1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hertfordshire

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HERTFORDSHIRE [Herts], a county of England, bounded N. by Cambridgeshire, N.W. by Bedfordshire, E. by Essex, S. by Middlesex, and S.W. by Buckinghamshire. The area is 634.6 sq. m., the county being the sixth smallest in England. Its aspect is always pleasant, the surface generally undulating, while in some parts, where these undulations form a quick succession of hills and valleys, the woodland scenery becomes very beautiful, as in the upper Lea valley, in the neighbourhood of Tewin near Hertford, and elsewhere. To the north-west and north considerable elevations are reached, a line of hills, facing north-westward with a sharp descent, crossing this portion of the county, and overlooking the flat lands of Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire. They continue the line of the Chiltern Hills under the name of the East Anglian Ridge. They exceed 800 ft. near Dunstable, sinking gradually north-eastward. These uplands are generally bare, and in parts remarkably sparsely populated as compared with the home counties at large. In the greater part of the county, however, rich arable lands are intermingled with the parks and woodlands of numerous fine country seats, which impart to the county a peculiar luxuriance. Of the principal rivers, the Lea, rising beyond Luton in Bedfordshire, enters Hertfordshire near East Hyde, flows S.E. to near Hatfield, then E. by N. to Hertford and Ware, whence it bends S. and passing along the eastern boundary of the county falls into the Thames below London. It receives in its course the Maran, or Mimram, the Beane, the Rib and the Stort, all joining on the north side; the Stort for some distance forming the county boundary with Essex. The Colne flows through the south-western part of the county, to fall into the Thames at Staines. It receives the Ver, the Bulborne and the Chess. The Ivel, rising in the N.W. soon passes into Bedfordshire to join the Great Ouse. To the south of Hatfield, near North Mimms, two streams of moderate size are lost in pot-holes, except in the highest floods. The New River, one of the water supplies of London, has its source near Ware, and runs roughly parallel with the Lea. Most of the rivers are full of fish, including trout in the upper parts (of the Lea and Colne especially), which are carefully preserved.

Geology.—The rocks of Hertfordshire belong to the shallow syncline known as the London basin, the beds dipping in a south-easterly direction. The two most important formations are the Chalk, which forms the high ground in the north and west; and the Eocene Reading beds and London Clay which occupy the remaining southern part of the county. On the northern boundary, at the foot of the chalk hills, a small strip of Gault Clay and the Upper Greensand above it falls just within the county. The lowest subdivision of the chalk is the Chalk Marl, which with the Totternhoe Stone above it, lies at the base of the Chalk escarpment, by Ashwell, Pirton and Miswell to Tring. Above these beds, the Lower Chalk, without flints, rises up sharply to form the downs which are the easterly continuation of the Chiltern Hills. Next comes the Chalk Rock, which being a hard bed, lies near the hilltops by Boxmoor, Apsley End and near Baldock. The Upper Chalk slopes southward towards the Eocene boundary previously mentioned. The Reading beds consist of mottled and yellow clays and sands, the latter are frequently hardened into masses made up of pebbles in a siliceous cement, known locally as Hertfordshire puddingstone. The London Clay, a stiff blue clay which weathers brown, rests nearly everywhere upon the Reading beds. Outliers of Eocene rocks rest on the chalk at Micklefield Green, Sarrat, Bedmont, &c. The Chalk is often covered by the Clay-with-flints, a detrital deposit, formed of the remnants of Tertiary rocks and Chalk. Glacial gravels, clays and loams cover a great deal of the whole area, and the Upper Chalk itself has been disturbed at Reed and Barley by the same agency. Chalk was formerly used for building purposes; it is now burned for lime. Reading beds and London clay are dug for brick-making at Watford, Hertford and Hatfield. Phosphatic nodules have been excavated from the base of the Chalk Marl at several places along the outcrop; the Marl is worked for cement.

Climate and Agriculture.—The climate is mild, dry and generally healthy. On this account London physicians were formerly accustomed to recommend the county to persons in weak health, and it was so much coveted by the noble and wealthy as a place of residence that it was a common saying that “he who buys a home in Hertfordshire pays two years’ purchase for the air.” Of the total area about four-fifths is under cultivation, and of this more than one-third is in permanent pasture. The principal grain crop is wheat, occupying about two-fifths of the area under corn, but gradually decreasing. The varieties mostly grown are white, and they are unsurpassed by those of any English county. Wheathampstead on the upper Lea receives its name from the fine quality of the wheat grown in that district. Barley is largely used in the county for malting purposes. Vetches are grown for the London stables, and the greater part of the permanent grass is used for hay. There are some very rich pastures on the banks of the Stort, and also near Rickmansworth on the Colne. Some two-thirds of the area occupied by green crops is under turnips, swedes and mangolds, many cows being kept for the supply of milk and butter to London. The quantity of stock is generally small, but increasing except in the case of sheep, of which the numbers have greatly decreased. Of cows the most common breed is the Suffolk variety; of sheep, Southdowns, Wiltshires and a cross between Cotteswolds and Leicesters. In the south-west large quantities of cherries, apples and strawberries are grown for the London market; and on the best soils near London vegetables are forced by the aid of manure, and more than one crop is sometimes obtained in a year. A considerable industry lies in the growth of watercresses in the pure water of the upper parts of the rivers and the smaller streams. There are a number of rose-gardens and nurseries.

Other Industries.—The manufacturing industries are slight; though the great brewing establishments at Watford may be mentioned, and straw-plaiting, paper-making, coach-building, tanning and brick-making are carried on in various towns.

Communications.—Owing to its proximity to the metropolis, Hertfordshire is particularly well served by railways. On the eastern border there is the Great Eastern (Cambridge line) with branches to Hertford and to Buntingford. The main line of the Great Northern passes through the centre by Hatfield, Stevenage and Hitchin, with branches from Hatfield to Hertford, to St Albans and to Luton and Dunstable, and from Hitchin to Baldock, Royston and so to Cambridge. The Midland passes through St Albans and Harpenden, with a branch to Hemel Hempstead. The London & North-Western traverses the south-west by Watford, Berkhampstead and Tring, with branches to Rickmansworth and to St Albans. The Metropolitan & Great Central joint line serves Rickmansworth, and suburban lines of the Great Northern the Barnet district. The existence of these communications has combined with the natural attractions of the county to cause many villages to become large residential centres. Water communications are supplied from Hertford, Ware and Bishop Stortford, southward to the Thames by the Lea and Stort Navigation; and the Grand Junction canal from London to the north-west traverses the south-western corner of the county by Rickmansworth and Berkhampstead. Three great highways from London to the north traverse the county. The Holyhead Road passes Chipping Barnet, South Mimms and St Albans, quitting the county near Dunstable. The Great North Road branches from the Holyhead Road at Barnet, and passes Potter’s Bar, Hatfield, Stevenage and Baldock, with a branch from Welwyn to Hitchin and beyond. Another road follows the Lea valley to Ware, whence it runs to Royston, being here coincident with the Roman Ermine Street and known as the Old North Road.

Population and Administration.—The area of the ancient county is 406,157 acres with a population in 1891 of 220,162, and in 1901 of 250,152. The area of the administrative county is 404,518 acres. The county comprises eight hundreds. The municipal boroughs are: Hemel Hempstead (11,264), Hertford (9322), St Albans, a city (16,019). The other urban districts are: Baldock (2057), Barnet (7876), Berkhampstead (Great Berkhampstead, 5140), Bishop Stortford (7143), Bushey (4564), Cheshunt (12,292), East Barnet Valley (10,094), Harpenden (4725), Hitchin (10,072), Hoddesdon (4711), Rickmansworth (5627), Royston (3517), Sawbridgeworth (2085), Stevenage (3957), Tring (4349), Ware (5573) and Watford (29,327). The county is in the home circuit, and assizes are held at Hertford. It has two courts of quarter-sessions, and is divided into 15 petty-sessional divisions. The boroughs of Hertford and St Albans have separate commissions of the peace. The total number of civil parishes is 158. All the civil parishes within 12 m. of, or in which no portion is more than 15 m. from, Charing Cross, London, are included in the metropolitan police district. The county contains 170 ecclesiastical parishes or districts, wholly or in part; it is nearly all in the diocese of St Albans, but small parts are in the dioceses of Ely, Oxford and London. It is divided into four parliamentary divisions—Northern or Hitchin, Eastern or Hertford, Mid or St Albans, Western or Watford, each returning one member. There is no parliamentary borough within the county.

History.—Relics of Saxon occupation have been found in Hertfordshire for the most part near St Albans and Hitchin. The diocesan limits show that part of the shire was included in the West Saxon kingdom. The East Saxons, as early as the 6th century, were settled about Hertford, which in 673 was sufficiently important to be the meeting-place of a synod convened by Theodore, archbishop of Canterbury, while in 675 the Witenagemot assembled at a place which has been identified with Hatfield. In the 9th century the district was frequently visited by the Danes; and after the peace of Wedmore the country east of the Lea was included in the Danelaw; in 911 Edward the Elder erected forts on both sides of the river at Hertford.

After the battle of Hastings William advanced on Hertfordshire and ravaged as far as Berkhampstead, where the Conquest received its formal ratification. In the sweeping confiscation of estates which followed, the church was generously endowed, the abbey of St Albans alone holding 172 hides, while Count Eustace of Boulogne, the chief lay tenant, held a vast fief in the north-east of the county. Large estates were held by Geoffrey de Mandeville, and the barony of Peter de Valognes, sheriff of the county in 1086, though extending over six counties in the east of England, was returned in 1166 as a Hertfordshire barony. Berkhampstead was the head of an honour carved from the fief of Robert of Mortain. The Hertfordshire estates, however, for the most part changed hands very frequently and the county is noticeably lacking in historic families. Edmund Langley, fifth son of Edward III., was born at King’s Langley in this county.

During the war between John and his barons, William, earl of Salisbury and Falkes de Breauté had the king’s orders to ravage Hertfordshire, and in 1216 Hertford Castle was captured and Berkhampstead Castle besieged by Louis of France, who had come over by invitation of the barons. At the time of the rising of 1381 the abbot’s tenants broke into the abbey of St Albans and forced the abbot to grant them a charter. During the Wars of the Roses, Henry VI. was defeated at St Albans in 1455; at the second battle of St Albans the earl of Warwick was defeated by Queen Margaret; and in 1471 Edward IV. again defeated the earl at Barnet. On the outbreak of the Civil War of the 17th century, Hertfordshire joined with Bedfordshire and Essex in petitioning for peace, and St Albans again played an important part in the struggle, being at different times the headquarters of Essex and Fairfax.

As a shire Hertfordshire is of purely military origin, being the district assigned to the fortress which Edward the Elder erected at Hertford. It is first mentioned in the Saxon Chronicle in 1011. At the time of the Domesday Survey the boundaries were approximately those of the present day, but part of Meppershall in Bedfordshire formed a detached portion of the shire and is still assessed for land and income tax in Hertfordshire. Of the nine Domesday hundreds, those of Danais and Tring were consolidated about 1200 under the name of Dacorum; the modern hundred of Cashio, from being held by the abbots of St Albans, was known as Albaneston, while the remaining six hundreds correspond approximately both in name and extent with those of the present day.

Hertfordshire was originally divided between the dioceses of London and Lincoln. In 1291 that part included in the Lincoln diocese formed part of the archdeaconry of Huntingdom and comprised the deaneries of Berkhampstead, Hitchin, Hertford and Baldock, and the archdeaconry and deanery of St Albans; while that part within the London diocese formed the deanery of Braughing within the archdeaconry of Middlesex. In 1535 the jurisdiction of St Albans had been transferred to the London diocese, the division being otherwise unchanged. In 1846 the whole county was placed within the diocese of Rochester and archdeaconry of St Albans, and in the next year the deaneries of Welwyn, Bennington, Buntingford, Bishop Stortford and Ware were created, and that of Braughing abolished. In 1864 the archdeaconries of Rochester and St Albans were united under the name of the archdeaconry of Rochester and St Albans. In 1878 the county was placed in the newly created diocese of St Albans, and formed the archdeaconry of St Albans, the deaneries being unchanged.

Hertfordshire was closely associated with Essex from the time of its first settlement, and the counties paid a joint fee-farm and were united under one sheriff until 1565, the shire-court being held at Hertford. The hundred of St Albans was at an early date constituted a separate liberty, with independent courts and coroners under the control of the abbot; it preserved a separate commission of the peace until 1874, when by act of parliament the county was arranged in two divisions, the eastern division being named Hertford, and the western the liberty of St Albans. These divisions have since been abolished.

Hertfordshire has always been an agricultural county, with few manufactures, and at the time of the Domesday Survey its wealth was derived almost entirely from its rural manors, with their water meadows, woodlands, fisheries paying rent in eels, and water-mills, the shire on its eastern side being noticeably free from waste land. In Norman times the woollen trade was considerable, and the great corn market at Royston has been famous since the reign of Elizabeth. At the time of the Civil War the malting industry was largely carried on, and saltpetre was produced in the county. In the 17th century Hertfordshire was famous for its horses, and the 18th century saw the introduction of several minor industries, such as straw-plaiting, paper-making and silk weaving.

In 1290 Hertfordshire returned two members to parliament, and in 1298 the borough of Hertford was represented. St Albans, Bishop Stortford and Berkhampstead acquired representation in the 14th century, but from 1375 to 1553 no returns were made for the boroughs. St Albans regained representation in 1553 and Hertford in 1623. Under the Reform Act of 1832 the county returned three members. St Albans was disfranchised on account of bribery in 1852. Hertford lost one member in 1868, and was disfranchised by the act of 1885.

Antiquities.—Among the objects of antiquarian interest may be mentioned the cave of Royston, doubtless once used as a hermitage; Waltham Cross, erected to mark the spot where rested the body of Eleanor, queen of Edward I., on its way to Westminster for interment; and the Great Bed of Ware referred to in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and preserved at Rye House. The principal monastic buildings are the noble pile of St Albans abbey; the remains of Sopwell Benedictine nunnery near St Albans, founded in 1140; the remains of the priory of Ware, dedicated to St Francis, and originally a cell to the monastery of St Ebrulf at Utica in Normandy; and the remains of the priory at Hitchin built by Edward II. for the Carmelites. Among the more interesting churches may be mentioned those of Abbots Langley and Hemel Hempstead, both of Late Norman architecture; Baldock, a handsome mixed Gothic building supposed to have been erected by the Knights Templars in the reign of Stephen; Royston, formerly connected with the priory of canons regular; Hitchin of the 15th century; Hatfield, dating from the 13th century but in the main later; Berkhampstead, chiefly in the Perpendicular style, with a tower of the 16th century. Sandridge church shows good Norman work with the use of Roman bricks; Wheathampstead church, mainly very fine Decorated, has pre-Norman remains. The remains of secular buildings of importance are those of Berkhampstead castle, Hertford castle, Hatfield palace of the bishops of Ely, the slight traces at Bishop Stortford, and the earthworks at Anstey. Among the numerous mansions of interest, Rye House, erected in the reign of Henry VI., was tenanted by Rumbold, one of the principal agents in the plot to assassinate Charles II. Moor Park, Rickmansworth, once the property of St Albans abbey, was granted by Henry VII. to John de Vere, earl of Oxford, and was afterwards the property of the duke of Monmouth, who built the present mansion, which, however, was subsequently cased with Portland stone and received various other additions. Knebworth, the seat of the Lyttons, was originally a Norman fortress, rebuilt in the time of Elizabeth in the Tudor style and restored in the 19th century. Hatfield House is the seat of the marquis of Salisbury; but its earlier history is of great interest, as is that of Theobalds near Cheshunt. Panshanger House, until recently the principal seat of the Cowpers, is a splendid mansion in Gothic style erected at the beginning of the 19th century. The manor of Cashiobury House, the seat of the earls of Essex, was formerly held by the abbot of St Albans, but the mansion was rebuilt in the beginning of the 19th century from designs by Wyatt. Gorhambury House, near St Albans, the seat of the earl of Verulam, formerly the seat of the Bacons, and the residence of the great chancellor, was rebuilt at the close of the 18th century. At Kings Langley and Hunsdon were also former royal residences.

See Sir H. Chauncy, Historical Antiquities of Hertfordshire (London, 1700, 2nd ed., Bishop Stortford, 1826); N. Salmon, History of Hertfordshire (London, 1728); R. Clutterbuck, History and Antiquities of the County of Hertford (London, 1815–1827); W. Berry, Pedigrees of the Hertfordshire Families (London, 1844); J. E. Cussans, History of Hertfordshire (London, 1870–1881); Victoria County History, Hertfordshire (London, 1902, &c.); see also “Visitation of Hertfordshire, 1572–1634,” in Harleian Society’s Publ. vol. xvii., and various papers in Middlesex and Hertfordshire Notes and Queries (1895–1898), which in January 1899 was incorporated in the Home Counties Magazine.