Hitchin

Street Map

Our Photos

Hitchin is a market town in Hertfordshire, England, with an estimated population of 30,360.

Hitchin is first noted as the central place of the Hicce people mentioned in a 7th century document, the Tribal Hidage. The tribal name is Brythonic rather than Old English and derives from *siccā, meaning ‘dry’, which is perhaps a reference to the local stream, the Hiz. It has been suggested that Hitchin was the location of Clofeshoh, the place chosen in 673 by Archbishop Theodore of Tarsus during the Synod of Hertford, the first nationwide meeting of representatives of the fledgling Catholic churches of Anglo-Saxon England, to hold annual synods of the churches as Theodore attempted to consolidate and centralise Catholicism in England. By 1086 Hitchin is described as a Royal Manor in the Domesday Book: the feudal services of Avera and Inward, usually found in the eastern counties, especially Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire, were due from the sokemen, but the manor of Hitchin was unique in levying Inward. Evidence has been found to suggest that the town was once provided with an earthen bank and ditch fortification, probably in the early tenth century but this did not last. The modern spelling ‘Hitchin’ first appears in 1618 in the “Hertfordshire Feet of Fines”.

The name of the town also is associated with the small river that runs through the town, most picturesquely in front of the east end of St. Mary’s Church, the town’s parish church. The river is noted on maps as the River Hiz. Contrary to how most people now pronounce the name, that is to say phonetically, the ‘z’ was an abbreviated character for a ‘tch’ sound, as in the name of the town. It would have been pronounced ‘River Hitch’.

Hitchin is notable for St. Mary’s Church, which is remarkably large for a town of its size. The size of the church is evidence of how Hitchin prospered from the wool trade. It is the largest parish church in Hertfordshire. Most of the church dates from the 15th century, with its tower dating from around 1190. During the laying of a new floor in the church in 1911, foundations of a more ancient church building were found. In form, they appear to be a basilican church of a 7th century type, with a later enlarged chancel and transepts, perhaps added in the 10th century. This makes the church older than the story (not recorded before the 15th century) that the church was founded by Offa, king of Mercia 757-796.

In 1697, Hitchin (and the nearby village of Offley) were subject to what is thought to have been the most severe hailstorm in recorded British history. Hailstones over 4 inches in diameter were reported.

The town flourished on the wool trade, and located near the Icknield Way and by the 17th century Hitchin was a staging post for coaches coming from London. By the middle of the 19th century the railway had arrived, and with it a new way of life for Hitchin. The corn exchange was built in the market place and within a short time Hitchin established itself as a major centre for grain trading.

The latter half of the 20th century has also brought great changes in communication to Hitchin. Motorways have shortened the journey time and brought Luton, a few miles away on the M1, and the A1 (M) even closer. By the close of the 20th century, Hitchin had become a satellite dormitory town for London. Hitchin also developed a fairly strong Sikh community based around the Walsworth area.

During the medieval period, both a priory (Newbigging, now known as The Biggin) and a friary (now known as Hitchin Priory) were established, both of which closed during Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. They were never reformed, although The Biggin was for many years used as almshouses.

Hitchin is home to the world’s only known complete Lancasterian Schoolroom, which was built in 1837 to teach boys by the Lancasterian method (peer tutoring).

It is locally reputed that Henry VIII nearly died in a fire in Hitchin. It is also alleged that Henry VIII, when he was fitter, thought he was able to pole vault over the local river, the River Hiz. However, he had grown somewhat fatter than he knew, and the pole snapped from underneath him. He fell into the river, much to the amusement of his servants. This event is commemorated on the sign of the Buck’s Head  pub in nearby Little Wymondley. Whatever the truth of this story, it is known however that Henry VIII did hunt in the area around Hitchin and practised archery on Butts Close.

Hitchin is in the local government district of North Hertfordshire which was formed in 1974 by the amalgamation of rural and urban councils. There is now no town council in Hitchin. It is within the Hitchin and Harpenden constituency. Between 1983 and 1997 Hitchin was included in the North Hertfordshire constituency. Before that it was in the Hitchin constituency. Hitchin is within the East of England constituency of the European Parliament.

Hitchin railway station is on the Great Northern Line, to which the Cambridge Line connects just north of the station. There are direct connections to London, Stevenage, Peterborough, and Cambridge. Journeys to London and Cambridge both last approximately 30 minutes on the Express services. Stevenage is only 5 minutes away and Peterborough is typically 45 minutes distance in journey-time.

The A505, A600 and A602 roads intersect in Hitchin, which is about three miles from the A1(M) motorway.

Hitchin Museum and Art Gallery has an extensive collection that tells the story of the town’s social history and of the rural industries that contributed to its prosperity. The British Schools Museum is housed in original Edwardian and Victorian school buildings.

Hitchin is the venue for the annual Rhythms of the World festival. Now in its twentieth year, over 140 acts performed in 2011, with acts from India, Cuba, Australia, Congo, China, Senegal, Singapore and Germany taking part. Once the largest free festival of world music in Europe, an entry fee has been charged since 2008. It is part of the three week Hitchin Festival which includes picnics, concerts, theatre, ghost walks, art exhibitions, comedy club, summer fetes and fireworks.

Hitchin is twinned with Nuits-St-Georges, France; Bingen am Rhein, Germany.

Part of the 2010 BBC TV series Just William was filmed at the British Schools Museum.

In 1960 Hitchin Urban District Council was the first in Britain to introduce ‘black bags’ for refuse collection.

Actor and comedian Bob Hope “claimed to have inherited his sense of humour from his paternal grandfather from Hitchin”.

No reviews yet.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.