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Berkhamsted Old Town Hall
The town coat of arms
Berkhamsted shown within Hertfordshire
|Population||20,641 (2011 est.)|
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Ambulance||East of England|
|EU Parliament||East of England|
|UK Parliament||South West Hertfordshire|
Berkhamsted Old Town Hall
The town coat of arms
Berkhamsted shown within Hertfordshire
|Population||20,641 (2011 est.)|
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Ambulance||East of England|
|EU Parliament||East of England|
|UK Parliament||South West Hertfordshire|
Berkhamsted // is a historic market town, in the Chiltern Hills", on the western edge of Hertfordshire (England), 26 miles (40 km) north-west of London, within the Metropolitan Green Belt. Berkhamsted is a civil parish with a designated Town Council within the administrative district (and borough since 1984) of Dacorum, situated between the towns of Tring and Hemel Hempstead.
The town's most prominent role in national affairs took place in early December 1066 and was recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the Bayeux Tapestry and other period sources. After his defeat of King Harold II of England's Anglo-Saxon army at the Battle of Hastings, "William the Conqueror" received the surrender of the Anglo-Saxon English at Berkhamsted. In the medieval period Berkhamsted Castle became a favoured royal residence throughout the Norman, Angevin and Plantagenet period. From 1070 to 1495 many notable English medieval figures were associated with the castle, including several kings, queen consorts, royal favourites, Thomas Becket, Edward, the Black Prince and Geoffrey Chaucer. Later still, among the town's former citizens was Colonel Daniel Axtell, captain of the Parliamentary Guard at the trial and execution of Charles I of England in 1649.
The town is home to one of the oldest urban buildings in Great Britain (1277–97) that is still in daily use. Berkhamsted is also the home of the British Film Institute's BFI National Archive at King's Hill, one of the largest film and television archives in the world, which was generously endowed by J. Paul Getty, Jr.
In November 2014 the Academy of Urbanism said of the modern affluent town, "It would appear that, by any measure, Berkhamsted is a successful town."
* Origin of the Town's Name
The name of the town has been spelt in a variety of ways over the years, and the present spelling was adopted in 1937. Earlier spellings included Berkhampstead, Muche Barkhamstede, Berkhamsted Magna, Great Berkhamsted and Berkhamstead. The earliest recorded form of the name is the Old English Beorhoanstadde. The local historian Percy Birtchnell identified over 50 different spellings and epithets since the Domesday Book. It is believed that the name derived from the Anglo-Saxon or Old English "bergs", meaning "homestead amongst the hills". The town's local nickname is Berko.
* Early Archaeology
The Roman engineered road of Akeman Street (on which the future town's High Street lies) was a major communications route before, during and after the Roman period, from St Albans (Verulamium) to Cirencester (Corinium).
During the construction of the bypass in 1993, archaeologists unearthed Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman artefacts. Several settlements dating from the Neolithic to the Iron Age (c4500-100BC) have been discovered south of Berkhamsted. There are three surviving sections of a late Bronze Age to the Iron Age (1200-100BC) bank and ditch (5 meters wide and 2–4 meters high) known as Grim’s Ditch, on the south side of the Bulbourne Valley. Another dyke with the same name can be found on the north side of the valley on Berkhamsted Common. Neolithic evidence suggest that this part of the valley has been continuously settled and farmed for over 5000 years. The Bulbourne Valley is rich in both timber and iron ore, the valley developed into a major iron production centre by the late Pre-Roman Iron Age, of regional or national importance, focused on an area 4 square miles around Northchurch (a mile north of the centre of modern Berkhamsted). It is regarded as one of the most important Late Iron Age and Roman industrial landscapes in England. Prior to the Roman invasion these mines would have belonged to the Catuvellauni people. Iron production led to the settlement of a Roman town at Cow Roast, a couple of miles to the northwest of Berkhamsted and the is evidence of more industrial activity in the form of four 1st century shaft furnaces at Dellfield (Bridgewater School). Production however appears to have ceased by the end of the Roman period. In the Romano-British period there is evidence for dispersed occupation along the length of the upper Bulbourne valley, including a pottery kiln in Bridgewater road. The is also some evidence of Roman roadside occupation in Berkhamsted, but the evidence is scattered and disrupted. By the later Roman period the valley appears to have been divided into three farming estates. Each of these complexes included one or more masonry buildings of villa form, with tiled roofs and underfloor heating:
* Anglo-Saxon settlement
Puzzlingly, the prologue of the Law of Wihtred states that Wihtred and the "great men" of Kent issued their legal code before a large assembly of Kentish people, "in the fifth winter of his reign, in the ninth indiction, sixth day of Rugern [rye-harvest]" (6 September 695) at "that place which is called Berghamstead." The scribes might have meant Bearsted, near Maidstone.[Notes 1] The earliest certain documentary reference to Berkhamsted is in the Will of Aelfgifu (970 AD), queen consort of King Eadwig of England (r. 955–59),[Notes 2] in her will she bequeathed extensive estates across five counties including Berkhamsted. This may well have been the adjoining village of Berkhamsted St. Mary or Berkhamsted Minor, later known as North Church or Northchurch as it is today. The parish church of St. Mary in Northchurch is one of the oldest churches in Hertfordshire, parts of the south and west walls date from Anglo-Saxon times. The church was probably part of a high status Anglo-Saxon estate, which became part of the later medieval manor of Berkhamsted after the Norman Conquest. One and half miles away from the centre of later Berkhamsted, Northchurch has been regarded as the site of pre-conquest Berkhamsted.
Close to the centre of present day Berkhamsted, two finds of a quantity of early, middle and late Anglo-Saxon pottery have been found, suggesting that by the 7th or 8th century onwards a settlement was in continued use close to the centre of the modern town. A late Saxon / early Norman settlement may have stood between Chesham Road and St. John's Well Lane. The spring of St John’s Well may have had a pre-Christian ritual significance (the Bishop of Lincoln visited the well in the late 12th century in order to prevent the worshipping of nymphs and spirits in the well). Later there was a small church near St. John's Well Lane, the Chapel of St. James, which was the base for a small community of monks, the Brotherhood of St. John the Baptist, who lived in the town during the eleventh and twelfth centuries (for many centuries, the Berkhamsted town fair was held on the feast day of St James rather than at Petertide, which points to the older parish before St Peters). Evidence of late ninth century human interference with the River Bulbourne (near Mill Street, close to the centre of the modern town) suggests that watermills were in existence during the late Saxon period. There is also mention of land called ‘Oldeburgh’, in the same area of the High Street, which supports several historian's belief in a pre-Norman conquest 'fortified' settlement. [Notes 3]
It was at Berkhamsted, in early December 1066, that William the Bastard, the Duke of Normandy became William the Conqueror of England. After the defeat of Harold II at the Battle of Hastings in October, William led his army to circle London crossing the River Thames at Wallingford, laying waste to much of the south east of England. At Berkhamsted he was met by Edgar Aetheling (the English heir to the throne), the Archbishop Aldred of York, the Earl Edwin and the Earl Morcar, and the chief men of London who surrendered, swore loyalty to William and offered him the crown of England. (Tradition says he refused to accept the crown in Berkhamsted saying he would receive the keys to London in Berkhamsted, but would accept the crown in London. Archaeological evidence suggests that after most of the lords submitted at Berkhamsted the might have been some resistance still to the Norman conquest of England). It is not known why Berkhamsted was the meeting place. William's coronation took place in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066. Following his coronation William granted Berkhamsted to his half-brother, Robert, Count of Mortain, who began work on a wooden fortification that later became a notable royal retreat for the Norman to Plantagenet dynasties.
The entry for the town in the Domesday Book in 1086 describes Berkhamsted as a 'burbium' (borough) in the Tring Hundred (Later, at an uncertain time after the conquest, the Tring Hundred merged with the Danais Hundred 'which overlapped it' to form the new Dacorum Hundred [Notes 4]). The lord at the time of the conquest had been Eadmer Atule, Thegn of Edward the Confessor (and in 1066 King Harold). The Domesday survey reported that there was land for 26 plough teams, but only 15 were being used, common land for 1000 Pigs and two mills - Upper and Lower Mill - essential for grinding flour, were present in 1086. The total population has been calculated at between 37- 88 households - the families included 14 villagers, 15 smallholders, 6 slaves, 1 priest and 52 burgesses. The wide variation in household/population figures is due to the fact the record of fifty-two burgesses in Berkhamsted in the Domesday Book, is an exceptionally high number, and has been considered by some as a clerical error. Post conquest employment in Berkhamsted must have flourished, a large royal deer park, was established around the castle to provide hunting grounds and a vineyard was also maintained alongside the castle.
Historically the castle had a significant influence on the town, at a minimum throughout its occupancy creating much employment for the local population, both within the castle itself and the castle's large park. Berkhamsted Castle was a royal residence that guarded the Akeman Street gap through the Chilterns, one of the major routes to London, 30 miles away. Berkhamsted Castle is a well-documented example of a Norman castle with historical records dating from the 12th to the 15th century. It has important associations with the family of William the Conqueror, and many kings, queens and other notable figures of the Angevin and Plantagenet period. Berkhamsted Castle was a high-status residence in good hunting country, with a deer park, and the administrative centre for extensive estates. Simon Schama referred to Berkhamsted as being to the Plantagenets what Windsor is to today's Royal Family.
The castle and the town's history were interwoven. For a simple time-line of the historical holders, occupants and events at the castle, please click expand.
Though the exact layout of the Anglo-Saxon settlement of the Berkhamsted valley is unclear, with the construction of a castle the emphasis of the settlement shifted away from Northchurch along Akeman street. Henry II officially recognised Berkhamsted as a town in 1156. Henry granted a royal charter which confirmed the laws and customs enjoyed under Edward the Confessor, William I and Henry I, and freed the town's merchants from all tolls and dues. The charter also decreed that no market could be set up within seven miles of the town. During the reign of king John Geoffrey Fitz Peter (c. 1162–1213)[Notes 6] (Chief Justiciar of England during the reigns of Richard I and John - effectively the king's principal minister), one of the occupants of the castle, was instrumental in the building of St. Peter’s Church. He also rebuilt much of the early town founding two hospitals in Berkhamsted, one dedicated to St John the Baptist and one to St John the Evangelist - the latter is still commemorated in the town with the name St John's Well Lane. The town grew up on the High Street (the old Akeman Street) on the west side of St Peter's church, around a triangle of Mill Street, Castle Street, Back Lane. Berkhamsted developed in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries as an undefended trading centre on an important trade route, rather than as a fortified town. Berkhamsted received several more royal charters, Henry III freed the men and merchants of the town from all tolls and taxes wherever they went in England, Normandy, Aquitaine and Anjou in 1216 and in a second charter in 1217 recognised the town's oldest institution, Berkhamsted Market (originally held on a Sunday it was changed to Monday, again by charter, when St. Peter's Church was built next to the High Street and the new rector objected to the noise).[Notes 7] Early in the thirteenth century the town had a merchant, two painters, a goldsmith, a forester, two farriers, two tailors, a brewer of mead, a blacksmith, carpenters, wood turners, tool makers and wine producers.
In the 13th Century under Henry III's brother, Richard, Berkhamsted castle became permanently associated with the Earls and Dukes of Cornwall. Richard’s coat of arms, as Earl of Cornwall, with 13 gold balls, is incorporated in Berkhamsted’s coat of arms. Meanwhile, in addition to the castle and trade along the highway (a major trade route), the growing wool trade brought prosperity to Berkhamsted in the 13th and 14th centuries. Four wealthy Berkhamsted wool merchants were amongst a group in Bruges sent a letter by Edward III in 1332. In the mid-thirteenth century we hear of a banker, the wealthy Abraham of Berkhamsted, the 'king's Jew', financier to the Earl of Cornwall (unusual for a small town in the time of heightened persecution of Jews). Edmund, 2nd Earl of Cornwall founded Ashridge Priory in 1283, two miles from the town, within the castle's park. At the foundation of the abbey the Earl donated, among other things, a phial of Christ's blood. Pilgrims from all over Europe passed through the town to see the phial of blood. The abbey grew quite wealthy as a result. King Edward I held parliament at the abbey in 1290 while he spent Christmas in Pitstone. In 1290 a taxation list mentions a brewer, a lead burner, a carpenter, leather workers, a fuller, a turner, a butcher, a fishmonger, a barber, an archer, a tailor, a cloth-napper, a miller, a cook, a seller of salt, a huntsman. At some stage on the South Side of the High Street larger houses of merchants and castle officials appeared (including 173 High Street the oldest known jettied urban building in England).
By the fourteenth century, Berkhamsted (recorded as Berchamstede) was reputed to have been one of the best market towns in the country. The burgesses returned two members to parliament in 1320 and again in 1338 and 1341, but was not represented again. Mid 14th century The Black Prince took advantage of the Black Death to extend the castle's park by 65 acres (26 ha), including woodland pasture stretching over the Chilterns, eventually producing a park covering 991 acres (401 ha). In a survey of 1357 Richard Clay was found to own a butcher's shop 12 feet wide, William Herewood had two shops and there were four other shops eight foot in length. By the fifteenth century the town had become a medieval Borough and was given a Royal Charter under Edward IV (1442 - 1483), that decreed that no other market town was to be set up within eleven miles.
The Sixteenth century saw the town in economic decline, with the death of Cicely, Duchess of York (the last occupant of the castle) in 1495, and the rise of the nearby town of Hemel Hempstead (which was granted a Charter of Incorporation by Henry VIII, on the 29 December 1539). After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Henry VIII bequeathed Ashridge Priory to his daughter, Elizabeth (Elizabeth I.). It later became her private residence and it was here that she was arrested in 1554, under suspicion of treason in connection to the Wyatt's rebellion in her sister Queen Mary I's reign. In 1580, the castle ruins and the park, was leased from Elizabeth I by Sir Edward Carey, for the nominal rent of one red rose each year. Stone from the castle was used to build Berkhamsted Place, a local school and other buildings in the late 16th century. Around 1583 a new market house was erected west of St. Peter's Church at the end of Middle Row (also known as Le Shopperowe in 1357, and later as Graball Row); it was destroyed in a fire in 1854.
In 1612, Berkhamsted Place was bought by Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales for the sum of £4000. Henry, who died later that year, passed the house to his brother, Charles (later King Charles) who leased the property to his tutor Thomas Murray, and Mary Murray, who had been his nurse and Lady of the Privy Chamber to the prince's mother. In 1618 James I granted Berkhamsted a charter, again making the town a borough. In 1643 Berkhamsted was visited by a violent pestilential fever. The castle's park, which had reached 1,252 acres (507 ha) in size by 1627, was broken up over the next two decades, shrinking to only 376 acres (152 ha) to the benefit of local farmers. Born in Berkhamsted, Baptist and a grocer's apprentice Colonel Daniel Axtell(1622 – 19 October 1660) played a zealous and prominent part in the English Civil War both in England and the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. He participated as a lieutenant-colonel in Pride's Purge of the Long Parliament (December 1648), arguably the only military coup d'état in English history and commanded the Parliamentary Guard at the trial of King Charles I at Westminster Hall in 1649 during Cromwell's Protectoraite he appropriated Berkhamsted Place. Shortly after the Restoration Axtell unrepentant was hanged, drawn and quartered as a regicide. Following the restoration the surveyor of Hertfordshire recommended that a new tenant and army officers where needed at Berkhamsted Place 'to govern the people much seduced of late by new doctrine preacht unto them by Axtell and his colleagues.'  The town was a centre of religious nonconformity from the 17th century; about a fifth of the population were Dissenters in the second half of the century. Berkhamsted lost its charter granted by James I, at the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II. Three more shops are mention in the row, next to the church and the Parliamentary Survey of 1653 suggests the area near the Market House was a centre of slaughtering and the selling of meat.
In 1801 the population of St Peter’s parish was 1,690. The town in 1835 consisted of two streets, the High Street, extended about half a mile along "the high road" and Castle Street that branched out from the church towards the site of the castle. "The houses are mostly of brick, and irregularly built, but are interspersed with a fair proportion of handsome residences". The parish contained 484 houses in 1831, with a population of 2,369 persons, of whom 1,287 were females. The town’s population increased dramatically. as hundreds of men arrived to work on the construction of the line and needed lodging; this boost to the local economy and the population rose further, so that by 1851 it was 3,395.
In 1761 the wider estate and the castle were separated, the former being leased to the Duke of Bridgewater while the latter remained in the direct control of the Duchy of Cornwall. In 1863, the estate and park were sold off to Earl Brownlow who agreed to rent the castle from the duchy for a nominal rent. In 1866 Lord Brownlow of Ashridge House tried to enclose and privatise Berkhamsted Common with 5' steel fences (built by Woods of Berkhamsted) in an attempt to claim it as part of his estate. Augustus Smith MP (Born in Ashlyns Hall in 1804) led gangs of local and hired men from London's East End to break the fences and protect Berkhamsted Common for the people of Berkhamsted. The 'East End toughs' and local Berkhamsted men and women fought that night against Brownlow's men in what became known nationally as the Battle of Berkhamsted Common. Sir Robert Hunter (later a co-founder of the National Trust) and the Commons Preservation Society instituted legal action that ensured protection of Berkhamsted common and other open spaces threatened with enclosure.
In 1887, John Bartholomew's Gazetteer of the British Isles described Berkhamsted like this:
Known industries include:
During the First World War under the guidance of Lieutenant Colonel Francis Errington, Inns of Court Officer Training Corps took men from the legal profession and trained them to be officers. Over the course of the war, 12,000 men travelled from Berkhamsted to fight on the Western Front. Their training included trench digging, thirteen kilometres of trenches were to weave their way across the common (500 metres still remain). The Inns of Court War Memorial on the Common illustrates Lieutenant Colonel Errington’s affection for the area.
For the castle's history see above. With fragmentary remains and impressive earthworks (in good condition) Berkhamsted Castle is a ruined Norman motte-and-bailey castle, today situated beside the railway station. Historically Berkhamsted Castle was a royal residence that guarded the Akeman Street gap through the Chilterns, one of the major routes to London, 30 miles away. Berkhamsted Castle by tradition belongs to the eldest son of the English monarch, presently Prince Charles. The castle, is managed by English Heritage, under the Guardianship of the Secretary of State for National Heritage.
The castle was built above the marshy ground of the valley bottom, on the north side of the river at the end of a dry valley where it joined the Bulbourne valley. The motte mound is c.14 meters high and c.55 meters in diameter at the base. On the motte are the foundations of a shell keep, about 18 meters in diameter and containing a well. The bailey, which covers an area of about 1.3 hectares (3.2 acres), measures c.130 meters north-south by c.100 meters east-west. Enclosing the bailey is a flint-built curtain wall with half-round towers at intervals of about 55 meters. On the west side of the bailey the remains of a rectangular building are thought to represent a chapel. Circling the bailey and the motte, on the north-west side was a double and on the other sides a triple moat, beyond them was marshy ground. Before the arrival of the canal the River Bulbourne helped to provide water for the moats. The outer defences have been damaged by the construction of the railway and road to the south. The ground level falls from the north to the south and on the higher ground north and east of the castle there is another bank. This bank is unusual in that it has eight, possibly nine, earthen bastions set against its outer face, it is unclear if they were part of the defences or siege platforms built in the two week siege of December 1216. Access to the castle was provided by the main gateway on the south of the bailey which would originally have had a wooden bridge (not the current gravel path). The where three main building phases of the castle, firstly under Robert, Count of Mortain in the 1070s, under Thomas a Becket between 1155-1165 and under Richard Earl of Cornwall in 1254. The castle has been unoccupied since 1495. English historian John Leland noted it was 'much in Ruine' in c1540. Partial excavations were carried out in 1962 and 1967 in the south-eastern area of the curtain wall at the location of one of the half-round towers.
The parish church of St Peter stands on the High Street and is recognisable by its 85-foot (26 m) clock tower, is one of the largest churches in Hertfordshire. Built between the 13th-15th Centuries, it underwent a restoration by William Butterfield during the Victorian era, in 1871. The foundation date of St Peter's is uncertain, however in 1222 Robert de Tuardo, the first known rector, was instituted by the Bishop of Lincoln, Hugh of Wells. Originally part of the Diocese of Lincoln from 1877 it became part of the newly formed Diocese of St Albans. Because of its proximity to Berkhamsted Castle, St Peter's has had a long association with Royalty, with the reigning monarch acting as patron to Berkhamsted rectors for several centuries. The church is in the Latin cross plan, with tower at the crossing. There are two altar tombs with alabaster effigies dating from the fourteenth century, the tombs are of a knight and his lady. It is thought to be that of Henry of Berkhamsted, one of the Black Prince's lieutenants at the Battle of Crecy. The poet William Cowper was christened in St. Peter's, where his father John Cowper was rector.
Nearby Ashridge House constructed 1808-1814, was the location of Ashridge Priory, a college of the monastic order of Bonhommes founded in 1283 by Edmund, 2nd Earl of Cornwall who resided in the castle. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Henry VIII bequeathed the property to his daughter, Elizabeth. Its gardens were once landscaped by Capability Brown in the 18th century and in 1800 it was the home of the Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, affectionately known as the Father of Inland Navigation. His climbable monument stands in a grove of native broadleaf woods, within Ashridge an estate managed by the National Trust of 20 square kilometres (5,000 acres) of woodlands, commons and chalk downland on a Chiltern ridge. The estate was used as a barracks for troops during both world wars.
Ashlyns School is a large building built in 1935 which contained the former Foundling Hospital, which relocated from London in the 1926. It contains stained glass windows, especially around the Chapel, a staircase and many monuments from the original London hospital founded by Thomas Coram in 1740. The School Chapel housed an organ donated by George Frideric Handel. The school was used a backdrop to the 2007 comedy, Son of Rambow.
Built in 1937, the Rex has been recognised by English Heritage as a fine example of a 1930s art deco cinema. The cinema was designed by architect David Evelyn Nye for the Shipman and King circuit and opened in 1938. Its interior features decorations of sea waves and shells. Closed in 1988, the cinema was extensively restored in 2004, to become one of the most popular and sought-after entertainment attractions in the area. In 2014 the Rex was awarded Britain's Best Cinema in the inaugural Guardian Film awards. Prior to the cinema an Elizabethan mansion had occupied the site for 350 years, Egerton House, which stood at the east end of the High Street. The house was occupied briefly (1904–1907) by Arthur and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies who were close friends of the author and playwright J.M. Barrie and whose five sons were the inspiration for Peter Pan.
The Chiltern hills are part of a system of chalk downlands throughout eastern and southern England, formed between 84-100 million years ago in the Cretaceous Period (the local environment then being dominated by warm chalk sea). Berkhamsted's valley is at the southernmost limit of the Pleistocene glaciation ice erosion through the Chiltern scarp; the smooth rounded form is evidence of the valley previously being a glacial melt-water channel which has resulted in alluvial soils being deposited in the valley with chalk, clay and flint on the valley sides. The valley cuts through the Chiltern Hills in a north-west to south-east direction; the relatively narrow valley is at 105m above sea level and rises up to 180m to the plateau areas to the north and south. The River Bulbourne is a chalk stream that currently runs for 11 km (7 miles) in a south-east direction from Dudswell and the adjoined village of Northchurch, through the adjoined town of Berkhamsted, then on through Bourne End and Boxmoor to where it joins the River Gade at Two Waters in Apsley near Hemel Hempstead.
During the early Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age, late to mid 8th millennium BC) the landscape was largely pine woodland and the valley bottom area of central Berkhamsted was probably grass-sedge fen. Some 4000 years later, during the Neolithic (New Stone Age, late to mid 3rd millennium BC), the woodland changed to one dominated by lime trees, with alder trees growing on the flood plain. In its heyday before the canal, the river was a full and fast moving, yielding a healthy crop of eels and fresh fish. The valley floor was a floodplain with wetland vegetation, indicative of frequent localised flooding. The area closest to the river probably remained open ground until the mid 19th century. It appears that the area was used principally for the grazing of stock. The valley floor landscape changed dramatically after the construction of the Grand Junction Canal (Grand Union) in 1798 which intersects the river at numerous points taking much of the Bulbourne's water supply and helped drain the valley; and later the construction of the London to Birmingham railway in 1836-7 led to increased urbanisation.
Today Berkhamsted is "an affluent", "pleasant town tucked in a wooded fold in the Chiltern Hills", The town has been shaped by its relatively narrow valley, the residential area is elongated and follows the valley topography. . The main road skirts the edge of the hill - the south west side of the valley is the more developed with side streets running up the steep hillside, while on the north east side the ground slopes away more gently to the canal and small river. The town has spread up the valley sides except at Northchurch, where the landscape is generally more open and arable. Berkhamsted was a medieval market town, the town centre has slowly developed over the years and contains a wide variety of properties of varying age, quality, character and appearances, with some buildings protected within its conservation areas.
The countryside surrounding the town includes land in the Green Belt and the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Urban Nature Conservation Study (UNCS) recognises the town’s hinterland as a biodiversity resource. The hills rise to a gently undulating and open plateau with a mix of arable farmland, common land, mixed oak, ash and beech woodland. On the north east side of town are the Berkhamsted and Northchurch commons, the largest commons in the Chilterns at some 427 hectares, which form a large arc that stretch from Northchurch over towards Frithsden and down to Potten End. Beyond the common and once part of the castle’s hunting grounds is the large historic wooded parkland of Ashridge, which is part of The Chilterns Beechwood Special Area of Conservation for habitats (SAC) (a nationally important nature conservation designation) and also designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (Ashridge Commons and Woods SSSI). Ashridge is owned by the National Trust, Berkhamsted Common is owned partly by the National Trust and partly by the Berkhamsted Golf Club. To the south of town, close to the Buckinghamshire border are two former large country estates Ashlyns and Rossway and the ancient woodland at Dickshills.
|Tring||Little Gaddesden||Great Gaddesden|
|Climate data for Berkhamsted|
|Average high °C (°F)||6|
|Average low °C (°F)||3|
|Precipitation mm (inches)||69.3|
Near-Real-Time weather information can be retrieved from Berkhamsted Weather Station on the Met Office WOW: http://wow.metoffice.gov.uk/weather/view?siteID=195933 and view station status information at https://sites.google.com/site/berkhamstedweatherstation/
Berkhamsted has a town council, a first tier of local government that represents the community to two higher tiers of local government, Dacorum Borough Council and Hertfordshire Country Council. The local government district of Dacorum also includes the towns of Hemel Hempstead (the largest town in Hertfordshire), Tring and the western part of Kings Langley. The modern district of Dacorum was formed in 1974 (under the Local Government Act 1972), the population in 2011 was 145,300.
Until 1997 general election Berkhamsted was with Hemel Hempstead part of the former West Hertfordshire constituency, the town is now in the South West Hertfordshire constituency represented in the House of Commons of the UK Parliament since 2005 by David Gauke, a Conservative. It is the third safest conservative seat in Hertfordshire. The constituency seat forms a thin strip along the south-west border of Hertfordshire from South Oxhey (near Watford) in the south, through interspersed settlements and countryside to Tring in the north (including Chipperfield, Chorleywood, Croxley Green, Moor Park, and Rickmansworth).
|The following statistics come from the Parishes of Great Berkhamsted, St Peter and Great Berkhamsted, All Saints.|
|Age breakdown 2011:||0–4 years ~ 8%, 5–15 years ~ 13% 16–64 years ~ 63%, 65 plus ~ 17%.|
|Population % Religious:||• 2001 ~ 11,900 proportion Christian ~ 73%. |
• 2011 ~ 14,000 proportion Christian ~ 59% (slight rise in other religions, which in total make up less than 4%).
|Ethnic Heritage:||• British 90%, |
• Other white ~ 4%,
• Irish, Indian, White and Asian and Other Mixed each ~ !% each.
• Gypsy/Irish Traveller, Arab, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Other Asian, African, Caribbean, Other Black, White and Black Caribbean, White and Black African, Other Ethnic Group ~ each less than 1%.
|Housing Stock:||4450 owner occupied, 900 private rented, 600 social rented (social rented = 10% of all homes); unoccupied 4%.|
|Households:||• One Family ~ 67% (married/civil partnership 41% (dependant children 22%, non-dependent children 5%, no children 14%); Lone Parent households ~ 7% (dependent children 5%); co-habiting couple ~ 9%; 65+ ~ 9%). |
• Single person ~ 29% (Lone person aged over 65 ~ 13%).
• Other households ~ 4%.
|Employment:||• Not classified (Full-time students or not classifiable for other reasons) ~ 6% |
• Never worked and long-term unemployed ~ 2%
• Routine occupations ~ 4.5%
• Semi-routine occupations ~ 7%
• Lower supervisory and technical occupations ~ 4%
• Small employers and own account workers ~ 9%
• Intermediate occupations Lower managerial, administrative and professional occupations ~ 35%
• Higher managerial, administrative and professional occupation ~ 25%
|Employment, hours worked:||Over 49 hours ~ 19% , 31~48 hours ~ 53%, 16 to 30 hours ~ 16%, less than 15 hours ~ 11%.|
|Education:||* 50% ~ Residents had achieved a Level 4 qualification (Bachelor degree or higher), compared to 27% nationally. |
• 11% ~ Residents aged 16+ with no qualifications.
|Health:||• 88% in good to very good health, |
• Day-to-day activities limited a lot 5%
• Day-to-day activities limited a little 7%
|Shortage of Money:||• Proportion of working age population who are in receipt of a key out of work benefit 4%. |
• Children under 16 in poverty 6%.
• Proportion of population aged 60+ who are in receipt of the Guaranteed part of Pension Credit 7%.
• No access to car/van 13%.
The Office for National Statistics's The Neighbourhood Statistics Website 2011 Census - Key Figures for 2011 Census: Key Statistics for Berkhamsted's three Wards:
In 2006 the mean age of the population of Berkhamsted as a whole was 38.74 and the number of residents aged 16–74 was 11,870 (with 1,553 in retirement). There were a total of 6,810 residential dwellings. For all three wards the average percentage of people aged 16–74 with no qualifications was 16.36% and the average percentage of people aged 16–74 with the highest qualification attained at level 4/5 was 37.48%. Berkhamsted’s population grew by +0.95% per year from 2001 to 2011 and consisted of 64.3% working age, 16.2% retirement age and 19.4% children.
Commuting, particularly to London, is of local significance. Berkhamsted appears to be part of middle-class suburbia and considered a desirable commuter location for London. Of the employed residents living in both Berkhamsted and Tring, 35% live and work in the towns, whilst 65% commute to workplaces out of the towns. Alternatively of the 7,100 people who work in Berkhamsted, 58% commute to Berkhamsted to work. In 1986 farming, service and light industry were characteristic local occupations. Schools and retail (predominantly Waitrose) constitute the town’s largest employers and these are both situated in Berkhamsted Castle ward. The Berkhamsted West ward (especially around Billet Lane, close to the canal and railway) is where most of the town’s small to medium sized industrial firms are located. The British Film Institute (BFI) is a unique and important local employer to the south of Berkhamsted. In April 2013 benefit unemployed rate in the UK was 7.8%, but for Berkhamsted's parliamentary constituency it was 1.7%.
November 2014, the Academy of Urbanism's Urbanism Awards considered that Berkhamsted's High Street to be a "vibrant" "bustling" road, that "worked extremely well as a quality high street." They considered that the layout for the street to be exemplary for its time (it was put in place following the construction of a bypass in the early 1990s). Creating a "pleasant" and "successful" shopping environment, allowing people to take advantage of a good "range of specialist shops and numerous cafes, restaurants and pubs", together with the "strong supermarket" offering set in "well-crafted re-configured streetscape". The high street is easily accessible on foot from the rail station and has several cross-cutting pedestrian routes generated by the medieval plan of the town. The Academy considered a particularly strong aspect of the street was the good working collaboration between individual businesses and the Chamber of Trade. The town's long high street support supports a good range of banks, small offices, other services, a 100% retail occupancy (in the form of a variety of shopping facilities including some high street chains, designer boutiques and specialist shops, many being independent traders) and a 'cafe culture'. In 2014 arguments concerning the proposed development of Lidls suprmarket in the affluent town made the national news - it was seen as a dispute between those who thought the supermarket might "lower the tone of the town” versus those who referred to the former as "toffee-nosed twits”. The town centre is also well known for its evening economy.
Noted for its non-conformity during the civil war period (covered in the history section above) in 1700 the were 400 Baptists living in Berkhamsted, today it is a more conventional English town. There are three Anglican churches in the town (St Peters and St. Michael and All Angels, Sunnyside), one of which (All Saints Church & St Martha's) is combined with a Methodist church, one Baptist, one Roman Catholic (Sacred Heart Catholic Church), a Quakers Friends Meeting House, a Pentecostal Church, a United Reform church and a Mormon church. The Anglican churches cater for a wide range of spiritual appetites and practice, from the evangelical to the Anglo-catholic stance. In 1986 the were three voluntary aided (church)schools in the town, two are first schools and the other was a middle school. Today the is little evidence of other religious groups in the town, save for a few Sikh entrepreneurs who are involved in newsagents and grocery retailing.
The Rex is a popular independent local cinema. Regarded by some, including the BBC and the Telegraph as Britain's most beautiful cinema, Dame Judi Dench described the cinema as "absolutely awe-inspiring" and the Rex was voted the best cinema in the UK, in the Guardian film awards 2014. Restored and managed by its owner James Hannaway, the cinema is a "movie palace with all the original Art Deco trimmings". The Rex frequently has sold-out houses for evening showings, with Rex regulars come from south of the Thames, from east London and rural Oxfordshire. Inside is a step "back into the golden age of film" when going to the 'movies' was an experience; the cinema features luxurious seating and two licensed bars (one at the back of the stalls). The owner James Hannaway introduces films and sometimes there is a question and answer session from directors and actors involved in the film, including Dame Judi Dench, Charles Dance, Mike Leigh and Terry Jones.
Berkhamsted and Hemel Hempstead Hockey Club is based just outside the town at the Cow Roast. They play their home games at Tring School and have 5 men's and 4 ladies teams.
There is a sports centre off Douglas Gardens, managed by the Dacorum Sports Trust (Sportspace). The facilities comprise a large indoor multi-purpose sports hall, swimming pool and outdoor all weather pitch. This is complimented by dual use of school leisure facilities of Ashlyns School and Berkhamsted Collegiate School. A deficit in leisure space is compounded by a high level of sports participation locally and consequently heavy use of outdoor sports pitches. Berkhamsted has a small football stadium and nearby private tennis club, both close to the town centre. Two sports and social clubs can be found at either end of the town (Kitcheners Field and Northchurch).
The BFI National Archive's "The J. Paul Getty, Jr. Conservation Centre" in Berkhamsted is a department of the British Film Institute. With over 275,000 feature, non-fiction and short films (dating from 1894) and 210,000 television programmes, it is one of the largest film archives in the world. Two collections have been awarded United Nations status and are listed on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) UK Memory of the World Register. The archive collects, preserves, restores and shares - the films and television programmes which have shaped and record British life and times since the development of cine film in the late 19th century. The majority of the collection is British originated material, it also features internationally significant holdings from around the world and films which feature key British actors and the work of British directors.
* Famous/Notable people associated with the town This is distinct from the notable persons associated with Berkhamsted Castle
Moved to Berkhamsted
Association through education in Berkhamsted
* Twin towns
Berkhamsted is twinned with:
The town also has an informal relationship with Barkhamsted in Connecticut, USA. The latter presented a gavel and block on 4 July 1976 which Berkhamsted Town Council now uses in meetings.
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