Hertford – county town

Hertford Castle Gatehouse
Hertford Castle Gatehouse

Hertford is the county town of Hertfordshire; about twenty miles north of London up the A10 from Tottenham, or take the A1/M1 turn off at Hatfield for the A414.

It has two railway stations, Hertford North and Hertford East with regular services into London Kings Cross and London Liverpool Street respectively.

Hertford Castle

At the centre of town is Hertford Castle; it was known to the Vikings and on the site of the original earthworks a castle was built around 912 AD.

From then onwards it was always a favourite of royalty. It was briefly lost to the French in 1216 but Henry V conferred it to his wife. Henry V111 was apparently none too taken with it but lived here for a time with Katherine of Aragon.

His daughter Elizabeth 1 loved the place and moved Parliament here during the Great Plague of London. Castle Street leads you out of the grounds and into Parliament Square.

Very little remains of the castle now apart from the Gatehouse and the castle grounds which can be enjoyed by visitors. The rooms of the Castle are now occupied by the Town Council although on open days throughout the year the Robing rooms are opened to the public, as part of a guided tour.

Just outside the entrance to the castle buildings is a weatherbeaten stone which commemorates the first General Synod of the British churches in 673AD. It was at this meeting that the rules for determining Easter were set.

If you have ever wondered why Easter always falls on a different date this is the reason: Easter was to be held on the first Sunday following the first full moon after March 21.

Leisure spots in Hertford

Hertford town centre is well populated with bars, pubs, restaurants, bistros and eateries. So whatever your particular favourite in eating and drinking you’ll find it here.

Many of Hertford’s pubs are old coaching inns. The Salisbury Arms Hotel has been on the site in Fore Street for five centuries. The Dimsdale Arms,a few doors away, is now the Pizza Express and was once the site of the Monday market.

Hertford is a brewery town. McMullens are one of the last large scale independent brewers left in the country. They have brewed on the site at Old Cross since 1890. The smell of hops often drifts over the town.

The River Lea

Hertford’s prosperity was due to its pre-eminence in the brewing industry (see my page: a short history of brewing in Hertford) and supplied barley and malt to London’s major brewers from the early sixteenth century.

The River Lea runs through the town and with the building of the canals became the main trade route to the capital. The Lea splits into two in Hertford and the wider, faster running water that flows past Folly Island at The Old Barge, is actually the Lea Navigation following the Navigation Acts of 1832.

The original Lea runs on the northern side, thus forming Folly island and is little more than a stream in some places until it reconnects with the Navigation past Hertford lock.

Folly Island is a Local Conservation Area. There is only one road for motor access and parking is almost impossible, even for residents. It can be accessed on foot more easily and a good stopping point is the Old Barge, built in the 1880’s with the cottage style workmen’s houses on the island itself.

You can walk along the Lea riverbank up to Hertford basin where the houseboats are moored and across the footbridge to Hertford East station.

Most people just stop for a light meal and a pint at the Barge and watch the houseboats and small craft come up the river and turn round a few more yards upriver where you can just discern the old mill buildings that once were more prevalent in town.

Hertford as well as being the county town also has a market. This happens on Saturdays and supplemented by a Farmers Market on the second Saturday of the month.

Hertford is a commuter town with most residents working in London but on weekends Hertford is a bustling, busy, thriving place to be and there are plenty of pubs where you can take the weight off your feet and enjoy a pint of local ale.

Hidden Hertford

In 2004 Hertford became the centre of media attention with the publication of an article in the Hertfordshire Mercury claiming that underneath the streets of the county town were a labyrinth of secret tunnels still used by descendants of the Knights Templar.

More articles on Hertford:

Hertford the county town, Folly Island, Hidden Hertford, Old Barge Pub, Brewing in Hertford, Easter, Fore Street, Eccentric Clergy, Hertford Library, Hertford 1861, Tunnels of Hertford, Sarah Stout, Closed pubs