The Old Town conservation area of Hemel Hempstead has a charm all of its own and many interesting stories to tell.
A new Heritage Trail celebrates the reopening of the historic High Street after the recent major renovation.
Compiled by Dacorum Heritage Trust volunteers for Dacorum Borough Council, the colourful map and text focus on some of the most important buildings, the majority of which are Grade II Listed, together with a short extract on their history and the people who once lived in them.
From early feudal times, through the Middle Ages and the Tudor dynasty to the arrival of the ‘New Townees’ in the 1950s, the High Street (or Market Street) was the focal point of life in the Gade valley.
The rare chalk stream which still flows through Gadebridge Park witnessed the building of the Roman villa with its extensive baths and the magnificent Norman church of St Mary’s, the several phases of the Bury manor house, the Market House and adjacent buildings, the reconstruction of the Town Hall and the licensing of many pubs and inns along the length of the busy street, not to mention visits by Henry VIII.
The trail leaflet has an illustrated ‘3D’ map on one side, produced by Les Ball and his team at cityscapemaps. The text features 20 buildings which are all due to have black and gold plaques placed on them, together with both old and new images of the High Street over the years.
These include many of the listed buildings for which the area is renowned, such as St Mary’s Church, The Bury, the Old Town Hall and Piccotts End medieval cottages. Other lesser known sites include No 25, once the Cranstone’s ironmongery shop and the Quaker Meeting House in St Mary’s Road. The pubs are well represented, with The White Hart, The Rose and Crown, The Olde King’s Arms and The Old Bell included. Long-lost pubs like The Royal Oak and The Sun are pictured in their heyday.
The High Street has not changed a great deal from the late 19th century, except for the numbers of people who then thronged the pavements, especially on market days.
The recent one-way system and renovation of the street will, it is believed, help to attract people to visit the individual shops and hostelries, as well as the Old Town Hall Arts Centre and St Mary’s Church.
It is hoped that the new Hemel Hempstead Old Town Heritage Trail will be available at the launch event in the High Street on Saturday, July 19, from 1pm to 6pm.