HERTFORD, a borough and market-town, having separate jurisdiction, and the head of a union, locally in the hundred of Hertford, county of Hertford, of which it is the chief town, 21 miles (N.) from London; containing, exclusively of that part of the parish of All Saints actually within the hundred, 5450 inhabitants. Hertford is supposed by Sir Henry Chauncey to have been the Roman station called Durocobrivæ, which has by subsequent writers, with greater probability, been referred to Dunstable. The modern name is of somewhat doubtful etymology: according to Bede it is derived from Herudford, or "red ford," but Salmon deduces it from Here-ford, a "military ford," whence, by corruption, Hertford. The antiquity of the place, however, is unquestionable. So early as the year 673, Theodore, a native of Tarsus, in Cilicia, and then Archbishop of Canterbury, convened a council here; and about 905, Edward the Elder, to protect the inhabitants from the incursions of the Danes, erected a castle, the custody of which, and the government of the town, were given by William the Conqueror to Peter de Valoignes. In the reign of Henry III. William de Valence was governor, and at his death, the castle descended to Aymer de Valence; it was subsequently surrendered to the crown.
The Town is pleasantly situated on the river Lea, in a dry valley surrounded by hills, and has three principal streets meeting obliquely in the centre, parallel with one of which is the high thoroughfare through the place; the buildings in general are so irregular that not one street presents an entire row of uniform houses. The inhabitants are amply supplied with excellent water. Over the Lea, which is navigable to Hertford for small vessels, is the toll-bridge: beyond, is an opening leading to Cow-bridge, a structure of brick, of two arches, across the river Beane, which flows into the Lea, as also does the Mimram, which runs through the castle grounds, and is crossed by a wooden bridge. About a quarter of a mile above the toll-bridge, in this direction, are some neat modern cottages, and on the north road is a handsome range of buildings, called the North Crescent. In Castle-street, on the site of the ancient castle, of which little remains except a line of embattled wall and a mound, is a brick edifice of castellated form, fitted up at considerable expense, by a late Marquess of Downshire, for his own residence; it is still occupied as a private dwelling. At a short distance from the town, on the river Lea, are the gas-works, erected in November, 1825, formerly under the direction of the International Gas-Light Company, but now the property of private individuals, who have purchased them of the company. A good trade is carried on in corn, malt, and flour, of which large quantities are sent to the metropolis. The Hertford and Ware branch of the Eastern Counties railway was formed under an act obtained in 1841, and opened to the public on the 31st of October, 1843; it leaves the main line at Broxbourn, and is about 5¾ miles long, making the railway distance of Ware from the terminus at Shoreditch about 24½ miles, and that of Hertford 26 miles: coaches run, in continuation of the trains, to various places in the vicinity. The market, by charter of Charles II., is held under the shire-hall every Saturday, and the business transacted in grain is scarcely equalled in any other provincial market: another, on Wednesday, is now disused. Fairs, chiefly for cattle, three of which are by charter of Mary, and one by charter of Charles II., are held on the third Saturday before Easter, May 12th, July 5th, and November 8th, with courts of pie-poudre attached. On the north side of Fore-street is the butchers' market, constructed at the expense of Alderman Kirby, and forming three sides of a quadrangle.
The inhabitants were first incorporated by Queen Mary, in the year 1554. A new charter was bestowed by Elizabeth in 1588; and one also by James I. in 1604, which continued to be the governing charter until the grant of that of Charles II. in 1680, under which the control was vested in a mayor, high-steward, recorder, ten aldermen, and sixteen assistants, with a town-clerk, chamberlain, &c. By the act of the 5th and 6th of William IV., cap. 76, the corporation now consists of a mayor, four aldermen, and twelve councillors; the municipal boundaries are co-extensive with the parliamentary, and the number of magistrates is nine. The borough sent two members to parliament from the reign of Edward I. to the 50th of Edward III., from which period elections were discontinued till the time of James I., when, on petition, the ancient right was restored; the mayor is returning officer. The corporation possess the tolls of the market, by virtue of their charter from Charles; and have authority to hold a court of record for pleas, actions, and suits, under the value of £60, every Wednesday, at which the mayor or his deputy, being an alderman, and the recorder or his deputy, preside: this court, after having been discontinued for many years, was revived in 1827. The usual Lent and Summer assizes are held in the shire-hall, and there is a gaol delivery in December: this is also the place of election for knights of the shire. The quarter-sessions for the county are held in the same place, always beginning on Monday; and at these sessions, business for the borough is also transacted, no separate quarter-sessions being now held for the latter. There are petty-sessions weekly, both for the county and borough, the former on Saturday, and the latter on Wednesday. The powers of the county debt-court of Hertford, established in 1847, extend over the registration-districts of Hertford and Ware, and part of the district of Hatfield and Welwyn. The shire-hall, a spacious edifice, erected in 1780, and situated in the market-place, contains, in addition to the courts of law, a handsome assembly-room. The common gaol for the borough, and the common gaol and house of correction for the county, are comprehended within the same walls, inclosing an area of about four acres.
Hertford comprises the united parishes of All Saints and St. John, containing 3726 inhabitants, including the liberties of Little Amwell and Brickendon within the parish of All Saints; together with the united parishes of St. Andrew, St. Mary, and St. Nicholas, containing 2135. The living of All Saints' is a vicarage, endowed with a portion of the rectorial tithes, with the vicarage of St. John's, valued together in the king's books at £10. 8. 6½., and in the alternate patronage of the Crown and the family of Townshend; impropriators of the remainder of the rectorial tithes, certain trustees under the will of B. Cherry, Esq. The church, which was repaired a few years since, is a spacious cruciform structure in the later English style, with a tower surmounted by a spire, and contains several ancient monuments, the inscriptions on which are nearly obliterated, and some of modern erection. The living of St. Andrew's is a rectory, with the vicarages of St. Mary's and St. Nicholas', valued together in the king's books at £12. 7. 3½., and in the patronage of the Crown, in right of the duchy of Lancaster: the tithes have been commuted for £279, and the glebe comprises 2½ acres. The church is a neat edifice, with a low embattled tower surmounted by a small spire. The churches of the other three parishes have fallen into ruins. There are places of worship for Baptists, the Society of Friends, Independents, the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion, and Wesleyans.
At the entrance into the town from London, is a branch establishment in connexion with Christ's Hospital, London, appropriated to the reception of junior boys, who are sent from this to the parent institution, as vacancies arise. It includes three sides of a quadrangle, the two opposite sides being occupied by the several wards for the children, and the third by the reading and writing school, a spacious brick building capable of accommodating upwards of 250 boys, and affording a residence for the master. In a line with the writing-school, westward, is the dining-hall, and behind it the infirmary for about 100 patients: eastward of the great gates in front of the buildings is the grammar school, with the residence for the master; and on the opposite side, the porter's lodge, with a continuation of buildings within the walls for the girls, usually from 60 to 70 in number, and a residence for the governess and matron. A free grammar school for the children of the inhabitants was founded in 1617, by Richard Hale, Esq., of Cheshunt, and endowed by him with £800. Bernard Hale, D.D., gave £100 per annum to maintain seven poor scholars at St. Peter's College, Cambridge, each for seven years, the candidates to be appointed from this school: each scholarship is of the value of £14 per annum. A Green-coat school was erected in 1812. The principal charity, called Grass Money, produces a net income of about £250 per annum. A county dispensary was established in January, 1822. The poor-law union of Hertford comprises 18 parishes or places, and contains a population of 14,145. Eastward of the town was a monastery, founded by Ralph de Limesi, nephew of William the Conqueror, who, afterwards assuming the cowl, became its first prior, and was interred in the church: at the Dissolution it was valued at £86. 14. 2. The site is now occupied by a dwelling-house called the Priory, which was inhabited by Thomas Dimsdale, M.D., who spent the early part of his professional life here, and, having received his diploma in 1768, went to Russia, where he inoculated the Empress Catherine, for which he received £12,000 and a pension, with the title of Baron, which descended to his family; he died here in the year 1800, at the advanced age of 87. Hertford confers the title of Marquess on the family of SeymourConway.