Berkhampstead St Peter: Borough, churches and charities

A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.

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'Berkhampstead St Peter: Borough, churches and charities', in A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 2, (London, 1908) pp. 171-179. British History Online [accessed 24 April 2024]

In this section


Berkhampstead seems to have been of some importance in Saxon times (fn. 1) as we find that Henry II confirmed to the men and merchants of the town all laws and customs which they had in the time of Edward the Confessor. (fn. 2)

It appears by the Domesday Book that there were at the time of the compilation of that work fifty-two burgesses in Berkhampstead. (fn. 3) Each burgess paid a yearly rent and owed suit at the fortnightly court of the portmote. (fn. 4) The burgages evidently differed considerably in size and value, as we find the rents varied from 3d. to 53s. 4d. (fn. 5)

Berkhampstead. Or a castle azure with three towers and a banner of St. George flying on each tower in a border sable bezanty.

The burgesses were mostly persons who held considerable property elsewhere, as for instance the abbot of Missenden, the abbot of Reading, (fn. 6) and the rector of Ashridge, who held two burgages by grant of the earl of Cornwall in 1290. (fn. 7) About the middle of the sixteenth century it seems the burgages were beginning to be divided, and in 1616 their existence was forgotten. (fn. 8)

Besides the burgesses, the tenants in the borough in 1357 consisted of free tenants, twenty-seven free tenants of the serjeanty, and six customary tenants of the greater tenure, and others of the lesser tenure. (fn. 9) Among the services rendered was one by which the holder of two virgates of land was bound to provide his lord and the lord's family with a feast at Christmas. (fn. 10) Whether the expenses of two freemen bearing two knives called 'Borde Sexes' on Christmas Day of which we have record (fn. 11) has anything to do with this service is not clear. Another tenure was that by which Richard Griffin paid three peppercorns or a gilly-flower when a king or queen was crowned in the castle of Berkhampstead. (fn. 12)

On 1 June, 1156, Henry II issued a writ commanding that all the men and merchants of the honour of Wallingford and of Berkhampstead should have his firm peace throughout all his lands of England and Normandy, and he granted them all the laws and customs which they had in the time of Edward the Confessor, William I, and Henry I. (fn. 13) He also granted that whithersoever they went with their merchandise throughout England, Normandy, Aquitaine, and Anjou, they should be quit of toll, pontage, passage and piccage, pannage and stallage, suits of shires and hundreds, aids of the sheriffs and serjeants, geld, Danegeld, hidage, blodewhite, and bredewhite, murders and other things pertaining to murders, works of castles, walls, ditches, parks, and bridges (calcearum), and all secular custom and servile work.

The use of the word merchants in distinction to the men would perhaps indicate the existence of a gild merchant, (fn. 14) and this theory is strengthened when we find that Wallingford, with which Berkhampstead is coupled, had undoubtedly such a gild which was confirmed to the men by the same king.

Of the early history of the town we have but the scantiest information. The burgesses appear to have made return to the Exchequer in 1165, (fn. 15) as a body, and in the accounts of the aid for marrying Maud, daughter of Henry II, we find that the men and merchants of the town rendered their accounts separately and also that the uplanders, or those who lived outside the town, made their return apart from the townsmen. (fn. 16) There seems to have been no reason why the commonalty of Berkhampstead should have risen at the time of Wat Tyler's rebellion, for they were apparently well treated by their lords, yet possibly out of sympathy for the tenants in the neighbouring towns we find that they did so in 1381. (fn. 17)

The history of the borough of Wallingford, although a larger and more important town, was so intimately connected with Berkhampstead in regard to its burghal history that it throws considerable light on the municipal history of the latter town. At Wallingford there was a Hospital of St. John the Baptist with its gild of brothers and sisters founded by the townspeople, in which fraternity there can be little doubt the gild merchants became fused. (fn. 18) At Berkhampstead there was an exactly similar institution under the same name, in which it seems probable that the remains of a gild merchant were merged. (fn. 19)

Hospital of St. Thomas of Acon. Azure a cross formy parted gules and argent.

The earliest notice we have of this hospital at Berkhampstead is in the reign of King John, when Geoffrey Fitz Piers, who held the castle and honour (1199–1203), granted the custody of it to the master and brethren of the hospital of St. Thomas of Acon, London (fn. 20) (a house founded on the supposed site of the birthplace of Thomas Becket, and now the hall of the Mercers Company). This grant was confirmed to the master of St. Thomas of Acon in 1461. The hospital of St. Thomas of Acon was closely connected with the Mercers Company of London, and in 1514 the advowson of it was granted to that Company. (fn. 21) During the fifteenth century, a school was supported by the hospital and Mercers Company. (fn. 22)

It seems clear that the connexion with the hospital of St. Thomas of Acon had a very strong influence on the brotherhood of St. John the Baptist at Berkhampstead. Mr. Cobb, in his History of Berkhamstead, shows that the brotherhood, as a fraternity, was in the sixteenth century no longer a part of the life of the town. (fn. 23) Dean Incent, a native of Berkhampstead, obtained licence from the crown in 1541, to found a chantry of two chaplains and a school for boys; to these he conveyed in 1544 his own inherited property in Berkhampstead, and then the lands of the brotherhood of St. John the Baptist, which he had apparently purchased from the brothers and sisters of the gild. (fn. 24)

There is no evidence of the existence of any trade gilds in Berkhampstead, and at the time of the charter of incorporation of 1618 it is clear there were no such fraternities, as on a paper of instructions for counsel's opinion of about that date, we find one of the queries is whether the bailiff and burgesses might by virtue of their charter make trade gilds or companies. (fn. 25) The borough had certainly, as early as 1301, (fn. 26) a separate court called the portmote court, which was held fortnightly at the Town Hall or upper chamber of the Church House. It took cognizance of all pleas, assize of bread and ale, &c., and at it were appointed the constables, ale-tasters, and other officers of the town. This court, under the charter of incorporation of 1618, became the court of record to be held once a month, and by the same charter the fines levied in it, which before had gone to the lord of the honour, (fn. 27) were granted to the bailiff and burgesses. (fn. 28)

The prosperity of the town of Berkhampstead varied with that of the castle, so that when the castle fell into ruin at the end of the fifteenth century, the decay of the town seemed assured. In John Norden's survey of 1616, (fn. 29) it is said that at the time the castle 'was maintained and inhabited and much frequented by the kings and a concourse of people, by reason thereof the town had a trade and was in a flourishing state.' After Sir Edward Carey had built the house in the park, the townspeople evidently thought that their prosperity was likely to be revived, and they appear to have obtained on 12 June, 1598, a confirmation of their liberties from Queen Elizabeth. (fn. 30) It seems to have been the determination of James I, if possible, to restore the town to its past prosperity, and, no doubt at the petition of the townsfolk, he granted a full charter of incorporation dated 18 July, 1618, which after referring to the former flourishing condition of the town, constituted it a free borough by the name of the bailiff and burgesses of the borough of Berkhampstead St. Peter. The charter goes on to grant to the bailiff and burgesses that they might have a common seal, (fn. 31) and the corporation should consist of a bailiff and twelve chief burgesses who should form the common council; that it should be lawful for them to have a council house or gildhall and to have power to make and enforce by-laws for the rule and governance of the town, and of the inhabitants and the trades; that they should have a recorder and a common clerk; that the bailiff, chief burgesses, and recorder should be justices of the peace; that there should be two serjeants at the mace and a court of record on Tuesday once a month; and that they should have their own prison, (fn. 32) a market on Thursdays, besides that on Mondays, fairs on Shrove Monday and Whit Monday, besides the ancient fair at the feast of St. James (25 July). (fn. 33)

It is very doubtful if advantage was ever fully taken of these new privileges. (fn. 34) A large proportion of the energy of the new corporation seems from their records to have been expended in litigation. Their Court Book from 1637 to 1661 exists, (fn. 35) but little is recorded in it except the election of officers. The constitution, apparently made shortly after the date of the charter, sets out the usual rules for the corporation, and enjoins a monthly court, and orders that no one should let any house to a stranger, that no stranger should be permitted to be an inhabitant till he should have compounded for his freedom and have paid £5 to practise any trade, and that there should not be more than six ale-houses in the borough. (fn. 36) The town seems to have suffered during the Civil Wars, and in 1662 or 1663 the corporate government began to fail from poverty. A fruitless attempt was made in 1664 to renew the charter, and at the beginning of the eighteenth century the power of the corporation had ceased. (fn. 37) There were then four chief burgesses who might have elected a bailiff, but who neglected to do so, and consequently the corporation ceased to exist. The town is now governed by an Urban District Council of twelve members formed in April, 1898, under the Local Government Act of 1894.

A market, probably held by a prescriptive right, was held on every Sunday till 1218, when the day was changed to Monday. (fn. 38) A fair was yearly kept on St. James's Day, and a second fair granted to Richard earl of Cornwall in 1245, to be held on the feast of the Invention of the Cross (3 May) and the seven days following, is mentioned in 1616 as having formerly been held, but it had died out before that date. (fn. 39) The bailiff of the borough and the churchwardens, by ancient usage, we are told in 1607, took the profits of the markets and fair towards the relief of the poor and repair of the church; for which profits, and the right to collect a certain tax in the borough called 'Ryppe Silver' or 'Ryppe Pence,' the inhabitants in the sixteenth century paid yearly 20s. (fn. 40) In 1674 John Sayer, cook to Charles II, who had a lease of Berkhampstead Place, (fn. 41) set up a claim to the market houses and bailiwick. The townspeople pleaded that they belonged to them, and that they applied the profits to the maintenance of the Grammar School and relief of the poor. The defence of the townspeople, however, failed, and judgement was given in the Court of Exchequer on 27 November, 1674, in favour of John Sayer. (fn. 42) The markets now held are so small as to be scarcely noticeable. They are a vegetable market on Tuesdays, a meat and flower market on Saturdays, and a cattle market on alternate Fridays.


The church of ST. PETER is a cruciform building, with chancel 38 ft. by 19 ft., (fn. 43) south chapel 25 ft. by 18 ft., central tower 16 ft. by 17 ft. 3 in., north transept 36 ft. by 19 ft., with eastern aisle 31 ft. by 16 ft., south transept 29 ft. by 16 ft., nave 103 ft. by 21 ft. 3 in. at the west and 20 ft. 1 in. at the east, with north aisle 9 ft. 9 in. wide, south aisle 9 ft. 4 in., and south-east chapel to nave 48 ft. long and 10 ft. wide at the west end by 15 ft. 6 in. at the east. The walls are of flint masonry with ashlar dressings of Totternhoe stone, and the roofs are of low pitch and leaded.

The oldest work in the building dates from the beginning of the thirteenth century, at which time the church seems to have consisted of chancel, central tower, north and south transepts, and aisleless nave. Of this building the chancel, central tower, and south transept remain in great part, and the west wall of the north transept may also contain masonry of this date. Whether the aisleless nave was ever finished is uncertain, but by 1230 or thereabout a nave with aisles was set out, and an eastern aisle consisting of two vaulted chapels was added to the north transept. It is possible that the early thirteenth-century church had a chapel adjoining the chancel on the east side of the north transept, afterwards absorbed in the eastern aisle. The early thirteenth-century work is somewhat irregularly set out, the chancel leaning slightly southward from the centre line of the centre tower, and the later thirteenth-century nave is fourteen inches wider at the west than the east, and is also a little out of centre with the tower. Such irregularities are, as a rule, the effect of the existence of an older building on the site, and there may have been such a building here, though nothing earlier than c. 1200 is now to be seen. That the work here was not continuous is shown by the change of plan in the columns of the eastern bays of the nave arcades from engaged shafts to a plain circle.

In the early part of the fourteenth century, c. 1320, a south chapel (St. Katherine's chapel) was added to the chancel, opening into the transept at the west, and about 1340 the north transept was lengthened some 6 feet, and the original windows of its eastern aisle replaced by large tracery windows. About 1350 a chapel of irregular shape, that of St. John the Baptist, was built in the angle between the south aisle of the nave and the south transept, opening to the aisle by a wooden arcade, while the west wall of the transept was pierced, making an arcade of two bays between it and the aisle and chapel on the west. The arch formerly opening to the aisle was destroyed, but left its north corbel in situ as the respond of the new arcade, while its south corbel was re-set as the other respond at the south end of the same arcade. In the fifteenth century a two-story porch was built at the west of this chapel, but no other alterations to the plan were made, except the addition of a rood-loft stair in the angle of the north aisle and north transept. In the nave and aisles, windows of this time were inserted, and a clearstory added. The former northeast vestry was probably of this date. The upper part of the tower was rebuilt in 1535, and this work brought the church to its final state. In 1639 Thomas Baldwin left money for the repair of the south transept, and in 1723 part of the roof of the chapel of St. John Baptist fell. About 1820 'restorations' were begun under Sir Jeffrey Wyattville, and much damage ensued as a matter of course; and again, in 1871, another restoration was carried out, under Butterfield, the chancel walls being heightened and its floor raised, and a vestry on its north side destroyed. The external stonework and window tracery have been almost entirely renewed, at this time or in the later repairs of the south aisle (1880), and north transept (1881).

Chicheley. Argent a cheveron between three cinquefoils gules.

The chancel has a modern east window (1871) of three lights with geometrical tracery, and in the north wall two lancets with detached jamb-shafts, the east capital in the first of these lancets being foliated and the rest moulded. Between the windows is the door to the destroyed north vestry, with a modern arched head of alabaster, its jambs being buried by the raising of the floor-levels in 1871. On the south is a lancet like those on the north, the early character of its foliate capitals being more apparent than in the north window, and west of it is an arch of two chamfered orders with clustered responds (the latter in modern stonework), standing on a low wall, and opening to the south chapel, with which it is contemporary, c. 1320. At the south-east of the chancel is a piscina of which the drain only is ancient, with a shelf above, and the lower parts of the chancel walls are lined with marble, all the fittings and general arrangements being due to the repairs of 1871. The heightening of the chancel walls which then took place has destroyed the effect of the old work, the lancets appearing to be set too low, and there is not sufficient light to see the paintings with which the upper parts of the walls are covered. In the northeast lancet is a little old glass, two shields of the royal arms of England, one ensigned with a crown, and another shield with the arms of Archbishop Chicheley, 1414–43. There are also fragments of old glass in the second window on this side. The eastern aisle of the north transept opens to the chancel by a plain pointed arch of one order, and is covered with a ribbed vault of two bays, having moulded diagonal ribs and a transverse arch of plainer detail. The original windows have been replaced by large three-light tracery windows of c. 1340, now much repaired, with moulded rear-arches ornamented with small four-leaved flowers or with ball-flowers, and engaged shafts in the jambs. The string below the windows is an insertion of the date of the windows, except in the north wall, where it may be earlier work re-used. The east wall of the southern bay is thicker than that of the northern, and, as before suggested, may belong to a chapel coeval with the chancel. (fn. 44) In the south-east angle of the north chapel is a trefoiled piscina.

The chapel south of the chancel (St. Katherine's chapel), approached from it by a door at the west of the arch already described, has a three-light east window with net tracery, and two two-light south windows of like detail, all having engaged shafts in the jambs. In the south wall is a contemporary trefoiled piscina, and further to the west two fourteenth-century tomb-recesses with segmental moulded arches, both originally with feathered cusping, though only the east recess now possesses this detail. (fn. 45) The northwest corner of the chapel is taken up by a rectangular projection containing the stone stair of the central tower, and at the west is a plain fourteenth-century arch to the south transept. Under the chapel is a vaulted crypt, probably built for a charnel, the position being a usual one.

The central tower, as far as its lower stages are concerned, belongs to the beginning of the thirteenth century, and has pointed arches of three square orders, with pairs of keeled shafts on the jambs and ringed circular nook-shafts to the outer order, the capitals and bases being moulded. Its walls are 5 ft. thick, and the original work extends to the top of the second stage, which is reached by the contemporary north-east stair already noted. The top stage was rebuilt (or perhaps added) by John and Alice Phylypp, whose names were cut on a stone below the south window of the belfry, now too decayed to be legible, in 1535. (fn. 46) It has two-light windows in each face with quatrefoils in the head, and is finished with an embattled parapet and a small leaded spire of the 'Hertfordshire' type.

The north transept is of several dates. Part of its west wall probably belongs to the church of c. 1200, and on the east is an arcade of two bays with an octagonal central pillar and moulded capital, added at the time of building the eastern chapels. The north wall of the transept was probably at one time on the same line as that still occupied by the north wall of the east aisle, which would be built to range with it, but when this part of the church was remodelled in the fourteenth century it was lengthened northwards, a large four-light net-tracery window being set in its new north wall, and a three-light window in the west wall. Both are good specimens, with moulded reararches, continuous in the west window, but having engaged shafts in the north. Each opening in the net tracery of the west window is further divided into four smaller openings by a subordinate tracery order. Near the north end of the west wall a blocked arch, with roofing tiles in the arch, is to be seen on the external face. It is probably nothing but a 'barrowhole' made for convenience during the building of this part of the church, but the presence of the tiles has caused an early (pre-Conquest) date to be assigned to it. The transept opens to the north aisle of the nave by a thirteenth-century arch contemporary with the aisle, and in the external angle formed by the aisle and transept is a fifteenth-century octagonal stair turret, formerly entered from the aisle, which led by a gallery over the aisle to the rood-loft on the west face of the tower.

The south transept has a south window of four lights with modern tracery, and at the south-west a modern doorway. In its west wall is an arcade of two bays, with a central clustered column and arches of two orders, wave-moulded, and contemporary with the chapel of St. John Baptist to the west; the corbels at each end of the arcade, as before noted, are of thirteenth-century date, and belong to the arch formerly opening to the south aisle of the nave.

The nave is of seven bays, with pointed arches of two chamfered orders, the first two pillars of the south arcade and the second of the north being of four engaged shafts, and of the same detail as the eastern responds, while all the other pillars are round and the western responds half round. The change of design points to a break in the work, but this cannot have been of much length, as the arcades show no other important variation in detail. The eastern responds are clearly later than the masonry of the tower against which they are set, and the evidence goes to show that the nave coeval with the tower (c. 1200) was aisleless, the present arcades and aisles having been begun about 1230–40. It is further to be noted that the nave is fourteen inches wider at the west than at the east, which points to a lengthening of the earlier nave, the later west end being set out beyond its west wall, a frequent source of inaccuracies in a mediaeval building.

The nave clearstory is a fifteenth-century addition, having in each bay except the west, which is blank, a window of two cinquefoiled lights, with a quatrefoil in the head. The west window of the nave has tracery of fifteenth-century style, (fn. 47) of five lights, but the stonework is modern except that of the rear arch. This has shafts and moulded capitals of earlier style than the window tracery, c. 1360, and if the tracery is a copy of that formerly existing, it would suggest that other tracery contemporary with the rear arch was removed at the time the clearstory was added. (fn. 48) The north aisle has a blocked fifteenth-century doorway (fn. 49) in its middle bay, with the remains of a shallow canopied niche over it, and in the next bay to the west is a two-light window, of very good detail, of two trefoiled lights with a cusped lozenge in the head, and a moulded rear arch with engaged shafts and capitals. It dates from the latter part of the thirteenth century. In the east bay of the aisle, and in the third bay, are fifteenth-century windows, of two and three lights respectively, and the west window of the aisle is of fifteenth-century style, with modern tracery. The south aisle retains no original features. Its two eastern bays open to the chapel of St. John Baptist, and the third to the site of the south porch, now thrown into the chapel, the roof being carried on a wooden arcade with traceried spandrils. In the fourth bay is the blocked fifteenth-century doorway of the stair formerly leading to the upper story of the porch, and in the fifth bay a three-light window of fifteenth-century style. The next window, as in the north aisle, is of two lights, of fifteenth-century style.

St. John's chapel retains very little ancient detail, its window tracery dating from 1871. It was formerly separated from the south aisle by a fifteenth-century screen, which was cut away, except the head, in 1871, and this has since been removed. The octagonal pillar of the arcade in which the screen was set is, however, an interesting piece of fourteenth-century work, with a moulded capital contemporary with the chapel.

The woodwork of the roofs of the church is for the most part modern and of little interest, and the seating of the church is entirely modern. The screen in the west arch of the tower is in part of fifteenth-century date, with modern figures fixed to the lower panels.

The font, at the west end of the nave, is modern, succeeding a font given in 1662 by Francis Withered, Comptroller of the Works to Charles II. A small piece of the upper edge of the bowl of a twelfth-century font, with an interlacing arcade, formerly remained in the church. There are no traces of the wall painting formerly in the nave, representing, it is said, the Twelve Apostles and the story of St. George. (fn. 50)

A good number of ancient monuments remain, though, for the most part, not in their original positions. The most notable is the panelled altar tomb, now in the arch between the east chapels of the north transept and the chancel, which seems to have first stood in the second bay of the north arcade of the nave, and was afterwards in the north transept. On it lie two alabaster effigies, said by Cussans (fn. 51) to be those of one of the Incent family, and his wife, a Torrington, but the inscription has disappeared.

At the east end of the north aisle are two altar tombs, formerly in the north transept, one of Purbeck marble with the Cornwallis arms, and identified from the registers as that of Sir John Cornwallis, 1544; (fn. 52) the other of John Sayer, chief cook to Charles II, 1682.

The oldest brass is that of Richard and Margaret Torrington, (fn. 53) 1356, now on the north of the quire stalls, and in the chancel are two without inscription, one a half-length effigy of a priest and the other a fulllength of a lady, c. 1360. (fn. 54)

Other brasses are those of John Raven, 1395, now on the south of the quire stalls, of Robert Incent, 1485, and Katherine his wife, 1520, both in St. John's chapel, and the palimpsest brass of a husband and wife, probably of the Waterhouse family, on the back of which is part of an older inscription, c. 1470, to Thomas Humfre, goldsmith, of London, and Joan his wife, an unusually elaborate and well-engraved piece of work.

There are eight bells by Thomas Mears of London, the tenor of 1839 and rest of 1838, and a small bell of 1851.

The church plate is as follows: the oldest piece is a communion cup with the London hall-mark for 1629, the paten used with it bearing the hall-mark for 1706. On it is inscribed the fact of its gift by Mrs. Hester Acton. There is a second cup, modern work of 1855, and in the same year the churchwardens presented to the church an almsdish of 1637. In 1871 an old flagon and almsdish were melted down and re-made, and their successors, dating from that year, bear the arms of the Edmonds family.

The first book of the registers is of parchment, 1538–1695, the burial entries continuing to 1718. The second, which is of paper and has lost its first pages, runs from 1560 to 1646, and may be part of the original paper book continued as a duplicate after the making of the parchment copy in or after 1598. The third runs from 1678 to 1723, and the fourth contains baptisms 1717–22. The fifth, beginning in 1722, contains baptisms and burials to 1790, and marriages to 1754; the sixth has baptisms and burials to 1812, and the seventh and eighth marriages to the same year. There is also a book of baptisms 1661–1711, apparently a rough copy.


Whatever may have been the origin of St. Peter's parish the advowson of the parish church of Berkhampstead belonged to the abbot and convent of Grestein in Normandy from about 1100 till the time of the wars of Edward III with France, when the advowson was taken by the king as the possessions of an alien abbey. (fn. 55) It was restored shortly afterwards, but was finally seized about 1384, (fn. 56) from which date the crown presented till the castle and honour were granted to Cicely duchess of York, who held the advowson till her death. The crown again presented down to the beginning of the eighteenth century, when the advowson passed to the prince of Wales, of whom it was purchased in 1869, by Earl Brownlow whose successor now holds it.

There was a Baptist church at Great Berkhampstead in 1678, and two licences were granted to Anabaptists in 1693. At Bedmond Pond there was a general meeting-house for Baptists, of which John Bocket, who died in 1708, was pastor. (fn. 57) In 1722 a newly-erected house standing upon the ground of Susannah Topping and Benjamin Morley, in or near the town of Great Berkhampstead, was certified as a meeting-house for Baptists. (fn. 58) Other meeting-houses in Great Berkhampstead were certified in 1778, 1780, 1793, 1798, 1811, 1812, 1830, 1834, and 1837. (fn. 59) There was a meeting-house at Frithsden in 1829, (fn. 60) and houses were licensed there in 1836 and 1837.

A chapel was opened at Berkhampstead in 1790 in connexion with the countess of Huntingdon's Itinerant Society. This chapel was enlarged in 1834, and the present chapel built in 1866. (fn. 61) Besides the Baptist and Congregational churches there are places of worship for the Society of Friends, the Wesleyans, the Primitive Methodists, and the Brethren.

Besides the hospital of St. John the Baptist already referred to there were also at Berkhampstead the hospitals of St. John the Evangelist (or the Over Spittle House) and St. Leonard (or the Nether Spittle House). The former of these, which was for lepers, stood at the north-west end of the town and the custody of it was granted by Geoffrey Fitz Piers early in the thirteenth century to the hospital of St. Thomas of Acon, London. (fn. 62) Of the latter, which is said to have been at the south-east end of the High Street we know practically nothing. The sites of both these hospitals were granted at the dissolution by Henry VIII, in 1540, to Robert Horderne for life, rent free, (fn. 63) and in 1544 the fee was granted to him. (fn. 64) In 1556–7 they appear to have come into the possession of one Clerk, (fn. 65) who conveyed them to Saunders, and in the reign of James I Nicholas Carre held one of them in right of his wife with reversion to Francis Alley his wife's son, when it is described as late in the possession of James Withered. (fn. 66) The other, described as a hospital for the poor, is said at the same time to have been in the possession of Edmund Yonge and later in that of Richard Yonge his father.


The Grammar School. (fn. 67)

Bourne's Charity School (fn. 68) was founded by will and codicil of Thomas Bourne, dated in 1727, for educating, clothing and maintaining twenty boys and ten girls (subject to payment of £5 to a school at Camberwell and of £1 1s. to the parson for a sermon and 10s. 6d. to the clerk on every 16th December).

The charity is regulated by a scheme made under the Endowed Schools Acts, approved 28 October, 1879 (as amended by a scheme of 1895), whereby provision is made for scholarships and prizes for boys and girls in the public elementary schools of the parish and for exhibitions tenable at the Grammar School or any other place of higher education, or of technical or other professional training. The endowment funds consist of the following securities held by the official trustees, namely, £1,109 16s. 11d. consols, £1,300 London and South-Western Railway 3½ per cent. preference stock, £141 East Indian Railway Annuity Class B and £2,167 Great Eastern Railway 4 per cent. debenture stock, producing an annual income of £300, less deduction of about £10 a year for the sinking fund on the annuity of £141.

By an order made under the Board of Education Act, 1899, a sum of £63 consols has been apportioned and set apart to provide for the before-mentioned sums of £1 1s. for a sermon and 10s. 6d. for the clerk under the title of 'Bourne's Ecclesiastical Charity.'

National and Infant School. (fn. 69)

In 1838 the countess of Bridgewater conveyed land upon trust for the erection of suitable school-rooms, dwelling-house, &c., for the purposes of a national school for the instruction of children in the two parishes of Berkhampstead St. Peter and Northchurch, in the principles of the national church so long as the said national institution should continue, and in the event of such discontinuance, the property to be sold and proceeds applied for such charitable purposes as the rectors of the parishes should think fit.

By declarations of trust of 1842 and 1844 the donor provided an endowment for the schools of £3,500 consols, which has been realized and proceeds applied in building additional premises, subject to replacement. The official trustees now (1906) hold a sum of £1,809 12s. 9d. consols on the replacement account. The trust is administered under a scheme of the Charity Commissioners, dated 31 August, 1875.

In 1873 a fund, provided by public subscription, was formed, to be called the Augustus Smith Memorial Fund, consisting of a sum of £267 5s. 8d. consols, one-half of the dividends to be applied by the trustees in prizes to the scholars in the Board School of Berkhampstead St. Peter and the other half to the children at the Berkhampstead and Northchurch National Schools.

The annual dividends, amounting to £6 13s. 6d., are applied in Bibles and other books as prizes.

King James I gave £100, the income to be employed in setting the poor at work in a manufactory. This sum was laid out in 1639 by the vestry in the purchase of 13 acres at Ashley Green, Chesham, county Bucks. and there being no factory, the income was formerly distributed among the poor in bread. In 1866 the land was sold for £1,200 and invested in £1,338 18s. 3d. consols with the official trustees, and the annual dividend, amounting to £33 9s. 5d., is divided equally between the National School and the Board School, regulated by schemes of 19 December, 1873 and 23 October, 1905.

In 1696 Edward Salter by deed gave a messuage and 3 acres, called Salter's Field, in this parish for the benefit of industrious householders not receiving poor relief. By a scheme of 4 August, 1873, made under the Endowed Schools Act, 1869, the income of this charity was made applicable for the advancement of education and divided between the two public elementary schools of this parish. The endowment consists of school buildings let to the school board for £17, and the land adjoining containing 3 acres 1 rood 4 poles, let at £12 8s. a year.

In 1830 the Rev. George Nugent by his will left £100, income to be applied for the benefit of the Sunday school, then lately established in the parish. The legacy is represented by £110 19s. 1d. consols with the official trustees.

Church Lands.

—The parish was formerly in possession of 2 acres of meadow land in Gutteridge Pond Field, and of an acre of land behind the workhouse, the origin of which is unknown. The last-mentioned piece of land was sold in 1847 for £200 and invested in £218 9s. 4d. consols, and the 2 acres in 1879, and the net proceeds invested in £433 2s. 5d. consols. The two sums of stock, amounting to £651 11s. 9d. consols, is held by the official trustees, by whom the dividends, amounting to £16 5s. 8d., are remitted to the churchwardens and applied by them in the maintenance and repair of the fabric of the parish church.

In 1641 Francis Combe by will devised a rentcharge of £6 13s. 4d. issuing out of the Bury estate at Hemel Hempstead to be paid to a preacher for a Monday lecture to be chosen by most voices. There is also a sum of stock in court arising from arrears of payment, of which £100 is understood to be the share of this charity.

In 1681 John Sayer by his will founded almshouses for six poor widows, constant frequenters of divine service as by law established in the Church of England, and endowed the same with a rent-charge of £36 out of land at Chilton, Bucks., now paid by Sir Henry Aubrey-Fletcher. The charity also receives £6 a year for rent of land at rear of the almshouses, and dividends on £144 15s. consols arising from investment of proceeds of sale in 1887 of a strip of land adjoining the almshouses. The charity is also possessed of the following subsidiary endowments, namely, £875 2s. 2d. consols, representing a legacy in 1784 by will of Martha Deere; £443 16s. 6d. consols arising from investment of a legacy of George Nugent (1830), of £200, and of a gift of £200 by Elizabeth Nugent. The annual income from real and personal estate amounts to £78 11s. 4d.

In 1703 Elizabeth Craddock by will devised 43 acres of land in Rickmansworth, sold in 1894, and net proceeds invested in £2,709 0s. 2d. consols, the income being applicable in pensions or annuities to poor of the Church of England; and in 1795 the Rev. John Jeffreys, D.D., rector, by will left £100 stock, now £100 consols, income to be given to one poor family.

In 1782 Richard Balshaw by deed gave £200 bank stock, augmented by accumulations to £270 bank stock, the dividends (amounting to about £25 a year) to be paid to the rector for reading the morning prayers of the Church of England service, and a lecture or sermon on every Friday morning, or in case of failure of this condition for three consecutive months, the income to be applied in the distribution of clothing among the poor inhabitants of the ancient parish.

In 1830 the Rev. George Nugent by his will left £200 for the poor, and Elizabeth Nugent gave £200 for the poor, which sums were invested in £443 16s. 6d. consols.

In 1850 the Rev. John Croft, by deed, gave £400 consols, the dividends to be paid to the rector upon condition that once in every month divine service be performed and a sermon preached in the parish church on the evening of the Friday immediately preceding the administration of the Holy Communion on the first Sunday in every month, and if the service be suspended, during such suspension the income to be applied for the benefit of poor persons resident in the ancient parish.

In 1609 Henry Clerk charged a house and premises in Whitecross Street, London, with the annual payment of £10 for the benefit of ten of the poorest householders of the borough of Berkhampstead. It is duly received from the Corporation of the City of London, and applied in accordance with the trusts.

In 1617 William Halsey gave £14 for the benefit of the poor. The annual sum of £1 4s. is now paid out of a house and premises in the High Street by Mr. Humphrey Charles Ward in respect of this charity, and distributed in bread to five poor persons in church after morning service.

In 1626 King Charles I gave £100 to supply the poor of the parish with wood for firing. In the result of Chancery proceedings, the annual sum of 30s. was charged on Herriott's End Farm in Northchurch, and a sum of £43 1s. 1d. consols was set aside in respect of this gift. In 1878 the rent-charge was redeemed, and the trust fund is now represented by £93 7s. 1d. consols.

An unknown donor, at a date unknown, gave about an acre of land in this parish, called Buttfield, for the poor in bread. The land was sold and proceeds invested in £89 9s. 8d. consols.

A donor unknown also gave a piece of land called Maiden's Baulk, in respect of which £1 a year was formerly received by the poor. The land was sold in 1879 and proceeds invested in £45 6s. 10d. consols.

In 1636 Sir Henry Atkins by deed conveyed to trustees land at Chesham, co. Bucks., containing about 41 acres, the rents to be divided equally among twenty poor people dwelling in the town of Berkhampstead on Christmas Day. The land is let at £25 a year, which is divided among twenty poor householders.

In 1639 Thomas Baldwin by will devised to trustees his moiety of the benefit and profits of certain springs and waters near Hyde Park to the poor of Watford, where he was born, to the poor of Berkhampstead St. Peter, where he was a scholar, and to the poor of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, where he then lived. The waterworks referred to were sold under the authority of an Act of Parliament of 5 Geo. II for £2,500; the share of this parish amounted to £432, which was laid out in 1742 in the purchase of about 40 acres in Chesham, co. Bucks. In 1878 the land was sold in consideration of the transfer to the Official Trustees of Charitable Funds of £3,000 consols. In 1893 the consols were sold out, and the proceeds reinvested in £2,990 11s. 1d. India 3 per cent. stock producing £89 14s. 4d. a year, which is applied for the benefit of the poor, mostly in pensions or annuities.

In 1686 a sum of £100 given by William Saltmarsh, Edward Young and others was laid out in the purchase of 13 acres in Chesham, now consisting of land, cottage and farm building let at £20 a year, and a wood called Horsler's Wood, the rents being applicable for the benefit of the poor.

In 1782 Richard Balshaw by deed conveyed to trustees 21 acres of land situated mostly in Northchurch, the rent to be distributed in bread and meat amongst aged, infirm, and industrious poor inhabitants of the parish. The land has been sold and proceeds invested in £3,229 18s. 2d. India 3 per cent. stock, producing £96 17s. 8d. a year. Under a scheme of the Charity Commissioners in 1898, the income is made applicable in pensions to poor inhabitants of the parish.

In 1784 John Dorrien by his will gave to the rector and churchwardens £100 to be invested, the income to be distributed amongst ten poor inhabitants not receiving alms of the parish. The legacy, with accumulations, is now represented by £175 16s. 6d. consols, the dividends of which are given with other charities in pensions.

The parish is in possession of a house formerly known as the Pest House, and now as Moor Cottage, on Berkhampstead Common, containing one acre, let on lease for forty years from Michaelmas 1892 at £12 a year, to be applied for some public purpose to be approved by the Charity Commissioners.

William Newman by his will, proved 1894, left to the rector and churchwardens the sum of £500, which was invested in the purchase of £263 South Eastern Railway consolidated 5 per cent. preference stock, income to be applied in aid of the Parochial Nursing Fund.

The several sums of stock are held by the Official Trustees of Charitable Funds, and schemes are now (1906) in course of being established by the Charity Commissioners providing (inter alia) for one body of trustees for each of the ecclesiastical and non-ecclesiastical group of charities, and defining the qualifications and benefits of the almspeople and pensioners, and enlarging the scope of benefit to the poor generally.

In 1763 Mary Essington by deed assigned to the Rev. John Jeffreys, D.D., then rector of the parish, two turnpike bonds of £105 each, the income to be divided among six poor widows of the age of fifty years and upwards, legally settled and inhabiting in the parish, and not receiving settled parish allowances. The bonds, when paid off, were invested in £225 1s. 4d. consols held by the official trustees. The dividend, amounting to £5 12s. 6d. annually, is applied by the rector in accordance with the trusts. This charity is not included in the proposed schemes.

In 1714 Joanna Neale, by deed, conveyed to trustees certain lands in Northchurch, and at Frithsden and Chesham, co. Bucks, the rents and profits to be paid to the elders or ministers of the Baptist churches or congregations resorting to the meeting-places in Berkhampstead and Chesham respectively: such elders or ministers having been elected in the manner, and holding the tenets set forth in the said deed of trust.

By an order of the Charity Commissioners of 14 August, 1877, a scheme was established for the regulation of the charity, whereby it was directed to be managed as two distinct branches, namely, the charity for the benefit of the congregation of Protestant Dissenters being Baptists at Berkhampstead, and that for the same body meeting at Chesham; trustees were appointed for each branch, and the endowments apportioned, viz. a house and 3 acres of land at Northchurch, a house and 1 r. 11 p. at Frithsden, and 61 a. 1 r. 19 p. at Chesham known as Hyde Farm, producing a total gross rental of £88, and the dividends on £315 13s. 9d. consols being assigned to the Berkhampstead branch, and £2,835 1s. 10d. consols and a house and garden occupied by the minister at Chesham, and cottage and garden adjoining producing £9 a year assigned to the Chesham branch. The sums of stock arose primarily from investment of proceeds of sales in 1878 of land originally belonging to the charity, and are held by the official trustees.

The Independent chapel in Castle Street was founded in 1834, and is endowed with land and cottages producing £10 a year. Sarah Hill, by will proved in 1856, also endowed the chapel with a sum of £1,712 4s. 10d. consols. In 1894 William Newman bequeathed a sum of £300 2½ per cent. annuities to the minister and deacons upon trust, to apply the dividends equally among six deserving widows, widowers, or other persons residing within one mile of the chapel without reference to sect or religious denomination. The same testator left £100 like stock, the dividends to be applied in the purchase of books to be distributed on the anniversary of his death among children attending the Sunday school connected with the chapel. The several sums of stock are held by the official trustees.

The above-mentioned William Newman also bequeathed £300 2½ per cent. annuities and £100 like stock, the dividends to be applied upon similar trusts as those indicated under the endowments of the Independent chapel in Castle Street, in connexion with the Primitive Methodist chapel opposite the Union.

William Newman further bequeathed £300 2½ per cent. annuities, and £100 like stock for similar objects connected with Hope Hall in King's Road.

William Newman further bequeathed £300 2½ per cent. annuities, and £100 like stock for similar objects connected with the Wesleyan chapel.

The dividends on a sum of £585 18s. 11d. consols, which is understood to have been given or raised by the Rev. George Nugent in or about 1830 towards building the workhouse, are applied in aid of the poor rate.

In 1832 and 1834 Earl Brownlow, by deeds, conveyed 2a. or. 11 p. to be used for a public pleasureground.

Lieut.-General the Hon. John Finch by will, proved in 1861, bequeathed the sum of £200 upon trust to be invested, and the income applied for the benefit of Potten End school, erected by him in 1856, during its continuance, with a trust over for the benefit of Sayer's Almshouses. The legacy is represented by £206 19s. 8d. consols with the official trustees. The school is regulated by scheme dated 22 March, 1877.

In 1895 Mrs. Sophia Jane Hutchinson by will left £100 for the repair of the church of Holy Trinity at Potten End. The legacy has been invested, and is represented by £97 4 per cent. perpetual mortgage debenture stock of the Calico Printers' Association.


  • 1. Dods. MSS. cxiv, 40, printed in Clutterbuck, Hist. of Herts. i, 297; Maitland, Domesday Book and Beyond, 214.
  • 2. P.R.O. Anct. D. A. 849.
  • 3. V.C.H. Herts. i, 317b. As we find later repeated statements that there were only twelve burgesses, it is a question whether the Domesday entry is not a mistake of lii for xii, or whether there was a drop in the number of burgages, and at a time when we know that Berkhampstead was at the height of its prosperity.
  • 4. Inq. p.m. 28 Edw. I, No. 44; Rent. and Surv. 271; and Aug. Off. Misc. Bks. 367.
  • 5. Rent. and Surv. 271.
  • 6. Aug. Off. Misc. Bks. 367.
  • 7. Pat. 18 Edw. I, m. 13; Inq. p.m. 18 Edw. I, No. 144.
  • 8. Survey of Berkhamstead, by John Norden and Edw. Salter, 1616 (privately printed). The jury depose they know not the names of any burgages.
  • 9. Rent. and Surv. 27.
  • 10. Maitland, Bracton's Note Bk. case 608 (A.D. 1231).
  • 11. Two Surveys of the Manor of Berkhamstead (privately printed); Rent. and Surv. 271.
  • 12. Two Surveys of the Manor, &c. This refers probably to the occasions when the kings or queens wore their crown.
  • 13. P.R.O. Anct. D. A. 849. A very inaccurate late seventeenth-century copy of a supposed confirmation of this writ used to hang in the vestry of Berkhampstead Church. In it Henry III is described as king of France and prince of Wales, titles which were not adopted till the time of Edward son of Edward I, and Edward III respectively. There are several other inaccuracies in the document, which is undoubtedly spurious.
  • 14. Gross, Gild Merchant, i, 15; ii, 244.
  • 15. Pipe R. (Pipe R. Soc.) II Hen. II, p. 26.
  • 16. Ibid. 14 Hen. II, p. 47, and 15 Hen. II, p. 129.
  • 17. Ann. Mon. Dunstaplia (Rolls Ser.), iii, 417; Gest. Abbat. (Rolls Ser.), iii, 287, 338. Customary lands were being enfranchised as early as 1357 (Rent. and Surv. 271).
  • 18. Hedges, Hist. of Wallingford; Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. vi, 572.
  • 19. At High Wycombe, which was parcel of the honour of Wallingford and therefore also held of the duchy of Cornwall, was another hospital of St. John the Baptist, composed of a master and poor brothers and sisters appointed by the burgesses. The mayor and burgesses were patrons, and in 1548 the lands of the hospital were conveyed to them for the establishing of a grammar school (Parker, Hist. and Antiq. of Wycombe, 139, &c.). There is a curious similarity with regard to these three gilds of St. John the Baptist all in places held of the duchy of Cornwall.
  • 20. Pat. 18 Edw. II, pt. 2, m. 5; ibid. 1 Edw. IV, pt. 2, m. 5; Dugdale, Mon. Angl. vi, 647.
  • 21. Watney, St. Thom. of Acon, 47.
  • 22. Ibid. 14.
  • 23. Cobb, Hist. of Berkhamstead, 82, 83, 85.
  • 24. See the full history of the school in the section on 'Schools.'
  • 25. Doc. in Parish Chest.
  • 26. P.R.O. Mins. Accts. bdle. 863, No. 5.
  • 27. Ibid. bdle. 865.
  • 28. Pat. 16 Jas. I, pt. 22, and Cal. of S.P. Dom. 1611–18, p. 552.
  • 29. Privately printed.
  • 30. Cobb, op. cit. 38. The writer has been unable to find this charter.
  • 31. On 25 Sept. 1618, William Camden, Clarenceux King of Arms, granted the following arms: or a triple towered Castle azure within a border of Cornwall namely Sables bezanted, on account of the glory of the place having proceeded from the ancient castle there. The corporation had a seal in accordance with this grant of arms (Cobb, op. cit. 41; Doc. in Parish Chest).
  • 32. There had been a prison or gaol here as early as 1225; Rot. Lit. Claus. (Rec. Com.), ii, 21, 26.
  • 33. Pat. 16 Jas. I, pt. 22.
  • 34. In 1620 the right of the inhabitants of Berkhampstead of exemption from serving on juries outside the borough was insisted upon; Cobb, op. cit. 42.
  • 35. Doc. in Parish Chest.
  • 36. Ibid.
  • 37. The governance of the town appears to have passed from the corporation to the churchwardens, who now have the custody of the corporation muniments. There was a tumbril in the parish which was ordered to be repressed in 1716; Cobb, op. cit. 101.
  • 38. Close, 2 Hen. III, m. 6.
  • 39. Two Surveys of the Manor of Berkhamstead (privately printed), and Cal. of Chart. R. i, 281.
  • 40. Aug. Off. Misc. Bks. 367; and Exch. Spec. Com. 1049; and Two Surveys, &c.
  • 41. Doc. in Parish Chest.
  • 42. Ibid.
  • 43. All measurements here given are internal.
  • 44. This is possibly the site of the Lady chapel, and on the north face of the north-east pier of the tower is an inscription in good Gothic capitals: 'Virgo mater ecclesie eterna porta glorie.'
  • 45. Much of the cusping is a modern restoration.
  • 46. Rental book of the grammar school, 27 Hen. VIII: 'This yeare the steeple was new made;' Cobb, Hist. of Berkhamstead, 54.
  • 47. Of the thirteenth-century west window there is no trace, and the stonework of the west doorway is entirely modern.
  • 48. Tradition speaks of the giving of a new west window to the church in the time of James I, but this may refer to the glass.
  • 49. The position of the doorways, about in the middle of the length of the nave, is unusually far to the east for the time, and suggests that they preserve the position of the doors of the earlier nave, which, as already suggested, may have been lengthened at the addition of the aisles.
  • 50. Cobb, Hist. of Berkhamstead, 57.
  • 51. Hist. of Herts. Dacorum Hundred, 63.
  • 52. Cobb, op. cit. 60.
  • 53. So called; over the lady's head are the arms of Incent, but of the inscription only a few words remain; Gough (1796) gives three sides of the inscription then existing.
  • 54. Boutell, Monumental Brasses.
  • 55. a Cal. Pat. 1340–3, p. 499.
  • 56. Ibid. 1381–5, p. 447; ibid. 1385–9, p. 154.
  • 57. Urwick, Nonconformity in Herts. 378.
  • 58. Herts. Co. Rec. ii, 56.
  • 59. Urwick, op. cit. 377–8.
  • 60. Herts. Co. Rec. ii, 320.
  • 61. Urwick, op. cit. 379.
  • 62. Pat. 18 Edw. II, pt. 2, m. 5; ibid. 1 Edw. IV, pt. 2, m. 5.
  • 63. Pat. 32 Hen. VIII, pt. 3, m. 9.
  • 64. Pat. 36 Hen. VIII, pt. 9.
  • 65. Pat. 3 and 4 Phil. and Mary, pt. 8.
  • 66. Rent. and Surv. bdle. 8, No. 20.
  • 67. See V.C.H. Herts. ii, 'Schools.'
  • 68. Ibid.
  • 69. Ibid.