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Great Berkhampstead, Hertfordshire

Historical Description

Berkhampstead, Great, or Berkhampstead-St-Peter, a market-town, a parish, and the head of a union in Herts. The town stands in a deep rich valley on the Bulbourne river, and on the Grand Junction Canal, adjacent to the L. & N.W.R., 28 miles NW of London. It perhaps occupies the site of the Roman station Durobrivae, and it was a residence of the kings of Mercia. William the Conqueror made oath at it to maintain the ancient laws of the kingdom. Robert, Earl of Mortaigne, got it from the Conqueror, and erected at it a strong castle on the site of the Mercian palace. Henry I. took it from the earl in punishment of rebellion, and made it the centre of a royal domain. Henry II. kept his court at it. King John gave it for a time to Jeffrey Fitz-Piers, Earl of Essex, but resumed it at the earl's death, and made it again Crown property. Richard, king of the Romans, got it from Henry III., and died at it. The castle now belongs to the Prince of Wales as Duke of Cornwall, and gives him the title of Baron. The "honour" connected with it includes numerous manors in Herts, Bucks, and Northampton.

The chief street of the town is about a mile in length, several other streets leaving it at right angles. The houses are chiefly of brick, and not regularly aligned, but many are handsome. The railway passes on an embankment overlooking the town and the valley, and a communication comes from it over the canal. The remains of the castle are at the N end of Castle Street, and consist of detached portions of massive walls, with a double moat on the NW side, and a triple one on the other side. The town enjoys a constant supply of water, obtained from an artesian boring 220 feet deep in the soft chalk below it. The chief public buildings are: the Town Hall, an edifice of brick erected in 1860, containing magistrates' rooms, a spacious assembly room, a market and stores, public baths in the High Street, a grammar school, a high school for girls, a workhouse and almshouse. The parish church is a spacious, ancient, cruciform structure of mixed styles, with a central square embattled tower, has a number of side chapels, and contains tombs of the Torringtons, the Cornwallises, the Incents, the Waterhouses, and others, and some brasses. The living is a rectory in the diocese of St Albans, and the net yearly value is £350 with residence, in the gift of Earl Brownlow. There is also a chapel of ease at Potter's End, and Baptist, Congregational, Primitive Methodist, and Wesleyan chapels, with places of worship for Brethren and Society of Friends. The Grammar School was founded by Dean Incent, in the time of Henry VIII.; was restored in 1841, has an endowed income of about £1500 a year, received some important additions in 1888-89, and has now accommodation for about 200 boys. It is under the control of a body of 13 governors. The High School for Girls was founded in 1888, and is endowed from surplus funds of the grammar school. A free school, founded in 1727 by Thomas Bourne, was in 1879 incorporated with the National School under a scheme approved by Her Majesty in Council. There were anciently three monastic hospitals. The town has a post, money order, and telegraph office, a railway station, a banking office, and publishes a weekly newspaper. A new model police station was opened in 1893. A weekly market is held on Wednesday. Straw-plaiting and the manufacture of wooden utensils are carried on. There is also a moderate trade in malt, coals, timber, and brushes. There are large rose and nursery gardens in the neighbourhood, and also a large chemical manufactory. Berkhampstead sent two members to Parliament in the time of Edward III., and got a new charter from James I., conferring privileges none of which are now enjoyed. It is a seat of petty sessions. Extel the Puritan and Cowper the poet were natives. Berkhampstead House is a mansion in the Elizabethan style, built out of the ruins of the castle. Other residences are Ashlyns Halls and Haresfoot. Area of parish, 4345 acres of land and 19 of water; population, 5034.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyHertfordshire 
Ecclesiastical parishBerkhampstead St. Peter 
Poor Law unionBerkhampstead 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Great Berkhampstead from the following:

Land and Property

A full transcript of the Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Hertfordshire is online.

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Hertfordshire newspapers online:

Visitations Heraldic

The Visitations of Hertfordshire, 1572 and 1634. Edited by Walter C. Metcalfe, F.S.A. is available on the Heraldry page.