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Hertford, Hertfordshire

Historical Description

Hertford, the county and assize town of Hertfordshire. It is also a municipal borough, market and union town, and the head of a petty sessional division and county court district. The town stands on Ermine Street, on the river Lee, and at a meeting point of railways, 1½ mile WSW from Ware, 7 miles ENE from Hatfield, and 21 by road, but 26 by railway, N from London. Its situation is at the extremity of a plain extending 25 miles from N to S, with gentle hills, well-wooded and picturesque, in the neighbourhood. The Lea is navigable from it to the Thames. The river Stort joins the Lea navigation near Broxbourne, and is navigable as far as Bishops Stortford. A branch railway goes from Hertford curvingly to the G.E.R. line at Broxboume; and the G.N.R. has also a branch line from the main line at Hatfield. The name Hertford alludes to the ancient tribe of Hertings, and to a ford on the Lea; was originally written Heort Ford, and is commonly pronounced Hartford. The town acquired importance very early in the Saxon times; was the meeting-place of a synod in 673; is thought by some antiquaries to have been a principal residence of the East Saxon kings; seems, probably, to have been despoiled and desolated by the Danes; was fortified with walls and a castle, about 909, by Edward the Elder; figured at Domesday as having then had two churches and 146 burgesses; and was divided by the Conqueror between the Crown and eight magnates, one of whom, Peter de Valoines or Valence, was made governor of the castle. That fortress is described as having been very beautiful but not large; was committed by King John to the keeping of Walter de Godervil; was soon seized by Louis Ie Dauphin; was committed by Edward III. to John of Gaunt; was, while in his possession, the occasional residence of John of France, captured at Poitiers, and the prison of David of Scotland attended by his Queen Joan, who died here in 1362; was the place where Henry, Duke of Lancaster, afterwards Henry IV., held his court at the time of Richard II.'s deposition; passed to his queen, Joan de Navarre, till the time of her forfeiture; went then to the Lady Catherine of France, whom Henry V. married; was the place where Henry VI. kept Easter, in the seventh year of his reign; was settled by him on his queen, Margaret of Anjou; passed to Henry VII., as heir of the house of Lancaster; was occasionally occupied by Queen Elizabeth, who is traditionally said to have been imprisoned in it, and in whose reign the London Michaelmas term was three times adjourned to it on account of the plague; passed in the time of James I. to the uses of Prince Charles; and was given by that prince, six years after he ascended the throne, to William, Earl of Salisbury, whose descendant is the present proprietor. It was used for a period as a college by the East India Company; and is now, after much reconstruction, a private residence. The embattled wall and the mound are the chief parts of the original pile which still remain; the highest tower commands from the leads an extensive view over the circumjacent country, and parts now inhabited are comparatively modern, and have sprung from a constant series of repairs and renovations.

The town, which is well paved, comprises several good streets, is built with tolerable regularity about the centre, and has pleasant suburbs and environs. It has a good water supply, derived from wells sunk into the chalk, the waterworks being the property of the corporation. The limits of the borough extend through a circuit of 6 miles, and include the parish of All Saints, parts of the parishes of St Andrew, St John, and Bengeo, with parts of the liberties of Brickendon and Little Amwell. Under the provisions of the Local Government and Provisional Orders Act (No. 10), 1892, the borough was extended as from 9 Nov., 1892, when it was also for the first time divided into the municipal wards of Bengeo and town. It sent members to Parliament in the reign of Edward I. and Edward II., sent two from the time of James I. till 1867, when the number was reduced to one, and by the Redistribution of Seats Act, 1885, it was disfranchised as a borough, and the representation merged in that of the county. The town is governed by a mayor, 5 aldermen, and 15 councillors. It has a head post office, stations on the G.E.R. and G.N.R., two banks, a savings bank, and some good hotels; is a seat of assizes, quarter sessions, and county courts; a polling-place, and a meeting-place (with St Albans) of the Hertfordshire county council. A weekly market is held on Saturday, and is one of the largest corn markets in the county. There are also fairs held on the third Saturday before Easter, on 12 May, 5 July, and 8 Nov. With respect to trade, it must be regarded chiefly as an agricultural centre, but it is also noted for a few flourishing manufactures. Corn is largely ground, and malting and the making of oil cake are also carried on. There are some large breweries, and the town for some years has been a centre of the carriage manufacture. There are also works for the manufacture of game food, large high-class printing works, and some iron foundries and limekilns. There are three weekly newspapers published, and the town enjoys exceptionally good educational advantages. In the suburbs there are some important nurseries and rose gardens.

The Town and Shire Hall, situated in the market-place, is a massive brick edifice of 1780, after designs by Adams. It was enlarged in 1886 at a cost of nearly £3000, and it contains, in addition to the courts and magistrates' rooms, a spacious council chamber hung with numerous royal and other portraits. The Corn Exchange and public hall, erected in 1859, is on the site of the old butchers' market The front is surmounted by a colossal figure of Ceres, and the interior is covered in by a roof of one span, chiefly of glass. A new post office was erected in 1890. There is also a public library and school of art, which was erected in 1888-89 at a cost of about £3000. The library contains about 13, 000 volumes. The Hertford General Infirmary stands on rising ground in the North Road, was erected in 1832 and enlarged and repaired in 1878, and is a neat edifice of stuccoed brick. The workhouse, in Ware Road, is an attractive building of brick, was erected in 1862 at a cost of about £12, 000, and has accommodation for about 250 inmates. Haileybury College, about 2 miles from Hertford, originally the place where the civil servants of the East India Company were educated, is now a public school, and was incorporated by royal charter in 1864. It has accommodation for upwards of 500 boys, and the education given qualifies the pupils for the universities, for civil and military public service, and for civil engineering. The Blue-coat School in Fore Street is a branch of Christ's Hospital in London, and has accommodation for 340 boys and 90 girls, and an infirmary for 60 sick children. Hale's Free Grammar School, which was founded in 1617 by Richard Hale, is also in Fore Street, has a small endowment, but the amount is insufficient to support the school, and the pupils pay fees, varying from four guineas a year for the day scholars up to forty guineas a year for boarders who are not on the foundation. There are also a Brown School, or school of industry for girls, originally established in 1793, a Green-coat School for boys, founded in 1760, and several other schools. The parish church of All Saints was totally destroyed by fire in Dec. 1891. It was a large and ancient building of flint and stone, cruciform in shape, and consisting of chancel, nave, transepts, aisles, N porch, and an embattled western tower with spire. It contained some ancient inscriptions and memorials, and a handsome tablet to the officers and privates of the 49th or Hertfordshire regiment who fell in the Crimean War. A new church, a very handsome building in the Perpendicular style, was erected in 1894-95. It is surrounded by a most picturesque churchyard, intersected by well-grown chestnut avenues. The living is a vicarage, united with the rectory of St John's and the liberty of Brickendon, in the diocese of St Albans; gross value, £680, in the gift of the Lord Chancellor and the Marquis Townshend alternately. St Andrew's, the original church of Hertford (the parish having been 'treated in 860 A.D.), was rebuilt in 1869. The present building is a handsome modern Gothic edifice of flint and stone, consisting of chancel, nave, aisles, transepts, N porch, and a western tower and spire, 130 feet in height. The living is a rectory, united with the rectory of St Mary and the vicarage of St Nicholas, in the diocese of St Albans; net value, £89, in the gift of the Duchy of Lancaster. The ecclesiastical parish of Christ Church was formed in 1869 from the parishes of St Andrew and Bengeo. The church, erected in 1868, is a cruciform building of stone in the Early Pointed style. The living is a vicarage of the gross value of £200 with residence. There are also Congregational, Baptist, Roman Catholic, Calvinistic, and Wesleyan chapels, with a Friends' meeting-house. There are almshouses for fourteen poor women, and there are charities worth about £350 a year In the immediate vicinity of Hertford are several fine residential seats, of which the most noteworthy are Hertford Castle, already mentioned, Ball's Park, the property of the Marquis Townshend, Panshanger, the ancestral home of Earl Cowper, Essendou Place, Bayfordbnry, Ware Park, Woodhall Park, Brickendonbury, Leahoe, and Fanshaws. The surrounding countryside is a well-known and favourite hunting district. The total population of the borough of Hertford in 1891 was 7548, and the population of the extended borough in 1892 was 9023.

Hertford Parliamentary Division or Eastern Hertfordshire was formed under the Redistribution of Seats Act of 1885, and retums one member to the House of Commons. Population, 54, 574. The division includes the following:- Cheshunt - Broxbourn, Cheshunt, Hoddesdon (hamlet), Northaw, Wormley; Bishops Stortford-Bishops Stortford, Sawbridgeworth, Thorley; Hertford (part of)-Amwell (Little, part), Bayford, Bengeo (part), Berkhampstead (Little), Brantfield, Brickendon (part), Hertingfordbury, St Andrew (part), St John (part), Stapleford, Tewin; Ware (except the parish of Braughing)-Amwell (Great), Eastwick, Gilstone, Huns-don, Standon, Stanstead Abbotts, Stanstead (St Margaret), Thundridge, Ware, Widford; Albury (part of)-Great Hadham. Little Hadham; Hertford, municipal borough.

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 
Poor Law unionHertford 

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

Church Records

Findmypast, in association with the Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies have the Baptisms, Banns, Marriages, and Burials online for Hertford

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Hertford from the following:

Land and Property

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


Online maps of Hertford are available from a number of sites:

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.

DistrictEast Hertfordshire
Postal districtSG14
Post TownHertford