The landlocked southern English county of Hertfordshire boasts country houses and medieval remains, from Ashridge House to the impressive Welwyn Roman Baths.
Among Hertfordshire’s historic sites number St Albans Cathedral, the oldest site of continuous Christian worship in Britain, and the Tudor mansion Old Gorhambury House, home to Sir Francis Bacon.
Here are 10 of the best historic sites in Hertfordshire.
With a history dating back over 700 years, Ashridge House in Hertfordshire has been lived in by King Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. It has also served as a wartime hospital. The present house is regarded as one of the finest examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the UK and is a Grade I listed building.
Verulamium was a prominent Roman settlement near modern day St Albans in Hertfordshire, England. Formerly the tribal capital of the native Catuvellauni tribe, Verulamium was conquered by the Romans during their invasion of Britain in 43 AD.
By 50 AD, Verulamium had become a major Roman town, and as such was a prime target during the revolt of Boudica in 61 AD, when it was burnt to the ground. The Romans crushed the revolt and re-built Verulamium, and it remained a central Roman town for the next 400 years.
The Roman remains at Verulamium Park consist of a variety of buildings – a basilica, bathhouse, part of the city walls and an outline of the London Gate. The most impressive are the remains of the roman theatre which lie across the road.
Berkhamsted Castle was an 11th century Norman castle in Hertfordshire, built as a strategic stronghold between London and the Midlands. Though today in ruins, visitors are able to trace the dramatic earthworks and stone remains of what was once a thriving medieval palace.
Today Berkhamsted Castle is managed by English Heritage and is protected as an ancient monument. Visitors may traverse the site ruins, including the remains of the castle’s large outer defences and some of the structures within the bailey, one of which was likely a chapel.
Hatfield House is a Jacobean country house built on the site of Hatfield Palace, where Elizabeth I spent much of her life.
Built in approximately 1485 by John Morton Bishop of Ely, Hatfield Palace came into the possession Henry VIII in the 16th century where it was installed as the home of his young children.
During the Stuart era the Palace was given to favourite of James I, Robert Cecil, the 1st Earl of Salisbury, who duly ripped down three wings in 1608 and rebuilt the current structure in 1611. Renamed Hatfield House, it has since been owned by the Cecil family and remains their family home.
Originally a Celtic British settlement known as Verlamion, the town of St Albans was conquered by the Romans and re-named Verulamium. Despite suffering great destruction during the revolt of Boudicca in 60-61AD, the town was re-built and became a thriving settlement.
The impressive site of St Albans Cathedral contains the shrine of St Alban – a Roman convert to Christianity who became Britain’s first martyr after he was executed for sheltering a Christian priest. The Norman building replaced an earlier monastery, and significant restoration work took place in the 19th century.
6. Knebworth House
Knebworth House is a Grade II listed English country house in Hertfordshire, England, and was home to the 19th century writer and politician Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, today remembered for his coining of the phrases “It was a dark and stormy night” and “the pen is mightier than the sword”.
Knebworth House is marked by its turrets and domes on the exterior, but behind its Victorian stucco lurks a red brick Tudor house. The house traces 500 years of Lytton family history, with each generation leaving their fingerprints on the rooms.
The Welwyn Roman Baths complex houses the remains of a Roman bathhouse dating back to the 3rd century AD. The village of Welwyn was once the site of a Romano-British settlement, where a Roman road crossed the river Mimram.
Originally part of a larger Roman villa (the Dicket Mead villa), the bath house remains are a scheduled ancient monument, with the layout of the cold, warm and hot rooms and the heating system remarkably well preserved.
Today visitors to Welwyn Roman Baths can view the remains of the small bath complex, discover information on the Roman’s elegant culture and approach to bathing and view an exhibition detailing the history of the site and other relevant archaeological finds from the local area.
Bushey Museum in Hertfordshire is dedicated to the history of the local area, including many works from its notable local artists.
Bushey’s reputation as a centre of artistic output derives from the 19th century, when Hubert von Herkomer moved to the area from Bavaria in 1874. He founded the Herkomer’s Art School in 1883, which over its 21-year lifespan attracted some 500 art students to the area, many of which stayed there to set up their own studios.
These art schools, along with their founders and students, formed the basis of the Bushey Museum and Bushey’s wider artistic legacy.
9. Bennington Lordship
Bennington Lordship is a Georgian house with landscaped park and gardens listed as Grade II which occupy 7 acres of Hertfordshire country landscape. Though Bennington Lordship is a private home, its gardens are open during advertised hours between February and August.
A motte-and-bailey castle was built in the surroundings in the 11th or 12th century, which was finally destroyed in 1212 following Robert Fitzwalter’s rebellion against King John. Earthworks from the keep remain from the original structure.
Set in picturesque countryside, Old Gorhambury House is a Tudor mansion built from 1563 to 1568, which gained repute as the home of the Lord Keeper Sir Nicholas Bacon and later his celebrated son Sir Francis. It was visited by Queen Elizabeth I on a number of occasions.
The site is maintained by the English Heritage Trust and is open to visitors. Set against the backdrop of the pleasant St Albans countryside, the ruins make for an interesting and picturesque day out.