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Hemel Hempstead

Hemel Hempstead is a sizeable town in Hertfordshire, England. Developed after World War II as a New town outside the green belt surrounding London, the place has existed as a village since the 8th century.

Table of contents
1 Geography
2 History
3 Origin of the Name
4 The New Town
5 Notable Features
6 Notable People
7 Related Articles
8 External Links
9 Nearby Places


Hemel Hempstead (known locally as "Hemel") is situated 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 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. This road does not follow the natural lie of the land. The town of Hemel is also linked to the M1 motorway to the east. The M25 is just 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, like Hemel Hempstead both are satellite towns in the London commuter belt.


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 which was added in the 12th century, making the spire 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 mediaeval wall paintings were discovered in some cottages in Piccotts End, very close to Hemel. The murals date to this period. 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 a number of new towns were built in the surrounding areas. During the 1960s through to the end of the 1980s, Hemel grew to its present size of 80,000 people, with new developments swamping the original town. This part of Hemel is known as the "Old 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.

The New Town

The new town 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. Sadly, not all of these have stood the test of time well, and together with the shift from public to private maintenance of communal areas, this has led to large areas becoming a little shabby and run down.

Hemel neighbourhoods include:

Notable Features

Hemel is famous (or perhaps notorious) for its "Magic Roundabout", a huge interchange at the end of the new town, where traffic from six separate routes meets. The interchange is designed as a roundabout, but has two-way traffic flows. 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.

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

Notable People

Vinnie Jones , footballer, actor , local resident.

Paul Boateng MP, one of Britain's first black MPs, was at secondary school in Hemel (Apsley Grammar School, now Longdean School )

Related Articles

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

External Links

Nearby Places