Berkhamsted is a medium-sized historic market town on the western edge of Hertfordshire, England. The affluent commuter town is located in the small Bulbourne valley in the Chiltern Hills, 26 miles (42 km) northwest of London. Berkhamsted is a civil parish, with a town council within the larger borough of Dacorum.
People have been living in the Berkhamsted area for over 5,000 years. There is evidence of flint working in the Neolithic period and metal working in the late Iron Age and Roman periods. The high street is on a pre-Roman route known by its Saxon name Akeman Street. The earliest written reference to Berkhamsted is in 970AD. Berkhamsted was recorded as a ‘burbium’ (an ancient borough) in the Domesday Book in 1086. The oldest known extant jettied timber-framed building in Great Britain, built 1277 – 1297, survives as a shop on the town’s high street. In the 13th and 14th century the town was a wool trading town, with thriving local market.
Berkhamsted Castle is a well-documented example of an 11th-century motte-and-bailey Norman castle, with historical records dating from the 12th to 15th centuries. The castle was a high-status residence and an administrative centre for large estates. The royal castle’s presence clearly affected the town. It created jobs for the local population, both in the castle itself and also, for example, in the large deer park and in the vineyard, which were maintained alongside the castle. Moreover, for nearly 400 years, patronage from the royal court connected to the castle helped fuel the town’s growth, prosperity and sense of importance.
The Bulbourne River with the Gade, which it joins at Two Waters, Hemel Hempstead, is one of a small number of low-level routes through the Chiltern Hills. It has always provided a connection from London to the north. The completion in 1792 of the Sparrow’s Herne Turnpike Trust road linking Bushey and Aylesbury meant Berkhamsted could boast ‘London in a day and reasonable tolls’! In 1798 the Grand Junction Canal was completed, followed in 1838 by the London & Birmingham Railway. View the Berkhamsted canal walks guide here.
Berkhamsted is the ancient town with a modern buzz, residents and visitors enjoy a lively mix of heritage, the arts, our local sinfonia, litary groups, our wonderful restored cinema, many arts and interest groups, live music of all descriptions, everything for the family young and old whatever the weather.
Berkhamsted, on the Grand Union Canal, was once a busy inland port and the centre of boat building activity. It is still called the Port of Berkhamsted today. The Grand Union Canal linked London to Birmingham, cutting through Berkhamsted. Castle Wharf was once the centre of canal trade and boat building. Today, Berkhamsted is a great place to explore the canal and let your children experience a little bit of our historic past close at hand. There is even a good track that will take you all the way to London if you hop on your bike and are very adventurous!