Hoddesdon is in the English county of Hertfordshire, situated in the Lea Valley. The town grew up as a coaching stop on the route between Cambridge and London. It is located southeast of Hertford, north of Waltham Cross and southwest of Bishop's Stortford. At its height during the 18th century, more than 35 coaches a day would pass through the town. It saw a boom in the mid 20th century as gravel was extracted from the area to be exhausted by the 1970s. The lakes and water pits left behind have been used for local leisure amenities. Today, Hoddesdon has a little light industry but is mainly a London commuter belt town. The town hosted the eighth Congres Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne in 1951. It is twinned with the Belgian city of Dinant.
The Prime Meridian passes just to the east of Hoddesdon.
The name "Hoddesdon" is believed to be derived from a Saxon or Danish personal name combined with the Old English suffix "don", meaning a down or hill. The earliest historical reference to the name is in the Domesday Book.
Hoddesdon was situated about north of London on the main road to Cambridge and to northern towns and cities. The road forked in the centre of the town, with the present High Street dividing into Amwell Street and Burford Street, both leading north to Ware. From an early date there were a large number of inns lining the streets to serve the needs of travellers. A market charter was granted to Robert Boxe, lord of the manor, in 1253. By the 14th century the Hospital of st Laud and St Anthony had been established in the south of Hoddesdon. The institution survived the dissolution of the monasteries, but ceased to exist by the mid 16th century, although it is commemorated in the name of Spital Brook which divides Hoddesdon from Broxbourne.
In 1336 William de la Marche was licenced to build a chapel of ease in the town. The building, known as St Katharine's Chapel survived until the 17th century, when it was demolished. The tower survived until 1836. The chapel was used by pilgrims to the shrine at Walsingham.
The town was considerably enlarged in the reign of Elizabeth I, and a number of inns in the High Street date from this time. The monarch granted a royal charter in 1559/60, placing the town government under a bailiff, warden and eight assistants. The charter also established a free grammar school based on the site of the former hospital, and this was placed under the care of the corporation. Neither the borough or the school flourished, however, and both had ceased to exist by the end of the century. In 1567 Sir William Cecil acquired the manor of Hoddesdonsbury and two years later Elizabeth granted him the neighbouring manor of Baas. From that date the Cecils maintained a connection with the town which is recorded by the naming of The Salisbury Arms (anciently the Black Lion Inn) : the title Marquess of Salisbury was granted to James Cecil in 1789.
In 1622 Sir Marmaduke Rawdon built Rawdon House, a red-brick mansion which still survives. Rawdon also provided the town with its first public water supply, flowing from a statue known as the "Samaritan Woman".
A new chapel of ease, dedicated to St Paul, was built in 1762. This was subsequently rebuilt and enlarged and in 1844 become the parish church when Hoddesdon was created a separate ecclesiastical parish. Previously the town was divided between the two parishes of Broxbourne and Great Amwell. The boundary between the two parishes ran through an archway in the town's High Street. When this building was demolished in the 1960s, a specially inscribed stone was set into the pavement marking the historic boundary. In place of St Katharine's Chapel a new clock house was built.
Brewing was first established in the town in about 1700. In 1803, William Christie established a brewery in the town, and it became a major employer and one of the largest breweries in England. The brewery continued in operation until 1928. Most of the brewery buildings was demolished in 1930, although part was converted into a cinema itself since demolished. Some remnants of the establishment remain in Brewery Road.
By the mid-19th century the town still consisted principally of one street, and had a population of 1,743. Malt was being produced and transported to London via the River Lea. There were also a number of flour mills. Trade in Hoddesdon was centred on the hops market each Thursday. As time went on, more and more hops were carried on the river rather than the roads and the Wednesday meat market took predominance. The Wednesday market has survived in Hoddesdon and was joined in the late 20th century by a Friday market.
Following the Second World War Hoddesdon increasingly became a dormitory town, forming part of the London commuter belt. Much of the town centre was demolished in the 1960s and 1970s, with the construction of the Tower Centre and Fawkon Walk shopping centres. The opening of a bypass in 1974 changed the nature of the town, with through traffic curtailed.
Hoddesdon is the only small town in Britain with a sizeable Italian community . Italians emigrated to the Lea Valley in the 1950s and 60s to work in the nearby garden nurseries, and they and many of their descendants still live in the area. The Festival of San Antonio is celebrated annually in June in the town with a street procession, although nowadays it is a low-key festival since many of the participants are elderly. An Italian consul is resident at Broxbourne Council.