One of the places featured in the book Hertfordshire A Fascinating County is Baldock.
Baldock is a historic market town, with connections to the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitalers. Samuel Pepys visited here, and it stands at a crossroads of the ancient Icknield Way and the Great North Road.
Its four main streets meet to form a cross. Baldock was once a coaching centre and its prosperity from the eighteenth century is evidenced by much of its architecture seen today.
Evidence of Romans and Saxon occupation have been discovered in the area, the Council for British Archaeology have listed Baldock as being of national importance, and Baldock has over one hundred listed buildings.
The foundations of the present town were laid by the Knights Templar who gave the town its name. It is believed they called it ‘Baldac’ which is old French for the city which is Baghdad in Iraq today.
The Knights Templar acquired their land here in the twelfth century from the Earl of Pembroke and were also granted a weekly market and an annual fair, and they encouraged merchants to come here.
The Knights Templar held lands until their dissolution in the fourteenth century when they passed to the Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem who were known as the Knights Hospitallers. Baldock had grown into a considerable town by this time.
Baldock has a wide High Street where the market was held and in later days it formed a part of the Great North Road which brought wealth to the town during the coaching era. Also the brewing and the malting trade brought prosperity.
In the 1720’s there was an increasing demand from London Breweries for the Hertfordshire specialty of scorched brown malt which was used to produce Porter, a popular drink at the time. In 1792 it was said of Baldock that it was “noted for making most excellent malt, and quantity made being exceeded but by one town in the kingdom”.
John Smith became the first person to decipher the shorthand in which Samuel Pepys wrote his diary. The diaries had lain in the Pepys Library at Magdalene College for nearly a century. John spent 12 to 14 hours a day to complete his task whilst an undergraduate at St John’s College, Cambridge. He later became the Rector of St Mary’s Church at Baldock which is a broad roomy church which has been described as the second largest medieval church in the county.
A grave board in St Mary’s churchyard is to Henry George Brown who died at the age of 10 years and 10 months. It bears the words “How soon was I cut down, when innocent at play. The wind it blew a scaffold down and took my life away”.
Baldock is a town with a fascinating history and a variety of architecture which provide many reminders of its past wealth and benefactors.