The town grew around a ford on the River Lea, near its confluences with the rivers Mimram, Beane, and Rib. The Lea is navigable from the Thames up to Hertford. Fortified settlements were established on each side of the ford at Hertford in 913AD. The county of Hertfordshire was established at a similar time, being named after and administered from Hertford. Hertford Castle was built shortly after the Norman Conquest in 1066 and remained a royal residence until the early seventeenth century.
Hertford has been the county town of Hertfordshire since the county was founded in Saxon times. The town also gave its name to the hundred of Hertford. The town was initially governed by the king's reeves. By the thirteenth century, the reeves had been replaced by a bailiff, elected by the burgesses. Charters of 1554 and 1589 established a common council of eleven chief burgesses and a bailiff. Another charter of 1605 changed the bailiff's title to mayor. Under the Municipal Corporations Act 1835, Hertford became a Municipal borough; the ratepayers elected twelve councillors, who chose four aldermen, with the aldermen and councillors together composing the council (also known as the corporation), which elected the mayor.
The Hertford poor law union was established in 1835, covering the town and surrounding rural parishes.
Under the Local Government Act 1972, Hertford Municipal Borough was abolished, merging with other districts to become part of the district of East Hertfordshire with effect from 1 April 1974. A successor parish was created covering the former borough of Hertford, with its parish council taking the name Hertford Town Council. The town council is based at the former offices of the borough corporation at Hertford Castle.
From at least 1634, Hertford Corporation used an escutcheon (shield) depicting a hart above water to indicate a ford. The borough council was granted the right to complement its arms with a badge in 1925, and supporters were added in 1937. The coat of arms is now used by Hertford Town Council.
The town centre still has its medieval layout with many timber-framed buildings hidden under later frontages, particularly in St Andrew Street. Hertford suffers from traffic problems despite the existence of the 1960s A414 bypass called Gascoyne Way which passes close to the town centre. Plans have long existed to connect the A10 with the A414, by-passing the town completely. Nevertheless, the town retains very much a country-town feel, despite lying only 19.2 miles (30.9 km) north of Central London. This is aided by its proximity to larger towns such as Harlow, Bishop's Stortford and Stevenage where modern development has been focused.
Hertford differs from neighbouring towns as it lacks a modern shopping development (mall). However, it has most of the usual supermarkets. A Tesco store occupies part of the former Christ's Hospital Bluecoat Girls School, which closed down in 1985. Sainsbury's opened a new store on part of the McMullens Brewery site in June 2012. A Waitrose occupied a reasonably large store in the Bircherley Green Shopping area that closed on 12 September 2017. The local branch of Woolworths closed for good on 27 December 2008, after the collapse of that store chain. There are fewer of the usual chain shops found in most high streets and this makes Hertford stand out from other "clone towns". There are a high number of independent shops in the town, with a variety of boutiques and salons.
Sport and leisure
Hertford has a leisure centre and swimming pool, skatepark, bowling green and tennis courts on Hartham Common.
Hertford Cricket Club is an English amateur cricket club, located in Hertford, the county town of Hertfordshire. Cricket records for a Hertford club go back a far as 1825, however the club in its present form has been in existence since 1860. The club plays its matches at Balls park, Hertford. Currently the club runs five teams and all the teams play in the local league.
Captain W E Johns, Writer of the Biggles books was born in Bengeo, attended Hertford Grammar School and lived in Hertford.
The statue of Samuel Stone
Samuel Stone, Puritan minister who established the American town of Hartford, Connecticut with Thomas Hooker. He lived in Fore Street, Hertford and was baptised at All Saints Church. There is a statue commemorating him, close to the Hertford Theatre.
Jane Wenham was tried at the Hertford Assizes for witchcraft in 1712. The jury found her guilty, one of the last in England to be convicted of this offence. Judge Powell had no choice but to condemn her to death, but through his influence she was later given a Royal Pardon.
Jack Trevor Story, the author of "The Trouble with Harry" and other works, was born in Hertford in 1917.
Actor Rupert Grint comes from Hertford, and although he now lives outside the town, he lived within Hertford when he began filming for the Harry Potter film series. He attended Richard Hale School until finishing his GCSE exams in 2004. Other famous former pupils of Richard Hale School are listed on the school's page.
In the town are the remains of the original Hertford Castle, principally a motte. The castle's gatehouse, the central part of which dates to a rebuild by Edward IV in 1463, is the home to Hertford Town Council. The Motte, from the original Motte and Bailey castle in Hertford, can be found just behind Castle Hall, a short distance from the modern castle.
There are several churches in the town, All Saints', and St Andrew's, are late and mid 19th century respectively, although both stand on the sites of medieval places of worship. In the northern suburb of Bengeo lies St Leonard's, a two-celled Norman church of considerable architectural interest.
In Railway Street can be found the oldest purpose-built Quaker Meeting House in the world, in use since 1670.
Hertford Quaker Meeting House
The Parliament of England temporarily moved to Hertford during a plague outbreak in London in 1563. This is why the main square in the town, Parliament Square, is so named, although it is a twentieth-century creation.
The home of Alfred Russel Wallace (see above), now named Wallace House, can be found at 11 St. Andrew St. and is marked with a plaque.
The Hertford Corn Exchange was built on the site of a former gaol. After years in the doldrums it has now reverted to being a live entertainment venue.
The Prince Albert Cottage
The Egyptian House in Fore Street, built c. 1824, is an early example of Egyptian revival architecture. It was a grocery store from the Victorian era until the 1960s, and is currently a restaurant.
The town's bus services are run by a number of companies, most running from the bus station on Bircherley Green, destinations include Bishop's Stortford, Royston, Stevenage, Hatfield and Waltham Cross. Many of these routes receive subsidies from Hertfordshire County Council.
Pinewood and Middleton Schools are special needs schools that are available in neighbouring Ware.
Former schools include The Pines JMI school which was built on the Pinehurst estate in 1977 and closed in 2003.
Hertford Theatre, previously known as Castle Hall, is a modern theatre, cinema and art gallery complex at The Wash in the town centre. The Hertford Corn Exchange is a building where entertainment such as comedy and art exhibitions take place. Hertford has many food, drink and entertainment establishments which have grown in number considerably since the eighties and nineties. It attracts people from nearby towns, and often the North London suburbs. There are approximately 25 pubs and clubs in the area, and around 35 restaurants, takeaways and snack bars.
Hertford also benefits from public swimming pool and gym facilities and a small skatepark, all situated on Hartham Common.
^The Hertford built-up area sub division defined by the Office for National Statistics covers a similar, but not identical, area to the parish, and had a population in the 2011 census of 26,658.
^Some sources differ on the date of the founding of the burhs. Stenton (1943) gives the date as 911 whilst Williamson (2000) gives it as 912. Ingram (1823), Giles (1847), Thorpe (1861) and Rook (1997) agree on 913. Page (1912) uses "about 913". All derive their view from different interpretations and translations of the various surviving versions (A to F) of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:
Text A (Winchester) gives the year (in Roman numerals) as 913, but several dates around this section seem to have been adjusted later, and it appears that the year was originally written as 912. The numerals for 914 to 916 also appear in the margin alongside the entry concerning Hertford.
Text B (Abingdon I) does not date the years around this time, but the text clearly marks the start of the entry for each year. A later hand has added dates in the margin, assigning 913 to the entry concerning Hertford.
Texts C (Abingdon II) and D (Worcester) both unambiguously assign the year 913 to the Hertford entry.
Texts E (Peterborough) and F (Canterbury) both have gaps for the years around this time.
The four texts which mention the fortification of Hertford agree that the northern burh was founded around St. Martin's Day (or Martinmas), and the southern burh built between the following rogationtide and midsummer. All four texts present these events within a single paragraph, without indicating that a new year has started. Some sources take this to mean that the northern burh was built around the feast of St Martin of Tours on 11 November and the southern burh in the spring of the following year. Thorpe (1861) proposed that the St Martin's Day in question was more likely to be 14 April, which was formerly marked as the anniversary of St Martin the Confessor, which would place the construction of the northern burh around April and the southern burh in May and June of the same year.