Hatfield, Bishop's (St. Ethelreda)

HATFIELD, BISHOP'S (St. Ethelreda), a market-town and parish, and the head of a union, in the hundred of Broadwater, county of Hertford, 7 miles (W. S. W.) from Hertford, and 19 (N. N. W.) from London, on the great north road; containing 3646 inhabitants. This place, called by the Saxons Heathfield, from its situation on a heath, was a demesne of the crown till it was given by King Edgar to the monastery of St. Ethelreda, at Ely; and that religious foundation having been converted into a bishopric by Henry I., in 1108, the parish thence received the prefix to its name. The bishops had a palace here, which was rebuilt by John Morton, who held the see from 1478 to 1486. Henry VIII. having obtained the manor by exchange, the palace became a royal residence; and from it Edward VI. and Elizabeth were conducted to London to take possession of the throne, after the death of their respective predecessors; the latter, during the reign of Mary, having been kept here in confinement. Part of the old palace, which was exchanged by James I. with Robert, Earl of Salisbury, for Theobalds Park, near Cheshunt, is still remaining, with the old entrance gateway; and there is also a venerable oak in the park, called Queen Elizabeth's oak, about one mile from the palace, supposed to be so named as the boundary of the distance to which that princess was allowed to walk, while kept prisoner by Queen Mary. Hatfield House, the property and residence of the Marquess of Salisbury, a noble and spacious mansion of brick and stone, surmounted by a tower, and seated on a commanding eminence, forms an interesting and conspicuous object on entering the town; it was built by Robert Cecil, first earl of Salisbury, between the years 1605 and 1611. A lamentable fire occurred on Nov. 27th, 1835, when the Dowager Marchioness perished in the flames. In October 1846 the marquess was visited here by Her Majesty.

The town is situated on the declivity of a steep hill, to the west of the river Lea, and consists of one principal street intersected by a smaller one, both of which are, during the winter months, lighted with oil. A silkmill, worked by a steam-engine, furnishes employment to about 200 persons, chiefly children; and there is a paper-mill on the river. The great railway from London to York will pass by the town. The market is on Thursday; and fairs are held on April 23rd and October 18th. The town is within the jurisdiction of the county magistrates, who hold a petty-session here for the division; and a court leet is held by the Marquess of Salisbury, as lord of the manor. The parish comprises 12,543a. 2r. 25p., of which 6766 acres are arable, 3621 meadow, 1237 woodland, and the remainder the site of the town, glebe, roads, and waste. The living is a rectory, with that of Totteridge annexed, valued in the king's books at £36. 2. 1., and in the gift of the Marquess: the tithes have been commuted for £1876. 12., and the glebe comprises 108 acres. The church stands upon the summit of the hill on which the town is situated: north of the chancel is the sepulchral chapel of the marquess' family, containing a fine marble monument to Robert Cecil, first earl of Salisbury, and lord high treasurer in the reign of James I.; on the south side is a chapel belonging to the proprietor of Brocket Hall, in the parish. There is a place of worship for Independents; also a school of industry for girls, with an endowment given in 1733, by Anne, Countess of Salisbury; and six almshouses for widows, founded and endowed by the families of Boteler and Salisbury. The poor law union of Hatfield consists of 4 parishes and places, with a population of 6055.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.