Hertford Priory was built around 1087 by Ralph de Limesi, a nephew of William The Conqueror. It occupied land between today's Hertford East railway station and Bircherley Green. The priory church was one of the largest in the country, with a nave of 87 feet. Provision was initially made for six monks at the Priory, although this number increased with time. It is thought that Ralph de Limesi himself entered the community in later life, eventually becoming the prior. Both de Limesi and his wife were buried in the Priory cemetary upon their death.
The Priory featured a water mill, fed by a mill stream that would have run south of the old river. Much of the meadowland and flood plains to the east belonged to the priory.
Hertford Priory grew in importance over the following centuries, with the number of monks increasing to twelve. St.Hugh of Lincoln, and Gilbert, Earl Marshall of England - were both buried in the Priory Cemetery.
From 1219 onwards the Prior was appointed by the Abbot of St.Albans. From this period until dissolution there were 34 Priors.
The Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII in the 16th century brought about the closure of the 450 year-old priory, some say on 9th February 1538/9. The then prior was Thomas Hampton. who signed the deed of surrender and shortly afterwards the lands passed into the hands of Sir Anthony Denny, one of The King's privy councillors. The Priory was dismantled and the church fell into disrepair, eventually being closed as the parish was amalgamated into that of All Saints.
The estate changed hands in 1587, in 1590 and again in 1617 when Richard Willis became the owner. John Harrison of Balls Park, MP for Lancaster, bought the land in 1637 and built the first house and the estate eventually became a manor farm.
In the mid-nineteenth century the land was broken up and sold. A woodyard was constructed, together with Priory Street and St.John's Road (later St.John's Street) and attendant housing. In addition, a new Catholic Church, primary and convent schools were established, a fitting tribute to the land's heritage. The church remains to this day but the primary school has moved to North Road and the building now a church hall. The convent school moved to Hertingfordbury in the 1950s, with the buildings becoming flats.
This article was last updated on 2nd September 2021
History Of Hertford by Dr.F.M.Page (1959), published by Hertford Town Council and available from Hertford Museum.
A History and Guide of The Catholic Church of The Immaculate Conception and St.Joseph, Hertford (1998) available from Hertford Catholic Church.
The Book Of Hertford by Cyril Heath (1975), published by Baron Birch.
Hertford Priory at British History Online
Priory Fields by Hertford Oral History Society (2012)