The name ‘Hoddesdon’ is probably derived from a Saxon or Danish personal name – Hodd, Hodda, Oddo, or even Hogge. The suffix ‘don’ is Old English for a down or a hill, and so the name could refer to a holding on the higher land beyond the marshy Lea valley bottom.
The pre-Roman peoples in the area left few traces of their presence. Of the Romans, no evidence has been found of any sizeable settlement, but Roman pottery has been found in several sites, indicating some habitation, possibly farmsteads. The Roman road, Ermine Street, to the west of what was to be Hoddesdon, ran north from London to Lincoln and York.
As the Roman Empire declined, Anglo-Saxon peoples came to dominate. Their way of life was generally simpler, and only a few artefacts have been found locally. Although Ermine Street was not maintained to Roman standards by the Saxons, it was still used; and it is by derivation of its Saxon name, from the personal name, Earn(a), that we know it today.
The Vikings started to raid Britain in about 800, and eventually the country was divided roughly diagonally from London to Chester, the eastern part being the Danelaw. The River Lea formed part of the boundary, so communities like Hoddesdon were in border country. It was not until the early 11th century that the country was united under one ruler.
Following the Conquest in 1066, land was re-distributed to the victors. The changes were detailed in the Domesday Book of 1086; and this gives the first written record of the name Hoddesdon. The manor of Hoddesdon itself was an outlier of Hatfield Broad Oak manor.
After the Conquest it was owned jointly with the manor of Amwell, and this resulted in part of Hoddesdon being in the parish of Amwell while the rest was in the parish of Broxbourne – a situation which lasted until the 19th century. Hoddesdon had no parish church,but it did have
a chapel dedicated to St. Katherine from the 14th century. This privately built chapel was also used as a place of worship for pilgrims to Walsingham.
As the feudal system broke down in favour of a more commercial economy, enterprising manor holders applied to the monarch for the right to hold markets and fairs. Ermine Street had deteriorated and the main route north from London went through the Lea valley. Hoddesdon was in a position to benefit from a market and its charter dated from 1253. The manors in and around Hoddesdon changed hands through the years, and many of the smaller ones amalgamated or were taken over. By the 15th century, the major landowner was John Say, who obtained confirmation of the market rights.
Elizabethan Hoddesdon saw a continuation in growth. The town’s position on a major road led to the building of many inns to cater for travellers. Some of these still stand. The Golden Lion, the White Swan and the Salisbury date from the 16th century, and the Bell became an inn in the 17th century. William Cecil, Elizabeth’s Secretary of State, became a major landowner. The market was in its heyday, and for a few years the town had its own grammar school, financed from market tolls.
In the 17th century Marmaduke Rawdon, a wealthy merchant, built Rawdon House. He put money into the building of the New River; he gave the town its fresh water supply, flowing from the urn of a statue known as the Samaritan Woman; and he assisted in the construction of a Market House. Rawdon’s son, also Marmaduke, built the Grange. The Rawdons sided with the king in the Civil War and their fortunes suffered considerably.
St. Katherine’s Chapel was damaged during the Civil War, and was closed for services a few years later. A clock was installed in the early 18th century, and the building remained until it was demolished in 1835 and replaced by a new Clock House.
A small brewery, started about 1700, prospered under the ownership of the Christie family to become a major employer in the town in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The population of the town grew rapidly, and Hoddesdon parish was created in 1856 from parts of the existing Broxbourne and Great Amwell parishes. The basis of the parish church was a private chapel built in 1732 in Amwell Street by an early brewery owner. This has been extended and altered over the years to become the present St. Catherine and St. Paul’s Church.
Movements to provide education for poor children gathered momentum in the early 19th century. In Hoddesdon Mrs Easter Jones built a girls’ school in 1818, which was later relocated to National (Church of England) School premises in Pauls Lane, where a boys’ school had been built in 1844. The first British (Non-Conformist) School was built in Esdaile Lane in 1841 by John Warner, a Quaker. Warner, a London foundry owner, built himself a house called Woodlands in Hoddesdon, and spent much of his later life in the town. Members of the Warner family lived at Lowewood until 1935. The building is now the Borough of Broxbourne Museum. The restored Samaritan Woman statue stands in its garden.
With the coming of the railway, road traffic dwindled in the second half of the 19th century, but soon revived with the advent of the bicycle and the car. Growth in the 19th century led to Hoddesdon opting to become an Urban District in 1894. The Urban District was enlarged in 1935 to include Broxbourne and Wormley, and in 1976 the Urban Districts of Hoddesdon and Cheshunt merged to form the Borough of Broxbourne.
Much of the town centre radically changed in the 1960s and 1970s with the clearance of a large area north of the Clock House to make way for the Tower Centre, and the building of Fawkon Walk to the east of the High Street. The rooms surrounding the Clock House were removed, but recently a roofed canopy has been erected round the base of the tower. Major road re-organisation took place in the 1970s. The bypass to the west of the town opened in 1974, roads were widened and relief roads built. From the late 19th century and through the 20th century house building has increased the size of the town so that it is now contiguous with Broxbourne in the south and reaches almost to Hailey in the north.
Sue Garside is the author of Hoddesdon a History (Phillmore).