Harpenden is a town in the City of St Albans district in the county of Hertfordshire, England. The town's population is just under 30,000. Harpenden is a wealthy commuter town, with a direct rail connection into London and property prices well above double the national average. Geographically it is located between (and a short distance from) two much larger neighbours: Luton (to the north) and the city of St. Albans (to the south). It is flanked by the villages of Redbourn (to the west) and Wheathampstead (to the east).
Until the 13th century the area of the parish consisted of woodland with small hamlets and single farmsteads around cleared areas. These were often called "End" or "Green". There were 19 "Ends" and 18 "Greens" in area of Harpenden and Wheathampstead parishes. Many of these still survive today.
A widespread but now little-known industry of Harpenden was straw-weaving, a trade mainly carried out by women in the nineteenth century. A good straw weaver could make as much as a field labourer. The straw plaits were taken to the specialist markets in St Albans or Luton and bought by dealers to be converted into straw items such as boaters (Panama hats) and other hats or bonnets.
Harpenden became an urban district in 1898. For the four years previous it had been part of St. Albans Rural District.
Harpenden is the home of Rothamsted Manor and Rothamsted Research (formerly Rothamsted Experimental Station and later the Institute of Arable Crops Research), a leading centre for agricultural research. In front of its main building, which faces the common, is a stone, erected in 1893, commemorating 50 years of experiments by Sir John Bennet Lawes (1814-1900) and Joseph Henry Gilbert (1817-1901). Sir John Bennet Lawes was born at Rothamstead Manor.
Lawes inherited the family estate at Rothamsted in 1834. Acknowledged as "the father of agricultural science", his early field experiments on Hertfordshire farms led him to patent a phosphate fertiliser, the sales of which enriched him immensely. With the proceeds, he established the experimental station, building laboratories in the 1850s. The station continued the development of the artificial fertilisers on which most modern farmers now depend. Some of the long-term 'classical field experiments' begun by Lawes and Gilbert remain in place to this day (such as Broadbalk) representing a unique resource for agricultural and environmental research.