infobox UK place
country = England
latitude= 51.76
longitude= -0.56
official_name= Berkhamsted
population= 19,000
shire_district= Dacorum
shire_county = Hertfordshire
region= East of England
constituency_westminster= South West Hertfordshire
post_town= BERKHAMSTED
postcode_district = HP4
postcode_area= HP
dial_code= 01442
os_grid_reference= SP993077

Berkhamsted is a historic town of some 19,000 people. It is situated in the west of Hertfordshire, between the towns of Tring and Hemel Hempstead. It is in the administrative district (and borough since 1984) of Dacorum.

The name of the town has been spelt in a variety of ways over the years, and the present spelling was adopted in 1937. Earlier spellings included "Berkhampstead", "Muche Barkhamstede", "Berkhamsted Magna", "Great Berkhamsted" and "Berkhamstead". The earliest "Beorhoanstadde" dates back to pre conquest Saxon times. Historian Percy Birtchnell identified over 50 different spellings and epithets since the Domesday Book. It is believed the original refers to homestead amongst the hills (Saxon - bergs)

It is also the home of the British Film Institute's BFI National Archive, one of the largest film and television archives in the world, which was generously endowed by the late John Paul Getty.


Berkhamsted was the terminating point of the Norman invasion of 1066. Having defeated Harold II and the English at Hastings, William the Conqueror led the Norman invading army to circle London crossing the Thames at Wallingford making for Berkhamsted. Here he accepted the surrender of Edgar Aetheling (the Saxon heir to the throne), the Archbishop of Aldred, the Earl Edwin and the Earl Morcar. They swore loyalty to William and thus in Berkhamsted William of Normandy became William the Conqueror. However, he declined to accept the crown in Berkhamsted saying he would receive the keys to London in Berkhamsted and would have the crown in London.

The castle was rebuilt in stone in the 1080s and became a favourite home of Norman and Plantagenet monarchs. Simon Schama refers to Berkhamsted as being to the Plantagenets what Windsor is to today's Royal Family. It remained a Royal Castle until it was abandoned in 1495. Much of the stonework was plundered for building materials for the town and nearby Berkhamsted Place (demolished in 1967) but the impressive earthworks and two of the original three moats remain. Half of the third was lost when the London to Birmingham railway line was built. The English surrender to William and royal links with the town are probably the source of the local legend that Berkhamsted is the "real" capital of England.

The town is home to the oldest extant shop in Great Britain, dated by dendrochronology of structural timbers to between 1277 and 1297. Evidence has been found that it may have been a jeweller or goldsmith. The shop, at 173 High Street, until recently "Figg's the Chemists", is currently (2006) in use as an estate agent which has proved controversial as some residents of Berkhamsted think the site should be preserved. The Grand Junction Canal from the Thames at Brentford to Berkhamsted was completed in 1798 and all the way to Birmingham in 1805.

Nearby Ashridge House was the home of the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, affectionately known as the Father of Inland Navigation. His canals sparked a rush of canal building nationwide. His climable monument stands in a grove of native broadleaf woods on a Chiltern ridge Ashridge. From 1797 when the Grand Union Canal was cut through Berkhamsted, Castle Wharf became a hub of inland water transport and boat building activity. It is still known as the Port of Berkhamsted. The town also stands on the River Bulbourne (non navigable).

Berkhamsted Raiders CFC

Berkhamsted Raiders, are a Youth football club and charity, serving young boys and girls in the town of Berkhamsted. They have 30 teams, ranging from U7's right up to adults. They also have their own Girls section as well. The club have recently achieved such an accolade,Fact|date=August 2008 as they have now become a registered charity. Every year, they host their six - a - side tournament, which has always proved a great success.Who|date=August 2008


Berkhamsted Castle is a ruined Norman castle, beside the railway station. Now in the care of English Heritage, this royal castle was once the home of Edward, the Black Prince and his wife, Joan of Kent. Geoffrey Chaucer was constable.

From a timberbuilt Saxon fortress, the castle was rebuilt in stone in the 1080s and as a site of victory became a favourite home of Norman and Plantagenet monarchs. Simon Schama refers to Berkhamsted as being to the Plantagenets what Windsor is to today's Royal Family.

1155 until 1165 the Henry II's favourite Thomas Becket was appointed constable. The surviving flintwork walls remain from his building plans. However, according to Percy Birtchnell, one of the reasons for Beckett's fall from grace and assassination was his overspend on Berkhamsted Castle which stretched the kings finances. Despite this records show that a chamber was always named Sir Thomas's.

In 1309 King Edward II granted Berkhamsted to his lover Piers Gaveston. For the sake of honour Piers married Margaret de Clare, the grand daughter of King Edward I in Berkhamsted Castle. However in 1312 he was assassinated and the castle returned to the crown.

Henry III and Richard III are two monarchs who spent much time here. A tower of three storeys in the castle was built to commemorate birth of Richard's son Edmund in 1249. This potential future king died as an infant. His mother, Henry's wife Sanchia of Provence also died in the castle in 1260.

More happily the Hero of Berkhamsted, Edward Prince of Wales, the Black Prince spent his honeymoon here with Joan, the Maid of Kent in 1361. The entire court celebrated for five days to celebrate the marriage in Berkhamsted and on Berkhamsted Common. Aged only 16 he was the hero of the Battle of Agincourt. His lieutenants included Berkhamsted men such as Everard Halsey, John Wood, Stephen of Champneys, Robert Whittingham, Edward le Bourne, Richard of Gaddesden, and Henry of Berkhamsted. At the Battle of Poitiers Henry saved the Prince's baggage and was rewarded with 2d a day and was appointed porter of the royal castle at Berkhamsted.

However, it was to Berkhamsted in 1353 that Edward brought his most celebrated prisoner, John II, King of France. As a royal prisoner he could not be taken to anything other than a royal residence. His presence was recognised by Charles de Gaulle who made Berkhamsted his base during the 2nd World War.

Having noteworthy earthworks raised above the surrounding valley floor (flooded by chalk stream aquifers - at the most Northern extent of the London Basin), it is likely the castle's site has been of some significance since man first populated the area. Historical Windsor and Royal Dunstable also seem connected, as Berkhamsted lies almost straight between the two, the main road through the town in this direction being called King's Road.

Other notable buildings

The Town Hall, Built in 1859 and designed by Edward Buckton Lamb was built at public subscription from Berkhamstedians, comprised a market hall (now Brasserie Chez Gerard), large assembly hall, and rooms for the Mechanics’ Institute. It was saved from demolition by Dacorum Borough Council after a 10 year citizens' campaign during the 1970s and 80s.

The site now occupied by the Pennyfarthing Hotel dates from the 16th Century, having been an monastic building that offered accommodation to religious guests passing through Berkhamsted or going to the monastery at Ashridge.

Ashlyns School, a large impressive building which was the former The Foundling Hospital, built in 1935 relocated from London in the 1920s. It contains stained glass windows, a staircase and many monuments from the original London hospital founded by Thomas Coram in 1740. The School Chapel housed an organ donated by George Frederick Handel.

Berkhamsted Collegiate School, founded in 1541 and attended by the celebrated author Graham Greene, whose father was headmaster there.

The Rex, Berkhamsted, is a fine example of the very best art deco cinema with glorious decorations of sea waves and shells. Originally opened in 1938, it closed in 1988 and was reopened in 2004 after an extensive redevelopment. The cinema has been restored to become one of the most popular and sought after entertainment attractions in the area, often selling out entire performances. It was the first 1930s cinema to be restored and opened since 1975. The site also regularly hosts guest presenters from the cast or crew to introduce the films.

Famous People

Famous people born in Berkhamsted include in the first place the outstanding English novelist Graham Greene (1904-1991), whose father was headmaster of what was then Berkhamsted School, where Graham attended. One of Greenes novels, "The Human Factor", takes place there and mentions several places of interest of the town, including Kings Road and Berkhamsted Common. In his autobiography, Greene says, that he has been moulded in a special way "through Berkhamsted". Greene's life and works are celebrated annually during the last weekend in September with a festival organized by the Graham Greene Birthplace Trust.

In 1866 Lord Brownlow tried to enclose Berkhamsted Common with 5' steel fences built by Woods of Berkhamsted and therefore, claim it as part of his estate. Local hero Augustus Smith MP (1804) led gangs of local men and hired men from London's East End brought out on the new railway on a specially chartered train to break the fences and protect Berkhamsted Common for the people of Berkhamsted. East End toughs and local Berkhamsted men and women fought that night against Lord Brownlow's men in what became known nationally as the Battle of Berkhamsted Common. Born in Ashlyns Hall in 1804 Augustus Smith constantly fought for the common man. He died having reformed working class education in the Scilly Isles and today is commemorated by the award of the Augustus Smith scholarship for state school students in Berkhamsted.

Then, the English poet William Cowper (1731), Lord Proprietor of the Isles of Scilly , the influential soldier Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien (1858), the actor Michael Hordern (1911) and the television presenter Esther Rantzen (1940). John Cleese from Fawlty Towers lived in Berkhamsted. It is also the birthplace of singer Sarah Brightman and the home of retired premiership footballer Denis Irwin. Berkhamsted was also home to Thomas Stevenson the first person to cycle around the world.

Other notable residents included Charles de Gaulle, in exile during World War II and composer James C Butterfield, born in Berkhamsted in 1837, most famous for writing the music for When You and I Were Young, Maggie, and Alice Spooner, keyboard player in the band Hadouken!.

Fictional characters

BBC Radio 4 character Ed Reardon is a Berkhamsted resident, and many of the stories in the show are based there.

Twin Towns

Berkhamsted is twinned with Beaune, France and as part of Dacorum with Neu Isenburg, Germany. The town also also has an informal relationship with the town of Barkhamsted in Connecticut, United States.



External links

* [ Berkhamsted Town Council] . The web site of Berkhamsted Town Council
* [] . A directory of information useful to the population of Berkhamsted.
* [ Berkhamsted Collegiate School Main Web Site] . The web site of Berkhamsted Collegiate School
* [ St Peter's Church] dating back to the 13th century
* [ Berkhamsted Lawn Tennis & Squash Club] . The web site of Berkhamsted Tennis & Squash club
* [ Ashlyns School] . Ashlyns School, Berkhamsted
* [ The Rex, Berkhamsted] . The Rex, Berkhamsted
* [ Berkhamsted Raiders Community Football Club] . FA Charter Standard Club, running twenty two teams including the Under 7's up to the Under 15's, three girls teams and a Senior team.
* [ Northchurch Baptist Church, Berkhamsted]
* [ Kings Road Church, Berkhamsted]
* [ Berkhamsted Local History & Museum Society]
* [ Berkhamsted and Hemel Hempstead Hockey Club]

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