Hertford

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Hertford (/ˈhɑrtfərd/ or /ˈhɑrfərd/) is the county town of Hertfordshire, England, and is also a civil parish in the East Hertfordshire district of the county. Forming a civil parish, the 2001 census put the population of Hertford at about 24,180. Recent estimates are that it is now around 28,000. The name is Anglo Saxon and means the ford frequented by harts or stags.

Hertford has been the county town of Hertfordshire since Saxon times when it was governed by the king’s reeves. By the 13th century, these had been replaced by a bailiff, elected by the burgesses. Charters of 1554 and 1589 established a common council of eleven chief burgesses and a bailiff. Another charter of 1605 changed the bailiff’s title to mayor. In 1835, Hertford became a Municipal Corporation; the ratepayers elected twelve councillors, who chose four aldermen, aldermen and councillors composing the council. This body elected the mayor.

Since 1974, Hertford has been within the East Hertfordshire district of Hertfordshire.The headquarters of Hertfordshire County Council’s is at County Hall in Hertford. East Herts District Council’s offices almost adjoin County Hall, and there is also a Hertford Town Council based at Hertford Castle (see “Landmarks”, below).

Hertford is at the confluence of four river valleys: the Rib, Beane and Mimram join the River Lea at Hertford to flow south toward the Thames as the Lee Navigation, after Hertford Castle Weir.The shared valley of the Lea and the Beane is called Hartham Common and this provides a large park to one side of the town centre running towards Ware and lying below the ridge upon which Bengeo is situated.

The town centre still follows the medieval layout with many timber-framed buildings hidden under later frontages, particularly in St Andrew Street. Hertford suffers from traffic problems despite the existence of the 1960s A414 bypass called Gascoyne Way which passes close to the town centre. Plans have long existed to connect the A10 with the A414, by-passing the town completely. Nevertheless, the town retains very much a country-town feel, despite lying only 19.2 miles (30.9 km) north of Central London. This is aided by its proximity to larger towns such as Harlow, Bishop’s Stortford and Stevenage where modern development has been focused.

The first mention of the town is in 673 A.D., the first Synod of all the Bishops in England was held in Hertford. It was called by Theodore of Tarsus; decisions included the calculation of the date of Easter.[3] In 912 AD, Edward the Elder built two burhs (earthwork fortifications) close by the ford over the River Lea as a defence against Danish incursions. By the time of the Domesday Book, Hertford had two churches, two markets and three mills. The Normans began work on castle, and Hertford Priory was founded by Ralph de Limesi. King Henry II rebuilt the castle in stone, but in 1216, during the First Barons’ War, it was besieged and captured after 25 days by Prince Louis of France. The castle was regularly visited by English royalty and in 1358, Queen Isabella, wife of Edward II, died there. The priory was dissolved in 1536 and subsequently demolished and in 1563, the Parliament of England met at the castle because of an outbreak of plague in London. Hertford grew and prospered as a market and county town; communication was improved by the construction of the Lea Navigation Canal in 1767 and the arrival of the railway in 1843.

Employment in the town is centred on County Hall (Hertfordshire County Council), Wallfields (East Hertfordshire District Council) and McMullens Brewery, one of a dwindling number of independent pre-1970 family brewers in the United Kingdom. Many residents commute to work in London.

In comparison with neighbouring towns Hertford differs with the absence of a modern shopping development (mall). However, it has most of the usual supermarkets. A Tesco store occupies part of the former Christ’s Hospital Bluecoat Girls School, which closed down in 1985. Sainsburys plans to build a new store on part of the McMullens Brewery site. The local branch of Woolworths closed for good on 27 December 2008, after the collapse of that store chain. There are very few of the usual chain shops found in most high streets and this makes Hertford stand out from other “clone towns”. There are a high number of independent shops in the town, with a variety of boutiques and salons.

  • In the town are the remains of the original Hertford Castle, principally a motte. The castle’s gatehouse, the central part of which dates to a rebuild by Edward IV in 1463, is the home to Hertford Town Council. The Motte, from the original Motte and Bailey castle in Hertford, can be found just behind Castle Hall, a short distance from the modern castle.
  • There are several churches in the town, All Saints’ and St Andrew’s, are late and mid 19th century respectively, although both stand on the sites of medieval places of worship.[8] In the northern suburb of Bengeo lies St Leonard’s, a two-celled Norman church of considerable architectural interest.
  • In Railway Street can be found the oldest purpose-built Quaker Meeting House in the world, in use since 1670.
  • The Parliament of England temporarily moved to Hertford during a plague outbreak in London in 1563.[9] This is why the main square in the town, Parliament Square, is so named, although it is a twentieth century creation.
  • The home of Alfred Russel Wallace (see above), now named Wallace House, can be found at 11 St. Andrew St. and is marked with a plaque.
  • Built in 1779, the Shire Hall was designed by Robert Adam. The ground floor houses Court Rooms.
  • The Hertford Corn Exchange was built on the site of a former gaol. After years in the doldrums it has now reverted to being a live entertainment venue.
  • In Cowbridge, there is a Prince Albert Cottage. The first of these cottages was originally built in Hyde Park by the Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes in 1851 at the time of the Great Exhibition. Prince Albert was involved in their design and financing.
  • Hertford Museum is housed in a 17th century historic town house, with a Jacobean-style knot garden.
  • A stained-glass window in St Andrew’s Church is part of a fringe theory that links Hertford to the Knights Templar and the Holy Grail.

Hertford serves as a commuter town for London, and has two stations :

  • Hertford East (on the Hertford East Branch Line) provides a half hourly service to London Liverpool Street (taking 52 minutes), via Tottenham Hale and operated by Greater Anglia.
  • Hertford North (on the Hertford Loop Line) has a service every 20 minutes off-peak to London Moorgate station (taking 50 minutes), via Finsbury Park (change for King’s Cross) and hourly northwards to Stevenage (for onward connections via the East Coast Main Line) and Letchworth (change for Cambridge), services operated by First Capital Connect. There is also a direct train to London Kings Cross at weekends when Moorgate Station is closed.

The A414 main road now bypasses the town centre to the south and runs east to Harlow, the M11 and Chelmsford and runs west to Hatfield, the A1, St Albans and the M1. Hertford also lies just west of the A10 and the Kingsmead Viaduct which links it south to London and the M25 and north to Royston and Cambridge.

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