DISCLOSURE: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning when you click the links and make a purchase, we may receive a commission.
UK Genealogy Archives logo


HERTFORDSHIRE, an inland county, bounded on the north by the county of Cambridge, on the northwest by that of Bedford, on the west by that of Buckingham, on the south by that of Middlesex, and on the east by that of Essex. It extends from 51° 37' to 52° 4' (N. Lat.), and from 10' (E. Lon.) to 45' (W. Lon.); and contains 528 square miles, or 337,920 acres. Within its limits are 30,155 inhabited houses, 1321 uninhabited, and 186 in course of erection; and the population amounts to 157,207, of whom 77,617 are males.

The Celtic inhabitants of this portion of Britain were the Cassii or Cattieuchlani, whose territory, long before the first invasion by the Romans, was overrun by the Belgæ (who had previously established themselves in the south-western part of England), and their capital, Verulam, taken possession of by the conquerors. Of the military operations of Cæsar in the district forming the modern county of Hertford, and his capture of Verulam, little more is known than what may be collected from the succinct narrative by the conqueror himself. The result, however, was, that the British chief, Cassivelaunus, was obliged to sue for peace; which being granted, Mandubritius, the sovereign of the Cassii, was reinstated in his dominions, and Cæsar led back his army along the Watling-street to Richborough, where he embarked for the continent. In the Roman division of Britain, after its complete subjugation, this territory was included in Flavia Cæsariensis; under the Saxon heptarchy part of it was comprised in the kingdom of Mercia, and part in that of the East Saxons, or Essex.

The county formerly lay partly within the diocese of London, and partly in that of Lincoln, the whole being included in the province of Canterbury: by the act of the 6th and 7th of William IV., cap. 77, it is entirely in the diocese of Rochester, and co-extensive with the archdeaconry of St. Alban's. That portion once in the diocese of London comprises the deanery of Braughin, which contains 34 parishes; and the deanery of St. Alban's, containing 22 parishes. The part which was in the diocese of Lincoln comprises the deaneries of Baldock, Berkhampstead, Hertford, and Hitchin; containing 80 parishes. The total number of parishes in the county is therefore 136. For civil purposes it is divided into the hundreds of Braughin, Broadwater, Cashio (or the liberty of St. Alban's), Dacorum, Ed winstree, Hertford, Hitchin and Pirton, and Odsey; in which are the borough and market towns of Hertford and St. Alban's, and the market-towns of Baldock, Berkhampstead, Hatfield, Hemel-Hempstead, Hitchin, Hoddesdon, Rickmansworth, Standon, Stevenage, Bishop-Stortford, Tring, Ware, Watford, and parts of Chipping-Barnet and Royston. Under the act of the 2nd of William IV., cap. 64, three knights are returned to parliament for the shire, and two representatives for each of the two boroughs: the place of election for the county representatives is Hertford. Hertfordshire is included in the Home circuit; and the assizes are held at Hertford, where also are held the quartersessions, except for the hundred of Cashio, or liberty of St. Alban's, which take place at St. Alban's: the gaol is at Hertford.

The natural features of the county are of a gentle character, and there are various scenes of considerable beauty, much heightened by the mansions, villas, and ornamented grounds of rich proprietors, which are conspicuous in every direction. With respect to the soil it may be remarked, that the vales through which the rivers and brooks flow are invariably composed of sandy loam, with the exception only of a small quantity of peat and marshy moor; that the slopes of the hills descending to these vales are inferior qualities of the same loams, and at the same time dry and sound; and that the flatter surfaces of the higher lands are composed of a wet and strong loam, sometimes requiring hollowdraining. Arthur Young divides the soil into one district of loams, two of clay, one of chalk, and one of gravel; adding that the soils intermingle in a remarkable manner, so as sometimes to make it extremely difficult to draw the boundary line between them. The substratum of the whole is chalk, for obtaining which, for manure, pits are sunk all over the county. By far the larger part of the land is under tillage. The grass-land is in a great measure confined to a narrow border on the south side of the county, in the vicinity of Barnet. The artificial grasses are, clover (which has probably been cultivated in this county longer than in any other part of the kingdom, and, from the vicinity of the metropolis, yields a greater profit here than elsewhere), trefoil, sainfoin, and lucerne. The waste consists of small commons scattered over the county, the principal lying near Berkhampstead; compared with that of most other counties, it is very inconsiderable. There is much flourishing timber of fine growth around the seats of the nobility and gentry; and large tracts of coppice wood are situated to the south of Hertford, also between Hockerill, Ware, and Buntingford, and on the estate of the Marquess of Salisbury.

The principal rivers are the Lea, the Colne, and the Stort, formed by the junction of many minor streams which rise chiefly within the bounds of the county. The Lea has been made navigable from Hertford to its confluence with the Stort, about a mile to the east of Hoddesdon, where it takes a southern course, becoming the boundary of the county on the east, and continuing so until it reaches the border of Middlesex: the Stort becomes navigable at Bishop-Stortford, from which place to its junction with the Lea it forms the boundary between Essex and Hertfordshire. The smaller streams are the Mimram, the Rib, the Ash, the Gade, and the Verulam, Verlam, or Mouse river. At Ashwell, in the county, are the nine springs of the Cam, which flows past Cambridge. The Grand Junction canal, leading from Branston wharf on the Coventry canal to Old Brentford, where it opens into the Thames, enters Hertfordshire above Tring, and follows the course of the Bulburn and Gade rivers to Rickmansworth, and from that place the course of the Colne until it quits the county. The London and Birmingham railway enters the county a few miles to the south of Watford, and passes by that town, Berkhampstead, and Tring, near which last place it is joined by a branch from Buckinghamshire, called the Aylesbury railway. The Eastern Counties line runs along the whole of the south-eastern border of the county, and a branch has been constructed from it to Hertford and Ware, which is noticed in the article on Hertford. The females in the vicinity of Stevenage, Hatfield, Redburn, St. Alban's, Berkhampstead, Hitchin, &c., are much employed in making straw-plat: the manufacture of black lace, carried on time immemorially at Berkhampstead, has given place to that of straw-plat.

The British Watling-street, entering Hertfordshire on the south, passed to St. Alban's, and thence along the line of the turnpike-road to Dunstable. The Erminstreet, passing by Enfield, entered the south-eastern border of Herts near Little Hockgate, and ran between Standon and Puckeridge, near Braughin, and through Buntingford, to Royston, where it crossed the Ikeneldstreet. The line of the Ikeneld-street, entering the north-eastern border of the county at Royston, passes through Baldock, and, after crossing a small part of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, re-enters Hertfordshire and continues for a short distance running a little to the right of Tring. The only Roman station of which the situation has been precisely ascertained, is the celebrated city of Verulam, contiguous to St. Alban's. Excepting the ancient British roads above mentioned, which appear to have been used and improved by the Romans, the only Roman road (of many that probably once intersected the county) now traceable with any degree of distinctness, is that which connected Verulam with the station at Chesterfield, near Sandy, on the banks of the Ivel, and which runs in the line of the present road through Stevenage, Gravely, and Baldock. Before the Reformation there were, according to Tanner, 34 religious houses and hospitals. Some remains exist of the ancient castles of Hertford, Bishop-Stortford, and Berkhampstead; and Hatfield House is a fine specimen of the style of domestic architecture which prevailed in the reign of James I. On the east side of the village of Great Amwell, at the foot of the steep bank whereon the church is situated, rises a considerable spring, which, with that of Chadwell, feeds the canal commonly called the New River, commenced in 1609, under the authority of an act of parliament, by Hugh Myddelton, for supplying the northern side of the metropolis with water, and completed in 1613. Its length is nearly 39 miles, about half of which is within the eastern border of this county, and near the line of the road from London to Ware.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.