Though a small county, has little geographical unity. The southern parts are within the orbit of London and discharge commuters into Euston, St Pancras, King's Cross, and Liverpool Street. The north retains quiet spots like Gaddesden in the west and Wyddial in the east.
The area was one of the earliest to be occupied by the Saxons and formed at first part of the diocese of London, established in the early 7th cent. to minister to the East Saxons. There was subsequently an ecclesiastical reorganization since, until the foundation of the new diocese of St Albans in 1877, most of Hertfordshire was in the vast diocese of Lincoln. In the 8th cent. the region formed part of the kingdom of Mercia. In the 9th and 10th cents., Danes and Saxons fought for control. The boundary between the territories of Alfred of Wessex and Guthrum was settled by the treaty of Wedmore in 878 as the line of the river Lea. Edward the Elder, in his counter‐attack in 913, fortified Hertford as a strong point and it became the nucleus of the emerging county. The first reference to Hertfordshire by name is in the Anglo‐Saxon Chronicle for ad 1011. In the 13th cent. Hertford and St Albans established their right to parliamentary representation. Hertford, slightly off centre, never dominated the shire as some county towns did, and a considerable number of small market towns grew up, serving their immediate locality—Ashwell, Buntingford, Royston, Baldock, Hitchin, and Hoddesdon. St Albans was always bigger than Hertford and when the first county council was set up in 1889, it met alternately in the two towns.
The county remained rural until late. There were plenty of open fields surviving well into Victoria's reign, and tributes to the beauty of the shire continued to pour in. In 1801 no town in the county had as many as 4,000 inhabitants. But by 1901 the shape of the 20th cent. was becoming clear. Watford had increased to 32,000, twice the size of the next town, St Albans; and Cheshunt (12,000) and Barnet (7,000), on the fringes of London, had moved up. Two years later, a development which cast a long shadow took place. The first garden city was started at Letchworth, chosen in the main for its nearness to London. It was joined after the First World War by the second garden city at Welwyn. The success of the garden cities prompted governments to look to Hertfordshire for sites for the new towns. Stevenage was the first to be set up after the Second World War, followed by Hatfield and Hemel Hempstead, and Welwyn was taken over as a new town. The effect upon a small county of five in such close proximity was predictable. Increasingly it was reduced to quiet pockets and enclaves, though within the network of motorways and junctions, fragments of an old county survive.
Subjects: British History.