Berkhamsted. From Top to bottom: Berkhamsted Old Town Hall, St Peter's Church, Berkhamsted Castle, Ashridge, Berkhamsted Totem Pole and Grand Union Canal, Berkhamsted High Street.
The town's coat of arms, a castle surrounded by 13 solid gold circles or heraldic bezants.
Coat of Arms
Berkhamsted is located in Hertfordshire
Location within Hertfordshire
Population18,500 (mid-2016 est.)[1]
Shire county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode districtHP4
Dialling code01442
AmbulanceEast of England
EU ParliamentEast of England
UK Parliament
List of places
51°46′N 0°34′W / 51°46′N 0°34′W / 51.76; -0.56

Berkhamsted (d/ BUR-kəm-sted) is a historic market town close to the western boundary of Hertfordshire, England. It is situated in the small Bulbourne valley in the Chiltern Hills, 26 miles (42 km) northwest of London.[2][3] The town is a civil parish with a town council within the borough of Dacorum, based at the much larger town of Hemel Hempstead.[4] Berkhamsted and the adjoining village of Northchurch are surrounded by countryside, much of it classified as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).[5]

The high street is on a pre-Roman route known by its Saxon name Akeman Street.[6] The earliest written reference to Berkhamsted was in 970. It was recorded as a burbium (ancient borough) in the Domesday Book in 1086. The oldest known extant jettied timber-framed building in Great Britain, built between 1277 and 1297, survives as a shop on the town's high street.[7][8] In the 13th and 14th centuries, the town was a wool trading town, with a thriving local market. In the 21st century, Berkhamsted has evolved into an affluent commuter town.[9]

The most notable event in the town's history occurred in December 1066. After 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 of royalty and notable historical figures, including Henry II, Edward, the Black Prince, Thomas Becket and Geoffrey Chaucer.[10] 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 after the canal and the railway were built in the 19th century.

Colonel Daniel Axtell, captain of the Parliamentary Guard at the trial and execution of Charles I in 1649, was among those born in Berkhamsted. The town's 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 Cathedral), and Ashlyns School a state school whose history began as the Foundling Hospital established in London by Thomas Coram in 1742. It is also the home of the Rex independent cinema, and the British Film Institute's BFI National Archive at King's Hill, one of the largest film and television archives in the world, which was endowed by J. Paul Getty, Jr.[11]


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 either the 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 birches".[12][13]

Through history spellings of the town's name have changed. Local historian Rev John Wolstenholme Cobb identified over 50 different versions of the town's name since the writing of the Domesday Book (such as: "Berkstead", "Berkampsted", "Berkhampstead", "Muche Barkhamstede", "Berkhamsted Magna", "Great Berkhamsteed" and "Berkhamstead".)[14][15] The present spelling was adopted in 1937.[16] The town's local nickname is "Berko".[17]

Prehistory and Roman period

An Early Middle Bronze Age (c.1500 to 1300 BC) copper Chisel found in Berkhamsted.[18]

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.[19][20][21] The discovery of a large number of worked flint chips provides Neolithic evidence of on-site flint knapping in the centre of Berkhamsted.[22] Several settlements dating from the Neolithic to the Iron Age (about 4500–100 BC) have been discovered south of Berkhamsted. Three sections of a late Bronze Age to Iron Age (1200–100 BC) bank and ditch, sixteen feet (five 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 Valley.[23][24] Another Iron Age dyke with the same name is on Berkhamsted Common, on the north side of the valley.[25][26]

In the late Iron Age, before the Roman occupation, the valley would have been within Catuvellauni territory.[23] 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.[27][25] Iron production led to the settlement of a Roman town at Cow Roast,[28] about two miles (three kilometres) northwest of Berkhamsted. Four Roman first century AD iron smelting bloomeries at Dellfield (one mile (two kilometres) northwest of the town centre) provide evidence of industrial activity in Berkhamsted.[29][30] 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.[31][26][32] 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 (Corinium).

During Roman occupation the countryside close to Verulamium was subdivided into a series of farming estates.[33] The Berkhamsted area appears to have been divided into two or three farming estates, each including one or more masonry villa buildings, with tiled roofs and underfloor heating.

  • The remains of a villa were found close to the river in 1973 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.[34][35]
  • A Roman-British villa, dyke, and temple were found 1.25 miles (2.0 km) NNW of the castle, near Frithesden, at the edge of the Berkhamsted Golf Course. Excavations in 1954 revealed masonry foundations and tesserae floors. Together, the villa, dyke and temple form a unique complex, suggesting occupation in the late Iron Age and Roman period.[36]
  • 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.[31][37]

Anglo-Saxon settlement

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.[24][Notes 1] The location and extent of early Saxon settlement of Berkhamsted is not clear. Rare Anglo-Saxon pottery 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.[39] 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 conquest.[24][40]

The parish of Berkhamsted St Mary's (in Northchurch) once stretched five miles (8 km) from the hamlet of Dudswell, through Northchurch and Berkhamsted to the former hamlet of Bourne End. Within Berkhamsted, the Chapel of St James was a small church near St John's Well (a 'holy well' that was the town's principal source of drinking water in the Middle Ages).[41] The parish of this church (and later that of St Peter's) was an enclave of about 4,000 acres (1,600 ha) surrounded by Berkhamsted St Mary's parish.[Notes 2][42][14][43] By the 14th century the adjoining village of "Berkhamsted St Mary" or "Berkhamsted Minor" name had become "North Church", later "Northchurch", to distinguish the village from the town of Berkhamsted.[42][14][34][40][44]

1066 and the Domesday survey

The Anglo-Saxons surrendered the crown of England to William the Conqueror at Berkhamsted in early December 1066.[45][46] After William defeated and killed Harold II at the Battle of Hastings in October, he failed in an attempt to capture London from the south. William led his army around London, crossing the River Thames at Wallingford, "laying waste" while travelling through southeast England. At Berkhamsted, he received the surrender of Edgar the Ætheling (heir to the English throne), Archbishop Ealdred, Earl Edwin, Earl Morcar and the leaders of London.[46][47] It is not known why the town was chosen as the meeting place, except that it was in a defensive location north-west of London. [Notes 3] William was crowned in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day, 1066.[47] After his coronation, William granted the "Honour of Berkhamsted" to his half-brother, Robert, Count of Mortain,[49] 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 and Plantagenet dynasties.[50][51]

According to the Domesday Book, the lord of Berkhamsted before the Norman conquest was Edmer Ator (also referred to as Eadmer Atule), thegn of 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.[53] 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.[54] Some historians have argued that the number of 52 burgesses in Berkhamsted was a clerical error, as it is a large number for a small town.[55][56] Berkhamsted was described in the Domesday Book as a burbium (ancient borough) in the Tring Hundred.[54][57]([Notes 5]) Marjorie Chibnall argued that Robert, Count of Mortain intended Berkhamsted to be both a commercial and a defensive centre;[59] while John Hatcher and Edward Miller believed that the 52 burgesses were involved in trade, but it is unknown if the burgesses existed before the conquest.[60]

Royal medieval castle (11th to 15th centuries)

View across the Inner moat towards the bailey walls of Berkhamsted Castle.
A view of the castle motte, moat, middle bank and outer earthworks.

Berkhamsted Castle is a (now ruined) motte-and-bailey Norman castle.[61] Radiocarbon dating of organic remains from within the Motte indicates that it was probably built post-1066 (a dyke builder is recorded in the town at the time of the Domesday Book).[62][63] The castle was a high-status residence and an administrative centre for large estates (including the Earldom of Cornwall).[64] Through the High and Late Middle Ages the close proximity of the royal castle and court helped fuel Berkhamsted's growth, prosperity and sense of importance.[65] It created jobs for the local population, both within the castle itself and also, for example, in the large deer park[66][67][68] and in the vineyard, which were maintained alongside the castle.[64]

After Robert, Count of Mortain, the castle passed to his heir William, who rebelled against Henry I and lost the castle to the king. In 1155 Henry in turn gave it to his favourite Thomas Becket, who held it till 1165. 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 his downfall.[69] 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 queens, 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 Justiciar of 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 for the layout of the town.[70][71][72] 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). Louis captured the castle on 20 December 1216 after twenty days using siege engines and counterweight trebuchets.[73][74]

In 1227, Henry III's younger brother, Richard of Cornwall, was given the manor and castle, beginning the long association of the castle with the Earls and later the Dukes of Cornwall.[75][76] [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 ("Longshanks") took the castle; he subsequently granted it to his second queen, Margaret of France. In 1309, Edward I's and Margaret's son, Edward II, granted Berkhamsted to his favourite, Piers Gaveston. In 1317, the castle was given to Edward II's queen, Isabella of France.[74]

Picture of Berkhamsted from the Norman Castle's Motte
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 beyond).

Edward III further developed the castle and gave it (as part of the Duchy of Cornwall) to his son, Edward, the Black Prince, who expanded the hunting grounds. The castle was used to hold royal prisoners, including John II of France. In 1361, 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 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 Berkhamsted Castle 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. It is unknown how much time he spent at Berkhamsted, but he knew John of Gaddesden, who lived in nearby Little Gaddesden and 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 the castle.[74]

Recent history of the castle

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.[77] Today the castle ruins are managed by English Heritage, on behalf of the Duchy of Cornwall (which still owns the site), and are freely open to the public.[74][78]

Medieval market town (12th to 15th centuries)

The town continued to develop separately on the old Akeman Street 0.4 miles (0.6 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.[79][80] 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.[67]

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 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.[81] The growing wool trade brought prosperity to Berkhamsted from the 12th century until the early Tudor period.[82][83] Four wealthy Berkhamsted wool merchants were amongst a group in Bruges to whom Edward III wrote in 1332,[83][60] and Berkhamsted merchants sold cloth to the royal court.[60]

In 1217, Henry III recognised by royal charter the town's oldest institution, Berkhamsted's pre-existing market.[81][84][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.[85][14] 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.[86]

A 1290 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.[85] 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 by English medieval standards with an estimated population of 2,000 to 2,500.[87] 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.[85] In the 14th century, Berkhamsted (recorded as "Berchamstede") was considered to be one of the "best" market towns in the country.[88] 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.[14]

The town benefited when Edmund, 2nd Earl of Cornwall founded Ashridge Priory in 1283, two miles (three kilometres) away 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 and spent Christmas there.[89] Berkhamsted burgesses sent two members to parliament in 1320, 1338 and 1341, but the town was not represented again.[55] 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).[90] In the 15th century, the town was reaffirmed as a borough by a royal charter granted by Edward IV (1442–1483), which decreed that no other market town was to be set up within 11 miles (18 km).

Castle abandoned, the town in decline (16th to late 18th centuries)

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 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). The population of the town in 1563 has been estimated at only 545.[91] 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.[92][93] Stone from the castle was used to build Berkhamsted Place, a local school, and other buildings in the late 16th century.[94][95] Brewing and maltings was noted as one of the town’s principal industries in the reign of Elizabeth.[96] 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 in 1854.

In 1612, Berkhamsted Place was bought by Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales for £4,000. Henry died later that year, and bequeathed the house to his brother Charles (later King Charles I),[97] who leased the property to his tutor, Thomas Murray, and his wife, Mary Murray, who had been his nurse and Lady of the Privy Chamber to the prince's mother. John Norden wrote in 1616 that the making of malt was then the principal trade of the town.[14] 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 tried to enclose a further 400 acres (162 ha) of the Berkhamsted and Northchurch Commons, but was prevented from doing so by William Edlyn of Norcott. The castle's park, which had reached 1,252 acres (507 ha) by 1627, was broken up over the next two decades, shrinking to only 376 acres (152 ha), to the benefit of local farmers.[98][99] In 1643, Berkhamsted was visited by a violent pestilential fever.[14]

Born in Berkhamsted, Colonel Daniel Axtell (1622 – 19 October 1660), a Baptist and a grocer's apprentice, played a zealous and prominent part in the English Civil War, both in England and in the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. He participated as a lieutenant colonel in Pride's Purge of the Long Parliament (December 1648), arguably the only military coup d'état in English history, and commanded the Parliamentary Guard at the trial of King Charles I at Westminster Hall in 1649. During Cromwell's Protectorate, he appropriated Berkhamsted Place. Shortly after the Restoration of the monarchy under Charles II, the unrepentant Axtell was hanged, drawn and quartered as a regicide.[100] After the Restoration, the town lost its charter granted by James I and its borough status. The surveyor of Hertfordshire recommended that a new tenant and army officers were needed at Berkhamsted Place "to govern the people much seduced of late by new doctrine preacht unto them by Axtell and his colleagues."[101] The population of the town in 1640 and in the 1690s was estimated at 1075 and 767, respectively.[91] 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,[102] and in 1700, there were 400 Baptists recorded as living in Berkhamsted.[103] 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.[104]

Development of the modern town (19th and 20th centuries)

19th century urban growth

In the 17th and 18th centuries Hemel Hempstead, with its thriving market, eclipsed Berkhamsted as the major town in the area.[65] Georgian 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 markets of London and the industrial Midlands. The town became a link in the growing network of roads, canals and railways. These developments led Berkhamsted's population to expand once again. In 1801, the population of St Peter's parish had been 1,690 and by 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".[105] The town's population increased as "hundreds of men arrived to build the railway line and needed lodging";[106] by 1851, the population was 3,395,[107] 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 of the High Street.[106][108] Lower Kings Road was built by public subscription in 1885 to join Kings Road and the High Street to the station.[11] In 1887, John Bartholomew's Gazetteer of the British Isles recorded the population at 4,485.[109][106]

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.[110] The largest manufacturer was East & Sons.
  • Brush making: An offshoot of the timber industry. The largest employers were Goss Brushworks at the west end of the High Street (closed 1930s) and T.H. Nash in George Street (closed 1920s).[110]
  • 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.[110]
  • Boat building: Berkhamsted also became a centre for the construction of the barges needed for the canal trades.[111] 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. At this site, next 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 beds.[112]
  • Chemical: Cooper's sheep dip works. William Cooper was a vet 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.[110] 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 Ordnance Survey 25 inch plan, at the western end of the town.
  • Iron working: Wood's Ironworks was set up in 1826 by James Wood.[112]

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.[96]
  • 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.[96]

Provision for the destitute

The 19th century soup kitchen built inside Berkhamsted Castle (part now used as the castle visitor centre) at the entrance next to the cottage within the castle's bailey.

In 1725 "An Account of Several Workhouses" records a parish workhouse in 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.[113] The "Berkhampstead Poor Law Union" was formed in June 1835 covering ten parishes centred on the town. The Union took over the existing Berkhamsted parish workhouse, and by August 1835 it had become 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. However in 1858 the school complained about the state of the 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.[113][114] 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 per cent of the population of Berkhamsted (about 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.[115]

The Queen Beech or Harry Potter tree (now fallen) This pollarded tree in 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."[116]

Land dispute: The Battle of Berkhamsted Common

The Battle of Berkhamsted Common played an important part in the preservation of common land nationally.[117] After 1604 the former Ashridge Priory became the home of the Edgerton family. In 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 branch of the Egerton family.[118]

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 (1.5 m) steel fences (built by Woods of Berkhamsted) and claim it as part of his estate. In order to defend the historic right of the public to use the ancient common land, Augustus Smith MP and George Shaw-Lefevre organised local people and 120 hired men from London's East End to dismantle the fences on the night of 6 March, in what became known nationally as the Battle of Berkhamsted Common.[81][119][120]

Lord Brownlow brought a legal case against Smith for trespass and criminal damage, Smith was aided in his defence by Sir Robert Hunter (later co-founder of the National Trust in 1895) and the Commons Preservation Society. 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 action in building the fence and the legal right of people to use the land. He ruled in favour of Smith. This decision, along with the Metropolitan Commons Act 1866, helped to ensure the protection of Berkhamsted Common and other open spaces nationally threatened with enclosure. In 1926 the common was acquired by the National Trust.[121][122][123]

First World War

During the First World War, under the guidance of Lt Col Francis Errington, the Inns of Court Officers' 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: 8 miles (13 km) of trenches were dug across the Common (of which 1,640 feet (500 m) remain). The Inns of Court War Memorial on the Common 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 buried nearby.[124][125][126]

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 of the Ashridge estate in the 1930s, after which housing appeared at each end of Bridgewater Road.[127] In the second half of the 20th century , many of the old industrial firms in Berkhamsted closed, while the numbers of commuters increased.[128]

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 shortages caused by the Blitz). In February 1947 the Government purchased 5,910 acres (2,392 ha) of land and began construction. As a result Hemel Hempstead's population increased from 20,000 to over 90,000 today, making it the largest town in Hertfordshire.[129] In 1974, the old hundred of Dacorum became the modern district of Dacorum formed under the Local Government Act 1972, based in Hemel Hempstead.