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Berkhampstead (Great in Hertford County England History and Geography

BERKHAMPSTEAD (GREAT, or ST. PETER'S), a market town and parish in the hundred of DACORUM, county of HERTFORD, 25 miles (W. by S.) from Hertford, and 26 (N. W. by W.) from London, on the road to Holyhead, containing 2310 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 its early growth and subsequent importance may be attributed. According to Spelman, Wihtred, King of Kent, assisted at a council held here in 697. At the time of the Conquest, William on his arrival at this place, was met by Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury, who tendered his submission, but on leaving Berkhampstead, his 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 his arrival at St. Alban's, exacted from him an oath, 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 this town, built a castle here, which was subsequently taken from his son William, who had rebelled against Henry I., and by that monarch's order rased 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 Lewis, 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. James I., who selected this 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, whereby 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, is on the de cline, and the making of lace, which was also carried on extensively, has given place to the platting of straw, in which, at present, the female part of the population are principally employed. The Grand Junction canal, which passes by the town, affords an extensive line of inland navigation. 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: courts leet for the honour of Berkhampstead, which is part of the duchy of Cornwall, are held at Whitsuntide and Michaelmas; and constables and other officers are appointed at the court leet of the lord of the manor. The prison is used as a house of correction, and for the temporary confinement of malefactors previously to their committal to the county gaol.

The living is a rectory, in the archdeaconry of Huntingdon, and diocese of Lincoln, rated in the king's books at 20, and in the patronage of the King, as Duke of Cornwall. The church, dedicated to St. Peter, is a spacious cruciform structure, exhibiting some fine portions in 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. Catherine, and some interesting monuments. There are places of worship for Baptists, the Society of Friends, and Independents. The free grammar school was founded in the reign 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 Souls' College, Oxford, was appointed visitor. The school was originally endowed for one hundred and forty-four scholars, but for the last twenty years, not one boy has received any instruction; the establishment is at present under investigation in the court of Chancery. The premises are situated on one side of the church-yard, and consist of a schoolroom, and houses for the master and usher. A charity school, for twenty boys and ten girls, was founded in 1727, by Mr. Thomas Brown, who endowed it with 8000: the income arises from 9300 in the New South Sea annuities; there are at present thirty boys and twenty girls in the school. Almshouses, for six aged widows, were founded in 1681, and endowed with 1000, by Mr. John Sayer; the endowment was augmented with 300 by his widow, and subsequently with 26. 5. per annum, by Mrs-Martha Deere. King James I. gave 100, and Charles I. 200, for providing employment and fuel for the poor, and there are also several other bequests for charitable uses. 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 Castle-street 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 draw-bridge. At the end of the High-street is a spring of clear water, called St. James' Well, to which medicinal properties are attributed. An ancient hospital, dedicated to St. James, formerly existed here, but of which, there are no vestiges. The poet Cowper was born here in 1731.

From Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of England 1831, courtesy of Databases 4 Sale

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