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Harpenden & Southdown

With a population of more than 30,000, Harpenden must be the largest Hertfordshire community still claiming to be a village at heart.

Harpenden grew out of Westminster Abbey’s gradual clearing of woodland for farming and settlement within its Wheathampstead manor, granted by Edward the Confessor in 1060. A first reference to a parish church is in 1221 so the town evidently grew up around then.

Like nearby Redbourn and Wheathampstead, this popular dormitory town enjoys wonderful stretches of common lands and greens, which together cover nearly 250 acres.

Between 1848 and 1914 the common was a regular venue for horse racing, which didn’t please everyone. In his History of Hertfordshire in 1879, John Edwin Cussans commented ‘Notwithstanding that these meetings are under the most unexceptional patronage as regards the Stewards, yet for two days in the year all the London pickpockets, sharpers and blackguards who happen to be out of gaol are permitted to make Harpenden their own and to make travelling in a first-class carriage on the Midland Railway a danger to men and an impossibility to ladies.’

The arrival of the railway and the sale of farms for residential development after 1880 radically changed Harpenden’s surroundings. Nevertheless, the town’s core remains intact and, in just a few minutes, you can either be out in the countryside, in Rothamstead Park, or on the common.

Harpenden’s more prestigious contribution to history is Rothamsted Manor and its Institute of Arable Crop Research, formerly Rothamsted Experimental Station. In front of its main building, which faces the common, is a stone, erected in 1893, commemorating 50 years of experiments by Sir John Bennet Lawes and Joseph Henry Gilbert.

Bennet Lawes (1814-1900) inherited the family estate in 1834.  Acknowledged as ‘the father of agricultural science’, his early field experiments on Hertfordshire farms led him to patent a phosphate fertiliser, the sales of which, enriched him immensely. With the proceeds, he established the experimental station, building laboratories in the 1850s. The station continued the development of the artificial fertilisers on which most modern farmers now depend.

Whilst still retaining that village feel, today Harpenden is also a thriving commuter town. The Thameslink rail service offers fast, efficient access to London in around 30 minutes. With excellent road access via the M1, M25 and A1M, Harpenden is also ideally situated for the car user. Alternatively, nearby Luton Airport, offers a convenient hub to an extensive choice of European city destinations.

Harpenden common remains a jealously guarded landscape which boasts a County Wildlife Site designation and supports cricket, football and golf amenities. Additionally, Harpenden’s Leisure Centre is located in Rothamstead Park.

Harpenden offers a number of excellent restaurants and several award winning pubs. Blessed with two quality, town centre, supermarkets and innumerable boutiques and small shops, Harpenden is well placed to address the needs of the serious shopper.

Southdown & Batford are distinct local communities within Harpenden. Southdown is only 15 minutes walk from the town centre and railway station. Additional extensive local shopping and dining facilities are also to be found in both locations.

Harpenden retains its alluring character; tree lined High Street, profusion of cottages and town greens, today matched by modern facilities. With diverse and delightful residential properties, a beautiful local amenity in the Common and a well-deserved reputation for excellent schooling, it is not difficult to understand why Harpenden is such a sought after location.


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Last updated : 01/10/2004 16:11:48
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acres of Harpenden
122 Southdown Road
Hertfordshire AL5 1QQ

Telephone: 01582 766343