The Historic Hertford to Haileybury College is a walk that covers the centuries from the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, The Normans to Jane Austen and a 19th century school. The school has strong associations with the British Empire and personal connections for me.
The walk starts in Hertford town centre and takes just under 3 hours to complete with only a 100m elevation over 12.5km.
The town of Hertford has a long history. Hertford was the host of the first synod of British Bishops who met to discuss the calculation of Easter in 673. The town also appeared in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People in 743. He refers to Herutford. Herut is the Old English spelling of Hart, a mature Stag. Herutford was, therefore, a ford where stags were found. Naturally the town in also mentioned in The Domesday Book. But there is evidence that communities farmed the area in the late stone and bronze ages.
The walk starts at St Nicholas Hall, number 43 Andrew Street, which was originally known as the
Verger’s House. The Grade II listed building was erected in 1450, altered and extended in the 17th century and extensively restored at the end of the 19th century. St Nicholas refers to a nearby parish church demolished in 1675.
Just around the corner is St Andrews Church built in 1870. However there has been a church on this site since 860 AD. The church at that time was built of wattle-and-daub and destroyed by the Danes (Vikings) in 894. Over the centuries the Church has been rebuilt several times until it’s present incarnation.
From St Andrews walk a few steps and cross the River Lee. The river is a real industrial hub further down stream, and leads into the Thames just opposite the Millennium Dome. In Hertford it is little more than a meandering stream.
Hertford Castle Gatehouse
On the other side of the Lee sits the Hertford Castle Gatehouse.
This central section of the gatehouse was built between 1463-1465 for Edward IV. In the above photo you can see the curve of this original 15th century entrance. This entrance was open and lead straight through to the castle.
There has been a castle on this spot from Saxon times. By the time of the Norman invasion in 1066 the castle was a motte and bailey construction. This consisted of a large earthen mound with a strong wooden tower on top. It was also surrounded by a moat, fed by the River Lee.
In 1154 Henry II ascended the throne and strengthened many fortifications around England, including Hertford. He replaced the wooden palisade outer wall with flint walls that can still be seen today.
The road to Haileybury College
The path then crosses the 1960’s ring road and rises out of the Lee Valley and up to the headquarters of Hertfordshire County Council. The building was opened one month before the start of World War II. The style of County Hall is typical of the late 30’s.
Cross the road and follow Morgans Road until it becomes a track unsuitable for motor vehicles and continue on.
Balls Wood and other stories
The path cuts off to the left across open fields and soon approaches Balls Wood.
The wood is named after Simon de Balle who represented Hertford at the parliament of 1298. He along with John de Westreete were summoned by Edward I to seek approval and taxes for the King’s campaign in Scotland. Edward, was known as the Hammer of the Scots. The Battle of Falkirk in July 1298 was a decisive English victory. It also the beginning of the end for the Scottish general and leader, William Wallace. He escaped the battle but was hunted down and eventually captured in 1305. Needless to say Wallace didn’t enjoy a comfortable retirement.
The Roman Road
After wondering through Balls Wood and walking along some very muddy paths we came out onto Ermine Street. This was part of the original roman road that ran from
London to York. As we walked along this small section it was very difficult to imagine romans marching along the route. We saw no Roman helmets, swords or any other paraphernalia of passing roman soldiers in the ditches. Instead the path was being re-layed by the council with stones and tar macadam.
After leaving Ermine Street and the ghosts of countless roman legions the path turns into Hertford Heath and then to Haileybury College. The college has an interesting history. It was originally established by the East India Company. The company ruled India for 100 years with it’s own army. The college was there to provide a boarding education for the children of senior employees.
The school was founded in 1806 and is still going strong. I recently found two old postcards from the college. I was aware that my grandfather, who squandered all his parents considerable wealth on wine and women, had been a pupil of the school. By writing to the school I also discovered that my great-grandfather(born in 1846) and his brother were pupils. They obviously considered their time at the school worthwhile as they both sent their sons to Haileybury college.
One of the postcards shows the cricket pavilion at the beginning of the 20th century. I sneaked into the grounds and took a quick picture of the same pavilion. Unfortunately I couldn’t take the photo from the same place as the original. Nonetheless it’s quite easy to see that very little about the building has changed.
Back to Hertford
We left the grounds of Haileybury College and walked back through the woods of Hertford Heath where we stopped for a picnic lunch. We were now over half way round the Historic Hertford to Haileybury walk.
I enjoyed my cheese sandwich and the very lovely cake my wife had made before we moved on. We passed through Hertford Heath. Unfortunately we also had to pass by what I was assured was an excellent establishment, The Goat. This covid lockdown is a pain in so many ways.
Balls Park & Jane Austen
The next section of the walk was less pleasant. We followed a busy road for approximately a quarter mile, before entering Balls Park. We are now connected to the 17th century when the estate and house were constructed.
The house is a Grade I listed building constructed in 1637-1640, just before the English Civil War. Sir John Harrison who built the house supported the Royalists during the war. The house is thought to have been an inspiration for some settings Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, which is set in Hertfordshire.
The Netherfield Ball in Pride and Prejudice was meant to have taken place in the Yeomanry House below. This house was built in 1725 and Jane Austen could well have attended a dance there.
Find out more details on the place of balls in Georgian and Regency England.
A 15th Century Inn still survives today
Finally, before we finished our tour we passed the beautiful old inn, The Salisbury Arms.
This tavern was originally established in 1421 and called the Bell. It changed it’s name in the mid-16th century. The inn then expanded in the 17th century to a full blown coaching inn with courtyard and stables to accommodate the growing traffic from Hertford. The name of the tavern derives the Earl of Salisbury who owned the estate of Hertford castle from 1625. All historic trivia about a lovely building in the middle of Hertford.
The Historic Hertford to Haileybury walk lasted for just under 3 hours. It reminded me of the vast amount of visible history all around us.
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