Great Berkhampstead is an Ancient Parish and a market town in the county of Hertfordshire.
- Berkhampstead St Peter
- Great Berkhamsted
- Potten End
Parish church: St. Peter
Parish registers begin:
- Parish registers: 1538
- Bishop’s Transcripts: 1604
Nonconformists include: Baptist, General Baptist, Independent/Congregational, Society of Friends/Quaker, and Wesleyan Methodist.
A Topographical Dictionary of England 1848
BERKHAMPSTEAD, GREAT (St. Peter), a market-town and parish, and the head of a union, in the hundred of Dacorum, county of Hertford, 25½ miles (W. by S.) from Hertford, and 26 (N. W. by W.) from London; containing 2979 inhabitants. The Saxon name of this place, Berghamstede, is derived from its situation, either on a hill or near a fortress, which latter, from the site of the present town, appears to be the more probable. It is a town of considerable antiquity, the kings of Mercia having had a castle here, to which circumstance may be attributed its early growth and subsequent importance. According to Spelman, Wightred, King of Kent, assisted at the council held here in 697. At the time of the Conquest, William, on his arrival at the place, was met by Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury, who tendered his submission; but on leaving Berkhampstead, the king’s march was greatly obstructed by the opposition of Frederick, abbot of St. Alban’s, who caused the roads to be blocked up, by cutting down the trees, and, on William’s arrival at St. Alban’s, exacted an oath from him that he would observe the ancient laws of the realm, particularly those of Edward the Confessor. Robert, Earl of Moreton, to whom the Conqueror gave the town, built a castle, which was subsequently taken from his son William, who had rebelled against Henry I., and by that monarch’s order razed to the ground. Henry II. held his court here for some time, and conferred many privileges on the town. The castle was rebuilt in the reign of John, and soon after besieged by Louis, Dauphin of France, who had come over to assist the barons that were in arms against the king. In the 11th of Edward III., Berkhampstead sent two representatives to the great council at Westminster; and James I., who selected the place as a nursery for his children, granted the inhabitants a charter of incorporation; but they were so impoverished during the civil war in the reign of his son Charles I., that they were unable to maintain their privileges, and the charter became forfeited.
The town is pleasantly situated in a deep valley, on the south-western bank of the river Bulbourne, and consists of two streets intersecting at right angles, the principal of which, nearly a mile in length, contains several handsome houses; the air is highly salubrious, and the inhabitants are amply supplied with water. Assemblies are held regularly during the season. The manufacture of wooden bowls, spoons, and other articles of a like kind, formerly prevailed, but it is on the decline; and the making of lace, which was also carried on extensively, has given place to the platting of straw, in which the female part of the population are chiefly employed. The Grand Junction canal, which passes by the town, affords an extensive line of inland navigation; and the railroad from London to Birmingham runs close to the canal, and has a station at this point. The market is on Saturday; the market-house is an ancient building in the centre of the town. Fairs are held on Shrove-Tuesday and Whit-Monday, and there is also a statute-fair at Michaelmas. The county magistrates hold a petty-session on the first and third Tuesdays in every month; and a court leet for the honour of Berkhampstead, which is part of the duchy of Cornwall, is held at Michaelmas. The prison is used as a house of correction, and for the confinement of malefactors previously to their committal to the county gaol.
The parish comprises 4341 acres, of which 1197 are common or waste. The Living is a rectory, valued in the king’s books at £20, and in the patronage of the Duchy of Cornwall: the tithes have been commuted for £434, and there are two acres of glebe. The church is a spacious cruciform structure, exhibiting some fine portions of the several styles of English architecture; the tower, rising from the intersection, and highly enriched with sculpture, was built by Richard Torrington, in the reign of Henry VIII. Within the church are two chapels at the eastern end, one dedicated to St. John, the other to St. Catharine; and some interesting monuments. There are places of worship for Baptists, the Society of Friends, and Independents. The free grammar school was instituted in the time of Henry VIII., and endowed with lands belonging to the dissolved guild of St. John the Baptist: in the succeeding reign it was made a royal foundation; the master, usher, and chaplain, were incorporated by act of parliament; and the warden of All Saints’ College, Oxford, was appointed visiter. A charity school called the Blue-coat school, for twenty boys and ten girls, was founded in 1727, by Thomas Bourne, who endowed it with £8000; the property now consists of £9300 in the New South Sea annuities. Almshouses for six aged widows were founded in 1681, and endowed with £1000, by Mr. John Sayer; whose endowment was augmented with £300 by his widow, in 1712; with £26. 5. per annum by Mrs. Martha Deere, in 1784; and with £400 by the Rev. Geo. Nugent and Mrs. Elizabeth Nugent, in 1822. King James I. gave £100, and Charles I. £200, for providing employment and fuel for the poor, and there are several other bequests for charitable uses. The union of which the town is the head comprises ten parishes and places, of which seven are in the county of Hertford, and three in that of Bucks; and contains a population of 11,512. There are slight vestiges of the ancient residence of the Mercian kings, on the north side of the town; and at the north-east end of Castlestreet are the remains of the castle, consisting principally of walls of an elliptical form, defended on the north-west side by a double, and on the other sides by a triple, moat: the entrance was at the south-east angle, where there are two wide piers, between which probably was the drawbridge. An hospital, dedicated to St. James, formerly existed; but there are no vestiges of it. At the end of the High-street is a spring of clear water, called St. James’s well, to which medicinal properties are attributed. The poet Cowper was born in the town in 1731.
Source: A Topographical Dictionary of England by Samuel Lewis 1848
- County: Hertfordshire
- Civil Registration District: Berkhampstead
- Probate Court: Court of the Archdeaconry of Huntingdon (Hitchin Division)
- Diocese: Post-1844 – Rochester, Pre-1845 – Lincoln
- Rural Deanery: Berkhampstead
- Poor Law Union: Berkhampstead
- Hundred: Dacorum
- Province: Canterbury