View from Market Square in Hitchin, with St Mary's Church in the background
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Postcode district||SG4, SG5|
|Ambulance||East of England|
Hitchin (//) is a market town and unparished area in the North Hertfordshire district in Hertfordshire, England, with an estimated population of 35,842.
Hitchin is first noted as the central place of the Hicce people, a tribe holding 300 hides of land as mentioned in a 7th-century document, the Tribal Hidage. Hicce, or Hicca, may mean the people of the horse. The tribal name is Old English and derives from the Middle Anglian people. It has been suggested that Hitchin was the location of 'Clofeshoh', the place chosen in 673 by Theodore of Tarsus the Archbishop of Canterbury during the Synod of Hertford, the first meeting of representatives of the fledgling Christian churches of Anglo-Saxon England, to hold annual synods of the churches as Theodore attempted to consolidate and centralise Christianity in England.
By 1086 Hitchin is described as a Royal Manor in Domesday Book: the feudal services of avera and inward, usually found in the eastern counties, especially Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire, were due from the sokemen, but the manor of Hitchin was unique in levying inward. Evidence has been found to suggest that the town was once provided with an earthen bank and ditch fortification, probably in the early tenth century but this did not last. The modern spelling of the town first appears in 1618 in the "Hertfordshire Feet of Fines".
The name of the town also is associated with the small river that runs through it, most picturesquely in front of the east end of St. Mary's Church, the town's parish church. The river is noted on maps as the River Hiz. Contrary to how most people now pronounce the name, that is to say as spelt, the 'z' is an abbreviated character for a 'tch' sound in the Domesday Book (as in the name of the town). It would have been pronounced 'River Hitch'. The Hicca Way is an eight-mile (thirteen-kilometre) walking route along the River Hiz Valley, believed to have been used for trade between the Danes and English in the Anglo-Saxon age. It is also likely that Hitch Wood, which lies some six miles (ten kilometres) south of the town also derives its name from the Hicce tribe, who gave their name to Hitchin.
St. Mary's Church is remarkably large for a town of its size and was once a Minster. The size of the church is evidence of how Hitchin prospered from the wool trade. It is the largest parish church in Hertfordshire. Most of the church dates from the 15th century, with its tower dating from around 1190. During the laying of a new floor in the church in 1911, foundations of a more ancient church building were found. In form, they appear to be a basilican church of a 7th-century type, with a later enlarged chancel and transepts, perhaps added in the 10th century. This makes the church older than the story (not recorded before the 15th century) that the church was founded by Offa, king of Mercia 757-796.
In 1697, Hitchin (and the nearby village of Offley) were subject to what is thought to have been the most severe hailstorm in recorded British history. Hailstones over 4 inches in diameter were reported
The town flourished on the wool trade, and, located near the Icknield Way, by the 17th century was a staging post for coaches coming from London. 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 M1, and the A1 (M) even closer. By the close of the 20th century, Hitchin had developed a strong commuter interest being midway between London and Cambridge. Hitchin also developed a fairly strong Sikh community based around the Walsworth area.
During the medieval period, both a priory (Newbigging, now known as The Biggin) and a friary (now known as Hitchin Priory) were established, both of which closed during Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries. They were never reformed, although The Biggin was for many years used as almshouses.
The British Schools Museum in Hitchin is home to the world's only surviving complete Lancasterian Schoolroom, which was built in 1837 to teach boys by the Lancasterian method (peer tutoring). This unique community project demonstrates the foundation of education for all.
Girton College – a pioneer in women's education – was established on 16 October 1869 under the name of College for Women at Benslow House in Hitchin, which was considered to be a convenient distance from Cambridge and London. It was thought to be less 'risky' and less controversial to locate the college away from Cambridge in the beginning. The college moved to Cambridge a few years later and adopted its present name, Girton College.
Hitchin is in the district of North Hertfordshire. There is no town council in Hitchin, which is an unparished area, administered directly by North Hertfordshire District Council, with higher order functions provided by Hertfordshire County Council. Residents elect 13 members to the North Hertfordshire District Council. There are five electoral wards in Hitchin: Bearton, Highbury, Oughton, Priory and Walsworth. The 13 Hitchin councillors on the district council meet as the Hitchin Committee.
The town is represented in Parliament by the constituency of Hitchin and Harpenden. The incumbent Conservative Party MP Bim Afolami was elected in 2017. Between 1983 and 1997 Hitchin was included in the constituency of North Hertfordshire. Before that it was in the constituency of Hitchin.
The ancient parish of Hitchin covered an extensive rural area as well as the town itself, including Langley and Preston. The parish of Hitchin was administered by its vestry, in the same way as most rural areas; no borough corporation was established for the town, despite some limited moves in that direction in the thirteenth century. Hitchin also gave its name to one of the hundreds of Hertfordshire. The Hitchin Poor Law Union was established in 1835, covering the parish of Hitchin and many of the surrounding parishes in north-western Hertfordshire, plus the parish of Holwell which was in Bedfordshire. In 1891 the parish had a population of 9510.
|Local Board of Health District (1850–1858)|
Local Government District (1873–1894)
Urban District (1894–1974)
Town Hall, Brand Street, Hitchin
|• Created||1850 (first creation)|
1873 (second creation)
|• Abolished||31 March 1974|
|• Succeeded by||North Hertfordshire|
|• County Council||Hertfordshire|
In 1850 a local board of health was established for the town. Such boards were created under the Public Health Act 1848, and were focussed on improving public health in towns. The first election to the Hitchin Local Board was held on 2 May 1850. The board proceeded to build a waterworks and install new sewers for the town, which had previously used the River Hiz as a public sewer. However, the board quickly became embroiled in legal disputes with Joshua Ransom, owner of Grove Mill, who complained about the flow of water and sewage at his mill. No solution could be found which would allow the board to continue to operate, and gradually all the board members resigned. By December 1857 the board only had three members, at which point it effectively ceased to function. New members were elected in March 1858, but none was prepared to take the declaration of office unless Ransom accepted an offer of settlement which had been put to him. He did not accept the offer and so the board became defunct, and the town was once again governed by the parish vestry alone. The Times was scathing of the Hitchin Local Board's inability to negotiate a solution, saying "...they simply resigned, like rustics of unfertile brains...". Legal action continued for some years afterwards trying to resolve who was liable for the old board's debts.
In August 1872 sanitary districts were established, with public health and local government responsibilities being given to boards of guardians of the poor law unions for all areas which did not have urban authorities (including local boards). As Hitchin's previous local board was defunct, the town therefore became part of the Hitchin Rural Sanitary District, governed by the Hitchin Board of Guardians. On 31 October 1872 a meeting was held in the town with the aim of securing a new board to allow the town to govern itself independently. A new board was eventually granted, with the first meeting being held on 24 December 1873 at the (old) Town Hall.
Under the Local Government Act 1894, urban sanitary districts became urban districts on 31 December 1894. Hitchin Local Board therefore became Hitchin Urban District Council. The act also stipulated that a parish could not be partly in an urban district and partly outside it. The old parish of Hitchin was therefore split, with the parts outside the urban district becoming the three separate civil parishes of Langley, Preston, and Walsworth with effect from their first parish meetings on 4 December 1894. The three new rural parishes were all included in the Hitchin Rural District.
The Urban District Council took over the existing Town Hall on Brand Street, which had been built in 1840. In 1900 the council built a new Town Hall on the opposite side of the street, incorporating a large public hall. The older building became known as Old Town Hall, but continued to serve as office space for the council in addition to the new Town Hall.
On 1 April 1921, Walsworth parish was abolished and the area was incorporated into Hitchin Urban District.
Hitchin Urban District Council was granted a coat of arms on 25 November 1936.
Hitchin Urban District was abolished under the Local Government Act 1972, becoming part of the district of North Hertfordshire on 1 April 1974. No successor parish was created for the town, and so it became an unparished area.
See also: Hitchin railway station
Hitchin railway station is on the East Coast Main Line Great Northern Line, and is also on the Cambridge Line as the last stop before it diverges towards Cambridge, 1.42 kilometres (0.88 mi) to the north east of Hitchin. The station is a call on services provided by Govia Thameslink Railway under its Great Northern and Thameslink brands. These provide direct connections to Cambridge, Letchworth Garden City, Peterborough and London Kings Cross; as well as St Pancras International, Gatwick Airport, Three Bridges and Brighton. Journeys to London and Cambridge typically take 33 minutes. Journeys to Stevenage take 5 minutes, Peterborough 45 minutes, and Gatwick Airport 78 minutes.
Hitchin Rail Users Group serve as the local voluntary group actively consulting with train companies on behalf of local people.
The A505, A600 and A602 roads intersect in Hitchin, which is about three miles (5 km) from the A1(M) motorway and about ten miles (16 km) from the M1 motorway.
Hitchin is about 14.48 km (9.00 mi) from Luton Airport, with a direct bus service linking the two. The connections are provided by National Express (number 787) or Arriva in Herts and Essex (100 Saphire services).
Hitchin is well served by local buses including Arriva, Centrebus, Grant Palmer, Stagecoach and Uno.
There are several primary schools in Hitchin. Secondary education is provided at Hitchin Girls' School, Hitchin Boys' School and the Priory School. There is a campus of the North Hertfordshire College in Hitchin, and it is also the home of the Benslow Music Trust which provides music education for adults, while North Herts Music School adjoined to Hitchin Girls' School delivers music lessons & activities for children & young people.
The Emil Dale Academy is located on Wilbury Way in Hitchin. EDA is a drama school where students train and study for a BA (hons) degree in Musical Theatre in partnership with the University of Bedfordshire. The school also has a sixth form and a weekend school.
North Hertfordshire Museum has an extensive collection that tells the story of the town and wider area from prehistoric times. The British Schools Museum is housed in original Edwardian and Victorian school buildings.
In March 2013 a poll in The Times voted Hitchin the 9th best town in the UK in which to live.
Hitchin hosts an annual Arts and Music Festival with over 100 events taking place during the month. Hitchin Festival includes picnics, concerts, theatre, ghost walks, art exhibitions, comedy club, talks, summer fetes and fireworks. Since 2014, Hitchin has hosted a yarn festival.
Music plays a very big part all year round with many venues hosting regular gigs. Hitchin Folk Club is one of the longest running and most respected clubs in the country meeting at The Cricket Pavilion, Lucas Lane on Sunday evenings; Hitchin Light Orchestra, Hitchin Symphony Orchestra and Hitchin Chamber Orchestra give regular concerts often in St Mary's Church and Hitchin Band perform around the country in brass band championship competition as well as the home town.
An independent music venue, Club 85, hosts an "eclectic mix of contemporary bands and DJs" in the area.
There are three theatres in the town. The Factory Playhouse is located on Wilbury Way and is the theatre of Emil Dale Academy. They host several full-scale musicals each year with professional producers, directors, choreographers and West End musicians. The Market Theatre, Hitchin is a professional theatre, has a year-round programme including comedy plays, thrillers, historical shows, jazz nights and cocktail evenings. The Market Theatre is known for its annual Adult Panto (running between December and May) which also tours nationally. Additionally, the Queen Mother Theatre hosts the town's Bancroft Players, Big Spirit Youth Theatre and occasional visiting companies as well as Hitchin Films in the Richard Whitmore Studio.
Hitchin Market remains one of the largest in the area with general markets every Tuesday and Saturday, a bric-a-brac and collectables market on Fridays, and a Sunday Car Boot. There are also Local Produce and Crafts specialist markets on the last Saturday of each month. A Lifestyle market is held on every second Saturday of the month, while infrequently there are occasional Art Markets. Hitchin Markets is also the venue for the annual Duck Race during Hitchin Festival.
The town centre has a wealth of independent retailers in food and drink and fashion and the historic core is a place to find niche boutiques. Since 1995, Hitchin has benefited from award-winning town centre management and in 2009 established one of Hertfordshire's first Business Improvement Districts.
In 2019 the town's centre was a finalist for England in the Visa/UK Government Great British High Street Awards.
There are a number of organisations for young people, including 1066 Hitchin Squadron ATC, Hitchin Army Cadets, Sea Cadets Letchworth and Hitchin, as well as various scouting groups.
The main burial ground for the town is Hitchin Cemetery on St. John's Road.
Hitchin is twinned with:
See also: Hitchin Rugby Club
Hitchin Rugby Club was founded in 1954 and competes in rugby union at all age levels within the Hitchin area. This includes teams at ages 7 to 12, 13 to 17, under 19s, seniors, over 35s, and a Ladies side.
The club's highlights have included playing at Twickenham in the final of the national Junior RFU Cup in 1993 and the establishment of the country's first Academy. Currently membership stands at over 500 people. The club are also active as a voluntary group with their community development programme.
See also: Hitchin Town F.C.
Hitchin Town F.C. was established in 1865 and later reformed in 1928. It is one of only three clubs who competed in the inaugural FA Cup, paying the then £25 entry fee (£2,892 in 2019 adjusted for inflation), and continue to compete. They claim to be the second oldest club in English football, but some dispute this due to the reformation in the 1920s.
The side currently compete in the Southern League Premier Division Central, the seventh tier of English football. The club play at 4,554-capacity ground Top Field, in the north of the town, and came close to achieving promotion in the late 2010s, but have recently come into a more troubled spell.
Their highlights include wins in the F.A. Cup against higher ranked sides Hereford United in 1994 and Bristol Rovers in 1995 during which period they developed a reputation for "giant-killing".
The side count Hitchin-born England international Jack Wilshere among their supporters. Wilshire studied at the Priory School in the town and now runs a youth scheme called the Jack Wilshere Soccer School.
The club were featured by Sky Sports during their coverage of Non-League Day 2019 (taking place on 12 October each year), with the broadcaster following the match day experience at the club.
Hitchin is also home to Blueharts Hockey Club, a leading club since 1946, with 7 men's teams and 7 women's team plus a thriving junior section. It also houses Hitchin Cricket Club, which has been an important cricket club within the area since 1866.
Hitchin Swimming Club are based locally and competes at local, county and regional level.
The Hitchin Nomads Cycling Club, which caters for many competitive and non-competitive cycling disciplines, was formed in the town in 1931. It is affiliated to British Cycling, the Cyclists' Touring Club, Cycling time trials and local cycling associations. Notable former members include pre-eminent cycling travel writer Harold Briercliffe and Max Pendleton, father of Olympic gold-medallist and track cycling World Champion Victoria Pendleton.
Formed in 2003 and known as FVS TRI until November 2009, Team Trisports is a Hitchin-based triathlon club. In addition to triathlon, the club an England Athletics and British Cycling affiliate.
Hitchin Running Club was formed in 2008 and is one of the most popular clubs in the town. They enjoy a large fan base and many local people of all abilities take part in the social activities. They are based at the rugby club and are a not for profit organisation.
Ickleford is a village situated on the northern outskirts of Hitchin, and to the south are St Ippolyts, Charlton and Gosmore. The nearest towns are Letchworth, Baldock, Stevenage and Luton.
See also: Category:People from Hitchin
Mike Leigh's 1982 film Home Sweet Home for BBC Television was set in Hitchin.
Part of the 2010 BBC TV series Just William was filmed at the British Schools Museum.
Scenes from the BBC drama series Doctor Foster were filmed in Hitchin.
The Channel 4 science fiction TV series Humans was also filmed in the town.