We were extremely lucky to have Dr Anne Rowe write a potted history of, what is now known as Kingsmead at the end of last year. I have reproduced the text and her maps below but I would also note that the 'Cockbush Field Mutiny' happened at (oddly enough!) Cockbush Field during the Civil War. Apologies for the delay in publishing but it has been all go getting the the Neighbourhood Plan this far in a short space of time. We have a number of actions on our (soon to be published!) Action Plan relating to detailing the history of Kingsmead using blue plaques and signboards so watch this space for more news!
STOP PRESS: The Barrows next to Pinehurst Community Centre have been put forward for the installation of information boards by Cllr Ben Crystall, Hertfordshire County Council
A Potted Landscape History of Kingsmead Ward
Until the later 18th century the eastern edge of the town of Hertford was marked by the junction of Fore Street with the road to Ware and the London Road. In the middle of the junction was the pound – for holding stray animals – with Christ’s Hospital (alias Blue Coat) School to the north and a handful of dwellings known as The Worlds End at the start of the Ware Road. The main road to Ware passed through an empty landscape of huge arable fields, established many centuries earlier and divided into a multitude of strips farmed by the inhabitants of Hertford. These open fields covered the sloping land on the valley sides and extended down to the edge of the floodplain below. The broad valley bottom was occupied by meadows used for pasturing the town’s livestock and for growing hay. One of these meadows was known as the King’s Mead and it – and others – was also divided into numerous narrow strips, hay from which was allocated to individual townsfolk. Running along the south side of the floodplain and separating the meadows from the arable land was a minor track linking Hertford and Ware.
Branching off the main Ware Road was the road to Rush Green and Stanstead, rising up the hill between open fields called Wheat Field and Cock Bush Field. Beside the road in an open space at the parish boundary stood the town gallows where, until 1801, convicts sentenced to death at the Hertford assizes were brought for execution. This was known as Gallows Plain.
At the top of the hill is a large burial mound or barrow,
dug over 3,500 years ago. Its profile on the skyline gave rise to the name Penny Loaf Hill and the common arable field surrounding it was called Barrow Field.
The burial mound is the only obvious sign that this area was important for our predecessors in prehistoric times. Chance finds and archaeological digs in the 20th century reveal that the high ground looking north over the Lea valley has been occupied and farmed for over 5,500 years from the Neolithic period onwards. Excavations of the Foxholes Farm area in the 1970s revealed the remains of dwellings from the Bronze Age and Iron Age and the remains of a Roman farmstead complete with several corn-drying ovens, one of which can be seen in Hertford Museum.
A short section of the modern boundary of Kingsmead Ward runs along Ermine Street, the Roman road heading north from London towards York. The road headed towards the crossing point of the river Lea at the west end of modern Ware (opposite the Glaxo site) and may have been in use long before it was upgraded for military purposes by the Roman army.
The Meads are surrounded and divided by numerous channels, mostly man-made, carrying the waters of the river Lea, augmented by the Beane and Rib and joined near their eastern end by waters from the Chadwell Springs. Since time immemorial the Meads had been grassland, grazed by the livestock of the townsfolk of Hertford. The cattle and horses were traditionally excluded from parts of the Meads during the spring and early summer, so that the grass could grow long and be cut for hay for winter fodder. Many meadows were ploughed up, or otherwise destroyed, in the course of the 20th century and the floodplain of the Lea between Hertford and Ware is now one of the very rare areas of meadowland remaining in Hertfordshire. It is consequently of considerable importance for biodiversity, providing valuable habitats for a wide range of wildlife, most notably for birds and insects. Fortunately our meads are now a nature reserve in the care of the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust known as King’s Meads.
At the beginning of the 17th century Chadwell Springs became the source of the New River, a man-made watercourse which has carried fresh drinking water to London for over 400 years. Over time it became necessary to supplement the spring water with water from the river Lea which, in the 19th century, required the construction of a Gauge House, bridges and New River Company markers, all of which contribute to the heritage of our area and have been granted Listed Status. In 1767 a canal and towpath were constructed across the meads to enable barges to reach the centre of Hertford from London via the Lea Navigation and in 1843 the railway between Hertford and Ware was built.
The 1st edition Ordnance Survey map shows how far the town of Hertford had spread eastwards along the Ware Road by 1880. The west half of the former arable field called Middle Field had become the site of the station for the new railway, with yards and sheds as well as houses fronting the Ware Road. South of the road the land remained more open and included an extensive orchard. Further east, the Workhouse at the junction with the Stanstead Road (built by 1835 and replaced by a new, larger building in 1869) was an outlier of the town and beyond that, after more open farmland, was a cluster of cottages around the Nag’s Head public house and the Barrowfield Limekiln (with adjacent chalk quarry) and some allotment gardens. More limekilns were recorded in an extensive chalk pit immediately south-east of the Workhouse on the Stanstead Road and an Isolation Hospital for Hertford and Ware (later the East Hertfordshire Hospital) was built adjacent to this pit at the end of the 19th century.
During the first half of the twentieth century factories, houses and gardens were built to cover the entire area of the former Middle Field and houses were constructed along both sides of the Ware Road heading east as far as the boundary of Kingsmead Ward. Behind the houses on the north side of the road an area of allotment gardens extended to the boundary between the former Bush Field and the Meads. South of the Ware Road, the Workhouse buildings had become Kingsmead School (for ‘Mental Deficients’) and this later became Kingsmead Special School and then the Police Station. More chalk pits were opened up along Ware Road west of the Barrowfield limekiln and these were later occupied by commercial units. Farmland south of the Stanstead Road started to be developed into housing in the 1930s, starting at the bottom of the hill.
The canal in the 18th century and the railway in the 19th made significant contributions to the history of the area without changing the essential landscape and character of the Meads. The most recent – and dramatic – addition to the valley scene was the Kingsmead viaduct, opened in 1976. This provides wonderful views of the landscape around Hertford and Ware and forms the eastern boundary of the Kingsmead Ward. The new route of the A10 as it approached the viaduct from the south cut across the course of the East Herts Golf Club, laid out in the early 20th century on the eastern half of Barrow Field. The part of the course which lay west of the A10 – and included the barrow – was developed as the Pinehurst Estate and many of the roads were given golf-related names. The former chalk pit on the east side of Stanstead Road became the site of Wheatcroft Primary School. On the west side of the Stanstead Road, the Foxholes Estate was given suitably foxy road names with the Foxholes Business park occupying the site of gravel workings from the 1970s. From the late 20th century and into the 21st, further residential areas have been developed with the conversion of the sites of Kingsmead Special School, the East Hertfordshire Hospital and various industrial and commercial premises along Ware Road.