Hertford has been described by Arthur Mee as “The friendly heart of this delightful county”, and Alfred Russell Wallace wrote that it is “One of the most pleasantly situated county towns in England”.
Hertford grew up by a strategic ford over the River Lea. The remains of Hertford Castle, barges on the River Lea, two churches which were rebuilt in modern times on the sites of earlier medieval churches, and exceptionally fine pargetting can be seen.
Edward the Elder built a stronghold here in 912. Two Saxon Burghs were built, one on each side of the river, which were the foundations for the present town.
A Norman castle here was granted by William the Conqueror to Peter De Valoignes, Sheriff of Hertfordshire.
The castle has long associations with royalty. Every sovereign from Edward I to Elizabeth I stayed here. In 1216 it was besieged by the King of France. David Bruce, King of Scotland, was held captive here in 1346, and after the Battle of Poitiers the Black Prince brought King John of France here as his prisoner.
William, the 2nd Earl of Salisbury, was granted the castle by King Charles I, and it was eventually leased to Hertford Corporation by the Marquess of Salisbury.
Today the magnificent fifteenth century brick Gatehouse remains together with a Postern Gate and parts of the flint Curtain wall, standing in marvellous public gardens which stretch down to the River Lea.
Fore Street has the finest pargetting to be seen anywhere in the county. The upper storey of No’s 3-11, and the Salisbury Arms have this rich decorative plasterwork.
The Corn Exchange in Fore Street dates to 1857. It has large Corinthian pilasters and decorative stonework. Marvellous painted figures of Boys and Girls of the Bluecoat School can be seen on buildings, which were enlarged over a period of two centuries, standing toward the eastern end of Fore Street.
Lombard House stands at the end of Bull Plain. Once the home of Sir Henry Chauncy, the author of the “Historical Antiquities of Hertfordshire.”, it has a seventeenth century back built of plastered timber with five gables and an overhanging upper storey which overlooks the river Lea, and an early eighteenth century brick front.
Hertford with its variety of wonderful buildings, castle, river, and shops, is well deserving the distinction of being the County Town of Hertfordshire.