Hemel Hempstead

From Academic Kids

Hemel Hempstead
OS Grid Reference:Template:Gbmappingsmall
Region:East of England
Ceremonial County:Hertfordshire
Traditional County:Hertfordshire
Postal County:Hertfordshire
Post Office and Telephone
Postcode:HP1, HP2, HP3
Dialling Code:01442

Template:GBdot Hemel Hempstead is a town in Hertfordshire, England with a population of 81,143 at the 2001 Census. Developed after World War II as a new town, it has existed as a settlement since the 8th century. It is part of the district of Dacorum and returns its own MP to Parliament at Westminster.



Hemel Hempstead (known locally as "Hemel") lies in a shallow chalkland valley at the confluence of the rivers Gade and Bulbourne. The main railway line from London Euston to the Midlands passes through Hemel Hempstead railway station to the west of the town, alongside the Grand Union Canal. These communication links, as well as the original A41 trunk road, all follow the natural course of the Bulbourne valley. In the 1990s, a motorway style bypass was built further west and numbered as the A41, which does not follow the natural lie of the land. Hemel is also linked to the M1 motorway to the east. The M25 is a few miles to the south. To the North and West lie mixed farm and woodland with scattered villages part of the Chiltern Hills. To the South lies Watford and east lies St Albans. Possibly the best view of Hemel Hempstead in its physical setting is from the top of Roughdown Common a chalk hill to the south of the town.

Origin of the Name

The name is referred to in the Domesday Book as "Hamelamesede", but in later centuries it became Hamelhamsted. Hemel probably came from "Haemele" which was the name of the district in the eighth century and is most likely named after the land owner. Hempstead probably originated from "hamstede" which means homestead.


Missing image
Hemel Hempstead Old Town

Hemel is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, though its existence can be traced back several hundred years before that. The church of St Mary was built in 1140, one of the finest Norman churches in the county. The church features a very tall spire added in the 12th century, and one of Europe's tallest. In Tudor times, the town was granted a charter by King Henry VIII to become a market town. The King and Anne Boleyn are reputed to have stayed in the town at this time. In the 1970s, some unusually fine Tudor wall paintings were discovered in some cottages in Piccotts End, very close to Hemel.

Hemel steadily expanded, and became a borough in Victorian times. After World War II, the town expanded rapidly with the displacement of population from London - slums and bombsites were being cleared, and new towns built in the surrounding areas. From 1950 through to the end of the 1980s, Hemel grew to its present population of 80,000, with new developments enveloping the original town on all sides. The original part of Hemel is still known as the "Old Town".

The New Town

Hemel Hempstead was announced as candidate No 3. for a New Town in July 1946, in accordance with the government's "policy for the decentralisation of persons and industry from London". Initially there was much resistance and hostility to the plan from locals, especially when it was revealed that any development would be carried out not by the local council but by a newly appointed government body, the Hemel Hempstead Development Corporation (later amalgamated with similar bodies to form the Commission for the New Towns). However, following a public inquiry the following year, the town got the go-ahead. Hemel officially became a New Town on February 4, 1947.

The initial plans for the New Town were drawn up by architect G. A. Jellicoe. His view of Hemel Hempstead, he said, was “not a city in a garden, but a city in a park.” However the plans were not well-received by most locals. Revised, and less radical plans were drawn up, and the first developments proceeded despite local protests in July 1948. The first area to be developed was Adeyfield. At this time the plans for a double "magic" roundabout at Moor End were first put forward, but in fact it was not until 1973 that the roundabout was opened as it was originally designed. The first houses erected as part of the New Town plan were in Longlands, Adeyfield, and went up in the spring of 1949. The first new residents moved in in early 1950.

At this time, work started on building new factories and industrial areas, to avoid the town becoming a dormitory town. The first factory was erected in 1950 in Maylands Avenue. As building progressed with continuing local opposition, the town was becoming increasingly popular with those moving in from areas of north London. By the end of 1951, there was a waiting list of about 10,000 wishing to move to Hemel. The neighbourhoods of Bennett's End, Chaulden and Warner's End were started. The Queen paid a visit shortly after her accession in 1952, and laid a foundation stone for a new church in Adeyfield - one of her first public engagements as Queen.

The redevelopment of the town centre was started in 1952, with a new centre based on Marlowes. The old centre of the High Street was to remain largely undeveloped, though the market square closed and was replaced by a much larger one in the new centre. The former private estate of Gadebridge was opened as a public park. New schools and roads were built to serve the expanding new neighbourhoods. New housing technology such as prefabrication started to be used from the mid-50s, and house building rates increased dramatically. Highfield was the next neighbourhood to be constructed. The M1 motorway opened to the east in 1959, and a new road connecting it to the town was opened.

By 1962, the redevelopment of the new town as originally envisaged was largely complete, though further expansion plans were then put forward. The nearby USAF base of Bovingdon, which had served as the town's de facto airport, closed at this time, though private flying continued for a further 7 years. Dacorum College, the library, new Police station and the Paviliion (theatre and music venue) were all built during the 1960s. The town seemed to attract its fair share of celebrity openings, with shops and businesses opened by Frankie Vaughan, Benny Hill, Terry Thomas, and the new cinema was opened by Lauren Bacall. The last of the originally-planned neighbourhoods, Grovehill, began construction in 1967. However, further neighbourhoods of Woodhall Farm and Fields End were later built as part of the extended plans.

Like other first generation new towns, Hemel is divided into residential neighbourhoods, each with their own "village centre" with shops, pubs and services. Each neighbourhood is designed around a few major feeder roads with many smaller cul-de-sacs and crescents, intended to minimise traffic and noise nuisance. In keeping with the optimism of the early postwar years, much of the town features modernist architecture with many unusual and experimental designs for housing. Not all of these have stood the test of time.

Hemel neighbourhoods:

  • Adeyfield, Apsley, Bennetts End, Boxmoor, Chaulden, Gadebridge, Grove Hill, Highfield, High Street Green, Leverstock Green, Nash Mills, Warner's End, Woodhall Farm.

Political representation

Hemel Hempstead returns its own MP at Westminster. At the May 2005 General election the seat changed from Labour to Conservative. Mike Penning, (Conservative), was elected with a majority of 499.

The previous MP was Tony McWalter, (Labour), first elected 1997.

Industry and Commerce

Hemel Hempstead has a mixture of heavy and light engineering companies and has attracted a significant number of information and telecommunications sector companies helped by its proximity to London and the UK motorway network. However (and again in common with many new towns) it has a much narrower business base than established centres, particularly Watford and St Albans.

Historically, the area was mostly agricultural with dairy and arable farming. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Hemel was a noted watercress growing area, supplying 1/16th of the country's national demand - following development of the New Town, the watercress growing moved to nearby Berkhamstead and Tring. The cress beds were redeveloped as the modern day Water Gardens. A traditional employer in the area was also Brock's, manufacturer of fireworks. The factory was a significant employer since well before World War II, and remained in production until the mid 1970s. The present-day neighbourhood of Woodhall farm was subsequently built on the site. In the 19th century, Hemel was a noted brickmaking, paper manufacturing and straw-plaiting centre. Indeed, in 1803 the first automatic paper-making machinery was developed in Hemel by the Fourdrinier brothers at Frogmore.

Significant firms with a local presence include:

  • ACT (formerly Apricot Computers)
  • Aquascutum, Clothing manufacturer
  • BP Oil, petroleum
  • British Telecom, telecommunications
  • BSI (British Standards Institution) materials testing
  • Bull (formerly Honeywell), computers
  • Dixons, electrical retailer (national headquarters)
  • DuPont, petrochemicals
  • Epson, computers
  • Fujifilm UK HQ electronics and photography
  • Kodak, photography - (In March 2005 Kodak announced that it would vacate its central headquarters tower block in Hemel)
  • Lucas Aerospace
  • NEXT, clothing (distribution centre)
  • Sappi group, paper, at Nash Mills
  • Unisys, computers
  • Xerox, photocopiers
  • Kent's Brushes - has manufactured high quality hair and paint brushes at Apsley since 1901.

Just east of the town is the Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal (HOSL), known locally as the Buncefield complex. This is a major hub on the UK oil pipeline network (UKOP) with pipelines to Humberside, Merseyside, and Heathrow and Gatwick airports radiating from here.

Significant firms with a past local presence include:

Hemel's Notable Features

Hemel is famous (or perhaps notorious) for its "Magic Roundabout" (officially called the Moor End roundabout, or "The Plough Roundabout" from a former adjacent public house), a huge interchange at the end of the new town (Moor End), where traffic from six routes meet. Traffic is able to circulate in both directions around what appears to be a main central roundabout (and formerly was such), with the normal rules applying at each of the six mini-roundabouts encircling this central reservation. It is a misconception that the traffic flows the 'wrong' way around the inner roundabout; as it is not in fact a roundabout at all, and as such no roundabout rules apply to it. Easy for locals, it presents a challenge for those who encounter it for the first time, and broken glass and plastic from minor collisions constantly decorate the road surface.

Hemel claims to have the first purpose built multi-storey car park in Britain. Built in 1960 into the side of a hill in the Marlowes shopping district, it features a giant humorous mosaic map of the area by the artist Rowland Emett.

The new town centre is laid out alongside landscaped gardens and water features formed from the River Gade known as the Watergardens. The main shopping street, Marlowes, was pedestrianised in the early 1990s.

For many years the lower end of Marlowes featured a distinctive office building built as a bridge-like structure straddling the main road. This building was erected on the site of an earlier railway viaduct carrying the Hemel to Harpenden railway, known as The Nicky Line. When the new town was constructed, this part of the railway was no longer in use and the viaduct demolished. The office building, occupied by British Petroleum, was designed to create a similar skyline and effect as the viaduct. In the early 1980s it was discovered that the building was subsiding dangerously and it was subsequently vacated and demolished. Adjacent to BP buildings was a unique double-helix public car park. The lower end of Marlowes is being redeveloped into the Riverside shopping complex, due for completion at the end of 2005.

A few hundred metres away, overlooking the 'magic roundabout', is Hemel's tallest building; the 19-storey Kodak building.

The Heathrow airport holding area known as the Bovingdon stack lies just west of the town . On a clear day at peak times the sky above can be seen to be filled with circling aircraft.

Hemel has a very large chav population and is dubiously honoured as having one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates for a town of its size.

Notable People

  • John Dickinson (inventor) 1782 - 1869, founder of the paper mills at Apsley & Nash Mills which evolved into John Dickenson plc, built and lived at Abbots Wood, Nash Mills.
  • Lyn Harding 1867 - 1952 actor and film star lived at a house called Logandene in Tile Kiln Lane, Leverstock Green, Hemel Hempstead.
  • Bill Morris former leader of the TGWU, lived in Hemel Hempstead and still lives within the Borough of Dacorum.

Also born in Hemel were Oliver Low, Alison Wheeler and Anthony Davidson.

Related Articles

The nineteenth century mill town of Apsley now forms part of Hemel Hemstead.

External links

  • Dacorum Borough Council ( Local authority pages on Hemel Hempstead.
  • Hemel Web ( Community web page.
  • Hemel on-line ( Hemel local newspaper 'The Gazette', includes extensive local history pages.
  • The "knowhere guide" ( Open source guide to the Hemel local scene and gossip.

Nearby Places

To the north

To the south

To the east

To the west


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