Tuesday 17 November 2020

History, Architecture and Timber Windows in Hertford, Hertfordshire

Hertford is the historical county town of Hertfordshire. The town, which dates back to the Saxon period, owes a lot of its history to the River Lea, which passes through the town. The river helped form a natural boundary between the land occupied by the Danelaw and the Saxon Wessex.

In 912 AD and 913 AD, Edward the Elder built two fortified burghs as a defence against Danish invasions. From these, two small towns developed where Hertford now stands, each with their own markets and churches. King Edgar the Peaceful later made the town the county town of Hertfordshire.

After the Norman Conquest, Hertford Castle and Priory were built, alongside a new mill. The town was also home to several agricultural estates. Hertford Priory was later dissolved in the 16th Century and the land where the Priory stood fell into private hands and became a manor farm.

Queen Elizabeth spent a lot of her childhood in the local area, both in Hertford Castle and nearby in Hatfield House. However, the majority of Hatfield House that remains today was built in 1611 when the building was gifted to Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, by King James I (Queen Elizabeth’s successor).

Hertford elected their first MPs in 1298 and in 1554, Queen Mary granted the town its first charter. This charter was then amended and expanded by King Charles II.

Hertford grew and flourished as a prosperous market town. The Lea Navigational Canal was constructed in 1767 and helped provide important access to London’s corn markets. This was followed by the arrival of the railway in 1843, which resulted in further expansion of the town during the Victorian period. Electricity and gas were introduced in the town and industry increased as a result.

Hertford Castle

Hertford Castle was a Norman castle which was built on the site of one of the fortified burghs by Edward the Elder. Today only the Grade I listed gatehouse, which dates from the mid-15th Century, survives.

During the Hundred Years’ War, Hertford Castle was used to detain prisoners of royal and noble rank, including King David II of Scotland.

For over 300 years the Castle was primarily a Royal Palace, with several Kings gifting the Castle to their wives and Queen Elizabeth I spent much of her childhood in the Castle. During Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, Parliament also met at Hertford Castle when they were driven from London by the plague.

However, from the reign of James I Hertford Castle started to fall into decay. His son, King Charles I granted the Castle to William Cecil, whose descendants still own the Castle today, ending the Castle’s period as a royal residence.

The Castle was then privately owned by the Cecils and leased to various noble tenants, including the Marquis of Downshire who altered and enlarged the house in the late 1700s.

Between 1805 and 1809, the Castle became the first home of the East India College, until it moved to new college buildings on Hertford Heath. The Castle was used as a junior school until 1819, after which it was let as a private house again.

In 1911 Lord Salisbury leased the Castle gatehouse, which was all that remained, to Hertford Corporation at a nominal rent and the gatehouse was converted to Council offices, with the grounds becoming a public garden.

Although the tower and Castle has now gone, the gatehouse still survives in fine condition.

The gatehouse has undergone several large changes over the years, being rebuilt by Edward IV in 1463 and enlarged by the Marquis of Downshire in the reign of George III. The Marquis of Downshire not only remodelled all the rooms to be in a Georgian style, but also altered the windows to be a different shape and added a long south wing to the gatehouse. In the 1930s, a north wing was also added.

However, when the gatehouse was restored by builders in the 1970s they found that Edward IV’s work had only been hidden, not destroyed, and the notable 15th Century stonework and brick-and-timber screens that adorned the rooms have now been restored.

Today the Castle and grounds can be hired for private events, as well as hosting regular events and open days for the general public.

Shire Hall

Shire Hall is a Grade I listed building, designed by the architect James Adam. Construction began in 1769 and the building was completed in 1771. The building replaced the old Shire Hall and was used for the assembly rooms and courts for the county. The building was also home to Hertford’s corn exchange until the middle of the 19th Century.

The Assembly Room at Shire Hall was originally used as a concert and theatrical venue and is believed to have featured as the ballroom in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, with Hertford believed to have been used as the basis for the fictional Merrytown.

The building, which has several traditional timber sash windows, was altered several times in the late 1800s, 1902 and late 1900s. However, by the 1980s parts of the building were near to collapse. As a result, the building underwent a large renovation project which was completed in 1990.

The County and Borough Councils met at the building until 1939, when the County Council moved to County Hall. Today the majority of the court rulings have moved instead to Stevenage or St Albans, leaving only family court proceedings to take place at Shire Hall.

Bluecoats Avenue

Bluecoats Avenue was originally built for Christ’s Hospital, a school founded in 1552 for London’s poor children which was founded by King Edward VI. The avenue was known as Bluecoats after the robes worn by the pupils at the school.

The school was originally based in Greyfriars before moving to Hertford, although the date of the move is uncertain. In 1778, the girls’ school was moved to Hertford and the school was expanded.

Many of the buildings that you can still see today were built to use as dormitories in the early 1900s, although the School Hall dates from the late 17th Century. The Hall was then re-fronted when the dormitory blocks were built.

The boys’ school had completely left the site by the end of 1906 and in 1985 the girls joined the boys in Horsham and the school was sold off. The site has since been turned into shops, offices and housing.

One of the buildings, Bluecoats House, which used to be the Headmistress’ house for the girls’ school and is now offices, was built in the middle of the 18th Century. The Grade II listed building has multiple 12 pane and 6 pane sash windows and underwent various alterations and extensions in the later 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries.

Timber Windows in Hertford (SG13)

Today Hertford is a thriving town with a rich heritage. The town is home to several notable period properties, many of which still have timber sash windows or casement windows.

Hertford has a large conservation area, which covers much of the town. The town is also home to around 280 listed buildings and monuments, with most of these dating from the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries.

At The Sash Window Workshop we have extensive experience manufacturing and installing high quality, traditional timber windows and doors in period properties. Established in 1994, we have replaced and draught proofed multiple windows and doors in Hertford (SG13) over the years and we can comply with conservation area and listed building regulations where required.

We pride ourselves in providing our customers with both an outstanding product and exceptional customer service, reflected by our Which? Trusted Trader membership and our 5 star Trustpilot rating.

To obtain a free, no obligation quotation, contact us today on: 01344 868 668.

Header image by Caitlin from Hertfordshire, UK, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.