme called the Jack Wilshere Soccer School.
Hitchin is also home to Blueharts Hockey Club, a leading club since 1946, with 7 men's teams and 7 women's team plus a thriving junior section.
It also houses Hitchin Cricket Club, which has been an important cricket club within the area since 1866.
Hitchin Swimming Club are based locally and competes at local, county and regional level.
The Hitchin Nomads Cycling Club, which caters for many competitive and non-competitive cycling disciplines, was formed in the town in 1931. It is affiliated to British Cycling, the Cyclists' Touring Club, Cycling time trials and local cycling associations. Notable former members include pre-eminent cycling travel writer Harold Briercliffe and Max Pendleton, father of Olympic gold-medallist and track cycling World Champion Victoria Pendleton.
Formed in 2003 and known as FVS TRI until November 2009, Team Trisports is a Hitchin-based triathlon club. In addition to triathlon, the club an England Athletics and British Cycling affiliate.
Hitchin Running Club was formed in 2008 and is one of the most popular clubs in the town. They enjoy a large fan base and many local people of all abilities take part in the social activities. They are based at the rugby club and are a not for profit organisation.
Districts of Hitchin
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- Dorothy Atkinson, actress
- Guillem Balagué, Spanish football journalist
- James Bay, musician
- Tom Bentley, philanthropist
- Henry Bessemer, engineer
- Jennie Bond, journalist
- Sally Bretton, actress
- Harold Briercliffe, cyclist and author
- Drewe Broughton, footballer
- Edward Chapman, publisher
- George Chapman, poet
- Oliver Cheshire, fashion model
- Chris Cleaver, footballer
- Bill Coleman, cricketer
- L. S. Cousins, Buddhist scholar
- Mary Angela Dickens, novelist and granddaughter of Charles Dickens
- Monica Dickens, novelist and great granddaughter of Charles Dickens
- Karl Duguid, footballer
- Willie Duncan, musician
- Gail Emms, badminton player
- Ross Flitney, footballer
- Mathew Gates, figure skater
- Martin Gordon, musician
- F.L. Griggs, etcher
- Henry Hawkins, 1st Baron Brampton, judge
- E O Higgins, author
- Reginald Hine, solicitor and historian
- Paul Jesson, actor
- Roy Kettle, author
- Thea King, clarinettist
- Dave Kitson, footballer
- Kane Kramer, inventor of the digital audio player
- Frank Launder, film director
- Joseph Lister, pioneer of antiseptic surgery
- John Lloyd, co-founder of the international design consultancy Lloyd Northover.
- Gavin McInnes, writer, political commentator
- Sally Mules, journalist and presenter
- Elaine Murray, Scottish politician
- Robert Newman, comedian
- David Noble, footballer
- Arvind Parmar, tennis player
- Ian Perkins, Musician
- Kevin Phillips, footballer
- Kevin Pilkington, footballer
- Ian Poulter, golfer
- Pam Rhodes, BBC TV presenter
- Helen Richardson-Walsh, England and Great Britain hockey player
- Michael Robbins, actor
- Robert Tor Russell, architect of New Delhi
- Martin Savage, actor
- Steve Sheppard, B.B.C. Cricket and football commentator and owner of One World Music
- Valerie Singleton, TV presenter
- Richard Walker, angler
- Diana Wallis, politician (MEP)
- Kristiina Wheeler, an English-Finnish singer
- Richard Whitmore, former newsreader
- Sir Frank Whittle, inventor of the jet engine
- Jack Wilshere, footballer
- Henry Wood, conductor
- Second Lieutenant Frank Young VC, recipient of the Victoria Cross.
- Gary Younge, journalist
- Ed Macfarlane, lead singer of the English electronic music band Friendly Fires
- The Bleach Boys, Punk Band dating from 1976
Mike Leigh’s 1982 film Home Sweet Home for BBC Television was set in Hitchin.
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