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General History of Broxbourne

This is a general introduction to the history of the area now covered by the Borough of Broxbourne. For more detail see the more specific sections of this site or the references on the Bibliography page.

The development of the area will be considered in three main phases :-


At the end of the ice age around 10,000 BC the Lea valley would have had Arctic Tundra growing on the clay deposits and a fast melt water river flowing through the gravels. As the ice retreated and the sea levels rose more mature woodland developed and the river slowed and divided into several streams. The few nomadic humans lived by hunting and stopped at temporary camps. The remains of one of these camps has been found near Broxbourne Station.

When the first farms developed about 3000BC they seem to have avoided the Broxbourne area. They normally liked the thin soils of river valleys so this area was probably too wet.

This combination of thickly wooded heavy clay soils and wet gravel flood plain appears to have deterred major settlement until the medieval period.

A Bronze Age settlement site from 700BC has been found at Turnford but very little else.

Roman Period

No Iron age sites are known and although the Roman Army drove Ermine Street along the west side of the valley floor only a possible site in Cheshunt Park has been identified.

This is all in marked contrast to the situation in the upper sections of the valley, around Ware and Hertford.

The Saxons

Although the Roman Army units were withdrawn around 405AD that was not the end of the Roman system in Britain. While the area around Bath remained Roman into the late part of the century the fate of the rest of Britain is very unclear. Plague and famine caused the population to drop before anyone was displaced by the Saxon settlers moving west.

Place Name evidence also suggests a significant British population survived in the area. The Lea river name is a Celtic word. This may suggest that Welsh was spoken there until 700AD.

The Vikings

The Viking raids from Denmark had occurred for many years when in 865 AD a significant army landed and remained in England over the winter. The English response was not organised and the Danes gained control of most of northern and eastern England. When Alfred became king of Wessex in 871AD he mounted a counter attack and in 886AD agreed a treaty with the Danes.

The main event is the supposed damming of the Lea by Alfred the Great to trap a Viking raiding party near Ware. This points to the Lea being navigable, and possibly tidal, at that date. This treaty fixed the boundary between England and the Danelaw as the Rivers Thames, Lea and Ouse to Watling Street and then north up Watling Street.

There is almost no surviving Anglo-Saxon documentation for the Broxbourne area. So we have no direct evidence for the arrangements of the manors or the settlements. However studies of other areas suggest that the manors would have covered the same areas as the later parishes and that the settlements would still have been individual farmsteads and hamlets spread throughout the area.

Market Towns

While all the main settlements are mentioned in the Domesday Book the form of the settlement at that date is not known for certain. However most villages that evolved open fields around a single central settlement had done so by the end of the 11th century.

The Manor

The Church

Industrial Town

Both Cheshunt and Hoddesdon were urban enough by 1875 to obtain their own sanitary authorities, although in Hoddesdon this only covered part of the ancient parish. In 1894 these were converted into full Urban District Councils, with little change in area covered.

Horticulture in the form of glass house nurseries arrived in the southern tip of the district at Waltham Cross in the 1880's. New nurseries spread up the floor and sides of the valley until the peak in c1930 when Cheshunt had a higher percentage of it's area under glass than anywhere else in the world.

In 1935 Hoddesdon Urban District expanded to recover much of the ancient parish that had remained in Ware Rural District.

Between the wars exploitation of the marshland in the floor of the valley for gravel extraction grew rapidly and this continued through the 1950's. By the late 1960's the gravel had been worked out leaving large areas of water filled pits.

These pits have now been developed for various recreational and wildlife uses under the management of the Lea Valley Regional Park.

In 1974 the two urban districts were combined into the present District Borough of Broxbourne.

courtesy of Chris Hicks




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