Hempstead, Hemel (St. Mary)

HEMPSTEAD, HEMEL (St. Mary), a market-town and parish, and the head of a union, in the hundred of Dacorum, county of Hertford; containing, with the chapelries of Bovingdon and Flaunden, 7268 inhabitants, of whom 5901 are in the town, 19½ miles (W. by S.) from Hertford, and 23 (N. W.) from London. This place appears from the name to owe its origin to the Saxons, by whom, on account of its situation among the hills near the confluence of the rivers Gade and Bulborn, it was called Hean Hampstede, implying a dwelling in a high or elevated situation. It was given by Offa, King of Mercia, to the abbey of St. Alban's. In Domesday book it is noticed under the names Henamstede and Hamelamstede, from which latter its present appellation is evidently deduced. The town is pleasantly situated on the declivity of a hill, in a fertile valley watered by the river Gade, which has its source within a distance of four miles; and consists chiefly of one street, nearly a mile in length, partially paved and lighted: the houses are irregularly built, but of neat and respectable appearance, and the inhabitants are amply supplied with water. The principal article of manufacture is straw-plat, which affords employment to nearly all the women and children of the labouring class; and there are several corn and paper mills in the vicinity. The Grand Junction canal, by means of which the neighbourhood is supplied with coal from Staffordshire and Leicestershire, and the London and Birmingham railway, pass through Box Moor, within one mile of the town, where is a station. The market is on Thursday, and is one of the largest in the county; a market is also held on the morning of the same day for straw-plat. The fairs are on Holy-Thursday, for cattle and sheep; the Thursday after Trinity-Sunday, for horses, cattle, and sheep; on the last Friday in June, for the sale of wool; and the third Monday in September, which is a statute-fair for hiring servants. The inhabitants received a charter of incorporation from Henry VIII., which was renewed to them by Cromwell on their acceding to the solemn league and covenant. By this charter, the government is vested in a bailiff, who is assisted by a jury of the principal inhabitants, acting as his council; the bailiff is chosen on St. Andrew's day, but possesses no magisterial authority. The court leet of the lord of the manor is, by permission of the bailiff, held in the town-hall, a long narrow building supported on square wooden pillars; where, also, a meeting of the county magistrates takes place every alternate week.

The parish, exclusively of the two chapelries, comprises 7136 acres, of which 320 are waste land or common. The living is a vicarage, valued in the king's books at £16. 1. 10½., and in the presentation of the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's, London (the appropriators), on the nomination of the Bishop of Lincoln. The great tithes of Hemel-Hempstead have been commuted for £1819, and the small for £501. The church is a spacious cruciform structure, partly in the Norman style, with an embattled tower surmounted by a lofty spire: the chancel is finely groined, and the east window embellished with painted glass; there is also a finely painted window at the west end, presented by the late Sir Astley Paston Cooper, Bart. The building has been enlarged, and a gallery built. The chapelries of Bovingdon and Flaunden were in 1834 separated from the mother church, and endowed. A district church has been erected on Box Moor, and endowed independently of the vicar, who, however, has the presentation; net income, £150. It contains 400 free sittings, the Incorporated Society having granted £400 in aid of the expense. There are places of worship for Baptists, the Society of Friends, Huntingtonians, and Wesleyans. A charity school for boys, endowed with £25 per annum, and a school for girls, which has £13. 10. per annum, have been consolidated. The West Herts Infirmary, at first established at Picott's-End, in the parish, and supported by subscription, has lately been endowed with £100 per annum for the house surgeon by Sir John Saunders Sebright, who has also erected a spacious building at the south entrance to the town. The union of Hemel-Hempstead comprises 6 parishes or places, and contains 11,499 inhabitants: the poor-house, built in 1836, stands on an elevated and healthy spot overlooking the town, and is calculated to contain 200 paupers.

The remains of the old mansion-house of the Bury family, originally the residence of Sir Richard Combe, a favourite of Henry VIII.'s, consist only of a gateway, from a window over which the king is said to have delivered the charter. In Lockers' House are some curious apartments, thought to have been built by that monarch, and in the ceilings of which the royal arms are still preserved. There are also some remains of ancient buildings at a place called Heaven's Gate, on the north-east boundary of the parish. At Picott's-End, and at Noak Mill, in the vicinity of the town, are saline and chalybeate springs, said to be similar to the waters of Cheltenham; and many petrifactions of sponge and other fossils, susceptible of a very high polish, are found in the vicinity, which abounds likewise with fine specimens of chalcedony. Dr. Hugh Smith, an eminent physician and medical lecturer, was born at Hemel-Hempstead, in the year 1733; and Sir Astley Paston Cooper, Bart., pre-eminently distinguished for his skill in surgery, and who died in 1841, resided in the neighbourhood.

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