Great Berkhamstead, Urban and Rural

An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Hertfordshire. Originally published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1910.

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, 'Great Berkhamstead, Urban and Rural', in An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Hertfordshire, (London, 1910) pp. 95-100. British History Online [accessed 30 May 2024].

. "Great Berkhamstead, Urban and Rural", in An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Hertfordshire, (London, 1910) 95-100. British History Online, accessed May 30, 2024,

. "Great Berkhamstead, Urban and Rural", An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Hertfordshire, (London, 1910). 95-100. British History Online. Web. 30 May 2024,

In this section

51. GREAT BERKHAMPSTEAD, Urban and Rural.

(O.S. xxxiii. N.W.)


Berkhampstead Church

Reproduced by permission of the Victoria County Histories.

(1). Parish Church of St. Peter, in the middle of the town, is a large cruciform building, of flint with stone dressings; the roofs are covered with lead. Early in the 13th century the church apparently consisted of a chancel, central tower, transepts and an aisleless nave; of this building the Chancel, the lower stages of the Tower and part of the Transepts remain. The Aisles of the nave, and an East Aisle to the N. transept were added c. 1230. A South Chapel, dedicated to St. Katherine, was built on to the chancel early in the 14th century, and the N. transept was made 6 ft. longer c. 1340. The Chapel of St. John the Baptist was built in the angle between the S. aisle and S. transept c. 1350, and in the 15th century a two-storeyed porch, which has since been thrown into the chapel, was added at its W. end. The aisles were restored and the clearstorey added to the nave during the 15th century, and in 1535–6 the upper part of the tower was added or re-built, and a small spire erected above it. In the 19th century the church was restored and the chancel walls were heightened.

The plan of the church is especially interesting on account of the unusual length of the nave, which is nearly five times its width, and, further, all the early 13th-century work is irregularly set out, indicating the existence of an earlier building, though no details remain of a date prior to c. 1200.

Architectural Description—The Chancel (38 ft. by 19 ft.) has a modern E. window; in the N. wall are two 13th-century lancets, a 15th-century blocked doorway, originally leading to a vestry, and, at the W. end of the wall, a plain pointed arch opening into the E. aisle of the N. transept. In the S. wall is a 13th-century lancet, and a 14th-century arch, with modern jambs, opening into the S. chapel. The South Chapel of St. Katherine (25 ft. by 18 ft.) has an E. window of three lights with net tracery, and, in the S. wall, two windows of two lights each, with similar detail. The W. arch has plain detail of the 14th century. Under this chapel is a vaulted crypt. The Central Tower (17 ft. by 16 ft.) is of three stages, with an embattled parapet and a small leaded spire. The walls are 5 ft. thick, and the ground stage has on each side a 13th-century pointed arch of three square orders with shafted jambs, moulded capitals and bases: the original work extends to the top of the second stage. The third stage has two-light traceried windows in each face; the names of the builders, John and Alyce Phylypp, were recorded on a stone below the S. window, now too much decayed to be legible. The North Transept (36 ft. by 19 ft.) has a four-light N. window, and a window of three lights in the W. wall, both with net tracery and moulded rear arches. On the E. side is an arcade of two bays, with an octagonal central column and pointed arches, opening into the East Aisle (31 ft. by 16 ft.), which has two E. windows, and a N. window, each of three lights with tracery, moulded and ornamented rear arches, and attached jamb shafts, all inserted c. 1340, but much restored. The ceiling is vaulted in two bays with moulded diagonal ribs. The South Transept (29 ft. by 16 ft.) has a four-light S. window with modern tracery, and a modern S. doorway. On the W. side is an arcade of two bays with a clustered column and moulded arches of the 14th century. The Nave (103 ft. by 21 ft.) is of seven bays, with pointed arches of two orders and circular columns which have moulded bases and capitals, except the two E. columns in the S. arcade, and one in the N. arcade, which are of four engaged shafts; the E. responds resemble the last in detail, and the W. responds have half-round columns. The clearstorey has, on each side, six traceried windows of two lights. The W. window and doorway are modern. The North Aisle (10 ft. wide) has a 15th-century N. doorway, blocked, and W. of it a 13th-century two-light window with tracery, moulded rear arch and shafted jambs with moulded capitals. The other two N. windows and one in the W. wall are of the 15th century, with modern tracery. In the N.E. corner is the newel staircase, leading to the former rood-loft. The South Aisle retains no 13th-century detail, though the walls are original; the two E. bays open into the Chapel of St. John the Baptist (48 ft. by 15½ ft. at the E. end, and 10 ft. at the W. end); the third bay opens into the site of the S. porch, now part of the chapel. One column between the chapel and aisle is of modern stonework, the other of 14th-century woodwork, octagonal, with moulded capital and base; the detail of the chapel is modern.

Fittings—Brasses: on N. wall of chancel, figures, part of canopy, imperfect inscription and arms; said to be of Richard Torrington, 1356, and Margaret his wife, 1349: in floor of chancel, half-figure of priest in Eucharistic vestments, c. 1400: in N. transept, figure of woman, c. 1360, no inscription: of Richard Westbroke, 1485, with inscription: on window sill in aisle of N. transept, palimpsest in two pieces; obverse, Latin inscription, said to be to John Waterhouse and his wife, 1558–9; reverse, fragments of shrouded figures of Thomas Humfre, c. 1470, his wife, children, and symbolical figure of St. Michael, with part of inscription: in St. John's Chapel, of John Raven, 1395, knight in armour, with inscription: to Robert Incent, 1485, inscription only: of Katherine, wife of Robert Incent 1520, shrouded figure (see also Monuments). Chest: in N. transept, early 17th-century. Glass: in N.E. lancet of chancel, two shields with arms of England, one ensigned with a crown, and another shield with arms of Archbishop Chicheley, 1414–43: in N.W. lancet of chancel, in windows of aisle of N. transept, and in W. window of nave, fragments. Monuments: between chancel and aisle of N. transept, altar tomb, with alabaster effigies of knight, in plate armour, and lady, late 14th-century, said to be an Incent, and his wife, a Torrington; the sides have traceried panels, the alternate panels contain shields and arms of Incent and Torrington; in S. chapel, two tomb recesses, early 14th-century, much mutilated; the head of one is restored, the other contains 14th-century coffin lid with floriated cross: at E. end of N. aisle, altar tomb, of Sir John Cornwallis, 1544; Purbeck marble, with part of brass shield of arms at the top: altar tomb, black and white marble, of John Sayer, chief cook to Charles II., 1682, with arms and inscription. Niche: over N. doorway, shallow, 15th-century. Piscinae: in chancel, basin 13th-century, head modern: in aisle of N. transept, 14th-century: in S. chapel, 14th-century. Plate: includes cup of 1629, alms-dish of 1637 given in 1855. Screen: in W. arch of tower, 15th-century, partly restored, modern figures in lower panels.

Condition—Good; carefully restored.


(2). Berkhampstead Castle (Mount and Bailey), N. of the town, in the bottom of a wide, shallow combe, running S. to the river Bulbourne, stands about 340 ft. above O.D.

The earthworks form one of the finest examples of a Norman military fortress, and present the unusual feature of a series of concentric defences and outworks, which are exceptionally well preserved. The castle was besieged and taken by Louis of France in 1216.

The Keep Mount is a large truncated mount, 40 ft. high above its ditch, and carries the foundations of a circular shellkeep, 60 ft. in external diameter, with walls of flint rubble, 8 ft. thick. On the S.W. a small fore-building connects the keep with two wing walls, which formerly descended the mount and joined the curtain wall; only a few feet remain of the S. wall. The other is 12 ft. thick, and has been breached near its lower end in filling up the ditch between the mount and bailey. Inside the keep is a well, lined with 12th-century masonry, and the remains of a fireplace, probably of the 15th century, with stone curbs and arch, and backed with herring-bone tiles. The Bailey, which covers about 2¾ acres, and lies S.W. of the mount, stands 6 ft. above its ditch, and is partly surrounded by a light bank and a 12th-century curtain wall of flint rubble, about 7 ft. thick. The foundations of two hollow, semi-circular flanking towers remain on the E. side, 30 ft. wide. A gap in the S. wall indicates the position of a gateway (9 ft. wide), which has two flanking towers projecting 8 ft. outwards towards the ditch, and 20 ft. inwards. Opposite these, and in a line with them, on the middle bank, are two pieces of flint rubble wall, 14 ft. apart, forming a portion of the original approach from the town. A few fragments of wall continue the line of the curtain round the S.W. corner towards a large and nearly rectangular Tower, about 40 ft. by 50 ft., in the middle of the W. side. This tower stands across the curtain wall, and is contemporary with it. Only the basement and the N.W. angle of the upper part remain. A short flight of steps on the N. side formerly led from the bailey to the first floor. The angles of the tower project as pilasters except on the E. A 12th-century jamb and two steps in the S.W. angle indicate the approach to a staircase. Outside the curtain, a later building, probably of the 13th century, has been added on the W. and N.W., but only three cellars, built of flint rubble, remain, with connecting doors and a corner hearth. Heraldic and other ornamental floor tiles have been found here. N. of this building are two walls, making, with the reentrant angle, another and later addition, probably of the 14th century. The curtain wall, much overthrown, continues N. to the N.W. angle, where it has been strengthened outside, at its base, by a solid segmental projection of flint rubble, possibly the base of a flanking breastwork. A little to the S.W. lies a rectangular tongue of masonry, with chalk filling (18 ft. by 16 ft.), of about the 14th century; it projects towards the ditch without joining the curtain, and was possibly the approach to a bridge. The curtain wall on the N. has been removed completely except at the N.E. angle, where there are remains of a postern gate passage leading N.; near it are the foundations of some rectangular chambers. A short piece of a cross wall remains, apparently dividing the bailey into two unequal wards, and abutting against the E. curtain, near its N. end. The foundations of a tower (about 18 ft. square), exist at the junction, and there are indications of a range of buildings on the S. of the cross wall. Outworks: a wet ditch surrounds the inner bailey and broadens out on the S.E. and the W. to form pools, the latter being of considerable extent. Beyond this is a bank 10 ft. to 17 ft. high, carrying a modern path. At the S.E. and S.W. corners are mounts or cavaliers, 7 ft. to 9 ft. higher, and there is a similar mount opposite the postern gate on the N. A middle ditch follows the line of this bank except on the S., where it has been encroached upon by the London and NorthWestern Railway, and a modern road. An outer bank, 10 ft. to 22 ft. high, covers the N. and part of the E. sides, and against its outer slope, and level with its crest, are placed eight large platforms, about 55 ft. to 65 ft. long. Five are on the N. and three on the E. These are possibly siege platforms of the 13th century. There is a slight and ill-defined outer ditch communicating at the N.E. angle with the middle ditch through a gap in the outer bank, and again beyond the westernmost platform. Entrances: the gate on the S. leading direct to the town in line with Castle Street; the postern (or Derne-gate) on the N.; the "great gate" on the W. is alluded to in several surveys, but the position is indeterminate. This gate was covered by a large ravelin or barbican, now partly obliterated by a modern road, and the S. portion forms a watercress bed. The present entrance is by a modern cut through the middle bank.

Dimensions—Greatest length from outer ditch on N.E. to road on S.W., 900 ft. Greatest width from modern road on W. to outer ditch on E., 800 ft. Length of bailey, N. to S., 450 ft.; width, W. to E., 310 ft. Diameter of keep mount at base, N. to S., 220 ft.; W. to E., 180 ft. Width of middle ditch, 60 ft. to 70 ft. Area within the crest of middle bank, about 8½ acres. Total area defended, about 15¼ acres.

Condition—Earthworks, very good; masonry, bad, overgrown with ivy, requires prompt attention.

(3). Berkhampstead Place, stands on a hill about a mile N. of the Castle. It is an E-shaped building, the wings projecting to the S.E., of two storeys with attics; the walls are of flint and stone, with brick additions; the roofs are tiled. It incorporates the remains of a courtyard house built by Sir Edward Carey, c. 1580, and sold to Henry, Prince of Wales, for whom the building seems to have been altered, in 1610. A fire, in 1661–2, destroyed nearly two-thirds of the house, which was afterwards repaired, probably by John Sayer, who held a lease of the property from 1662. On the S.E., the hall, built after the fire, occupies part of the old courtyard between the wings, and has a brick front with an embattled parapet, and a projecting porch with a four-centred, arched doorway. Below the drawing-room windows, also facing S.E., is a stone dated 1611, which probably refers to alterations made for Prince Henry, but is not in situ. There are a number of small projections and gables on this front, which is entirely covered with modern cement, except the S.E. wall of the hall. The N.W. front is almost in its original state, and is faced with flint and Totternhoe stone in chequers 7 in. square. The two brick buttresses and two projecting octagonal brick chimneys were added in the 17th century. At each end is a plain gable, in which is a three-light window, with moulded stone mullions and transom, and a small stone pediment above it; all the other windows of this front have modern sashes, except one in the basement, which retains some original stonework. At the N.E. end of the house is a fine stone oriel window, now blocked and partly cut away to make room for a modern brick chimney. At the S.W. end are two modern bay windows. The interior has been considerably altered, but retains a richly carved oak fireplace, and another with plaster decoration, of late 17th-century date, some panelled ceiling beams, and a plaster ceiling with moulded ribs, vine ornament, heads, etc. The principal staircase has square newels, turned balusters and moulded handrail, all of the 17th century. There are also circular wooden stairs reaching from the ground floor to the attics, the central newel being 9 inches in diameter.

Conditions—Fairly good; some of the stonework of the original windows, etc., is decayed.

High Street, S. side

(4). Egerton House, S.E. of the church, is a 16th-century building of two storeys with attics, coated externally with rough-cast, the two storeys being divided by a moulded wood string course; the roof is tiled. The N. front has three gables, with two small gabled dormer windows in the steep-pitched roof between them. Below each gable is a projecting bay, carried from the ground floor to the height of the eaves, with mullioned windows and small gabled roofs; the central bay is square, and contains the entrance doorway, the other bays have splayed sides. The windows of the ground floor have jambs, mullions and transoms of moulded stone; in the upper windows, which are glazed with diamond quarries, they are of wood. At each end of the house is a projecting chimney stack, with square flues set diagonally. The interior has been considerably restored, but retains some original fireplaces, one with a carved, panelled overmantel of early 17th-century date, some old beams in the ceilings, and one or two oak doors.


(5). Incent's House, opposite the church, so-called because John Incent, Dean of St. Paul's, is said to have lived there. It is a 16th-century building, much restored, of timber construction, with an overhanging upper storey. The roof is tiled, and there is a square central chimney stack built of brick. Inside the house is a wide fireplace, now filled up.


(6). The Sayer Almshouses, at the W. end of the street, a range of low red brick houses, founded for the maintenance of six widows by John Sayer in 1681, were built in 1684. The roofs are tiled, and there are three large rectangular chimney stacks.


(7). The Crown Inn, nearly opposite the church, is a 16th-century building with an overhanging upper storey; the roofs are tiled. The front is covered with rough-cast, and has an original gable with ornamental timber framing; part of the N. end shows brick and timber construction: the back is hidden by modern additions. The interior has been much altered, but some original beams remain in the ceilings.


Berkhampstead Castle (Parish of Great Berkhampstead)

Castle Street, W. side

(8). The Grammar School, on the N. side of the churchyard, is a long rectangular structure of brick with stone dressings, founded by John Incent, Dean of St. Paul's, in 1541, and built c. 1544, with large wings added in the 19th century.

The building is an interesting example of work of mid 16th-century date, but of late 15th-century style.

The schoolroom, in the centre, has an open timber roof, and at each end is a block of two storeys with attics, gabled on the N. and S., though the gables on the N. are partly destroyed by the additional wings. A single-span slated roof covers the whole of the original building. Over the schoolroom are two large hexagonal brick chimney-shafts, with an arched panel in each face. The outer doorways have moulded stone jambs, four-centred heads and square labels; an original door still remains on the S. side of the E. block. The schoolroom is lighted on two sides by six windows of three lights each, with uncusped tracery in four-centred heads; the details are of stone on the N. side, but on the S. side are of moulded brick, now cemented; the open timber king-post roof rests on carved stone corbels, some bearing the Incent arms; the arms and initials of the founder are also over the N. doorway. The terrace walls and steps in front of the house are said to be contemporary with the school.

Condition—Good throughout.

(9). Cottages, built of brick and timber in the 17th century; the roofs are tiled. One cottage has been used as a Roman Catholic chapel.

Condition—Somewhat dilapidated.

Back Lane

(10). The Court House, near the N.E. corner of the church, is a small rectangular building of the 16th century; the ground storey has been re-faced with brick and flint, and the projecting upper storey is of timber; the roof is tiled. The porch, windows, doorway, and some additions at the back, are modern. Interior: the upper floor has been removed, and the original open timber roof can be seen, with the beam below it which formerly supported the floor. The Borough court used to be held in this house, now a church school.


(11). House, at the W. end of the lane, now a shop, is of 16th-century timber construction, with an overhanging upper storey; the roof is tiled.



(12). Grims Ditch, or Graemes Dyke (Boundary Bank): the easternmost fragment of this earthwork, which reappears in Northchurch, Wigginton and Tring parishes in this county, lies on Berkhampstead Common on an irregular ridge, 500 to 540 ft. above O.D.; it consists of two straight arms forming a slight salient to the N. The rampart, also on the N. side, is from 3 to 4 ft. above the ground, and 7 ft. above the ditch on the S. The ditch is 35 ft. wide with a counter-scarp 4 to 5 ft. high.

Dimensions—Length of W. arm, 800 yds.; of E. arm, 500 yds.

Condition—Fairly good; a golf course is laid out on the common, but no actual destruction of the dyke seems to have taken place.