Area Guide: The Hertfordshire town of Hemel Hempstead
- Credit: Archant
24 miles north-west of London with a population of about 95,000, Hemel Hempstead offers an interesting mix of old and new.
Hemel has existed as a settlement since the 8th century, and was granted its town charter in 1539 by King Henry VIII.
It was declared a New Town in 1947, with expansion plans put in place to accommodate Londoners moving out of slum housing or homes that had been bombed during the war. The first residents moved into their homes in Adeyfield in 1950.
The Old Town High Street remains a pretty and vibrant place to visit, with Tudor, Georgian and Victorian buildings housing shops selling everything from antiques to angling supplies. There are also many popular pubs, cafes and restaurants in the area, with a wide range of cuisine, including Indian, Italian and Thai.
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Hemel is famous for its ‘magic roundabout’ – an interchange at the end of the town centre where traffic from six routes meets. Vehicles circulate in both directions around a central ‘roundabout’. It was the first such system in Britain.
Hemel has good road links to the M1 motorway and M25. The A41 dual carriageway was built in the 1990s, to the south and west of the town, across the upland chalk plateau.
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The railway station in Hemel is a mile outside of the town centre in Boxmoor. It is on the West Coast Main Line and runs frequent services between London Euston and the Midlands.
There is a bus interchange next to the Marlowes shopping centre on Bridge Street – or if travelling by water is more your style, there is a popular route for narrowboats by way of the Grand Junction Canal.
There are several state-maintained secondary schools in town, including The Hemel Hempstead School, John F Kennedy Catholic School and Longdean School, all of which were rated ‘good’ by Ofsted at their last inspections.
Fee-paying alternatives in or near Hemel include Abbot’s Hill, a day school for girls aged from four to 16; Lockers Park, a day and boarding school for boys aged four to 13 years (which also takes girls in pre-prep) and Westbrook Hay, a co-educational school for children from three to 13 years.
Sport and leisure
Split into the ‘old’ and ‘new’ town, there is almost everything you could want in terms of shopping and services, including a wide choice of supermarkets, clothes shops and independent convenience stores.
Entertainment facilities are plentiful – Jarman Square is home to DJ’s Play Park soft play, an ice skating rink, a Cineworld multiplex and a gym, plus a handful of popular chain restaurants. Across the road is XC, with its skate park, climbing wall, caving and high ropes,
The Snow Centre on St Albans Hill offers indoor skiing and snowboarding, there is an outdoor skate park on Leighton Buzzard Road and Quasar is a lasar tag venue in the Marlowes.
There’s also plenty of choice when it comes to team sports. Hemel Hempstead Town football (which dates back to 1885) play in the National League South and are nicknamed The Tudors. Several amateur sides exist in Hemel too.
Camelot Rugby Club is almost a hundred years old and plays in London 2 North West, a seventh-tier league in the English rugby union league system. Hemel Stags were admitted to the third tier Championship 1 in 2013 and now operate at a semi-professional level.
Hemel Hempstead Town Cricket Club, established in 1850, has a pitch and practice facilities near the town centre. There is also the Boxmoor Cricket Club which has a ground on Blackbirds Moor and Leverstock Green Cricket Club close by.
Many other sports and activities are provided by Sportspace – the operating name of Dacorum Sports Trust (a non-profit company and registered charity). There are several facilities, including a sports centre, swimming pool and running track.
Other sporting groups in Hemel include bowls, hockey, tennis, golf and athletics clubs.
Food and drink
Favourite pubs in Hemel include The Paper Mill (a higher end gastropub in Apsley, by the canal) and The Plough, a British steakhouse and carvery with a lovely beer garden on Leverstock Green Road.
The Fishery Inn in Fishery Road, Boxmoor, offers a separate vegan menu alongside its meatier offerings, while The Old Chequers, Gaddesden Row, is described as a great country pub with lovely accommodating staff and an impressive garden with a play area for children.
There are also restaurants and takeaways catering for all tastes, including The Cochin (Indian), Calzone Essential Pizza (Italian), The Happy Garden (Chinese) and Sea World Fish & Chips.