Berkhamsted (/ˈbɜːrkəmstɛd/ BUR-kəm-sted) is a historic market
town close to the western boundary of Hertfordshire, England. The
affluent commuter town is located in the small Bulbourne valley in the
Chiltern Hills, 26 miles (42 km) northwest of London.
Berkhamsted is a civil parish, with a town council within the larger
borough of Dacorum.
Berkhamsted and the adjoining village of
Northchurch are separated from other towns and villages by countryside
that is within the
Metropolitan Green Belt
Metropolitan Green Belt and much of it classified
as being an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty(AONB).
The high street is on a pre-Roman route known by its Saxon name Akeman
Street. The earliest written reference to
Berkhamsted was in 970.
Berkhamsted was recorded as a 'burbium' (an ancient borough) in the
Domesday Book in 1086. The oldest known extant jettied timber-framed
building in Great Britain, built 1277 - 1297, survives as a shop on
the town's high street. In the 13th and 14th century the town
was a wool trading town, with thriving local market. (In 2014, 2017
and 2018 Berkhamsted's high street was rated very highly in three
different national surveys.)
The most notable event in the town's history occurred in December
William the Conqueror
William the Conqueror defeated King Harold's Anglo-Saxon
army at the Battle of Hastings, the
Anglo-Saxon leadership surrendered
to the Norman encampment at Berkhamsted. The event was recorded in the
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. From 1066 to 1495,
Berkhamsted Castle was a
favoured residence held by many English royals, including Henry II and
Edward, the Black Prince; and historical figures such as Thomas Becket
and Geoffrey Chaucer. After the castle was abandoned in 1495 the
town went into decline, losing its borough status in the second half
of the 17th century. Modern
Berkhamsted began to expand following the
construction of the canal and the railway in the 19th century.
Among those born in
Berkhamsted was Colonel Daniel Axtell, who was the
captain of the Parliamentary Guard at the trial and execution of
Charles I in 1649. The towns literary connections include the 17th
century hymnist and poet, William Cowper, the 18th century writer
Maria Edgeworth, and the 20th century novelist Graham Greene. The town
is the location of
Berkhamsted School, a co-educational boarding
independent school, founded in 1541 by John Incent, Dean of St Paul's
Ashlyns School a state school whose history began as
Foundling Hospital established in
London by Thomas Coram, in 1742.
The town is home to the Rex Cinema (a highly regarded independent
cinema) and the British Film Institute's
BFI National Archive
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.
1.1 Origin of the town's name
1.2 Prehistory and Roman period
1.4 1066 and the Domesday survey
1.5 Royal medieval castle (11th to 15th centuries)
1.6 Medieval market town (12th to 15th centuries)
1.7 Castle abandoned, the town in decline (16th to late 18th century)
1.8 Development of the modern town (19th and 20th century)
1.8.1 19th century urban growth
1.8.2 19th century industry and utilities
1.8.3 Provision for the destitute
1.8.4 Land dispute The Battle of
1.8.5 First World War
1.8.6 20th Century urban developments
2.1 Neighbouring settlements
4.2 Employment and economic wellbeing
4.4 Relationships and education
6 Economy and commerce
7.1 State schools
7.2 Independent schools
7.3 Business school
8 Religious sites
9 Culture and leisure
9.1 Literary connections
British Film Institute
British Film Institute National Archive at King's Hill
10 Sites of interest
11 Associations with the town
11.1 Twin towns
14 External links
Origin of the town's name
Joan Blaeu map of
Hertfordshire from 1659 showing Barkhamsted [sic],
one of the many archaic spellings of the town's name
The earliest recorded spelling of the town's name is the 10th century
Anglo-Saxon Beorhðanstædæ. The first part may have originated from
Old English words beorg, meaning "hill", or berc or beorc,
meaning "birch"; or from the older
Old Celtic word Bearroc, meaning
"hilly place". The latter part, "hamsted", derives from the Old
English word for homestead. So the town's name could be either mean
"homestead amongst the hills" or the "homestead among the
Percy Birtchnell identified over 50 different
spellings and epithets for the town's name since the writing of the
Domesday Book; the present spelling was adopted in 1937. Other
spellings included: "Berkstead", "Berkampsted", "Berkhampstead",
"Muche Barkhamstede", "
Berkhamsted Magna", "Great Berkhamsteed" and
"Berkhamstead". The town's local nickname is "Berko".
Prehistory and Roman period
An Early Middle
Bronze Age (c.1500 to 1300 BC) copper Chisel found in
Neolithic, Bronze Age,
Iron Age and Roman artefacts show that the
Berkhamsted area of the Bulbourne Valley has been settled for over
5,000 years. The discovery of a large number of worked
flint chips provides
Neolithic evidence of on-site flint knapping in
the centre of Berkhamsted. Several settlements dating from the
Neolithic to the
Iron Age (about 4500–100 BC) have been
discovered south of Berkhamsted. Three sections of a late Bronze Age
Iron Age (1200–100 BC) bank and ditch, sixteen feet (five
metres) wide by seven to thirteen feet (two to four metres) high and
known as Grim's Ditch, are found on the south side of the Bulbourne
Iron Age dyke with the same name is on
Berkhamsted Common, on the north side of the valley.
In the late Iron Age, prior to the Roman occupation, the valley would
have been within
Catuvellauni territory. The Bulbourne Valley was
rich in timber and iron ore. In the late Iron Age, a four-square-mile
(ten-square-kilometre) area around
Northchurch became a major iron
production centre, now considered to be one of the most important late
Iron Age and Roman industrial areas in England. Iron
production led to the settlement of a Roman town at Cow Roast,
about two miles (three kilometres) northwest of Berkhamsted. Four
first century iron smelting bloomeries at Dellfield (one mile (two
kilometres) northwest of the town centre) provide evidence of
industrial activity in Berkhamsted. Production ceased at the
end of the Roman period. Other evidence of Roman-British occupation
and activity in the
Berkhamsted area, includes a pottery kiln on
Bridgewater Road. The town's high street still follows the
line of the Roman-engineered Akeman Street, which had been a
pre-existing route from
St Albans (Verulamium) to Cirencester
During Roman occupation the countryside close to
subdivided into a series of farming estates. The
appears to have been divided into two or three farming estates, each
including one or more masonry villa buildings, with tiled roofs and
The remains of a villa were found close to the river in 1973 in the
adjacent village of Northchurch. The oldest building, made of timber,
was built in AD 60, rebuilt using 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, reoccupied in the 4th century, and
abandoned in the late 4th or early 5th century.
A Roman-British villa, dyke, and temple were found 1.25 miles
(2.01 km) NNW of the castle, near Frithesden, at the edge of the
Berkhamsted Golf Course. Excavations in 1954 revealed masonry
foundations and tesserae floors. Together, the villa, dyke and temple
form a unique complex, suggesting occupation in the late
Iron Age and
Two flint and tile walls from a Roman building were found north of
Berkhamsted Castle in 1970. The construction of the castle's
earthworks in the
Middle Ages may have damaged this building.
The earliest written reference to
Berkhamsted is in the will of
Ælfgifu (died AD 970), queen consort of King
Eadwig of England
(r. 955–959), who bequeathed large estates in five counties,
including Berkhamsted.[Notes 1] The location and extent of early
Saxon settlement of
Berkhamsted is not clear. Rare
dating from the 7th century onwards has been found between Chesham
Road and St John's Well Lane, with water mills near Mill Street in use
from the late 9th century, show that an
Anglo-Saxon settlement existed
in the centre of modern-day Berkhamsted. The nearest known
structural evidence of the
Anglo-Saxon period are in the south and
west walls of St Mary's Northchurch, one mile (two kilometres) to the
north-west of modern Berkhamsted. The church may have been an
important minster, attached to a high status
Anglo-Saxon estate, which
became part of the medieval manor of
Berkhamsted after the Norman
The parish of
Berkhamsted St Mary's (in Northchurch) once stretched
five miles from the hamlet of Dudswell, through
Berkhamsted to the former hamlet of Bourne End. Within Berkhamsted,
Chapel of St James, was a small church situated near St John's
Well (a 'holy well' that was the town's principal source of drinking
water in the Middle Ages). The parish of this church (and later
that of St Peter's) was an enclave of about 4,000 acres
(1,600 ha) that was carved out of the middle of
Mary's.[Notes 2] By the 14th century the adjoining village
Berkhamsted St Mary" or "
Berkhamsted Minor" name had changed to
"North Church", later "Northchurch", to distinguish the village from
the town of Berkhamsted.
1066 and the Domesday survey
Main article: Norman conquest of England
The Anglo-Saxons surrendered the crown of
England to William the
Berkhamsted in early December 1066. After William
defeated and killed Harold II at the
Battle of Hastings
Battle of Hastings in October, he
failed in an attempt to capture
London from the south. William led his
army around London, crossing the
River Thames at Wallingford, "laying
waste" while travelling through southeast England. At Berkhamsted, he
received the surrender of
Edgar the Ætheling
Edgar the Ætheling (heir to the English
throne), Archbishop Ealdred, Earl Edwin,
Earl Morcar and the leaders
of London. It is not known why
Berkhamsted was chosen as the
meeting place, except
Berkhamsted was in a defensive position
north-west of London. [Notes 3] William was crowned in Westminster
Abbey on Christmas Day, 1066. After his coronation, William
granted the "Honour of Berkhamsted" to his half-brother, Robert, Count
of Mortain, who after William became the largest landholder in the
country. Robert built a wooden fortification that later became a royal
retreat for the monarchs of the Norman to Plantagenet
According to the
Domesday Book the lord of
Berkhamsted prior to the
Norman conquest was Edmer Ator (also referred to as Eadmer Atule),
Edward the Confessor
Edward the Confessor and King Harold.[Notes 4] The Domesday
survey records that there was enough land for 26 plough teams, but
only 15 working teams. There were two flour mills (Upper and Lower
Mill), woodland for 1,000 pigs, and a vineyard. The total
population was calculated to be either 37 or 88 households; the
families included 14 villagers, 15 smallholders, 6 slaves, a priest, a
dyke builder (possibly working on the earthworks of the castle) and 52
burgesses. Some historians have argued that the number of 52
Berkhamsted was a clerical error, as it is a high number
for a small town.
Berkhamsted was described in the Domesday
Book as a burbium (ancient borough) in the Tring
Marjorie Chibnall argued that Robert,
Count of Mortain intended
Berkhamsted to be both a commercial and
defensive centre; while John Hatcher and Edward
that the 52 burgesses were involved in trade, but it is unknown if the
burgesses existed prior to the conquest.
Royal medieval castle (11th to 15th centuries)
View across the Inner moat towards the bailey walls of Berkhamsted
A view of the castle motte, moat, middle bank and outer earthworks.
Berkhamsted Castle is a well-documented example of an 11th-century
motte-and-bailey Norman castle, with historical records dating from
the 12th to 15th centuries. The castle was a high-status residence
and an administrative centre for large estates. The royal castle's
presence clearly affected the town. It created jobs for the local
population, both in the castle itself and also, for example, in the
large deer park and in the vineyard, which were maintained
alongside the castle. Moreover, for nearly 400 years, patronage
from the royal court connected to the castle helped fuel the town's
growth, prosperity and sense of importance.
Robert, Count of Mortain's heir William rebelled against and lost the
castle to Henry I. In 1155–65, Henry II's favourite, Thomas Becket,
was given Berkhamsted. Becket was later alleged to have spent over
£300 on improvements to the castle, a claim that led Henry to accuse
him of corruption and may have contributed to Becket's downfall.
Henry II extensively used the castle, making it one of his favourite
residences. Both King Richard I and King John gave the castle to their
Berengaria of Navarre
Berengaria of Navarre and Isabella of Angoulême,
respectively. In King John's reign, Geoffrey Fitz Peter (c.
1162–1213),[Notes 6] Earl of Essex and the Chief
England (effectively the king's principal minister) held the Honour
and Manor of
Berkhamsted from 1199 to 1212. During his time in the
castle he was responsible for the foundation of the new parish church
of St Peter (the size of which reflects the growing prosperity of the
town), two hospitals, St John the
Baptist and St John the Evangelist
(one of which was a leper hospital), which survived until 1516, and
the lay out of the town. In December 1216, the castle was
besieged during the civil war, known as the First Barons' War, between
King John and barons supported by Prince Louis (the future Louis VIII
of France), who captured the castle on 20 December 1216 after twenty
days using siege engines and counterweight trebuchets.
In 1227, Henry III's younger brother, Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall,
was given the manor and castle, beginning the long association of the
castle with the Earls and later the Dukes of Cornwall. [Notes
7] Richard redeveloped the castle as a palatial residence and the
centre for the administration of the Earldom of Cornwall. Richard's
coat of arms as Earl of Cornwall, along with bezants, is included in
Berkhamsted's coat of arms. Richard's wife, Sanchia of Provence, died
in the castle in 1260. Richard was succeeded by his son, Edmund, 2nd
Earl of Cornwall, who founded
Ashridge Priory, a college of the
monastic order of Bonhommes, in 1283. In 1300, after Edmund died,
Edward I - aka 'Longshanks' took the castle and subsequently granted
it to his second queen, Margaret of France. In 1309, Edward I and
Margaret's son, Edward II, granted
Berkhamsted to his favourite, Piers
Gaveston; afterwards In 1317, the castle was given to Edward II's
queen, Isabella of France.
The castle's bailey viewed from the Norman motte. (Enlarged: A train
can be seen passing close to the castle, with the town to the south
Edward III further developed the castle and gave it to his son,
Edward, the Black Prince, who expanded the hunting grounds. By
Berkhamsted Castle still belongs to the eldest son of the
reigning English monarch, via the Duchy of Cornwall. The castle
was used to hold royal prisoners, including John II of France. In
1361, the "Hero of Berkhamsted", Edward, the Black Prince, and Joan,
the Maid of Kent, spent their honeymoon in Berkhamsted. The Black
Prince was supported at the
Battle of Crecy
Battle of Crecy by local bowmen - Everard
Halsey, John Wood, Stephen of Champneys, Robert Whittingham, Edward le
Bourne, Richard of Gaddesden and Henry of
Berkhamsted (who was
rewarded with 2d a day and appointed porter of
after he saved the prince's baggage at the Battle of Poitiers).
Richard II inherited
Berkhamsted Castle in 1377 and gave it to his
favourites, Robert de Vere and John Holland.
In 1400, Henry IV lived in the castle after he deposed Richard, and he
used the castle to imprison others attempting to obtain the throne.
During this time, Geoffrey Chaucer, later famous for writing The
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 and who was the
model for the Doctor of Phisick in The Canterbury Tales. Henry V and
Henry VI owned the castle, the latter making use of it until he was
overthrown in 1461. In 1469,
Edward IV gave the castle to his mother,
Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, who was the last person to live in
In 1833, the castle was the first building to receive statutory
protection in the United Kingdom. In 1834, construction of the railway
embankment demolished the castle's gatehouse and adjacent
earthworks. Since the 1930s, the castle ruins have been managed by
English Heritage, under the guardianship of the Secretary of State for
National Heritage, and are freely open to the public.
Medieval market town (12th to 15th centuries)
Though close to the castle, the town continued to develop on the old
Akeman Street 0.4 miles (1 km) to the south of the castle and to
the west of St Peter's Church; with a triangle formed by Mill Street,
Castle Street and Back Lane pointing towards the castle. In
1156, Henry II officially recognised
Berkhamsted as a town in a royal
charter, which confirmed the laws and customs enjoyed under Edward the
Confessor, William I and Henry I, and freed the town's merchants from
all tolls and dues. The charter also stated that no market could be
set up within 7 miles (11 km) of the town.
Tomb of Henry of
Berkhamsted (who served under Edward the Black Prince
at the battles of Crécy and Poitiers) and his Lady
The town became a trading centre on an important trade route in the
12th and 13th centuries, and
Berkhamsted received more royal charters.
In 1216, Henry III relieved the men and merchants of the town from all
tolls and taxes everywhere in England, and the English Plantagenet
possessions in France, Normandy, Aquitaine and Anjou The growing
wool trade brought prosperity to
Berkhamsted from the 12th century
until the early Tudor period. Four wealthy
merchants were amongst a group in
Bruges to whom
Edward III wrote in
Berkhamsted merchants sold cloth to the royal
Henry III in 1217 recognised by royal charter the town's oldest
institution, Berkhamsted's pre-existing market.[Notes 8]
Trades within medieval
Berkhamsted were extensive: early in the 13th
century the town had a merchant, two painters, a goldsmith, a
forester, two farriers, two tailors, a brewer of mead, a blacksmith,
carpenters, wood turners, tool makers, a manufacturer of roofing tiles
and wine producers. In the mid–13th century, a banker, the
wealthy Abraham of Berkhamsted, financier to the Earl of Cornwall,
lived in the town; this was unusual for a small town in a time of
heightened persecution of Jews.
In 1290, a taxation list mentions a brewer, a lead burner, a
carpenter, leather workers, a fuller, a turner, a butcher, a
fishmonger, a barber, an archer, a tailor, a cloth-napper, a miller, a
cook, a seller of salt and a huntsman. 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). In 1307
Berkhamsted was a large town
with an estimated population of 2,000 to 2,500. In 1355, there
were five butchers, two bakers, nine brewers, two cobblers, a pelter,
a tanner, five cloth dyers, six wheelwrights, three smiths, six grain
merchants, a skinner and a baker/butcher. In the 14th century,
Berkhamsted (recorded as "Berchamstede") was considered to be one of
the "best" market towns in the country. In a survey of 1357,
Richard Clay was found to own a butcher's shop twelve feet (four
metres) wide, William Herewood had two shops, and there were four
other shops eight feet (two metres) in length. In 1440, there is a
reference to lime kilns.
The town benefited when Edmund, 2nd
Earl of Cornwall founded Ashridge
Priory in 1283, two miles (three kilometres) from the town and within
the castle's park. At the foundation of the abbey, the Earl donated a
phial claimed to contain Christ's blood. Pilgrims from all over Europe
passed through the town to see the holy relic. The abbey grew quite
wealthy as a result. Edward I held parliament at the abbey in 1290
while he spent Christmas in Pitstone.
Berkhamsted burgesses sent
two members to parliament in 1320, 1338 and 1341, but the town 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), eventually producing a park covering 991 acres
(401 ha). In the 15th century, the town is reaffirmed as a
borough, by a royal charter granted by
Edward IV (1442–1483), that
decreed that no other market town was to be set up within 11 miles
Castle abandoned, the town in decline (16th to late 18th
Berkhamsted Place 1832
In the 16th century, the town fell into decline after abandonment of
the castle following the death of
Cicely Neville, Duchess of York
Cicely Neville, Duchess of York 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).
Berkhamsted Castle passed through the hands of three of Henry VIII's
wives: Catherine of Aragon,
Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour. After the
Dissolution of the Monasteries,
Henry VIII bequeathed
to his daughter Elizabeth. The priory became her private residence
during her sister Mary I's reign. The population of the town
in 1563 has been estimated at only 545. 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. Brewing and maltings was
noted as one of the town’s principal industries in the reign of
Elizabeth. Around 1583, a new market house was erected west of St
Peter's Church at the end of Middle Row (alternatively named Le
Shopperowe or Graball Row). The market house was destroyed in a fire
Berkhamsted Place was bought by Henry Frederick, Prince of
Wales for £4,000. Henry, who died later that year, bequeathed the
house to his brother Charles (later King Charles I), who leased
the property to his tutor, Thomas Murray, and his wife, Mary Murray,
who had been his nurse and Lady of the
Privy Chamber to the prince's
John Norden wrote in 1616 that the making of malt was then the
principal trade of the town. In 1618, James I reaffirmed
Berkhamsted's borough status with a charter. Following surveys in 1607
and 1612 the Duchy of Cornwall enclosed 300 acres (121 ha) from
the Common (now known as Coldharbour farm) despite local opposition
led by Rev Thomas Newman. In 1639 the Duchy again tried to enclose a
further 400 acres (162 ha) of the
Berkhamsted and Northchurch
Commons but were prevented from doing so by William Edlyn of Norcott.
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
Berkhamsted was visited by a violent pestilential fever.
Born in Berkhamsted, Colonel Daniel Axtell(1622 – 19 October
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
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
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 its borough status. The surveyor of
Hertfordshire recommended that a new tenant and army officers were
Berkhamsted Place "to govern the people much seduced of late
by new doctrine preacht unto them by Axtell and his colleagues."
The estimated population of the town in 1640 and in the 1690s was 1075
and 767, respectively. The town was a centre of religious
nonconformity from the 17th century: over a quarter of the town 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 used for butchery.
Development of the modern town (19th and 20th century)
19th century urban growth
In the 17th and 18th-centuries
Hemel Hempstead with its thriving
Berkhamsted as the major town in the area.
Berkhamsted barely extended beyond the medieval triangle and
the High Street. With the coming of the Industrial Age, Berkhamsted
was well placed at a gateway through the Chilterns, between the
London and the industrial Midlands. The town became a link
in the growing network of roads, canals and railways. These
developments led Berkhamsted's population to once again expand. In
1801, the population of St Peter's parish had been 1,690 and in 1831,
this had risen to 2,369 (484 houses). An 1835 description of the
town found that "the houses are mostly of brick, and irregularly
built, but are interspersed with a fair proportion of handsome
residences". The town's population increased as "hundreds of men
arrived to build the railway line and needed lodging"; by 1851,
the population was 3,395, From 1850 large estates around
Berkhamsted were sold, allowing for housing expansion. In 1851 the
Pilkington Manor estate, east of Castle Street, was sold, and the land
developed both as an industrial area and for artisans’ dwellings. In
1868 streets of middle-class villas began to appear on the hill south
High Street   Lower Kings Road was built by public
subscription in 1885 to join Kings Road and the
High Street to the
station. In 1887, John Bartholomew's Gazetteer of the British Isles
recorded the population at 4,485.
19th century industry and utilities
Former buildings of Cooper & Nephews on Ravens Lane, Berkhamsted
Industries in the 19th century included:
· Timber: In the mid-18th century,
Berkhamsted had been noted for
turned wood products. 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 19th century. The
Crimean War contracts for supplying the army with lance poles and tent
pegs led to major expansion. The largest manufacturer was East
· 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).
· The Canal Trade provided a considerable economic stimulus to the
town, enabling the development of industries which involved bulk
transport of materials. These included timber and malt.
· Boat building:
Berkhamsted also became a centre for the
construction of the barges needed for the canal trades. A yard
for building canal barges and other boats between Castle Street and
Raven's Lane wharves, was one of three important boatyards in
Hertfordshire. It was owned by John Hatton until 1880 and then by
William Costin until 1910 when it was taken over by Key's, the timber
merchants which in 1969 was bought by another timber merchant J.
Alsford before being redeveloped into flats in 1994. Located at this
site, adjacent to the canal is the
Berkhamsted Canadian totem pole.
· Watercress: The construction of the canal had helped to drain the
marshy areas along the valley of the River Bulbourne. In 1883, the
Berkhamsted Times congratulated Mr Bedford on having converted the
remaining "dirty ditches and offensive marshes" into watercress
· 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. The Cooper family firm was later inherited
by his nephew, Sir Richard Cooper, 1st Baronet.
· 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
Utilities in the 19th century included:
· Gasworks: The Great
Berkhamsted Gas, Light & Coke Co., at the
junction of Water Lane and the Wilderness, was set up to provide
street lighting in 1849. In 1906, the
Berkhamsted Gas Works moved to
Billet Lane; it closed in 1959.
· Water and sewage: The Great
Berkhamsted Waterworks Company was set
up in 1864 on the high street (on the present site of W.H. Smith and
Boots). Mains drainage was first supplied in 1898–99, when effective
sewerage was installed.
Provision for the destitute
The 19th century soup kitchen built inside
Berkhamsted Castle (part
now used as the castle visitor centre) located at the entrance next to
the cottage within the castle's bailey.
In 1725 "An Account of Several Workhouses", records a parish workhouse
Berkhamsted and a parliamentary report of 1777 refers to a parish
workhouse for up to 34 inmates in Northchurch. A small "wretched,
straw-thatched" house was used to house poor families in Berkhamsted,
on the corner of what is now Park View Road, until it was demolished
in the 1820s. In 1831 a bequest of £1,000 by the Revd George Nugent,
led to a new parish workhouse being set up on the site of a workhouse,
which had operated in a row of tenements on the
High Street (at the
Kitsbury Road junction) known as Ragged Row. The "Berkhampstead
Poor Law Union" was formed in June 1835 covering ten parishes centring
on the town. The Union took over the existing
workhouse and by August 1835 it became the sole workhouse for the
union. The workhouse had no schoolroom, so in 1849, the Poor Law Board
recommended that pauper children be sent to the local National School,
although in 1858 the school complained about the state of children
attending from the workhouse. A fever ward was erected in 1855, and a
full-time nurse was engaged in 1868. The workhouse system officially
came to an end in 1930, and control over the workhouse was given to
local council. Nugent House, The
Berkhamsted workhouse, finally closed
in 1935 and its function was relocated to Hemel Hemspstead.
In 1841, the Countess of Bridgewater built a soup kitchen for the
local poor within the ruins of
Berkhamsted Castle. The soup kitchen
was used by an estimated 15% of the population of
500 people) during the winter months, until at least 1897. The
building still stands connected to the cottage in the castle grounds,
why it was placed outside the town and inside the ruins of the
historic castle is unknown.
Beech or Harry Potter tree (now fallen) This pollarded tree
Frithsden Beeches on
Berkhamsted Common was at least 350 years old.
In 1866, it was at the centre of the battle of
Berkhamsted Common. It
was noted by the naturalist
Richard Mabey in his book "Beechcombings"
and "played" the
Whomping Willow in the Harry Potter Film "The
Prisoner of Azkaban."
Land dispute The Battle of
The Battle of
Berkhamsted Common played an important part in the
preservation of common land nationally. After 1604 the former
Ashridge Priory became the home of the Edgerton family. 1808-1814
Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, demolished the old priory,
and built a stately home
Ashridge House. In 1848 the estate passed to
the Earls Brownlow, a strand of the Egerton family.
In 1866, Lord Brownlow of
Ashridge House (in an action similar to many
other large estate holders) tried to enclose
Berkhamsted Common with
5-foot (2 m) steel fences (built by Woods of Berkhamsted) in an
attempt to claim it as part of his estate. In order to defend the
historic rights of the public at large to use the ancient common land,
Augustus Smith MP and
George Shaw-Lefevre organised local folk plus
120 hired men from London's East End to dismantle those same erected
steel fences and return
Berkhamsted Common to the people of
Berkhamsted on the night of 6 March, in what became known nationally
as the Battle of
Brownlow brought a legal case against Smith for trespass and criminal
damage, Sir Robert Hunter (later co-founder of the
National Trust in
1895) and the
Commons Preservation Society
Commons Preservation Society defended the action. Lord
Justice Romilly determined that pulling down a fence was no more
violent an act than erecting one. The case, he said, rested on the
legality of Brownlow’s actions in having erected the fence in the
first place and the legal right of people to use the land. He ruled in
favour of Smith, a legal decision, along with the Metropolitan Commons
Act 1866, that helped ensure the protection of
Berkhamsted Common and
other open spaces nationally threatened with enclosure. In 1926 the
common was acquired by the National Trust.
First World War
During the First World War, under the guidance of Lt Col Francis
Inns of Court
Inns of Court
Officer Training Corps
Officer Training Corps trained men from
the legal profession as officers. Over the course of the war, 12,000
men travelled from
Berkhamsted to fight on the Western Front. Their
training included trench digging: eight miles (thirteen kilometres) of
trenches were dug across the Common (of which 1,640 feet (500 m)
Inns of Court
Inns of Court War Memorial on the Common has the motto
Salus Populi Suprema Lex – the welfare of the people is the highest
law – and states that the ashes of Colonel Errington were
20th Century urban developments
In 1909 Sunnyside and later in 1935
Northchurch were added to
Berkhamsted Urban District. Shortly after 1918 much of the extensive
estate belonging to
Berkhamsted Hall, at the east end of the High
Street, was sold; many acres west of Swing Gate Lane were developed
with Council housing. More council housing was built at Gossoms End.
Development on the north side of the valley was limited until the sale
Ashridge estate in the 1930s after which housing appeared at
each end of Bridgewater Road. Meanwhile, over the last century,
many of the old industrial firms in
Berkhamsted closed, while the
numbers of commuters increased.
After the Second World War, in July 1946, the nearby town of Hemel
Hempstead was designated a New Town under the New Towns Act ("New
Towns" were satellite urban developments around
London to relieve
London's population growth and housing issues after the blitz).
February 1947 the Government purchased 5,910 acres (2,392 ha) of
land and began construction, which led Hemel Hempstead's population to
increased from 20,000 to today over 90,000, making it today the
largest town in Hertfordshire. In 1974, the old hundred of
Dacorum became the modern district of
Dacorum formed under the Local
Government Act 1972, based in Hemel Hempstead.
Northchurch from the air, looking south across the
Berkhamsted is situated 26 miles (42 km) northwest of London
within the Chiltern Hills, part of a system of chalk downlands
throughout eastern and southern England, believed to have formed
between 84 and 100 million years ago in the
Cretaceous Period when the
area was a chalk-depositing marine environment. The town is
located in a narrow northwest to southeast valley falling from 590
feet (180 m) above sea level to 344 feet (105 m). The valley
is at the southernmost limit of the Pleistocene glaciation ice erosion
throughout the Chiltern scarp, giving it a smooth rounded appearance,
with alluvial soils in the valley bottom and chalk, clay and flint on
the valley sides. The River Bulbourne, a chalk stream, runs
through the valley for seven miles (11 km) in a southeast
direction, starting at Dudswell and the adjoining village of
Northchurch and running through Berkhamsted, Bourne End and Boxmoor,
where it merges with the
River Gade at Two Waters in Apsley, near
Looking south towards St Peter's Church on the high street.
In the early
Mesolithic period (Middle Stone Age, mid to late 8th
millennium BC), the local upland was mostly pine woodland and the low
area of central
Berkhamsted probably a grass-sedge fen. In the 6th
Millennium BC the dense deciduous forest became well established. By
the Mid to late 3rd millennium BC during the
Neolithic period (the New
Stone Age) human activity can be seen in wood clearances; the woodland
being then dominated by lime trees, with alder trees growing on the
flood plain. The River Bulbourne, rich in eels and other fish, was
fast-moving and full, and prone to frequent localised flooding.
The river created a marsh environment (at times referred to as an
'unhealthy swamp') in the center of the valley. The river
powered the watermills (recorded in 1086) and fed the three moats of
the large Norman
Motte and Bailey
Motte and Bailey castle, that stands close to the
center of the town where a small dry combe joins the Bulbourne valley.
The layout of Berkhamsted's centre is typical of a medieval market
settlement; the linear
High Street (aligned on the Roman Akeman
Street) forms the spine of the town (roughly aligned east–west),
from which extend medieval burgage plots (to the north and south). The
surviving burgage plot layout is the result of a comprehensive plan
carried out in the beginning of the 13th century, most probably
instigated by Geoffrey fitz Peter. The town centre slowly
developed over the years and contains a wide variety of properties
that date from the 13th century onwards. The modern town began to
develop after the construction of the
Grand Junction Canal
Grand Junction Canal in 1798.
The canal intersects the river at numerous points, taking most of its
water supply and helping to drain the valley. The locality became
further urbanised when the
Birmingham railway was built in
1836–37.</ref> The townscape was shaped by the
Bulbourne valley, which rises 300 feet on either side at its narrowest
point; the residential area is elongated and follows the valley's
topography. The southwest side of the valley is more
developed, with side streets running up the steep hillside; on the
northeast side, the ground gently slopes down to the castle, railway,
canal and small river, was less available for development. Today,
Berkhamsted is an affluent, "pleasant town tucked in a wooded
fold in the Chiltern Hills"; with a large section of the
settlement protected as a conservation area.
2014 Map of
Berkhamsted and Northchurch.
The countryside surrounding the town includes parts of the Green Belt
and the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Urban Nature
Conservation Study (UNCS) recognises the town's hinterland as a
biodiversity resource. The hills gently rise to an undulating and open
plateau, which has a mix of arable farmland, common land and mixed
oak, ash and beech woodland. On the northeast side of town are the
Northchurch commons, the largest in the Chilterns at
1,055 acres (427 ha), and forming a large arc running from
Frithsden and down to Potten End. Ownership of
Berkhamsted Common is divided between the
National Trust and
Berkhamsted Golf Club. Beyond the common is the 5,000-acre
(2,000 ha) historic wooded parkland of Ashridge; once part of
Berkhamsted Castle's hunting park, it is now managed by the National
Ashridge is part of the Chilterns Beechwood
Special Area of
Conservation (SAC), a nationally important nature conservation area,
and is also designated as a Site of
Special Scientific Interest.
Agriculture is more dominant to the south of the town; close to the
Buckinghamshire border there are two former large country estates,
Ashlyns and Rossway. The ancient woodland at Dickshills is also
Places adjacent to Berkhamsted
Bourne End, Nettleden,
Frithsden Potten End, Aldbury, Ringshall,
Little Gaddesden, Great Gaddesden, Northchurch, Cow Roast, and Ashley
Like most of the United Kingdom,
Berkhamsted has an oceanic climate
Köppen climate classification
Köppen climate classification Cfb).
Climate data for Berkhamsted
Average high °C (°F)
Average low °C (°F)
Average precipitation mm (inches)
Near-real-time weather information can be retrieved from Berkhamsted
Weather Station on the Met Office Weather Observation Website
The town's coat of arms.
Recognised as a borough in its own right as far back as the Domesday
Book until its
Borough status was withdrawn following the English
Civil War. Today
Berkhamsted has a town council, the first tier of
local government that represents the local people to two higher tiers
of local government,
Borough Council and
Council. The modern district of
Dacorum based in
Hemel Hempstead was
formed in 1974 under the Local Government Act 1972; the local
government district's main population centres include the much larger
town of Hemel Hempstead,
Tring and the western part of Kings Langley.
Berkhamsted accounting for just over 14% of the district's
population of 145,300 in 2011.
Berkhamsted is split into three
local government Wards — East, West and Castle. Following the 2015
town council elections the political composition of the council was
Conservative 12; Liberal Democrat 3. In the 2017 Hertfordshire
County Council election on 4 May 2017 as part of the 2017 local
Berkhamsted seat was retained with 41.4% of the vote by
the conservative Ian Reay, compared to the Liberal vote of
Since the 1997 general election,
Berkhamsted has been part of the
Hertfordshire constituency (previously it was with Hemel
Hempstead, part of the former West
constituency). The South West
Hertfordshire constituency seat forms a
thin strip along the southwest border of Hertfordshire, from South
Oxhey (near Watford) in the south, through interspersed settlements
including Chipperfield, Chorleywood, Croxley Green, Moor Park and
Berkhamsted to Tring. The constituency is currently
represented in the House of
Commons by David Gauke, a Conservative,
who has held the seat since 2005. At the General Election 2017 he had
a slightly reduced majority of over 19,500 on a 75.5% turn out.
Hertfordshire Local Information System (HertsLIS) website (based
on data from the
Office for National Statistics
Office for National Statistics and other UK
government departments) has the following data regarding the 7,363
Berkhamsted in 2011. Regarding housing tenure, in
Berkhamsted 72% of homes were owner occupied (34% owned outright and
38% owned with a mortgage) compared to 63% for England. In Berkhamsted
26.5% of homes were rented (13% each for social rented and private
rented) compared to a national figure of 34.5%. In 2011, 77 percent of
household spaces in
Berkhamsted were houses or bungalows and 23
percent were flats or maisonettes. 30% of Houses and Bungalows were
detached compared to 22% nationally: 47% of dwellings are
semi-detached or terraced, compared to 55% nationally. In third
quarter of 2017 average houses and flats prices in
£724,900, compared to £474,400 for Hertfordshire, and £304,500 for
England (detached houses were £1,070,600 compared to £424,400
Berkhamsted was considered to be the best place to
live in southeast
England by the
Sunday Times 'Best Places to Live
2018' list with the average price of homes in
Berkhamsted from starter
homes to family homes was from £273,760 to £999,920, with rents from
£850 to £2490 per calender month. 
Employment and economic wellbeing
In mid-2016, the
Office for National Statistics
Office for National Statistics estimated the working
age population (males and females aged 16 to 64) of
11,400, (62% of the town's population). People from
employed as follows: 17.5 percent worked as managers, directors and
senior officials; 27.5 percent professional occupations and 8.5
percent in associate professional and technical occupations; 10
percent were employed in administrative and secretarial occupations; 7
percent in skilled trades; 6 percent Caring, leisure and other service
occupations; 5 percent were in sales and customer service occupations;
3 percent were in process, plant and machine operatives; and 5.5
percent worked in elementary occupations.
According to HertsLIS in 2011, 76 percent of
between the ages of 16 and 74 were employed (including: full-time, 43
percent; part-time, 13 percent; self-employed, 14 percent) and 24
percent were economically inactive (including: retired, 13 percent;
long term sick/disabled, 2 percent). 18% of Berkhamsted
Households included a person with a long-term health problem or
disability, while nationally this figure is 41%. In April 2013, the
benefit unemployed rate in Berkhamsted's parliamentary constituency
was 1.7 percent, compared to 7.8 percent for the UK.
Looking at broad ethnic heritage in 2011, HertsLIS data found that 90
percent of residents were described as white British. Of the
remainder, 1 percent were Irish, 4 percent were of other white origin,
1.7 percent were described as mixed or multiple ethnic, 2.1 percent
were Asian or Asian British, 0.3 percent were black African/Caribbean
or black British and 0.3 percent were Arab or any other ethnic group.
Regarding religious beliefs in 2011, of the 92 percent of residents
who stated a religious preference, 30 percent were non-religious and
59 percent were Christian; other faiths included 0.4 percent Buddhist,
0.5 percent Jewish, 0.5 percent Muslim and 0.1 percent Sikh.
Relationships and education
In 2011 the marital and civil partnership status of residents aged 16
and over were as follows 28 percent single, 56 percent married, 0.1
percent in a registered same-sex civil partnership, 2 percent
separated, 8 percent divorced or legally dissolved same-sex civil
partnership and 6 percent widowed or surviving partner from a same-sex
civil partnership. Looking at the qualifications table, 12 percent of
residents had no qualifications, 10 percent reached level 1, 13
percent achieved level 2, 2 percent had apprenticeship qualifications,
10 percent were level 3 and 49 percent achieved level 4 or above.
In 2018 the
Sunday Times found 76% of young people went on to higher
A strip map showing
Berkhamsted on the route of the Sparrows Herne
turnpike. From Bowles's Post Chaise Companion of 1782
The former Roman-engineered
Akeman Street is the long high street
through the town, became in 1762 part of the
Sparrows Herne turnpike
Sparrows Herne turnpike a
main thoroughfare between
London and Aylesbury, and was notorious for
its rutted and pitted state even after becoming a toll road. Many
coaching inns thrived along its route, including, in Berkhamsted, the
King's Arms (where the exiled
King Louis XVIII
King Louis XVIII of
France carried on a
romance with Polly Page, the innkeeper's daughter). The
town's historic high street is now the A4251. A bypass, originally
proposed in the 1930s, was opened in 1993, and the main
A41 road now
passes southwest of Berkhamsted. A study of car ownership in
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,
Whipsnade Zoo. Services include the 30, 31, 62, 207, 500 (Aylesbury
and Watford), 501, 502 and 532. Buses are managed by Hertfordshire
Intalink transport service.
Berkhamsted's original railway station (1838) on the
Birmingham Railway with the
Grand Union Canal
Grand Union Canal on the right-hand
In 1798, the
Grand Junction Canal
Grand Junction Canal (built by William Jessop) from the
River Thames at
Berkhamsted was completed; it was
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 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
Grand Union Canal in 1929. Once an important trade
artery, today the Grand Union Canal, Canal Fields and river provide an
open space, recreational opportunities, and a wildlife corridor
running east–west through the centre of the town.
Berkhamsted's current railway station next to the Grand Union Canal.
Berkhamsted railway station
The next stage in the town's transport history occurred in 1834 when,
after opposition from turnpike trusts and local landowners was
resolved, the first
Berkhamsted railway station
Berkhamsted railway station was built by chief
engineer Robert Stephenson. Though the castle was the first building
to receive statutory protection from Parliament, the railway
embankment obliterated the old castle barbican and adjacent
earthworks. Most of the raw materials used to build the railway were
transported via the canal. The present station was built in 1875
when the railway was widened. It is unusual on its line, in that most
of the original buildings have been retained. The 'large trunk
station' is located immediately next to
Berkhamsted Castle on one side
and overlooks the
Grand Junction Canal
Grand Junction Canal on the other. The station is 28
miles (45 km) north-west of
London Euston on the West Coast Main
One and a half million journeys are made annually to and from
Berkhamsted, the vast majority by commuters to and from London.
Principal services, operated by
London Midland, run between London
Euston and Milton Keynes Central, with additional trains running to
Birmingham New Street. The Southern train company also
runs an hourly service directly to South Croydon via Clapham Junction.
Proposals to extend the new
Crossrail service out of
Berkhamsted to Milton Keynes Central were considered by the Department
for Transport in 2014, but in 2016 it was announced that the
scheme had been cancelled due to "poor overall value for money to the
Economy and commerce
In 1986, farming, service and light industry were characteristic local
occupations. In 2015 schools and retail (predominantly Waitrose)
constitute the town's largest employers; 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
British Film Institute (BFI) is an important local employer to the
south of Berkhamsted. Like many settlements local industry has decline
in favour of commuting elsewhere to work. Of the employed residents
living in both
Berkhamsted and Tring, 35 percent live and work in the
towns, while 65 percent commute to workplaces out of the towns,
particularly to London. Of the 7,100 people who work in
Berkhamsted, 58 percent commute to
Berkhamsted to work. In 2011, 9.5
Berkhamsted residents (aged 16 to 74 in employment) worked
mainly at or from home; 52 percent drove to work by car (2.5 as a
passenger in a car); 22.34% travelled by public transport and 12.73%
cycled or walked to work. In 2011, during an average commute to work,
was 21 kilometres.
In November 2014, the Academy of Urbanism's Urbanism Awards found
High Street to be a "vibrant" and "bustling" road, that
"worked extremely well as a quality high street." They considered
the layout for the street to be exemplary for its time (it was put in
place following the construction of a bypass in the early 1990s),
creating a "pleasant" and "successful" shopping environment and
allowing people to take advantage of a good "range of specialist shops
and numerous cafes, restaurants and pubs", together with the "strong
supermarket" offering set in "well-crafted re-configured streetscape".
The long high street featured one hundred percent retail occupancy,
independent traders and a "cafe culture". The Academy considered
a particularly strong aspect of the street to be the good working
collaboration between individual businesses and the Chamber of Trade.
In the 2017 Vitality Index of 1000 retail locations in the UK carried
out by Harper Dennis Hobbs,
Berkhamsted was ranked as the 16th best
shopping location in the country. (The index measured the quality of
retail locations including factors such as how well the retail mix met
the needs of the local community, the number of vacant shops, and the
proportion of ‘undesirable’ shops such as pawnbrokers and
bookmakers.) Coming top in the south-east region in Sunday Times
2018 Best places to Live,
Berkhamsted was described as 'affluent and
attractive; its medieval centre is filled with chic shops and great
places to eat', with 76% of shops being independent stores.
Berkhamsted has an active Transition Town community.
The Neoclassical portico of
Ashlyns School (1935) bearing the
Foundling Hospital coat of arms
In the 1970s, the town adopted a three-tier state school education
system, reverting to the two-tier system of primary and secondary
schools in 2013. The primary stage is provided by Bridgewater,
Greenway, St Thomas More, Swing Gate, Thomas Coram, Victoria (founded
in 1838) and Westfield.
Ashlyns School is a
Foundation school with 1,200 pupils aged 11 to
19 years; it is a specialist language college. The school's
history began in the 18th century when Thomas Coram, a philanthropic
ship's captain, was appalled by the abandoned babies and children
starving and dying in London. He campaigned for a hospital to
accommodate them and was successfully granted a
Royal Charter "for the
Maintenance and Education of Exposed and Deserted Children" in 1739.
Three years later in 1742 he established the
Foundling Hospital at
Lamb’s Conduit Fields in Bloomsbury, London. It was the first
children's charity in the country and the precedent for incorporated
associational charities everywhere. The school moved to its
purpose built location in
Berkhamsted in 1935. The residential home
Berkhamsted closed following the Children Act 1948, when
family centered care replaced institutional care. In 1951
Hertfordshire County Council took over running the
school. The large school contains stained glass
windows, especially around the chapel, a staircase and many monuments
from the original
London hospital. The school's chapel formerly housed
an organ donated by George Frideric Handel. The school was used a
backdrop to the 2007 comedy film, Son of Rambow.
The Grade 1 Listed
Berkhamsted School Old Hall, described by William
Camden as "the only structure in
Berkhamsted worth a second
Berkhamsted School is an independent public school, with over 475
years of history. Founded in 1541 by Dean John Incent, (c.
1480–1545) an English clergyman, born in
Berkhamsted in the
early 16th Century, who was from 1540 to 1545 the Dean of St Paul's
London (during the early years of the English
Reformation). Incent was noted for being one of the agents of the Lord
Chancellor Thomas Cromwell responsible for the sequestration of
religious properties during the Dissolution of the Monasteries
Incent financed the setting up of the school from the combined
revenues of the town's two medieval hospitals, St John the
St John the Evangelist which had survived until 1516, which he had
closed down. In 1523 he appropriated the brotherhood's lands and
joined it to his own land, donating it for the creation of a school.
In 1541 he obtained a
Royal Charter for "one chauntry perpetual and
schools for boys not exceeding 144 to be called Dean Incent’s Free
School in Berkhamstedde".
John Incent died intestate 18 months after his school opened, in order
to protect the school from legal challenges, school was incorporated
Act of Parliament
Act of Parliament as The Free Schole of King Edwarde the Sixte
in Berkhampstedde. Amongst the school's former students was the author
Graham Greene. The schools oldest building the Old Hall was built
in 1544 and is Grade I listed, records of the time state that Incent
"builded with all speed a fair schoole lartge and great all of brick
very sumptuously", and "when ye said school was thus finished, ye
Deane sent for ye cheafe men of ye towne into ye school where he
kneeling gave thanks to Almighty God". In 1988 the school merged
Berkhamsted School for Girls (another large independent private
school in the town), which had been founded in 1888. The
school has 1,500 fee paying pupils, aged 3 to 18.
Egerton Rothesay School, an independent school founded in 1922, has
150 pupils between the ages of 5 and 19.
Spire of chapel at the Grade 1
Ashridge House, showing the Natural
Ashridge Estate behind
Ashridge Executive Education is 'a prestigious business school with a
divine location', occupying the Grade 1 listed
Ashridge House, the
former stately home of the Duke of Bridgewater, set in 190 acres of
rolling parkland, 2 miles outside Berkhamsted. The house occupies
the site of the earlier
Ashridge Priory, a college of the monastic
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. In
1800, it was the home of Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater,
affectionately known as the Father of Inland Navigation.Ashridge
House was constructed between 1808 and 1814 to a design by James Wyatt
with later work by his nephew Jeffrey Wyattville. Architecture critic
Nikolaus Pevsner described it as the "largest of the romantic palaces
London ... a spectacular composition". In 1928 Urban Hanlon
Broughton purchased the house as a gift for the Conservative Party
intended to commemorate
Bonar Law for its first 15 years, it became a
"College of Citizenship" established to help the Conservative Party
develop its intellectual forces in struggles with left-wing
organisations such as the Fabian Society. It became a cross between a
think-tank and a training centre and had
Arthur Bryant as its
Ashridge merged with Hult International Business School, an
American business school with campuses in seven cities around the
world. Its activities include open and tailored executive
education programmes, MBA, MSc and Diploma qualifications,
organisation consulting, applied research and online learning.
Ashridge is the only UK specialist business school with degree
awarding powers, giving it the equivalent status to a university in
awarding its degrees.
Anglican Parish Church of St Peter's, Berkhamsted, established in
the 13th Century
The oldest extant church locally is St Mary's in the adjacent village
of Northchurch. Between 1087 and 1104, there is reference to a
chaplain called Godfrey and to a chapel of St James with parochial
status within St Mary's Berkhamsted's parish. The chapel situated
close to St Johns, located close to St John's Lane, was the base for a
small community of monks, the Brotherhood of St John the Baptist, in
the 11th and 12th centuries.[Notes 9]
During King John's reign, Geoffrey Fitz Peter, was instrumental in the
foundation the parish church of St Peter, and in 1222, Robert de
Tuardo, was registered as the first known rector. Because of the
church's proximity to
Berkhamsted Castle, the reigning monarch was
Berkhamsted rectors for several centuries. In 1648, St
Peter's Church was requisitioned during the
English Civil War
English Civil War by
General Fairfax as a military prison to hold soldiers captured from
the Siege of Colchester. The poet
William Cowper was christened
in St Peter's, where his father John Cowper was rector.
The parish church of St Peter, is one of the largest churches in
Hertfordshire, stands on the high street. The church is in the
Latin cross plan, with a 85-foot (26 m) clock tower at the
crossing and measures 56 yards (51 m) from the west door to the
east window, and the width across the transepts is 30 yards
(27 m). The oldest part of the church is the chancel, which is
dated at c. 1200; it is in the Early English style common in that
period. Further additions were made up until the 15th century; in
1871, it underwent a restoration by William Butterfield. 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. There
are two other
Anglican churches in the town – 'St Michael and All
Angels' (Sunnyside)(original building 1886) and 'All Saints' Church
& St Martha's' (built in 1906, to cater for the growing population
in the west end of the town). In 1842 a detached churchyard to St
Peter’s Church was established, using land to the rear of Egerton
House (where the Rex cinema now stands) on Rectory Lane. It expanded
to 3.275 acres and was phased out of use in 1976. In 2016 The Friends
of St Peter’s
Berkhamsted received £907,000 in a grant from the
Heritage Lottery Fund
Heritage Lottery Fund and the
Big Lottery Fund from the National
Lottery (United Kingdom) - as one of 12 sites across the country
sharing £32m. The grant is to restored heritage features and create a
new green community space in the town.
The town has a strong Non-conformist tradition, in 1672 a survey found
that there were 400 Anglian conformists and 150 Non-conformists in
Berkhamsted, when such beliefs could bring you foul of the law. The
Baptist community in Berkhamsted, dates from 1640 making it one of the
oldest nationally; first gathering in secret, they built a large
chapel in 1722, and moved to their current place of worship at the
junction of Ravens Lane on the
High Street in 1864. A Quaker
community is present in the town from the second half of the 17th
century, they opened their Meeting House in 1818 on the High Street
opposite St John's Well Lane. The Congregationlists can be traced
back to 1780, they now worship combined with the
at St Andrew's United Reformed Church on the corner of Castle Street
Chapel Street. The Methodists arrived with the hundreds of
men who came to build the railway, via various places of worship,
today they share All Saints' Church with the Anglians. The
Evangelist (Latter Day Saints) began life has part of the Plymouth
Bretheren, their Hope Hall opened in 1875, which was rechristened the
Kings Road Evangelical Church in 1969. The Roman Catholic
tradition from the 17th to 20th century appears to be limited, General
de Gaulle worshiped at their original Church of the Sacred Heart in
Park View Road, they moved to a larger modern church in 1980 on Park
Culture and leisure
Geoffrey Chaucer was clerk of works at
Berkhamsted Castle from 1389
and based his Doctor of Phisick in
The Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales on John of
Gaddesden, who lived in nearby Little Gaddesden.
William Cowper was
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 the Victorian era, Cowper became a cult figure and
Berkhamsted was a place of pilgrimage for his devotees. Maria
Edgeworth, a prolific Anglo-Irish writer of adults' and children's
literature who was a significant figure in the evolution of the novel
in Europe, lived in
Berkhamsted as a child in the 18th century.
Between 1904 and 1907, the
Llewelyn Davies boys
Llewelyn Davies boys were the inspiration
for the author and playwright J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan. A little
Graham Greene was born in
Berkhamsted and educated at
Berkhamsted School, alongside literary contemporaries Claud Cockburn,
Humphrey Trevelyan and Cecil Parrott. Children's
H. E. Todd and
Hilda van Stockum
Hilda van Stockum both lived in Berkhamsted.
The comic character Ed Reardon from Radio 4's semi-naturalistic radio
Ed Reardon's Week resides in Berkhamsted.
Rex Cinema, Berkhamsted
The Rex Cinema is regarded by some, including the Daily Telegraph, as
Britain's most beautiful cinema. Described by Dame
Judi Dench as
"absolutely awe-inspiring", in 2014, the Rex was declared Britain's
Best Cinema in the inaugural Guardian film awards. Built in
1937 the Rex is 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. Closed in 1988, the
cinema was extensively restored in 2004 and has become a thriving
independent local cinema. The Rex frequently has sold-out houses
for evening showings, the cinema is a "movie palace with all the
original art deco trimmings" (its interior features decorations of sea
waves and shells). Inside is a step "back into the golden age of film"
when going to the movies was an experience; the cinema features
luxurious seating and two licensed bars. It is managed by its owner
James Hannaway, who introduces films. Sometimes there is a question
and answer session with directors and actors involved in the films;
these sessions have included Dame Judi Dench, Charles Dance, Mike
Leigh and Terry Jones.
Prior to the cinema's construction, an Elizabethan mansion, Egerton
House, had occupied the site at the east end of the high street for
350 years. The house was occupied briefly (1904–07) by Arthur
and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, whose children were J. M. Barrie's
inspiration for Peter Pan.
British Film Institute
British Film Institute National Archive at King's Hill
Rarely open to the public, the BFI National Archive's "The J. Paul
Getty, Jr. Conservation Centre" in
Berkhamsted is the archive 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 of the archive's collections were added to
the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation
(UNESCO) UK Memory of the World Register, in 2011. The archive
collects, preserves, restores and shares the films and television
programmes which have shaped and recorded British life and times since
the development of motion picture film in the late 19th century. The
majority of the collection is British-originated material, but the
archive also features internationally significant holdings from around
the world and films that feature key British actors and the work of
Berkhamsted Bowmen are the oldest archery club in England.
Founded in 1875
Cricket Club competes in the Herts League
and in 2015 it ran twenty-five separate teams. The club is based at
Cricket and Sports Club, Kitcheners Field,
Castle Hill, Berkhamsted. The nine
Berkhamsted and Hemel Hempstead
Hockey Club teams are based just outside the town at the Cow Roast,
playing their matches at
Tring School. There are two
Berkhamsted and Kitcheners.
The town's football club,
Berkhamsted F.C., play in the Spartan South
Midlands League Premier Division. The team was formed in 2009 after
the demise of
Berkhamsted Town F.C., which had been established in
1895. They play at the town's football ground, Broadwater, which they
Watford L.F.C., who play in the FA Women's Super League
Division 2. Founded in 1996,
Berkhamsted Raiders C.F.C. football club
was recognised as the FA Charter Standard Community Club of the Year
at the English Football Association Community Awards in 2014 and
UEFA Grassroots Silver Award in 2015 for their work across
the local community. The club in 2015 had more than 800 affiliated
players, including 90 girls and 691 boys in the youth set-up, 29
ladies, 20 seniors and 20 veterans: who are spread across 65 teams at
There is a sports centre off Douglas Gardens, managed by the Dacorum
Sports Trust (Sportspace). The facilities comprise a large indoor
multi-purpose sports hall, squash courts, swimming pool and outdoor
all-weather pitch. This facility is complemented by dual use of the
leisure facilities of
Ashlyns School and
School. A deficit in leisure space is compounded by a high level of
sports participation locally and consequent heavy use of outdoor
Berkhamsted and the surrounding area has a variety of
road cycling and mountain biking routes, including traffic-free
off-road routes in
Ashridge Estate. The town was visited by the
Tour of Britain
Tour of Britain in 2014.
Sites of interest
173 High Street, one of several buildings in the town that have
medieval origins, it is the oldest jettied timber building in the
The majority of Berkhamsted's eighty-five listed or scheduled
historical sites are on in the high street and the medieval core of
the town (a significant number of them contain timber frames). Four
are scheduled, one is Grade I, seven are Grade II*, the remaining 75
are Grade II. In addition to the sites noted in the article
above (such as the castle and schools) the following structures and
locations are of interest:
High Street is a Victorian façade hiding 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
been a jeweller or goldsmith's shop with a workshop behind, it is now
believed to have been a jettied service wing to a larger aisled hall
house, which has since disappeared. It represents an early example
of transition in carpentry technology, from the use of passing braces
to crown posts. The 13th century origin of the structure was
discovered by chance in 2000 by builders who had begun work on what
appeared to be a Victorian property. The shop was, from 1869, Figg's
the Chemists; post-restoration (with expertise and a
£250,000 grant from English Heritage), the shop is currently
used 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
High Street would have
looked in medieval times."
125 High Street, a house and shop opposite St Peter's Church, is
a timber-framed building with a wing that is one bay of a 14th-century
open hall. The layout suggests that it once had a second bay of
similar size – a length of 26 feet (8 m) in all. This was
an unusually large house; its size and central position suggests a
manor house or other high status house, possibly supporting the
castle. The building underwent extensive alterations in the 17th, 18th
and 19th centuries.
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. It sits
on the ancient junction with the old Roman road of
Akeman Street (High
Street) and the main route between
Berkhamsted and Windsor Castle
Castle Street began life as the medieval lane from the town's high
street to the drawbridge of the royal castle. The other end of the
lane was the parish church of St Peters. In the 16th century next to
Berkhamsted school was founded, while in the 17th century
there were seven public houses amongst the street's trade
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.
Dean Incent's House, residence of
John Incent (1480–1545), Dean of
St Paul's Cathedral
St Paul's Cathedral and founder of
Berkhamsted School in 1541.
High Street is the Grade II* listed house known as Dean Incent's
House. (John Incent, Dean of St Paul's, founded
Berkhamsted School.) A
15th century half-timbered house, the interior has original exposed
timber framing and several Tudor wall paintings. The building
incorporates part of an even older structure and was used as public
meeting place before the Court House was built. The house is not
normally open to the public.
The Court House, next to the church, dates from the 16th century, and
is believed to lie on the site of the medieval court where the
Portmote [Notes 10] or
Borough Court was held.
Sayer's Almshouses, were the legacy of John Sayer, chief cook to
Charles II, at 235–241 High Street, comprise a single-storey
row of almshouses built in 1684.
The Bourne School, at 222 High Street, was the 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
The town hall, a Victorian gothic market house and town hall, designed
Edward Buckton Lamb
Edward Buckton Lamb (built in 1859, extended in 1890,
restored in 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'
Berkhamsted became part of the new
Council (based in Hemel Hempstead), there were plans to demolish the
building, these plans werer stopped by a ten-year citizens' campaign
during the 1970s and 1980s, which eventually ended at the High
The totem pole at Berkhamsted
Berkhamsted Canadian totem pole sits adjacent to the canal, close
to Castle Street Bridge. In the early 1960s, Roger Alsford, a
great-grandson of the founder of the timber company, James Alsford
(1841–1912), went to work at the Tahsis lumber mill on Vancouver
Island. During a strike, he was rescued from starvation by a local
Kwakiutl community. Alsford's brother, William John Alsford, visited
the island, and in gratitude for the local people's hospitality,
commissioned a totem pole from the Canadian
First Nations artist Henry
Hunt. The western red cedar pole, 30 feet (9 m) high and 3
feet (1 m) in diameter, was carved by Hunt at Thunderbird Park, a
centre for First Nation monuments. The completed pole was shipped to
Britain and erected at Alsford's Wharf in 1968. Alsford's warehouses
were replaced in 1994 by a private housing development which limit
access to the pole, so that it can be viewed only at a distance from
the public road. It is one of only a handful of totem poles in the
United Kingdom, others being on display at the
British Museum and
Horniman Museum in London, Windsor Great Park,
Bushy Park and the
Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The carvings on the totem pole
represent four figures from
First Nations legend: at the top sits
Raven, the trickster and creator deity; he sits on the head of Sunman,
who has outstretched arms representing the rays of the sun and wears a
copper (a type of ceremonial shield); Sunman stands on the fearsome
witch-spirit Dzunukwa; at the base is the two-headed warrior sea
serpent, Sisiutl, who has up-stretched wings.
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 just to the north of Berkhamsted.
Ashridge 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
climbable monument to Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, a tall
Doric column with urn (a Grade II* listed building), stands in a grove
Associations with the town
Main article: List of people from Berkhamsted
Berkhamsted is twinned with:
Beaune, Burgundy, France
Neu Isenburg, Hesse,
Germany (as part of Dacorum)
The town also has an informal relationship with Barkhamsted,
Connecticut, in the United States. The latter presented a gavel and
block on 4 July 1976, the U.S. bicentennial, which
Council now uses in meetings.
^ Æthelgifu's will is one of only seventeen existing wills in Old
English, and it is the most extensive of them. It gives much more
detail on slave and land ownership in this period than any other
document, and shows that a woman could have considerable wealth. The
will is written on vellum in a minuscule hand, and the original still
exists; an American consortium bought it in 1969, and it is now in New
^ This left a detached portion of the St Mary's parish, which later
became the village of Bourne End, southeast of the Berkhamsted.
^ Historians in the past, have believed the town was of Mercian
importance or in the existence of a pre–Norman conquest
fortification (there is reference to land called "Oldeburgh"). The
Anglo-Saxon word burgh hints at a pre-conquest fortification. The
notable early 20th century historian G. M. Trevelyan, including
earlier historians such as Samuel Lewis and Sir Henry Chauncy,
believed that the town was once an important Mercian settlement.
Two medieval ditches have been excavated in recent years, both of
which were discovered on Bridgewater Road, north of the river, that
may have been part of a ditch that surrounded the early medieval
^ Edmer Ator was evidently a senior landholding noble who had held 36
places over 7 counties prior to the Norman conquest, as recorded in
the Domesday Book.
^ Later in the
Middle Ages the
Tring Hundred merged with the Danais
Hundred, "which overlapped it", to form the
Dacorum Hundred. Danais
referred to Danish settlers in the area. A monk writing about this
area described it as "the Hundred of the Danes", using the word
Daneis. The word was later incorrectly transcribed as "Danicorum" and
subsequently shortened to "Dacorum".
^ The patronymic is sometimes rendered "Fitz Piers", since he was the
son of Piers de Lutegareshale, forester of Ludgershal.
^ One of the wealthiest men in Europe, Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall,
was elected King of Germany, or Holy Roman Emperor, in 1256.
^ The market had been in existence since at least 1086. It was
originally held on a Sunday, but by this charter it was changed to
Monday, as the rector of the new St Peter's Church objected to the
noise. The market is now held on a Saturday.
^ For many centuries, the
Berkhamsted town fair was held on the feast
day of St James the Greater rather than on Petertide, which suggests
that an older parish church before St Peter's was built in the 13th
^ Also referred to as portmanmoot or portmoot. The name had
Anglo-Saxon origins; the court had aspects both of court and of
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Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Berkhamsted.
Commons has media related to Berkhamsted.
Wikisource has the text of the 1905 New International Encyclopedia
article Great Berkhampstead.
Berkhamsted Town Council
Berkhamsted Local History & Museum Society
The above society's Collection of Old Photographs of
Dacorum Heritage Trust
Ceremonial county of Hertfordshire
Boroughs or districts
Borough of Broxbourne
Borough of Dacorum
District of East Hertfordshire
Borough of Hertsmere
District of North Hertfordshire
City and District of St Albans
Borough of Stevenage
District of Three Rivers
Borough of Watford
Welwyn Garden City
See also: List of civil parishes in Hertfordshire
Hertfordshire County Council
European Parliament constituency
Settlements by population
Grade I listed buildings
Grade II* listed buildings
King George V Playing Fields
Civil parishes of Hertfordshire
Nettleden with Potten End
Brent Pelham and Meesden
Buckland and Chipping
Eastwick and Gilston
Stanstead St Margarets
Elstree and Borehamwood
Caldecote and Newnham
Clothall and Luffenhall
Rushden and Wallington
St Paul's Walden
Letchworth Garden City
Ayot St Lawrence
Ayot St Peter
Northaw and Cuffley
Welwyn Garden City
List of places in Hertfordshire