Royston, Hertfordshire

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Royston Church - - 977495.jpg
St John the Baptist, Royston
Royston is located in Hertfordshire
Location within Hertfordshire
Population15,781 (2011 Census)[1]
OS grid referenceTL357406
Civil parish
  • Royston
Shire county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townROYSTON
Postcode districtSG8
Dialling code01763
AmbulanceEast of England
UK Parliament
List of places
52°02′50″N 0°01′13″W / 52.0471°N 0.0202°W / 52.0471; -0.0202Coordinates: 52°02′50″N 0°01′13″W / 52.0471°N 0.0202°W / 52.0471; -0.0202

Royston is a town and civil parish in the District of North Hertfordshire and county of Hertfordshire in England.

It is situated on the Greenwich Meridian, which brushes the town's eastern boundary, and at the northernmost apex of the county on the same latitude as towns such as Milton Keynes and Ipswich. It is about 43 miles (69 km) north of central London in a rural area.

Before the boundary changes of the 1890s, the boundary between Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire ran east–west through the centre of town along the middle of Melbourn Street. The town has a population of 15,781 as of 2011.[1]


Looking north along High Street, Royston

The town grew at the crossing of two ancient thoroughfares, Ermine Street and the Icknield Way (cum Ashwell Street); the former was created after the Roman conquest, while the Icknield Way has long been accepted as a prehistoric routeway. The roads are sometimes called military roads as they were prepared or improved by Roman soldiers to facilitate access to the hinterland of Roman Britain. The path of Icknield Way is occupied by the present day A505, which bypasses the town to the north. The A10 follows the alignment of Ermine Street south of the town, but diverts before it reaches the crossroads. The A1198, known as the Old North Road follows the alignment of Ermine Street northwards. Barrows on Goffers Knoll and Therfield Heath are evidence of prehistoric settlement.

A cross, variously known as Royse's, Rohesia's, or Roisia's Cross, was erected by the crossroads at an unknown date. It gave the settlement its earliest name of Crux Roesia or Roisia's Cross. By the 14th century this had become Roisia's Town, Roiston or Royston.[2][3] A large boulder of red millstone grit, bearing a square socket, supposed to be the base of the cross, has been placed by the cross roads at the northern end of High Street.[3]

Until 1540 Royston was divided between five parishes: Barkway, Reed and Therfield in Hertfordshire and Melbourn and Kneesworth in Cambridgeshire. In that year it became a separate ecclesiastical parish, partly in each county.[2]

Ralph de Rochester founded the Augustinian priory which originated as a chapel for three canons and was later expanded to seven or more regular canons. Royston had two hospitals or free chapels, as well as the monastery.

The hospital of St John and St Thomas was founded for lepers in 1224 by Richard Argentine, Sheriff of Cambridgeshire on the south side of Baldock Street.[2]

The hospital of St Nicholas was situated in the Cambridgeshire side of Royston. It was founded in about 1200 probably by Amphelise, a daughter of Richard the Chamberlain. In 1213 King John granted a fair to celebrate the feast of St Nicholas (8–9 May). The patronage of the hospital descended to Sir Giles Argentine, lord of the manor of Melbourn, who also held the patronage of the other hospital. In the 14th century, St Nicholas' Hospital was put under the same jurisdiction as that of St John and St Thomas, which were subsequently suppressed in 1547.[2][4]

The town having lost its monastic charter, the priory site was obtained by Robert Chester, a gentleman of the bedchamber to Henry VIII, who set up a market. Much of the town was given over to inns catering for travellers mainly travelling between London and York.

King James' Palace, Royston

On 29 April 1603 James VI of Scotland travelling to London to be crowned King James I of England, paused overnight at the Chester residence. His grandmother, Mary of Guise, had stayed there in 1551.[5] Attracted by the suitability of the area for hunting, James hired the house for a year. In 1604 he decided to create a hunting lodge in the town by demolishing the "Cock" and "Greyhound" inns. The king's lodgings were completed in 1607, and were described in 1652 as "all of brick well-tiled double-built, in length 78 ft., breadth 43 ft., height from eaves to ground 24 ft., thickness of walls 24 inches."[2] The buildings were never extensive enough to cater for a full court, but provided a suitable spot for hunting, near enough to London for convenience and sufficiently far away to deter intrusion. The king created a strict prohibition on anyone from taking game from within 16 miles (26 km) of Royston, and an elaborate infrastructure was established to support him in the pursuit of his sport. He returned almost every year to hunt and shoot.[2]

Queen Anne and Prince Henry visited the town once, in 1611–1612. Next year the queen opposed the marriage of her daughter, Princess Elizabeth to Frederick V, Elector Palatine, but the king came to Royston with the Earl of Rochester to negotiate the dowry which was signed there. Following the marriage, celebrated on St Valentine's Day 1613, the king, Prince Charles and Frederick came to stay at Royston.[2]

James' successor, Charles I visited Royston less frequently than his father. In June 1647 he was brought through the town as a prisoner of the Parliamentary army. After Charles's death the royal buildings fell into disrepair. The Crown sold its last interests in the town in 1866.[2]

William Cobbett mentions the town (somewhat gloomily) in his Rural Rides:

After you quit Ware...the land grows by degrees poorer; the chalk lies nearer and nearer to the surface, till you come to the open common-fields within a few miles of Royston [which] is at the foot of this high poor land; or, rather in a dell, the open side of which looks towards the North. It is a common market town. Not mean, but having nothing of beauty about it...

Royston had a bank from about 1806 to 1896, when it merged into the grouping that became Barclays. It was founded by Edward King Fordham and others, and the business was run by the influential local Fordham family.[6]


Arms of Royston Town Council
CrestOn a Wreath of the Colours perched upon a representation of the Royse Stone a Hooded Crow proper.
BlazonArgent a fesse Gules thereon another chequy of the first and Sable in chief two Tudor Roses barbed and seeded and in base a Stag trippant the whole surmounting an Archiepiscopal Staff all proper.
MottoA Bonis Ad Meliora (From Good Things To Better)
Granted to the urban district council on 19th May 1952.[7]

Royston has three tiers of local government at parish (town), district and county level.

Town council[edit]

Royston Town Council was formed in 1974 as the successor to Royston Urban District Council. The council consists of fifteen councillors headed by a town mayor (currently Robert Inwood)[8] The councillors are elected for three wards named Heath, Meridian and Palace. Among the town council's responsibilities are allotments, Royston Cave, Royston Museum, local festivals, public halls and the town's war memorial.[9] In December 2007 Royston Town Council was awarded the nationally recognised status of Quality Town Council. This Award confirms that Royston Town Council is run in accordance with the high standards required by the National Association of Local Councils and other government bodies.

Coat of arms[edit]

The town council uses the coat of arms granted to the urban district council in 1952.[9] The blazon of the arms is:

Argent a fesse gules thereon another chequy of the first and sable in chief two Tudor roses barbed and seeded and in the base a stag trippant the whole surmounting an archiepiscopal staff, all proper. And for a crest on a wreath of the colours, perched upon a representation of the Royse Stone, a hooded crow proper.[10]

The symbols on the shield briefly illustrate the history of the town. The staff is for Royston Priory, the roses for Tudor connections, while James I is represented by the checky fesse of the Stewarts. The hart represents Hertfordshire. The crest depicts a hooded crow, known within the region as a "Royston crow".[11] He stands on the "Royce Stone" in the town centre.[12]

Royston First[edit]

In October 2008, the Royston First Business Improvement District (BID) was proposed.[13] It came into operation in April 2009 after a ballot of local businesses.[14] A second such ballot in 2014 granted the organisation a further five-year mandate until April 2019.[15]

District council[edit]

Since 1974 Royston has formed part of the non-metropolitan district of North Hertfordshire. The council is based at Letchworth, and also includes the towns of Baldock and Hitchin. There are 49 district councillors elected for 24 wards. The three wards of Royston Heath, Royston Meridian and Royston Palace return 2 councillors each. As of 2019 four councillors are members of the Conservative Party and two are Liberal Democrat.[16]

County council[edit]

Hertfordshire County Council has 78 councillors, of which two are elected for Royston and the surrounding area. One of the current councillors (as of 2019) is a member of the majority Conservative group whilst the other is a member of the Liberal Democrat group.[17]


The town lies on the northern slopes of the Hertfordshire Chalk Downs.[2] The Greenwich Meridian passes through the point where the bypass meets the original A505 alignment. The town centre is just 1-minute 27 seconds west of the meridian.[citation needed]


Royston sits at the junction of the A10 and A505 roads, both of which are important road links through Hertfordshire and beyond. The town is also convenient for fast links to London and the north, as it is only a short distance from both the A1(M) and M11 motorways.

Nearby air transport links include Luton and Stansted airports, both of which are major air hubs in the South of England.

Royston railway station provides direct commuter links to both London and Cambridge. It is on the Cambridge Line and is a stopping point for regular services operated by Govia Thameslink Railway.

Royston railway crossing[edit]

Royston railway crossing
Proposed Royston rail crossing.png
Royston rail crossing
ProposerHertfordshire County Council
Cost estimate£3.25m

A new rail crossing for pedestrians and cyclists was opened in 2012. The crossing links the northern part of the town with the leisure centre and the main complex of schools. Two options were proposed, a bridge with an estimated cost of £1.5m and the eventually successful subway option estimated at £3.25m. Two locations were also under consideration; one at the ‘Coombes Hole’ allotment gardens area and a second connecting Green Street and Morton Street. Sustrans elected to build a subway at Coombes Hole allotment gardens.[18]

In 2007 the scheme became one of 79 Sustrans Connect2 projects to receive Big Lottery funding. The Connect2 project makes reference only to the subway option.[19]


Royston's schools are arranged as follows:

  • First Schools (Years Reception–4) : Icknield Walk First School; Roman Way First School; Studlands Rise First School; Tannery Drift First School.
  • Colleges (Years 12–13): there aren't any currently
  • Additionally there is St Mary's Roman Catholic Primary School (Years N-6)


One of the carvings from the cave

The public open space and nature reserve of Therfield Heath (also known as Royston Heath) overlooks the town from a hill to the south-west. The Icknield Way Path passes through the village on its journey of 110 miles (180 km) from Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire to Knettishall Heath in Suffolk.

In 1742 a strange cave carved out of the chalk was discovered in the centre of Royston. Royston Cave is located underneath the central crossroads of the town. The carvings in the cave have led to much speculation about the origin and function of the cave.[20]

Popular culture[edit]

Royston Arts Festival was revived in 2007 and now runs annually around the last week of September or the first week of October.[21] Royston Town Band is a brass band that was founded in the mid-19th century as the Royston Volunteer Band. The band celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2014.[22]

The Battle of Royston was a fictional battle in William Le Queux' The Invasion of 1910. The book describes how a German Army invades England through East Anglia and marches on London. Royston is where a battle takes place which fails to halt their advance.

In the 1965 fictional children's television series, Thunderbirds, one eccentric puppet character who was involved in a rescue mission was called Deborah the Duchess of Royston. The episode was called "The Duchess Assignment".

Town partnerships[edit]

Royston and District Twinning Association coordinates twinning relationships with the following partner towns:[23]

Sport and leisure[edit]

Royston Golf Club is situated on the Therfield Heath and was established in 1892. Has 18 holes, a range of practice facilities, pro shop and welcoming clubhouse.

Royston has a Non-League football club, Royston Town F.C., which plays at Garden Walk. The football club currently plays in the Southern League Premier Division Central league.

Royston Sports Club, situated on the heath, is the home to the town's tennis, squash, hockey and rugby clubs, as well as youth football. Royston Rugby Club's 1st XV play in the Herts/Middlesex 1st division[24] – its Girls' U15 side won the Herts Shield in 2011 and 2012.

Notable people[edit]

Several musicians originate from Royston, including trumpeter Alison Balsom,[25] blues singer/guitarist Danny Bryant, singing coach Carrie Grant,[26] as well as husband and wife William Barrington-Coupe and Joyce Hatto, perpetrators of "the greatest hoax in classical music", moved to the town.[27][28][29][30] A film was made by Victoria Wood about their life together in 2012 called Loving Miss Hatto.

Theologian, and founder of Presbyterianism in England, Thomas Cartwright, is reported to have been born in Royston,[31] as was fellow theologian Edward Stallybrass.[32] William Morton, theatre manager, born in 1838, grew up in Royston. Morton Street was named after his father, George, a leading light in the Royston Tradesmens' Benefit Society. Theatre director Robin Belfield,[33] and meteorologist Simon King grew up in Royston.[34] Poet Thomas Peyton,[35] and anatomical modeller Joseph Towne were both born in the town.[36] Astronomer and astrologer Henry Andrews moved to Royston in 1766 and is buried in the graveyard of St John's Church.[3][37] British author Helen Bailey was a resident of the town at the time of her murder in April 2016.[38] Thomas Kefford (fl. 1710–1750), a noted English clockmaker, ran his business at The Dial, Fore Street, in Royston.[39]


  1. ^ a b Office for National Statistics : Census 2011 : Parish Headcounts : North Hertfordshire Retrieved 2013-03-18
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Parishes: Royston". A History of the County of Hertford: volume 3. British History Online. 1912. Retrieved 10 June 2008.
  3. ^ a b c "History of Royston". Royston Town council. Retrieved 10 June 2008.
  4. ^ "Hospitals: St Nicholas Royston". A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 2. British History Online. 1948. Retrieved 10 June 2008.
  5. ^ Strype, John, Ecclesiastical Memoirs, vol.2 part 1, Oxford (1822), 502.
  6. ^ Allan Whitaker (2006). Brewers in Hertfordshire. Univ of Hertfordshire Press. pp. 31–2. ISBN 978-0-9542189-7-3.
  7. ^ "ROYSTON TOWN COUNCIL (HERTS)". Robert Young. Retrieved 31 October 2019.
  8. ^ "New Royston Mayor takes office". Royston Crow. Archived from the original on 16 October 2014. Retrieved 10 June 2008.
  9. ^ a b "Royston Town Council". Hertfordshire County Council. Retrieved 10 June 2008.
  10. ^ Geoffrey Briggs, Civic and Corporate Heraldry, London, 1971
  11. ^ C. Michael Hogan. 2009. Hooded Crow: Corvus cornix,, ed, N. Stromberg Archived 26 November 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ C Wilfrid Scott-Giles, Civic Heraldry of England and Wales, 2nd edition, London, 1953
  13. ^ "Everyone pays a little to gain a lot". The Royston Crow. 29 October 2008. Retrieved 6 November 2016.
  14. ^ "What is Royston First? What is a BID?". Royston First. Retrieved 6 November 2016.
  15. ^ Gooding, Matthew (13 February 2014). "Royston First Business Improvement District given green light for new five-year term". The Royston Crow. Retrieved 6 November 2016.
  16. ^ "District Councillors". North Hertfordshire District Council. 2011. Archived from the original on 18 August 2011. Retrieved 16 August 2011.
  17. ^ "Your Councillors". 23 August 2019.
  18. ^ "ROYSTON RAILWAY CROSSING – Report of the Director of the Environment". Hertfordshire County Council. 30 March 2006.[permanent dead link]
  19. ^ "Royston railway crossing". Sustrans. Retrieved 7 July 2009.
  20. ^ Historic England. "Royston Cave (1015594)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 21 May 2020.
  21. ^ "Royston Arts Festival". Archived from the original on 27 July 2011. Retrieved 10 April 2010.
  22. ^ "Come along to free concert to mark Royston Town Band's 150th anniversary". Retrieved 23 June 2015.
  23. ^ Royston & District Twinning Association, Accessed 29 January 2015
  24. ^ [1]
  25. ^ "Alison's musical training from the start..." Archived from the original on 24 May 2009. Retrieved 26 June 2009.
  26. ^ "TV celebrity highlights Crohn's disease". Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Archived from the original on 14 October 2012. Retrieved 29 July 2010.
  27. ^ Singer, Mark (17 September 2007). "Fantasia for Piano". The New Yorker. New York City. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  28. ^ Foskett, Ewan (1 March 2012). "Exclusive: Husband of pianist in recording scandal speaks to The Crow". The Royston Crow. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  29. ^ Dyer, Richard (21 August 2005). "After recording 119 CDs, a hidden jewel comes to light". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 18 May 2016.
  30. ^ "Loving Miss Hatto". BBC Online. Retrieved 18 May 2016.
  31. ^ Patrick Collinson (2004). "Cartwright, Thomas (1534/5–1603)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/4820. Retrieved 10 June 2008.
  32. ^ "C. R. Bawden, Stallybrass, Edward (1794–1884)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/48969. Retrieved 10 June 2008.
  33. ^ "Event: Robin Belfield workshop". Archived from the original on 27 August 2017. Retrieved 10 April 2010.
  34. ^ "Simon King". BBC Weather. 17 December 2009. Retrieved 28 May 2010.
  35. ^ "Alexander Gordon, Crabb, Habakkuk (1750–1794), rev. M. J. Mercer". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/22083. Retrieved 10 June 2008.
  36. ^ "John Maynard, Towne, Joseph (1806–1879)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/27600. Retrieved 10 June 2008.
  37. ^ "Patrick Curry, Andrews, Henry (1744–1820)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/523. Retrieved 10 June 2008.
  38. ^ "Concern grows for missing author Helen Bailey", BBC News, 17 April 2016. Retrieved 11 July 2016
  39. ^ "Thomas Kefford". Archived from the original on 9 October 2011. Retrieved 16 March 2010.

External links[edit]