Hitchin is a market town in the North Hertfordshire District in Hertfordshire, England, with an estimated population of 33,350
Hitchin is first noted as the central place of the Hicce people, a tribe holding 300 hides of land as mentioned in a 7th-century document, the Tribal Hidage. Hicce, or Hicca may mean the people of the horse. The tribal name is Old English and derives from the Middle Anglian people. It has been suggested that Hitchin was the location of 'Clofeshoh', the place chosen in 673 by Theodore of Tarsus the Archbishop of Canterbury during the Synod of Hertford, the first meeting of representatives of the fledgling Christian churches of Anglo-Saxon England, to hold annual synods of the churches as Theodore attempted to consolidate and centralise Christianity in England. By 1086 Hitchin is described as a Royal Manor in Domesday Book: the feudal services of Avera and Inward, usually found in the eastern counties, especially Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire, were due from the sokemen, but the manor of Hitchin was unique in levying Inward. Evidence has been found to suggest that the town was once provided with an earthen bank and ditch fortification, probably in the early tenth century but this did not last. The modern spelling 'Hitchin' first appears in 1618 in the "Hertfordshire Feet of Fines".
Panel representing the foundational history of Hitchin mentioning: King Offa, the River Hiz and the Hicce tribe. Now on the front of Hitchin Library, it was on the Sainsburys on Brand Street until the supermarket relocated to the Bancroft area.
The name of the town also is associated with the small river that runs through the town, most picturesquely in front of the east end of St. Mary's Church, the town's parish church. The river is noted on maps as the River Hiz. Contrary to how most people now pronounce the name, that is to say as spelt, the 'z' is an abbreviated character for a 'tch' sound in the Domesday Book, (as in the name of the town). It would have been pronounced 'River Hitch'. The Hicca Way is an eight-mile walking route along the River Hiz Valley, believed to have been used for trade between the Danes and English in the Anglo-Saxon age. It is also likely that Hitch Wood, which lies some half a dozen miles south of the town also derives its name from the Hicce tribe, who gave their name to Hitchin.
Hitchin is notable for St. Mary's Church, which is remarkably large for a town of its size. The size of the church is evidence of how Hitchin prospered from the wool trade. It is the largest parish church in Hertfordshire. Most of the church dates from the 15th century, with its tower dating from around 1190. During the laying of a new floor in the church in 1911, foundations of a more ancient church building were found. In form, they appear to be a basilican church of a 7th-century type, with a later enlarged chancel and transepts, perhaps added in the 10th century. This makes the church older than the story (not recorded before the 15th century) that the church was founded by Offa, king of Mercia 757-796.
In 1697, Hitchin (and the nearby village of Offley) were subject to what is thought to have been the most severe hailstorm in recorded British history. Hailstones over 4 inches in diameter were reported
The town flourished on the wool trade, and located near the Icknield Way and by the 17th century Hitchin was a staging post for coaches coming from London. By the middle of the 19th century the railway had arrived, and with it a new way of life for Hitchin. The corn exchange was built in the market place and within a short time Hitchin established itself as a major centre for grain trading.
The latter half of the 20th century has also brought great changes in communication to Hitchin. Motorways have shortened the journey time and brought Luton, a few miles away on the M1, and the A1 (M) even closer. By the close of the 20th century, Hitchin had become a satellite dormitory town for London. Hitchin also developed a fairly strong Sikh community based around the Walsworth area.
During the medieval period, both a priory (Newbigging, now known as The Biggin) and a friary (now known as Hitchin Priory) were established, both of which closed during Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries. They were never reformed, although The Biggin was for many years used as almshouses.
The British Schools Museum in Hitchin is home to the world's only known complete Lancasterian Schoolroom, which was built in 1837 to teach boys by the Lancasterian method (peer tutoring).
Girton College—a pioneer in women's education—was established on 16 October 1869 under the name of College for Women at Benslow House in Hitchin, which was considered to be a convenient distance from Cambridge and London. It was thought to be less 'risky' and less controversial to locate the college away from Cambridge in the beginning. The college moved to Cambridge a few years later and adopted its present name, Girton College
Red Coats (a little distance from Elmwood House (now demolished near Redcoats Green)
James Lucas (1813 – 21 April 1874) was a celebrated English Victorian eccentric and hermit who gained international renown by his strange way of life. He was known as the Hermit of Hertfordshire and Mad Lucas. Lucas was an amiable, eccentric landowner who was well-educated, had studied medicine and was a good conversationalist. However his mother's death, in 1849, greatly accentuated his eccentricities. He became a complete recluse, and barricaded himself into his home.
He refused to administer his mother's will, in which he inherited the family estate at Elmwood House near Redcoats Green, Hertfordshire, and deferred burial of her for three months. He developed a paranoid fear of his relatives. He locked himself in his mansion and allowed nothing in the building to be touched. It sank into a dilapidated and decaying condition. He lived solely in the kitchen, sleeping on a bed of ashes and soot. He went naked except for a blanket, enveloped in which he used to appear at his windows. He never washed and his hair grew to waist length. He lived on bread, cheese, eggs, red herrings and gin. His house became infested with rats and he kept his food in baskets hung from the ceiling to protect it from them. He always kept a gun at his side.
Lucas communicated with the world only through an iron grille and employed two armed watchmen who lived in a nearby hut. He was, however, quite willing to receive visitors, mostly tramps and children but increasingly the well-to-do who came to engage him in conversation.
Lucas died of apoplexy in 1874, having hoarded a considerable sum of money in his living room. He is buried in the family grave in Hackney churchyard, London.
After his death 17 cartloads of dirt and ashes were removed from the house.
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