BERKHAMPSTEAD (GREAT BERRHAMPSTEAD), a market town in the Watford parliamentary division of Hertfordshire, England, 28 m. N.W. from London by the London & NorthWestern railway. Pop. of urban district (1901) 5140. It lies pleasantly in the narrow well-wooded valley of the Bulbourne, and is close to the Grand Junction canal. The church of St Peter, a large cruciform structure, exhibits all the Gothic styles, and earlier fragments are traceable. There are several brasses of interest. The poet William Cowper was born in the rectory in 1731. The large grammar school is a foundation of 1541. Straw-plaiting and the manufacture of small wooden wares are the principal industries, and there are large chemical works. Of the castle earthworks and fragments of walls remain. The name of the town is Great Berkhampstead (or Berkhamsted), in distinction from Little Berkhampstead near Hatfield in this county.
Berkhampstead (Beorhhamstede, Berchehamstede) was undoubtedly of some importance in Saxon times since there were fifty-two burgesses there at the time of the Conquest. In 1156 Henry II. granted the men and merchants of the town the same laws and customs as they had in the time of Edward the Confessor, and that they should be quit of toll throughout England, Normandy, Aquitaine and Anjou. Berkhampstead rose to importance with its castle, which is said to have been built by Robert, count of Mortain, and when the castle fell into ruin after 1496 the town also began to decay. In 1618, however, the burgesses received an incorporation charter; but after the civil wars the corporate body began to fail through poverty, and in the 18th century had ceased to exist. The burgesses returned two members to parliament in 1320 and again in 1338 and 1341, but were never represented again. Before the 13th century the burgesses held a weekly market on Sunday and a yearly fair on St James's day, but in 1218 Henry III. altered the market day to Monday. Roofing tiles were manufactured in Berkhampstead as early as the 13th century, and in Elizabeth's reign the making of malt was the chief industry.
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