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Hemel Hempstead is a town in Hertfordshire, England, United Kingdom with a population of 81,143 at the United Kingdom Census 2001 (but now estimated at around 89,000 by Hertfordshire County Council). Developed after World War II as a new town, it has existed as a settlement since the 8th century. It is part of the district (and borough since 1984) of Dacorum and the Hemel Hempstead constituency.
On 11 December 2005 it was brought into the news by the Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal fire.


Hemel Hempstead is located at Latitude 51° 45'N and Longitude 0° 28' 20" W and is north west of Central London.
Hemel Hempstead grew up in a shallow chalkland valley at the confluence of the rivers Gade and Bulbourne. The main railway line from London Euston to the Midlands passes through Apsley and Hemel Hempstead railway stations a mile to the south of the town centre, as does the Grand Union Canal. These communication links, as well as the original A41 trunk road, all follow the natural course of the Bulbourne river valley. The new town expansion took place up the valley sides and on to the hilltop plateau above the original Old Town. In the 1990s, a motorway style bypass was built further to the south and west of the town and numbered as the A41, which does not follow the natural lie of the land. Hemel is also linked to the M1 motorway to the east. The M25 is a few miles to the south. To the north and west lie mixed farm and woodland with scattered villages, part of the Chiltern Hills. To the south lies Watford and the beginnings of the Greater London conurbation. To the east lies St Albans an historic cathedral and market town and now like Hemel Hempstead, part of the London commuter belt.
Possibly the best view of Hemel Hempstead in its physical setting is from the top of Roughdown Common, a chalk hill to the south of the town, at .

Origin of the name

The settlement was called by the name Henamsted or Hean-Hempsted, i.e. High Hempstead, in Anglo-Saxon times and in William the Conqueror's time by the name of Hemel-Amstede. The name is referred to in the Domesday Book as "Hamelamesede", but in later centuries it became Hamelhamsted.
Another opinion is that Hemel probably came from "Haemele" which was the name of the district in the 8th century and is most likely either the name of the land owner, or could mean "broken country". [4]
Pre-World Wear II residents affectionately knew it simply as "Hempstead". Present day residents say simply "Hemel".
The modern Dutch place names of Haamstede and Heemstede probably have a similar root which means homestead.
The town may have given its name to the town of Hempstead, New York.


Remains of Roman villa farming settlements have been found at Boxmoor and Gadebridge which span the entire period of Roman Britain.
The first recorded mention of the town is the grant of land at Hamaele by Offa, King of Essex, to the Saxon Bishop of London in AD 705.
Hemel Hempstead on its present site is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as a vill, Hamelhamstede, with about 100 inhabitants. The church of St Mary was built in 1140, one of the finest Norman parish churches in the county. The church features an unusual tall spire, added in the 12th century, one of Europe's tallest.
After the Norman conquest the land thereabouts was given to Robert, Count of Mortain, the elder half-brother of William the Conqueror, as part of the lands associated with Berkhamsted Castle. The estates passed through many hands over the next few centuries including Thomas à Becket in 1162. In 1290 King John of England's grandson, the Earl of Cornwall, gave the manor to the religious order of the Bonhommes when he endowed the monastery at Ashridge. The town remained part of the monastery's estates until the Reformation and break-up of Ashridge in 1539.
In that same year the town was granted a Royal charter by King Henry VIII to become a Bailiwick with the right to hold a Thursday market and a fair on Corpus Christi Day. The first Bailiff of Hemel Hempstead was William Stephyns (29 December 1539). The King and Anne Boleyn are reputed to have stayed in the town at this time.
Unusually fine medieval wall paintings from the period between 1470 and 1500 were discovered in some cottages in Piccotts End, very close to Hemel Hempstead in 1953. This same building had been converted into the first cottage hospital providing free medical services by Sir Astley Cooper in 1827.
Hemel's position on the shortest route between London and the industrial Midlands put it on the Sparrows Herne turnpike Toll road in 1762, the Grand Junction Canal in 1795 and the London and Birmingham Railway in 1837. However it remained principally an agricultural market town throughout the 19th century. In the last decades of that century development of houses and villas for London commuters began. The Midland railway built a branch line connecting to its mainline at Harpenden in 1877 (see The Nicky Line). Hemel steadily expanded, but only became a borough on 13 July 1898. During World War II, a stick of Luftwaffe bombs demolished houses at Nash Mills. The nearby Dickinson factories were used to produce munitions and were the target.
After World War II, in 1946, the government designated Hemel Hempstead as the site of one of its proposed New Towns designed to house the London Blitz displaced population of London where slums and bombsites were being cleared. On 4 February 1947 the Government purchased of land and began work on the "New Town". The first new residents moved in during April 1949 and the town continued its planned expansion through to the end of the 1980s. Hemel grew to its present population of 80,000, with new developments enveloping the original town on all sides. The original part of Hemel is still known as the "Old Town".
Its geographical position, between London and the Midlands, acted again in the 1960s when the M1 motorway was routed just to the east of the town. This gave it a central position on the country's motorway network.
In the 1970s, the town decided to abolish its mayor and set up in place a district council. The first chairman of that council was Chairman John Johnson (1913-1977). In the 1980s, the town then decided to revert back to its original state, with a mayor. The political atmosphere of the town has changed significantly. Once a Labour Party stronghold, the town has seen an increase in Conservative Party voting in recent years, and the current Member of Parliament, Mike Penning, is Conservative.
As of the 2001 census, Hemel Hempstead is the most populated urban area in Hertfordshire, narrowly more populated than its traditionally "larger" rival, Watford.
There was a major explosion in the town at the Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal, Buncefield at 6am on Sunday 11 December 2005. (See 2005 Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal fire). This was one of the largest explosions ever to occur in the UK, and the incident has been described as the biggest of its kind in peacetime Europe. The Maylands Avenue industrial estate was severely damaged and much of it needed to be demolished. Nearby residential districts of Adeyfield, Woodhall Farm and Leverstock Green were also badly damaged and around 300 people made temporarily homeless. There were 41 people with minor injuries and two were seriously hurt. The only reason that no one was killed was because the explosion occurred before dawn on a Sunday.

New town

  • Warner's End
  • Woodhall Farm - A housing estate on the western edge of town towards Redbourn. Woodhall Farm was built in the mid to late 1970s on the former Brock's Fireworks site with a mix of private and housing association stock. Built by Fairview Estates it has property ranging from four-bedroom detached houses down to one bedroom low-rise flats. The area has a shopping centre with a Sainsbury's, Newsagents, Takeaway and Off-licence. It also has two infant schools and middle schools and a doctors surgery serving the local area.

Developments since the new town

Present day

Hemel Hempstead has a mixture of heavy and light engineering companies and has attracted a significant number of information technology and telecommunications sector companies helped by its proximity to London and the UK motorway network. However, (and again in common with many new towns) it has a much narrower business base than established centres, particularly Watford and St Albans.
Significant firms with a local presence include:
Just east of the town is the Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal (HOST), known locally as the Buncefield complex. This was a major hub on the UK oil pipeline network (UKOP) with pipelines to Humberside, Merseyside, and Heathrow and Gatwick airports radiating from here. This was destroyed by a huge explosion on 11 December 2005. See 2005 Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal fire.

Hemel's notable features

Hemel is famous (or perhaps notorious) for its "Magic Roundabout" (officially called the Moor End roundabout, or "The Plough Roundabout" from a former adjacent public house), an interchange at the end of the new town (Moor End), where traffic from six routes meet. Traffic is able to circulate in both directions around what appears to be a main central roundabout (and formerly was such), with the normal rules applying at each of the six mini-roundabouts encircling this central reservation. It is a misconception that the traffic flows the 'wrong' way around the inner roundabout; as it is not in fact a roundabout at all, and as such no roundabout rules apply to it. It was the first such circulation system in Britain.
Hemel claims to have the first purpose built multi-storey car park in Britain. Built in 1960 into the side of a hill in the Marlowes shopping district, it features a giant humorous mosaic map of the area by the artist Rowland Emett.
The new town centre is laid out alongside landscaped gardens and water features formed from the River Gade known as the Watergardens designed by G.A. Jellicoe. The main shopping street, Marlowes, was pedestrianised in the early 1990s.
Hemel also was home of one of the first community based television stations West Herts TV which later became Channel 10
For many years the lower end of Marlowes featured a distinctive office building built as a bridge-like structure straddling the main road. This building was erected on the site of an earlier railway viaduct carrying the Hemel to Harpenden railway, known as The Nicky Line. When the new town was constructed, this part of the railway was no longer in use and the viaduct demolished. The office building, occupied by BP, was designed to create a similar skyline and effect as the viaduct. In the early 1980s it was discovered that the building was subsiding dangerously and it was subsequently vacated and demolished. Adjacent to BP buildings was a unique double-helix public car park. The lower end of Marlowes was redeveloped into the Riverside shopping complex, which opened on 27 October 2005. Retailers taking residence at the Riverside complex, include Debenhams and HMV.
A few hundred metres away, overlooking the 'Magic Roundabout', is Hemel's tallest building; the 19-storey Kodak building. Built as the Kodak company's UK HQ the tower was vacated in 2005. It was then temporarily reoccupied in 2006 after the Buncefield explosion destroyed Kodaks other Hemel offices. It is now being converted into 434 apartment homes.
The Heathrow airport holding area known as the Bovingdon stack lies just west of the town. On a clear day at peak times the sky above can be seen to be filled with circling aircraft.
The national headquarters of the Boys' Brigade is located at Felden Lodge, near Hemel.
A series of 10m high blue steel arches called the Phoenix Gateway is being built near the roundabout closest to the Hemel Hempstead junction of the M1 motorway. The aim is to regenerate the town after the Buncefield explosion with a striking piece of commercial art. It is Funded by the East of England Development Agency.

Notable people

Notable people associated with the town in order of birth date:

Television production

Pie in the Sky (a BBC police drama) was filmed here. The site for the restaurant is now a real restaurant with the same name.

Nearby places

To the north
To the east

See also

Photo gallery

's (1871) stands above the modern Sainsburys supermarket in Apsley.


[1] Edwards, Dennis F.(1994) Hemel Hempstead in old picture postcards European Library, ISBN 90-288-5797-4
[2] Hemel Hempstead Directory of 1797 - Early description of the town.
[4] History of Hemel Hempstead
[5] Hemel Hempstead - A History and Celebration


"How historic treasures have devalued a house", Sunday Times, November 12, 2000 by Chris Partridge; p. 15
hemel in Welsh: Hemel Hempstead
hemel in German: Hemel Hempstead
hemel in Spanish: Hemel Hempstead
hemel in Esperanto: Hemel Hempstead
hemel in French: Hemel Hempstead
hemel in Dutch: Hemel Hempstead
hemel in Norwegian: Hemel Hempstead
hemel in Polish: Hemel Hempstead
hemel in Romanian: Hemel Hempstead
hemel in Swedish: Hemel Hempstead
hemel in Volapük: Hemel Hempstead
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