. The west and northwest of the county is hilly, and forms part of the chalk ridge of the Chiltern Hills . Several rivers flow southeast and go to supply London and the Home Counties. At one time large mills with their iconoclastic water-wheels stood on the river banks.
. South of the Chilterns, the land is gently undulating, with some more low hills along the Middlesex border running in parallel with the Grimsdyke, an old Saxon earthwork. The eastern part of the county is flat (like Cambridgeshire and Essex which it borders).
. The fertile soil produces fruit, vegetables and lavender, it also contains a high proportion of flints, some of which have been used in local buildings.
. The Hertfordshire & Middlesex Wildlife Trust based in St Albans work to protect land forms and natural habitats and create nature walks in woodland and other green areas within two counties where flora and fauna are smitten by environmentally choking suburbia, in 1994 1 was privileged to open one of the Wildlife Trust's nature walks at Pond Wood.
Origin of name: From the Old English "ford where hart, stag or deer came to drink".
Name first recorded: 866 as Heortfordscir.
County Town: HERTFORD Three rivers, the Lea, Beane and Rib, meet at the centre of this pretty old town.
ABBOTS LANGLEY where Nicholas Breakspear. the only British Pope (Adrian IV, 1154-59) was born in nearby Bedmond.
BARNET Half in Middlesex and half in Hertfordshire, it was conferred a charter by King John and is known as Chipping Barnet.
BERKHAMSTEAD Situated on the Grand Union Canal with its old churches and inns, the town is a lovely place for a picnic and a country day out.
BISHOP'S STORTFORD A hilly town, with a mixture of medieval and Victorian buildings.
BOREHAMWOOD Those famous film studios where the BBC now makes Eastenders.
HATFIELD The church has a window by the Pre- Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones.
HEMEL HEMPSTEAD a rather concrete town but with a delightful high street rising in a gentle curve towards the church.
HITCHIN has the remains of a prehistoric hill fort called Ravensburgh Castle .
ST ALBANS You'll find a pleasant blend of the medieval and the modern in this cathedral town.
TRING famous now for its reservoirs which attract black tern, crested grebe and many other wildfowl.
WATFORD originally Watlingford as the Roman Wading Street crossed the nearby Colne river. An 18th-century description mentions the river making the town impassable and the "very long street which is extremely dirty in the winter".
WELWYN GARDEN CITY One of the first artificially planned towns begun by one Ebenezer Howard and completed by the New Towns Act of 1946, officially designated a New Town in 1948. Residents refer to the new town as Welwyn.
. Bushey . Cheshunt . Chorleywood .Elstree (partly in Middlesex) . Harpenden . London Colney . Oxhey . Radlett . Royston . Sawbridgeworth . Totteridge . Tring . Wheathampstead
County Rivers: Lea, Colne, Stort, ivel. Rib, Mimram.
Nar Hastoe village at 803 feet.
. Boxing Day: St Alban's Mummers - St Albans . An ancient Christmas custom in which men and women exchange clothes and visit houses. From this activity emerged mumming plays which still survive here.
. Mid-June: Bovingdon Revels - Bovingdon.
. June: Croxley Revels - Croxley. A festive celebration with music and dancing.
. 3rd & 4th week in July: Bamet Festival - Bamet.
. 3rd week September: Aylett's Dahlia Festival - Aylett's Nurseries, St Albans .
. Early April & September: Hatfield Fair - Hatfield.
. September: Stevenage Fair - Stevenage .
. 3rd week in July: Flower Festival - Hemel Hempstead .
. October: Music Festival - Bishop's Stortford.
. 4th week in May: Hertfordshire County Show - Redbourn.
. The philosopher Sir Francis Bacon lived at Gorhambury House at St Albans .
. The Cecils of Hatfield House were prominent ministers of state to both Elizabeth 1 and James 1.
. Glittering and outrageous pop icon Elton John is the former chairman of Watford Football Club.
. Cecil Rhodes, the builder of the British Empire , was born at Bishop's Stortford in 1853.
. William Lamb (Lord Melbourne) lived at Brocket Hall near Welwyn. He was Prime Minister during the reign of Queen Victoria, and the husband of the notorious Lady Caroline Lamb.
. Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, was born at St Paul's Waldenbury, near Hitchin.
. The noted music critic, writer, broadcaster and saxophonist Benny Green lives at King's Langley .
Administered by two-tier local government except for one tiny part under the control of the unitary borough of Bamet - shared with Middlesex. Hertfordshire County Council represents the top level and the ten Districts of Broxboume, East Hertfordshire , Dacorum, Hertsmere, North Hertfordshire, St Alban's, Stevenage, Three Rivers , Watford , Welwyn- Hatfield the bottom. Coleshill is Hertfordshire detached in Buckinghamshire and controlled by that County's and Chiltern District Councils.
HERTFORDSHIRE is one of the counties of my childhood, with many early visits on the Green Line buses - and how very very far away it seemed from our house in Middlesex to the likes of Hemel Hempstead, St Albans , Watford and 'Ricky' - Rickmansworth. As a youngster that border may have been only a matter of miles but to my imagination it was the edge of my small world. Welwyn and Hertford and everything in the south of this county I think of as a 'home' county, but go to Hitchin and Stevenage and Letchworth and it is more like East Anglia - an entirely different feel. The essayist Charles Lamb called the county a 'homely' place - and certainly no similar- sized county has so many lovely country houses that were for generations family homes, though now, sadly, many are hotels or conference centres.
Though Hertfordshire up until the early part of this century was renowned as an agricultural county, the malign influence of London meant that much of its arable land has now been subsumed into the commuter belt, and modern industries like pharmaceuticals, chemicals, light engineering and electronics are now prominent. The county town of Hertford , on the River Lea, has an 18th- century Shire Hall designed by Robert Adam, and several fine buildings along Fore Street . The remains of the old Norman castle where King John of France was imprisoned in 1359 include the motte and a gatehouse. Now almost joined to Hertford is Ware, the limit of John Gilpin's ride in William Cowper's famous poem, which has reverted to its old character since the opening of a new bypass. The Priory, once a 15th-century Franciscan foundation and with 17th- and 18th- century additions, now houses council offices. Ware was the base of the famous Bluecoat School for boys and girls of Christ's Hospital, which transferred to Sussex in 1985. The original school buildings and a row of 17th- century cottages used by the boys and their 'nurses' can be seen in East Street .
On the outskirts of the village of Perry Green the former studio (open by appointment) of the sculptor Henry Moore stands amid an open-air exhibition of his work. St Albans , situated on a hill on the left bank of the River Ver, has suffered from its proximity to the M25, Ml and A1(M) motorways but its old town still retains numerous items of interest dating back to its early history as the Roman town ofVerulamium. It takes its present name from a Roman soldier who was converted to Christianity here and subsequently martyred. His remains were found when King Offa of Mercia founded a Benedictine abbey here in AD793, and which after the Dissolution became the parish
church. This abbey church was raised to the status of a cathedral in 1872. Originally of Norman construction, the west end was extended in 1214-35, the monk's choir was added in 1235-60 and the Lady Chapel in 1308-26. The west front and transepts were remodelled by Lord Grimthorpe towards the end of the last century With a total length of 556 feet, the cathedral is the second largest in England , exceeded only by Winchester . Close by the cathedral, across the abbey gardens is the Fighting Cocks Inn, said to be the oldest in Britain . On the opposite bank of the River Ver are the remains of Verulamium, founded about AD45, which became the only municipium in Britain and the third largest town in the country. The ruins subsequently provided the building material for the abbey. Finds from the site can be viewed in the Verulamium Museum . Seven miles east of St Albans , outside the old market town of Hatfield, stands the imposing early 17th-century Jacobean mansion of Hatfield House (open to visitors), with its beautiful gardens containing great mulberry trees and hornbeams. It was built by Robert Cecil, who demolished three wings of the old Tudor bishops' palace (one wing still survives), in 1607-12. Henry V1II had used the old palace as a country retreat. Elizabeth I was kept confined here by her half-sister Mary before her accession to the English throne, and is said to have been sitting beneath a tree in the garden when a messenger brought her the news of Mary's death. Memorabilia on view include a pair of Elizabeth 's silk stockings, along with a curious pedigree which traces her descent from Adam and Eve, via Noah and King Lear.
The small village ofAyot St Lawrence is in one of the most pleasant parts of the county. Its fame rests on its association with the playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw who lived in the house, Shaw's Corner, up until his death in 1950. Now owned by the National Trust, it has been left in its original state and visitors can view the cramped garden shed, equipped with a telephone and mounted on a revolving base to follow the sun, where Shaw used to write. Knebworth House was begun in 1492 by Sir RobertLytton, but the exterior was redecorated in Gothic style by Sir Edward Bulmer-Lytton in 1843. It is better known among music fans for its year-on-year classic open-air rock and jazz festivals featuring veteran and venerable artists like Pink Floyd, Eiton John, Paul McCartney, Phil Collins, Ella Fitzgerald and Sir Cliff Richard.
The bones of wolf and hippopotamus found on the flat marshlands of the county tell of prehistoric times while later on beside the River Lea King Arthur is said to have checked the advance of heathen invaders from over the sea when they sailed up to Ware. And the New river by Ware has a fascinating history. It was recorded that during the reign of James I, water was conveyed from this river along a 36-mile channel - a canal really, not more than 10 feetwide, originally of stone and brick - to a basin at Islington in Middlesex, where it went on via wooden and lead pipes to feed the thirsty mouths of the metropolis.
Meanwhile back in AD61 the Roman city ofVerulamium ( St Albans ) had quiet courtyards and gardens with beautiful theatres and temples but Queen Boudicca put a swift end to that when, as leader of the East Anglian tribe of the Iceni, she attacked in her revolt against the Romans and massacred the hapless inhabitants. It was rebuilt and destroyed again by the Saxons in about AD500, and soon afterwards the bones of the first Christian martyr, St Alban, were found and an abbey church erected in his honour. A major battle was fought in AD896 between the Saxon King Alfred the Great and the Danes in the area around Watford . The death toll was substantial but Alfred secured the victory. Bishop's Stortford was originally Storteford (meaning a ford on the River Stort) in the Domesday Book of 1086, but then was owned by the Bishops of London, hence its present name. During the 14th century the peasants and townspeople of St Albans rose in revolt, seeking a charter of rights. The uprising was suppressed by Richard II in person, and a prominent rebel priest John Ball was hung, drawn and quartered. Other participants were pardoned. The Rye House plot, an abortive attempt to murder Charles II, was planned at Rye House, on the River Lea in 1683.