The King's England: Hertfordshire

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The King's England: Hertfordshire

"There have been many books on Hertfordshire, but never one like this”. Thus began the publishers’ advertisement for the original edition of this guide, published in 1939. In his preface, Arthur Mee describes Hertfordshire as "London’s country neighbour ... a county as it should be, unspoilt by the heavy hand of industry.” In fact, Hertfordshire was changing, even in Arthur Mee’s day; he mentions not only the brave beginnings of the Garden Cities movement at Letchworth and Welwyn, and the burgeoning British film industry at Elstree, but also the increasing traffic on the great trunk roads crossing the county, following the original lines of the Roman "streets” and the Great North Road.

Today, apart from being the ideal travelling companion, this book gives the modern reader the added perspective of seeing a perfect snapshot of Hertfordshire as it was, illustrated with over 100 plates showing the county on the eve of the Second World War. The pictures, though, are not the only attraction: in his classic text, Mee examines Hertfordshire alphabetically, village by village and town by town, building up a rich picture of its heritage of houses, churches, castles, canals, and inns. Well known places such as St Albans, the site of Roman Verulamium, Hatfield House, Hertford and King’s Langley (once the site of a Royal palace), are all examined, together with hidden gems such as Ardeley and Benington.

Hertfordshire’s worthies receive their due mention, and we hear of Charles Lamb at Widford, Cecil Rhodes, Francis Bacon and Edward Young. It is, however, the author’s love of local anecdote which makes this survey of the historic county so appealing, including the tales of the legendary "Jack O’ The Legs” who robbed the Baldock bakers of their daily batch of bread, and Vincenze Lunardi, the pioneer balloonist, who startled a North Mimms woman one day in 1784 by descending from the sky and handing her his pet cat for safe keeping ...

So much of Hertfordshire lore and landscape is contained in these pages that the original advertisement bears repeating: it is "the indispensable companion of the motor age”.

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