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Hitchin
St Mary's Church, Hitchin - geograph.org.uk - 989830.jpg
View from Market Square in Hitchin, with St Mary's Church in the background
Hitchin shown within Hertfordshire
Population 33,352 (2011)
OS grid reference TL181292
District
  • North Hertfordshire
Shire county
Region
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town HITCHIN
Postcode district SG4, SG5
Dialling code 01462
Police Hertfordshire
Fire Hertfordshire
Ambulance East of England
EU Parliament East of England
UK Parliament
  • Hitchin and Harpenden
List of places
UK
England
Hertfordshire
St Marys Hitchin
St Mary's, the Hitchin parish church

Hitchin is a market town in the North Hertfordshire District in Hertfordshire, England, with an estimated population of 33,350.

History

Hitchin is first noted as the central place of the Hicce people mentioned in a 7th-century document, the Tribal Hidage. The tribal name is Brittonic rather than Old English and derives from *siccā, meaning 'dry', which is perhaps a reference to the local stream, the Hiz. It has been suggested that Hitchin was the location of 'Clofeshoh', the place chosen in 673 by Theodore of Tarsus the Archbishop of Canterbury during the Synod of Hertford, the first meeting of representatives of the fledgling Christian churches of Anglo-Saxon England, to hold annual synods of the churches as Theodore attempted to consolidate and centralise Christianity in England. By 1086 Hitchin is described as a Royal Manor in Domesday Book: the feudal services of Avera and Inward, usually found in the eastern counties, especially Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire, were due from the sokemen, but the manor of Hitchin was unique in levying Inward. Evidence has been found to suggest that the town was once provided with an earthen bank and ditch fortification, probably in the early tenth century but this did not last. The modern spelling 'Hitchin' first appears in 1618 in the "Hertfordshire Feet of Fines".

Hitchin History - geograph.org.uk - 143243
Panel representing the foundational history of Hitchin mentioning: King Offa, the River Hiz and the Hicce tribe. Now on the front of Hitchin Library, it was on the Sainsburys on Brand Street until the supermarket relocated to the Bancroft area.

The name of the town also is associated with the small river that runs through the town, most picturesquely in front of the east end of St. Mary's Church, the town's parish church. The river is noted on maps as the River Hiz. Contrary to how most people now pronounce the name, that is to say as spelt, the 'z' is an abbreviated character for a 'tch' sound in Domesday Book, (as in the name of the town). It would have been pronounced 'River Hitch'.

Hitchin is notable for St. Mary's Church, which is remarkably large for a town of its size. The size of the church is evidence of how Hitchin prospered from the wool trade. It is the largest parish church in Hertfordshire. Most of the church dates from the 15th century, with its tower dating from around 1190. During the laying of a new floor in the church in 1911, foundations of a more ancient church building were found. In form, they appear to be a basilican church of a 7th-century type, with a later enlarged chancel and transepts, perhaps added in the 10th century. This makes the church older than the story (not recorded before the 15th century) that the church was founded by Offa, king of Mercia 757-796.

In 1697, Hitchin (and the nearby village of Offley) were subject to what is thought to have been the most severe hailstorm in recorded British history. Hailstones over 4 inches in diameter were reported

The town flourished on the wool trade, and located near the Icknield Way and by the 17th century Hitchin was a staging post for coaches coming from London. By the middle of the 19th century the railway had arrived, and with it a new way of life for Hitchin. The corn exchange was built in the market place and within a short time Hitchin established itself as a major centre for grain trading.

The latter half of the 20th century has also brought great changes in communication to Hitchin. Motorways have shortened the journey time and brought Luton, a few miles away on the M1, and the A1 (M) even closer. By the close of the 20th century, Hitchin had become a satellite dormitory town for London. Hitchin also developed a fairly strong Sikh community based around the Walsworth area.

During the medieval period, both a priory (Newbigging, now known as The Biggin) and a friary (now known as Hitchin Priory) were established, both of which closed during Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries. They were never reformed, although The Biggin was for many years used as almshouses.

The British Schools Museum in Hitchin is home to the world's only known complete Lancasterian Schoolroom, which was built in 1837 to teach boys by the Lancasterian method (peer tutoring).

Girton College—a pioneer in women's education—was established on 16 October 1869 under the name of College for Women at Benslow House in Hitchin, which was considered to be a convenient distance from Cambridge and London. It was thought to be less 'risky' and less controversial to locate the college away from Cambridge in the beginning. The college moved to Cambridge a few years later and adopted its present name, Girton College.

Transport

Hitchin railway station is on the Great Northern Line, to which the Cambridge Line connects just north of the station. There are direct connections to London, Stevenage, Peterborough, and Cambridge. Journeys to London and Cambridge both last approximately 30 minutes on the Express services. Stevenage is 5 minutes away and Peterborough is typically 45 minutes distance in journey-time.

The A505, A600 and A602 roads intersect in Hitchin, which is about three miles (5 km) from the A1(M) motorway and about ten miles (16 km) from the M1 motorway.

Culture and community

Hitchin lavender fields
Lavender fields near Hitchin

In March 2013 a poll in The Times voted Hitchin the 9th best town in the UK in which to live. Hitchin is the venue for the annual Rhythms of the World festival. Now in its twentieth year, over 140 acts performed in 2011, with acts from India, Cuba, Australia, Congo, China, Senegal, Singapore and Germany taking part. Once the largest free festival of world music in Europe, an entry fee has been charged since 2008. It is part of the three-week Hitchin Festival which includes picnics, concerts, theatre, ghost walks, art exhibitions, comedy club, summer fetes and fireworks. Since 2014, Hitchin has hosted the yarn festival Festiwool, organised and run by members of Hitchin Stitchin.

There are a number of organisations for young people, including air, army and sea cadets and various scouting groups.

The main burial ground for the town is Hitchin Cemetery on St. John's Road.

Hitchin is twinned with:

Districts of Hitchin

  • Bearton
  • Benslow
  • Poets Estate
  • Purwell
  • Sunnyside
  • Walsworth
  • West Hitchin
  • Westmill

Nearby settlements

Ickleford is a village situated on the northern outskirts of Hitchin, and to the south is St Ippolyts, Charlton and Gosmore. The nearest towns are Letchworth, Baldock, Stevenage and Luton.

Filmography

Part of the 2010 BBC TV series Just William was filmed at the British Schools Museum.

Scenes from the BBC drama series Doctor Foster were filmed in Hitchin

Miscellaneous

In 1960 Hitchin Urban District Council was the first in Britain to introduce 'black bags' for refuse collection.

Elizabeth the Queen Mother's birth in 1900 was registered at Hitchin, which is a few miles from her parent's English country house, St Paul's Walden Bury, where she spent much of her childhood.

Actor and comedian Bob Hope "claimed to have inherited his sense of humour from his paternal grandfather from Hitchin".

The 1951 book My Turn to Make the Tea by Monica Dickens is set in Hitchin (renamed Downingham in the book).

Images for kids


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