Heritage Trail

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.

The Old Town Heritage Trail paper map is available free from the Tring, Berkhamsted and Hemel Hempstead civic offices and the Old Town Hall in Hemel Hempstead.

We would like to thank the Dacorum Heritage Trust for allowing us to publish this wonderful resource here! Their website has a wealth of local history and information.

Compiled by Dacorum Heritage Trust volunteers on behalf of Dacorum Borough Council, the colourful map focusing on a selection of the most important buildings, the majority are Grade II listed. The text gives an interesting short history and the people who once lived in them. From early feudal times, through the Middle Ages and 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 flows through Gadebridge Park witnessed the building of the Roman villa with its extensive baths, the construction of the magnificent Norman church of St. Marys, 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 public houses 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, expertly produced by Les Ball and his team at Cityscape Maps. The 20 featured buildings all have new black and gold plaques, 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. Marys Road. The pubs are well represented, with The White Hart, The Rose and Crown, The Olde Kings Arms and The Old Bell all included. Long-lost public houses, such as The Royal Oak and The Sun, are pictured in their heyday.

The overall aspect of 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, hostelries, the Old Town Hall Arts Centre and St. Marys Church. The Heritage Trail will prove once and for all that Hemel Hempstead is not just a New Town but also one with a long history of which all its residents can be justly proud. There are many local history books, which give more details, but why not let your imagination take you down memory lane as you follow the trail – we think it is worth it!

Joan & Roger Hands, The Dacorum Heritage Trust Ltd.

About the creator of our Heritage Trail map

The Heritage Trail map was originally produced by Joan Hands has been resident in Boxmoor since 1964 and has two sons, both now living abroad with their young families. She has been a teacher for more than forty years, having been educated at the Collegiate School, Leicester and then trained at Trent Park College, Middlesex, from 1959-61. Joan has worked in a wide variety of schools for Hertfordshire County Council as well as in the private sector in Berkhamsted.

Her interest in local history first came to fruition with the publication of ‘The Book of Boxmoor’ in 1989, a collaborative effort with her husband Roger, which included contributions by Eve Davis, Jean Stevens and Peter Ward. This was followed by Boxmoor in Camera in 1993, but by then the idea of jointly writing a history of the Box Moor Trust had already geminated in her husband’s fertile mind!

She has been Chairman of the Friends of Dacorum Museum, as well as the Hertfordshire Dyslexia Association, and is currently a member of the Society of Authors and a committee member of the Hemel Hempstead Local History and Records Society, Apsley Paper Trail and Dacorum Heritage Trust.

Joan has written poetry and plays for children besides historical articles; many of the latter have been published for the Dacorum Heritage Trust.

She established the Harlequins Children’s Theatre Group in 1964 which existed for eleven years, as well as appearing in productions for the Hemel Hempstead Operatic and Dramatic Society and for Museum Piece.

Joan finished her long teaching career by supporting children with Special Educational Needs, but now intends to retire and see more of her five grandchildren – and her husband!

Roger Hands has also lived in the Area of Benefit for forty years. He became a Box Moor Trustee in 1979 with a wide interest in environmental and historical matters, culminating in the writing of his book on the Trusts 400 years of history. He was a founding member of the Dacorum Museum Advisory Committee which later became the Dacorum Heritage Trust, the registered museum for the Borough of Dacorum.

He is currently Chairman of this vitally important body for the preservation of the local heritage. He has worked incessantly over the past twenty years, staging many exhibitions and keeping the idea of local history in the public arena.

He was involved in the Heritage Lottery bid to save Piccotts End Cottages and their medieval wall paintings. He has been an actively committed supporter of the Apsley Paper Trail since it was established. Roger is still working and had his own landscape gardening business; his firm has been awarded Gold and other medals at the Royal Chelsea Flower Show. Like Joan, he is very proud of his family and is looking forward to having more time to travel.

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