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Hitchin, Hertfordshire

Historical Description

Hitchin, a market-town, a parish, and head of a petty sessional division and county court district in Herts. The town stands in a delightful valley surrounded by considerable eminences, 2 miles S from the boundary with Beds, near Ick-nield Street and the river Hiz, 16 SE from Bedford, 17 NW from Hertford, and 32 from London. The G.N.R. has a station here, and the town is the terminus of the Bedford and Hitchin branch of the M.R. It was known to the Saxons as Hitche or Hicche, and was given by Edward the Confessor to Earl Harold. In Domesday it appears as Hiz. It is governed by a local board of twelve members formed in 1873, contains numerous streets of generally well-built houses, a spacious market-place forming an important feature, and presents a neat and clean appearance. The Town-hall, erected in 1840, is a spacious building of brick in the Italian style, and the Corn Exchange. erected in 1851, is a building of brick in the semi-classical style, well-arranged, and handsome. The parochial church, dedicated to St Mary, occupies the site of a more ancient structure near the middle of the town. It is a building of stone covered with cement in the Pointed style, comprises chancel with aisles, nave of four bays, aisles, north and south porches; has a massive western tower with a small octagonal spire; underwent gradual restoration from 1858 till 1865, and again in 1877-78, and contains an ancient font, several brasses, fine monuments to the Badcliffes, and numerous other monuments. The living is a vicarage in the diocese of St Albans; net value, £406 with residence. Patron, Trinity College, Cambridge. The church of the Holy Saviour was built in 1865 at a cost of £2900, is a building of red brick with Bath stone dressings in the Early Decorated style, and serves for a district which was formed from the parish of St Mary in 1865. The living is a vicarage of the net yearly value of £200. There are also Baptist, Calvinistic, Congregational, and Wesleyan chapels, a meeting-house for the Society of Friends, and a Salvation Army barracks. Population of the ecclesiastical parish of Holy Saviour, 2345; of St Mary, 7165.

The cemetery, which comprises 7 acres, and is situated on the east of the town, has two mortuary chapels, and is under the control of a board of nine members. The North Herts and South Beds Infirmary, erected in 1840, is a building of brick, and contains 23 beds. The Mechanics' Institution, established in 1836 at the town-hall, has a good library of about 8000 volumes. The workhouse was erected in 1837, is a building of brick, and will accommodate 400 inmates. The police station, situated in Bancroft, is a spacious building, erected in 1885, which is used as a police and also as a county court. There was in former times a considerable trade in wool, but this has ceased; however, a fair trade is done in corn, flour, and malt. Straw plait is manufactured on a large scale, and parchment is made in two large fell-mongers' yards. There are three iron foundries, and brewing is also carried on. Another industry is the distillation of lavender, about 60 acres of land on the slope of a hill north of the town being devoted to the cultivation of this plant. A weekly market is held on Tuesday, and pleasure fairs are held on Easter and Whit-Tuesdays and Wednesdays. There are a head post office, two banks, a savings bank, two principal hotels, and three weekly newspapers.

The parish contains also the hamlets of Preston, Langley, Walsworth, Hitchin Hill, Sunnyside, and Charlton. Acres, 6405 of land and 15 of water; population, 9510. The manor belonged to the kings of Mercia; was given by Edward the Confessor to Earl Harold; passed at the Conquest to, personally, William the Conqueror; was given by William Eufus to Bernard de Baliol, remained with the Baliols till their accession to the Crown of Scotland, reverted then to the Crown of England; was given by Richard II. to Edmund de Langley; was held by the Langleys till their failure of issue in the time of Henry VII.; reverted then once more to the Crown, and has been held in jointure by several queens of England. It belongs now to Her Majesty Queen Victoria. A Gilbertine nunnery, called the priory of Biggin, formerly stood near the church. Some remains of the building were-converted into a large mansion, which in 1654 was devised to trustees for charitable uses. The building is now inhabited by eighteen poor women. There are also several endowed' almshouses and numerous charities, worth in the aggregate-about, £1000 a year. A White Carmelite priory, founded in the time of Edward II., stood on the spot now occupied by the mansion called the Priory or Hitchin Priory, which has been a seat of the Eadcliffes from 1539. Preston Castle or Shandy Hall was the residence of the original of Sterne's " Uncle Toby," but was many years ago taken down. Temple Dinsley at Preston was formerly the property of the Knights Templars, who established a preceptory. Vestiges. of a Koman camp are at Wilbury Hill on Icknield Street, and there are some barrows.

Hitchin, Parliamentary Division, or Northern Hertfordshire, was formed under the Redistribution of Seats Act, 1885,. and returns one member to the House of Commons. Population, 48, 437. The division includes the following:-Hitchin -Hexton, Hitchin, Ickleford, Ippollitts, Kimpton, King's Walden, Lilley, Offley, Pirton, St Paul's Walden; Welwyn- Ayott (St Lawrence), Ayott (St Peter), Codicote, Digswell, Welwyn; Odsey-Ashwell, Barkway, Barley, Bygrave, Calde-cote, Clothall, Hinxworth, Kelshall, Newnham, Nuthamstead (Hamlet), Eeed, Royston, Sandon, Therfield, Wallington; Stevenage-Aston, Baldock, Bennington, Datchworth, Grave-ley, Knebworth, Letchworth, Munden (Great), Mundea (Little), Norton, Eadwell, Sacombe, Shephall, Stevenage, Walkern, Watton, Weston, Willian, Wymondley (Great), Wy-mondley (Little); Albury (part of)-Albury, Meesden, Pel-ham (Brent), Pelham (Furneaux), Pelham (Stocking); Bunt-ingford-Anstey, Aspeden, Broadfield, Buckland, Cottered,-Hormead (Great), Hormead (Little), Layston, Eushden, Throcking, Wakeley, Westmill, Wyddiall, Yardley; Ware- (part of)-Braughing.

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 parishHitchin St. Mary and St. Andrew 
HundredHitchin and Pirton 
Poor Law unionHitchin 

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 Hitchin

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Hitchin 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 Hitchin 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.

DistrictNorth Hertfordshire
Postal districtSG5
Post TownHitchin