Hitchin's History

"Here at Hitchin, in spite of the ravages of time and the necessities of trade, we may claim to be one of the few towns left in England that people still love to visit for the old world grace of their streets and habitations. But in truth the attraction goes deeper than good looks"
Reginald Hine, Hitchin historian.

History frieze from Brand Street, now relocated to the library following redevelopment.

Coin depicting King Offa of Mercia who it is believed is buried in Bedford.Although now best known for it's weekly market Hitchin's history stretches far back in time.

The earliest part of Hitchin's history begin with King Offa of Mercia, who founded a religious house in AD792 on land occupied by the Hicce tribe. This was the beginning of Hitchin's parish church, second only in size to St Albans Abbey in the county.

In the Domesday Book of 1086 Hitchin is recorded as a Royal Manor and by medieval times it was a thriving town on the banks of the River Hiz. Today it still gives an air of peace and prosperity.

Buy this photo online from the Francis Frith Collection

Bucklersbury in 1908.
Click to buy this photo online

The present church dates from the 13th century and was built with money from the wool trade. The surrounding lands favoured the breeding of sheep on the hillsides, while the flat land grew excellent crops of wheat, barley and lavender, and trade grew rapidly.

Communications have always been important. Before the Romans came there were ancient trackways criss-crossing the country. The Icknield Way, once a significant trade route, passes by the northern edge of Hitchin and makes for some interesting walks.


Market Square

Walking around the parish church of St Mary, right in the centre of the town, one sees that Hitchin's medieval plan has altered amazingly little from the time the church was built.
The streets radiate outwards with markets, shops, and a charming riverside frontage close at hand. Every street contains buildings of interest and the town's history can be traced in them.

After the 17th century, Hitchin became a frequent staging post for London coaches and many of the inns from that time, with their picturesque courtyards, can still be seen in Hitchin's narrow streets.

By the middle of the 19th century the railway had arrived, and with it a new way of life for Hitchin. The Corn Exchange was built in the Market Place and within a short time Hitchin established itself as a major centre for grain trading.

The latter half of the 20th century has also brought great changes in communication to Hitchin. Motorways have shortened the journey time and brought Luton, a few miles away on the Ml, and the Al(M) even closer.

Nikolaus Pevsner described Hitchin as being, after St Albans, the most visually satisfying town in the county. It continues to satisfy the visitors who come to rejoice in this pleasant, compact market town so rich in beautiful things and one that delights in welcoming those who come to share them.

 

See more details on

St Mary's Church
The Biggin
The Market

Pick up the leaflet "A brief guide to historic Hitchin" or one of the many specific street guides at the Town Centre Initiative shop.

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