Hemel Hempstead is a large new town in northwestern Hertfordshire, England. It is considered part of the Greater London Urban Area. The population according to the 2001 Census was 81,143, but now is estimated at around 90,000 by Hertfordshire County Council.
It has existed as a settlement since the 8th century and was granted its town charter by King Henry VIII in 1539. After World War II it was redeveloped as a new town. Since 1974 it has been part of the District of Dacorum (formally called a "borough" since 1984).
Origin of the name
The settlement was called by the name Henamsted or Hean-Hempsted, i.e. "High Hempstead", in Anglo-Saxon times and in William the Conqueror's time by the name of Hemel-Amstede. In Old English, "-stead" or "-stede" simply meant a place, such as the site of a building or pasture, as in clearing in the woods, and this suffix is used in the names of other English places such as nearby Berkhamsted.
The town is now known to residents as "Hemel" however before the Second World War locals called it "Hempstead".
Remains of Roman villa farming settlements spanning the entire period of Roman Britain have been found at Boxmoor and Gadebridge. A well preserved Roman burial mound is located in Highfield.
Hemel Hempstead on its present site is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as a vill named Hamelhamstede, with about 100 inhabitants. The parish church of St Mary's was built in 1140, and is recognised as one of the finest Norman parish churches in the county. The church features an unusual tall spire, added in the 12th century, one of Europe's tallest.
After the Norman conquest, Robert, Count of Mortain, the elder half-brother of William the Conqueror, was granted lands associated with Berkhamsted Castle which included Hemel Hempstead. The estates passed through several ownerships over the next few centuries. Hemel Hempstead was in the hundred of Dacorum, which maintained its court into the 19th century. In 1290 John of England's grandson, the Earl of Cornwall, gave the manor to the religious order of the Bonhommes when he endowed the monastery at Ashridge in Little Gaddesden. The town remained part of the monastery's estates until the Reformation and break-up of Ashridge in 1539. In that same year, the town was granted a royal charter by Henry VIII to become a bailiwick with the right to hold a Thursday market and a fair on Corpus Christi Day.
In 1581, a group of local people acquired lands – now referred to as Box Moor – from the Earl of Leicester to prevent their enclosure. These were transferred to trustees in 1594. These have been used for public grazing and they are administered by the Box Moor Trust.
18th to mid-20th century
Hemel's position on the shortest route between London and the industrial Midlands put it on the Sparrows Herne Turnpike Road in 1762, the Grand Junction Canal in 1795 and the London and Birmingham Railway in 1837. However it remained principally an agricultural market town throughout the 19th century. In the last decades of that century development of houses and villas for London commuters began. The Midland Railway built a branch line, the Harpenden to Hemel Hempstead Railway, connecting to its mainline at Harpenden in 1877. Hemel steadily expanded, but only became a municipal borough on 13 July 1898.
After the Second World War, in 1946, the government designated Hemel Hempstead as the site of one of its proposed New Towns designed to house the population displaced by the London Blitz, since slums and bombsites were being cleared in London. The first new residents moved in during April 1949, and the town continued its planned expansion through to the end of the 1980s. Hemel grew to its present population of 80,000, with new developments enveloping the original town on all sides. The original part of Hemel is still known as the "Old Town".
For more information, see the EN Wikipedia article Hemel Hempstead.
In 1974, the government abolished the Borough of Hemel Hempstead and the town was incorporated into Dacorum District Council along with Tring and Berkhamsted and the rural areas in between. In the 1980s, Dacorum District Council successfully lobbied to be recognised as the successor for the Royal Charter establishing the Borough of Hemel Hempstead and thus regained the Mayor and its Aldermen and became Dacorum Borough Council.