About Hemel Hempstead

 

Hemel Hempstead

'The Old Town' High Street

Hemel Hempstead Old TownHemel Hempstead is a town in Hertfordshire, England, United Kingdom with a population of 81,143 at the United Kingdom Census 2001 (but now estimated at around 89,000 by Hertfordshire County Council). Developed after World War II as a new town, it has existed as a settlement since the 8th century. It is part of the district (and borough since 1984) of Dacorum and the Hemel Hempstead constituency.

Origin of the name

The settlement was called by the name Henamsted or Hean-Hempsted, i.e. High Hempstead, in Anglo-Saxon times and in William the Conqueror's time by the name of Hemel-Amstede. The name is referred to in the Domes day Book as "Hamelamesede", but in later centuries it became Hamelhamsted. Another opinion is that Hemel probably came from "Haemele" which was the name of the district in the 8th century and is most likely either the name of the land owner, or could mean "broken country".  Pre-World War II residents knew it affectionately as "Hempstead" whereas the majority of present day residents simply call it "Hemel".

Image descriptionThe Past

Roman settlements

Remains of Roman villa farming settlements have been found at Boxmoor and Gadebridge which span the entire period of Roman Britain. The first recorded mention of the town is the grant of land at Hamaele by Offa, King of Essex, to the Saxon Bishop of London in AD 705. The parish church of St Mary's was built in 1140, and is recognised as one of the finest Norman parish churches in the county. The church features an unusual 200 feet (61 m) tall spire, added in the 12th century, one of Europe's tallest.

 

Norman conquest

After the Norman conquest the land thereabouts was given to Robert, Count of Mortain, the elder half-brother of William the Conqueror, as part of the lands associated with Berkhamsted Castle. The estates passed through many hands over the next few centuries including Thomas Becket in 1162. In 1290 King John of England's grandson, the Earl of Cornwall, gave the manor to the religious order of the Bonhommes when he endowed the monastery at Ashridge.

The town remained part of the monastery's estates until the Reformation and break-up of Ashridge in 1539. In that same year the town was granted a Royal charter by King Henry VIII to become a Bailiwick with the right to hold a Thursday market and a fair on Corpus Christi Day. The first Bailiff of Hemel Hempstead was William Stephyns (29 December 1539). The King and Anne Boleyn are reputed to have stayed in the town at this time.

 

Medieval Wall Paintings

Unusually fine medieval wall paintings from the period between 1470 and 1500 were discovered in some cottages in Piccotts End, very close to Hemel Hempstead in 1953. This same building had been converted into the first cottage hospital providing free medical services by Sir Astley Cooper in 1827. In 1581, a group of local people acquired lands - now referred to as Box Moor - from the Earl of Leicester to prevent their enclosure. These were transferred to trustees in 1594. These have been used for public grazing and they are administered by the Box Moor Trust.

 

Image descriptionThe New Town

Town Centre

After World War II, in 1946, the government designated Hemel Hempstead as the site of one of its proposed New Towns designed to house the London Blitz displaced population of London where slums and bomb sites were being cleared. On 4 February 1947 the Government purchased 5,910 acres (23.9 km2) of land and began work on the "New Town". The first new residents moved in during April 1949 and the town continued its planned expansion through to the end of the 1980s. Hemel grew to its present population of 80,000, with new developments enveloping the original town on all sides. The original part of Hemel is still known as the "Old Town".

Its geographical position, between London and the Midlands, acted again in the 1960s when the M1 motorway was routed just to the east of the town. This gave it a central position on the country's motorway network.

Hemel's position on the shortest route between London and the industrial Midlands put it on the Sparrows Herne turnpike Toll road in 1762, the Grand Junction Canal in 1795 and the London and Birmingham Railway in 1837. However it remained principally an agricultural market town throughout the 19th century. In the last decades of that century development of houses and villas for London commuters began. The Midland Railway built a branch line connecting to its mainline at Harpenden in 1877 (see The Nicky Line). Hemel steadily expanded, but only became a borough on 13 July 1898. During World War II 90 high explosive bombs dropped on the town by the Luftwaffe. The most major incident was on 10 May 1942 when a stick of bombs demolished houses at Nash Mills killing 8 people. The nearby Dickinson factories which were used to produce munitions and were the target.

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