Location, Location, Location

Alan Greening

17th century directory for Hertford?

Six years ago I gave a talk to the Society entitled “Hertford and Ware on the threshold of the Railway Age”. That talk, which was based upon but considerably expanded, an article of mine in an earlier Journal, used as its principal source Pigot & Co.’s 1839 Directory of Essex, Herts and Middlesex. Intrinsic interest aside, it aimed at pointing out both the usefulness and the shortcomings of directories as historical source material. Their publication, in increasing numbers, was a consequence of the increasing urbanisation of Britain, in its turn the outcome of a century of relative domestic peace and the effects of what we call the “Industrial Revolution”.

Given our local knowledge, might we be able to compile a species of directory for Hertford for a given year in the 17th century? It is a tantalising thought, but it has to be admitted at once that such a project would be quite impossible. It is not simply that the social circumstances were quite different, and that what attempts were made elsewhere were of necessity limited in scope. As much as anything, it is a question of scale.

17th century Hertford was a very small place, smaller than many modern villages – perhaps 1500 people mid-century, certainly no more than 2000 at the end. The social unit was the parish, not the street. For a considerable number of inhabitants we have no difficulty in identifying their parish, but it is a different story when we try to locate them by street, let alone where in the street.

The next problem that arises is when? The borough records contain a number of lists of inhabitants for various years, but some are incomplete and others limited to specific groups, such as those taxable, those in receipt of relief, and so on. The “1648” list of Freemen might seem superficially attractive, but while the absence of the poorer “unfree” is no great disadvantage, that of many wealthier inhabitants certainly is.

Perhaps the best year to consider would be 1663, since for that year we have the only surviving Hearth Tax Returns for the town, both for Lady Day and Michaelmas. These, by their very nature, provide us with as complete a list of householders as we are ever likely to get – which is fine as far as it goes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go far enough.

Most of those we can locate are Freemen. Those not free are not so easily located but, as has already been stressed, many of these were far from being insignificant people. Perusal of the Hearth Tax Returns for Michaelmas 1663 reveals no fewer than 12 properties with 10 or more hearths. By any standards these were sizeable houses. Where were they? The Castle, of course – with 22 hearths – stands out. One property of 21 hearths we know to have been an inn. Two properties had 16 hearths, one 15, three 12, three 11, and one just 10. Only three were in St Andrew’s parish, the Castle being the obvious one. The remainder were in All Saints’. This does not include the Liberty of Brickendon (not at that date part of the borough) which had two properties of its own with 10 hearths, clearly Brickendonbury and Bayley Hall (neither the present-day houses). Nor does it include St John’s parish where, equally clearly, Mrs Gardiner’s 12 hearths belong to Jenningsbury. One of the All Saints’ premises must be Lombard House, another that inn (see below). But where were the other seven? Only six of the owners – or at any rate occupiers – were Freemen.

Of course, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that some at least of the seven were inns. All sorts and conditions of people kept inns or were licensed to – the victualling trade was one exempt from the usual restrictions to the freedom. But the status of those listed in the Hearth Tax Returns would seem to make it unlikely here. We are not helped by the absence of a contemporary list of innkeepers’ recognizances.

If we cannot produce our directory – and clearly we can’t – is there any other way to meaningfully people Hertford’s 17th century streets? Well, whatever has happened above ground, the basic layout of those streets has remained unchanged for the most part, so we can at least “go walkabout” and attempt to locate where identifiable citizens lived at various dates during the century. Each property is given a number which can be found on the extracts of John Speed’s plan of Hertford, 1610.

From Hertingfordbury Road to The Wash

Let us begin by entering the town from Hertingfordbury. The first premises to attract out attention, certainly for most of the century, would have been the Goodman tannery (1), more or less on the site of the present “Merchant House” restaurant (Cawthorne House). No doubt it was the Goodmans’ house that stood on the street frontage, but if the tanyard was out of sight it would probably announce its presence to our nostrils.

Next door was St Andrew’s church (2), not the present building, of course. In the early years of the century its incumbent was Thomas Field, who died in 1623. In the ensuing 20 years no less than three incumbents followed in rapid succession. The last of these was replaced in 1663 by Thomas Ashton, reported “to be of scandalous life… [and] lives from his wife, and is of ill fame on that account.” Ashton’s “ill fame”, however, stemmed mainly from his addiction to the bottle. Nevertheless, he lasted until 1675, when he was replaced by Thomas Daniel.

An extract from John Speed’s map of Hertford, 1610, showing the western half of the town

On the opposite side of the street stood an inn, the Bell Mould, on the site of the present Nos. 38 and 40 (3). The inn is not listed in the recognizances of 1623, but appears in that of 1635 as kept by Robert Oldfield, a bellfounder by trade. He had certainly been casting bells in Hertford since 1604, no doubt at the foundry behind the inn. His name appears on the 1648 Freemens’ list but he died before 1650, his widow (second wife?) retaining the pub until 1656 or ’57.

At the other end of the street, the house on the corner of Old Cross, where the former Wiggintons/John barber’s now stands, was later in the century occupied by John Trott, a currier and one of the borough aldermen (4). Trott was, at least by Hertford standards, a wealthy man, said to be worth £4000 when the Corporation was petitioning for what was to become the 1680 Charter. Notwithstanding his wealth, status and influence, in 1648 he had bad neighbour trouble.

It is not clear whether William Smart, woolcomber, and his family lived in St Andrew Street or just around the corner in Old Cross. They were Congregationalists and no doubt numbered themselves among the Godly, but if even a moiety of what Trott alleged was true, then they merited the description “Neighbours from Hell”. I will spare readers the sordid details.

The town mill (5) was for many years worked by the splendidly named Cadwallader Smith. “Smith” is English enough, but the forename suggests Welsh antecedents. Perhaps his maternal forebears arrived in the retinue of Henry VII. Identifiable Welsh surnames are not common in 17th century Hertford.

By mid-century the Cowpers were already established tenants of the Castle. Ownership, of course, since the time of Charles I, rested with the Earls of Salisbury. Various members of the Cowper family occupied the Castle well into the next century, an illustration of the – to us – curious way that many wealthy people were seemingly happy to rent their homes.

Maidenhead Street

We are really concerned here, however, with the “middling sort”, not the pseudo-aristocracy. Cordwainer Street, as Maidenhead Street was then known, offers us considerable scope, not because of its shoemakers but because of its inns. If any man complaining of thirst on entering that short street, was still thirsty at its end, he must either have been extremely unobservant or extremely short of money.

Beginning at The Wash end, the first establishment on the right-hand side was the Green Dragon (6). In 1623, kept by one Daniel Pettit, it was described as only an alehouse, but by 1635 it had gone up in the world and was kept by Henry Sweeting, remaining in the family for many years. The Sweetings were butchers and one could probably have ate well at the Green Dragon. Interestingly, the premises – or part thereof – remained in the butchery trade right down to the middle of the last century.

On the opposite side we would soon come to the Maidenhead (7), on the site of what was until recently Woolworths. The name “Maidenhead”, of course, has nothing to do with the Berkshire town. Originally, it would have been “The Maiden’s Head”, the maiden in question being the Virgin Mary, the dedication being quite a common one for medieval inns. In 1623 it was kept by Edward Smyth, by 1635 by Robert Lee and in 1641 by Edward Reason, a brewer. A brewer keeping a pub seems natural enough, but on the 1641 list of innkeepers’ recognizances I can identify only three such. Other trades include baker, bellfounder, cook, grocer, tailor, wood-turner, waggoner, and – as we have seen – butcher.

Crossing the street again would bring us to the Rose (8). When one discovers that during the 1630s it was kept by a man called John Flower, it is tempting to surmise that he was responsible for the name, but it is not so. In 1623 it was already the Rose, kept by John Mayles. Flower’s tenure was, in fact, quite brief. By 1640 he was dead. His will describes him as “brewer”.

His successor by 1641 was John Pritchard, a waggoner (carrier). He must definitely have been of Welsh descent – the name is an elision of “ap Richard” (i.e., son of Richard). He became an Assistant on the Corporation in 1644, a Chief Burgess in 1658, survived the Restoration clearout, and became Mayor in 1663 and 1671. In the course of his trade he probably accumulated property elsewhere. His will is in the National Archives at Kew.

Crossing the street yet again we are faced with a conundrum – the Glove and Dolphin (9). By the later 17th century, when John Bach or Bache was its landlord, it was clearly a large and decidedly up-market establishment. Earlier, William Turner, grocer and leading local Parliamentarian, was associated with it. In 1658 the Quaker grocer John King was actually given permission to bridge the river from the Glove and Dolphin orchard across to Little Hartham with a storehouse, provided he left sufficient headroom for barges to pass beneath. Although it seems to have been mentioned much earlier, the conundrum arises because neither the 1623, 1635 or 1641 lists of recognizances mention it at all. Did it, for a period, fall out of use as an inn but retain its sign? Signs in an age innocent of house-numbering, were by no means restricted to pubs.

We still have evidence for its location in the entrance to “Dolphin Yard” in Maidenhead Street. The name is curious. How, one wonders, did a glove and a dolphin come together, even in the rather surreal world of pub naming? Were there perhaps at one time two separate inns?

Next door, at the junction with Bull Plain and extending some distance up it, was the Prince’s Arms (10), kept in 1641 by John Daniel, earlier by William Maynard. Whichever prince was being commemorated – probably the ill-fated Henry – the sign may be imagined. By the end of the century it had been renamed the Bull.

Opposite the Glove and Dolphin on the corner of Honey Lane stood “Treasuries” (11). It doesn’t appear in the early recognizances as an inn, although it might originally have formed part of the Rose which, with its 21 hearths – only one short of the Castle! – was far and away the largest inn in Hertford. But later in the century – possibly in 1663 when the seven (earlier nine) hearths certainly seem appropriate – Treasuries was occupied by Adlord Bowd, whether as an inn is not clear. By 1710 it certainly was one, renamed the Coffee House Tavern, kept by Bowd’s son, also named Adlord.

Around the corner in what is now Salisbury Square but what was then just part of the Market Place, stood the one pub in Hertford that has not changed its name in four centuries – the White Hart (12). Kept in 1623 by Henry Sweeting, by 1635 it had passed into the hands of John Clarke. If, as seems probable, this was the John Clarke, son of Sampson Clarke (sometime gaoler!), who became an Assistant in 1639, Chief Burgess in 1645, Alderman in 1680, and Mayor in 1649, 1659 and 1670, he was a tailor by trade and, one has to say, something of a “Vicar of Bray” figure. His eight hearths in 1663 would seem to match a substantial inn.

Fig. 2: An extract from John Speed’s map of Hertford, 1610, showing the eastern half of the town. The thoroughfare marked with an asterisk was not the present day Market Street. It ran just to the east of the Corn Exchange and was subsequently built over.

Fore Street

When we come to Fore Street – in the 17th century High Street – we are once more in a street dominated by inns. Just around the corner in Castle Street was the “Pye” or Magpie (13). In 1623 it was described as just an alehouse, kept by William Dowling; by 1635 and later as an inn, kept by Thomas Hills, a tailor. Today, the site is the Blackbirds.

In High Street proper we first come to the King’s Head (14). Its full extent is not known, but Millett’s shop now occupies much of the site. In 1623, and for at least 20 years afterwards, it was kept by the brewer Edmond Mortimer. In December 1639 the King’s Head was the scene of a disturbance involving, inter alia, one Thomas Rands, alias “Kettlebelly”, no stranger to alcohol. As it happened, the constable William Gardiner lived nearby. Those overtaken by liquor are not infrequently very noisy, but I submit that if Gardiner and his wife, who were abed at the time, could not only hear the noise but actually count the number of illegal oaths sworn, they must have lived very near indeed – either next door or directly opposite. The outcome of the Kettlebelly affair need not concern us here, but the location of the Gardiners’ home may. If opposite, did he live in that imposing pargetted block?

No, he did not, for the very good reason that it didn’t exist at the time. Few buildings of the period are so precisely datable. It was built in or about 1662 by one John Hollywell either as a speculation or an investment. Hollywell – apparently a newcomer to the town – was himself living in a house with 11 hearths, formerly that of the attorney Hugh North.

A quarter of a century after the Kettlebelly affair, Gardiner – by now a wealthy man despite his ejection from the Corporation – was living in a house with 12 hearths. So was he in 1663 living in a house in the pargetted block? Once again, the answer is no. We know from the Hearth Tax Returns that these houses, of varying size, had six or seven hearths apiece, and that four still remained untenanted at Michaelmas 1663.

Separated only by Bell Lane, next to the King’s Head, stood the Bell, now the Salisbury Arms (15). Again, we don’t know its exact size, but it was certainly smaller than now. In 1635, 1638 and 1641, and probably later, it was kept by William Scant, a barber by trade, who in 1642 became a Chief Burgess. Scant was by no means a poor man. In a period when most men wore their hair rather long and many had beards, one suspects that he made a lot more money by innkeeping than by barbering. A 1638 disturbance shows Scant very much in his innkeeping role.

This duality of occupation, so common in Hertford and no doubt in similar borough towns elsewhere, was symptomatic of their economic fragility – too many tradesmen chasing too little trade, paradoxically a direct result of the attempted restriction of trade to resident Freemen.

Only what is now Church Street separated Scant’s premises from yet another inn, the Swan (16), kept in 1641 by William Dowling, seemingly not a Freeman. The surviving portion of the building, formerly much larger and including the site of the present Marshall’s furniture shop, is now Gay’s newsagents. At some time during either the 19th or early 20th centuries it was given a bogus “stick-on” half-timbered gable by some idiot who evidently considered a genuine timber-framed building looked insufficiently ancient.

Not many yards further on, where the Nationwide Building Society premises now stand, stood the Angel (17), kept in 1623 by Edward Coltman, another erstwhile County Gaoler; in 1635 by his widow Maria; and in 1641 by Jonas Danyell. The Elizabeth Daniell (sic) whose 1663 sole hearth was “not chargeable” may have been his widow, but it is most unlikely that she was still in the Angel.

A little further on was the Falcon, kept in 1623 by Robert Dawson and later on by his widow. Where the Post Office now stands was the Chequer (18), after 1628 Corporation property. In 1623 the landlord was Thomas Smyth, but by 1635 it was kept by John Gyll and after his death by his widow. Unfortunately, the Chequer caught fire in 1636, with damage estimated at £400. Recovery seems to have been quite swift, but Widow Gyll was not so fortunate, being later distrained for debt by the Corporation who nevertheless, no doubt fearful of her becoming reliant on poor relief, found her another pub. This was the appropriately-named “Labour in Vayne”, but where was it?

Where the NatWest Bank now stands there lived later in the century the prominent Quaker Henry Stout, “trader in malt and coal”, formerly of Ware and the father of the unfortunate Sarah. His house was called “The Stone House”. Such a structure sounds unlikely in 17th century Hertford. Perhaps it had been re-fronted – Stout was not a poor man – but stone?

On the opposite side of the street were two inns (19) – the George, kept in 1623 by John Strange but later on by Robert Fairman, a brewer; and the Cross Keys, kept in 1623 by Nicholas Browne, in 1635 by Matthew Delawood, and in 1641 by his widow. Matthew’s inventory describes him simply as “innkeeper”.

Another Fore Street establishment, if that is an appropriate term to use for it, was the County Gaol. The borough’s own gaol, variously known as the “house of correction”, the “bridewell”, or the “counter”, stood in Back Street, near where the Friends’ Meeting House was to be built in 1669. But the location of its county counterpart before 1702 has been the subject of some speculation. In 1702-04 it was rebuilt – badly – where the Corn Exchange now stands, but this was a new site. Speed’s town plan shows a building plumb in the middle of Fore Street, east of the market place. It was an apparently very small building, but one needs to take the alleged “scale” of the plan with a very large pinch of salt. In our 2002 Journal Jean Riddell came to the conclusion that this building was the gaol. She is supported by archaeological evidence and I think she is undoubtedly right. A building plumb in the middle of Fore Street, even in its widest part, might make us boggle, but such buildings were far from uncommon elsewhere, and include town halls and even churches.


I am very conscious of the fact that our “walkabout” has been far from complete and has tended to concentrate on inns to the exclusion of other uses. The fact remains that this is where the most information is available. I apologise for the omission of what I could have included, but have not in the interests of reasonable brevity. Having already said that it was impossible to produce a dated directory, my purpose has been to show what sort of information is available to the researcher who wishes to produce some sort of image of the environment in which the 17th century inhabitants of Hertford – real people, of whom we can discover a surprising amount – actually lived. And that, I believe, is a worthwhile task.

Sources of Reference

Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies:

Hertford Corporation Records, particularly Volumes 9, 17, 19, 20, 46, 75

Hearth Tax Returns for Michaelmas, 16631

Various Wills and Inventories

Dodds, J. 2003 Hertfordshire Bellfounders Hertfordshire Publications

Smith, J.T. 1992 English Houses 1200-1800 – The Hertfordshire Evidence HMSO

Smith, J.T. 1993 Hertfordshire Houses – Selected Inventory RCHM

Gander, R. The Free Grammar School of Richard Hale, Esq. in Hertford Unpublished typescript of talk given to HWLHS in 1994 2

Rowe, V. 1970 The First Hertford Quakers Hertford, Religious Society of Friends

1 Readers who may be puzzled by the apparent omission of Balls Park from the discussion of the Hearth Tax Returns should know that in 1663 it was not in St John’s parish as might be expected, but in a seemingly detached part of Great Amwell.

2 I am grateful to Mr Gander for drawing my attention to the gruesome details of John Trott’s problems with the Smart family. These may be found, for those so inclined, in the Hertford Corporation Records (Volume 20/folio 578).

This page was added on 17/11/2022.

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