The History of Hertford
Settlements existed in the Hertford area in early history, with evidence of human habitation going back to at least the Middle Stone Age. Agricultural activity seems to have taken place in the Neolithic period and there’s evidence of established settlements in or around the town’s current location as early as the Bronze Age. The Saxons established Hertford as a county town and gave it the name heort ford, or deer ford, probably because they had observed the animals crossing the River Lee there. They fortified the town and later the Normans built a castle upon the site. They added a priory and new mill and the town prospered, largely due to the rich agricultural land surrounding the town.
In 1563 parliament temporarily moved to Hertford castle to avoid the plague in London. The plague itself came to Hertford in 1625. After 1628 the castle became part of the estate held by the Earldom of Salisbury but the castle was soon left to fall into ruin. There is now little left of the castle apart from the motte, the gatehouse and some flint walls. The castle gates were eventually presented to the town by the marquis of Salisbury in 1912. A further portion of the castle grounds was also returned to the town by Lord Salisbury in 1996. The priory was dissolved by Henry VIII in the 16th century and fell into ruin. The priory estate passed into private hands and became a farm. Public water supplies were first pumped into Hertford in 1708 and
Young’s Brewery was built in the town in 1754. It remained open for almost 150 years before closing down in 1897.
The town’s connection with agriculture continued through the centuries, and although this agriculture fed the town’s expansion it also restricted it. The town was literally hemmed in by successful estates that allowed it little room for further building. 1767 saw the arrival of the River Lee Navigation which gave a direct route to London’s corn markets. This fuelled further growth in the town which, unable to expand outwards, was forced to expand upwards with extra storeys being added to existing buildings. Eventually, when the railway came in the 19th century offering excellent links to London , the town had no choice but to expand outwards. The main railway station first opened in 1843, opposite what became the Great Eastern Tavern in the aptly named Railway Street. Cowbridge railway station was opened in 1858 to serve the new branch line to Welwyn .
In 1890 a severe fire hit Sele Mill which burnt fiercely for three days. A year later another fire hit All Saints Church which was gutted in the blaze. The church was rebuilt with the new Victorian tower, the work being completed in 1905. A year later the town enjoyed a royal visit when King George V and Queen Mary opened new girls accommodation at Christ’s Hospital girls school, which had moved to Hertford in 1666 after the Great Fire of London . The school left Hertford in 1985 after 300 years to be reunited with Christ’s Hospital Boys School in Horsham , Surrey. The chapel was demolished in 1987 to make way for a supermarket. The town suffered damage when it was hit by a Zeppelin raid in 1915 destroying buildings in both Bull Plain and North Road. Another raid struck the town in 1917, the same year fire damaged many buildings on Maidenhead Street.
A connection with the Addis company began 1919 when the firm took over old laundry buildings in Ware road to manufacture toothbrushes. Addis built a new factory, designed by Douglas Hamilton in the moderne style, in Ware Road in 1935. The magnificent example of typical 1930s industrial architecture was added to in authentic style in 1955 but subsequently closed in 1993 when the Addis company left Hertford completely.