Social History

The parish chest of St Peter’s church once held churchwardens’ accounts, vestry minutes and the details of births, marriages and deaths in the parish. Amongst these old documents, there was a constables’ accounts book with entries from 1748 to 1819. For some reason, by 1885 it had come into the possession of William Philbey, the boot-making son of a local laundress. The book now resides in the museum store and I had the pleasure of transcribing the names and activities of the people of Berkhamsted, including the notorious highwayman Snooks. The resulting article was published in the local history society Chronicle volume III.

The glamorous coaching age left behind physical reminders, especially the inns in Berkhamsted High Street. Until 1889, the Red Lion Inn provided stables and accommodation for travellers, but behind this façade was a story of deprivation in Red Lion Yard. Read about the plight of some of these folks in this article, published in the Chronicle volume XII.


I was delighted to receive this award for my article on the church rates…

The church rate was an ancient tax required of all ratepayers, regardless of denomination, for the upkeep of parish churches. This meant that dissenters and other non-Anglicans paid for the support of the established church. Inevitably, there was strong resistance in towns where a high proportion of dissenters resided (49% of church goers of Berkhamsted) and there were seizures of property in lieu of church rates. Berkhamsted was one of the last, if not the last town, to reject church rates, so it was fitting that the history of this painful process was recorded in this article for the Chronicle volume XII.

My article for the Chronicle volume XIV, Hoo-Ha over Gaddesden Hoo is an investigation of a family mansion in the neighbourhood of Great Gaddesden, and especially highlighting a dispute about an access road, revealing divided loyalties, but also the importance (particularly to older inhabitants) of “tradition, community and custom [which] historically provided a sense of permanence, independence and security”.

As a result of my MSc studies, I have amassed an extensive database of information on the characters of Berkhamsted in the late Georgian period, particularly the gentry whose self-interest facilitated the implementation of local schemes such as the Sparrows Herne Turnpike Trust and the Grand Junction canal. I spent a fascinating term in All Souls college in Oxford learning about Crime & Punishment, culminating in a study of women convicts transported to Australia.

Cargo of Women      Convict Maids     Female Factory front cover