Henry Highland Garnet (1815-1882), an escaped slave who visited Hitchin in the early 1850s

Illustration from The Black Man’s Lament by Amelia Opie, 1826

Hitchin has a long history of its residents standing up against slavery. This is partly because of the unusually large number of Quakers in the town, as Quakers have long campaigned against injustice, and especially slavery. The townspeople formed an early Anti-Slavery Society, and there is evidence for black people here by 1840. Hitchin was not the only place where people were concerned about the injustice of slavery, with the Royston lawyer Joseph Beldam giving his services to the movement.

From this research, it seems that many people in what is now North Hertfordshire were angered by slavery in the West Indies and also in Africa, and lobbied for change both locally and in Parliament. Local non-conformists like Baptists and Congregationalists also favoured ending the slave trade, but unlike the Quakers seem to have been more concerned with the missionary aspects of abolition, and the possibilities of converting freed slaves to Christianity. This essay has just scratched the surface of the subject; there is still much to discover about the anti-slavery movement in North Herts, and more particularly about our Victorian black and Asian inhabitants.

Read more here.

Part of a mammoth’s tusk found in Baldock in the 1920s

Thinking about ‘the Ice Age’ brings up images of tundra, mammoths, Neanderthals and great sheets of ice across the landscape. This simple picture is wrong in many ways. Firstly, there have been many different ‘Ice Ages’ in the history of the earth. The period most people think about as the ‘real’ Ice Age is the geologists’ Pleistocene era, from more than two-and-a-half million years ago to the beginning of the Holocene, almost 12,000 years ago.

Even if we want to think of the Pleistocene as the important Ice Age, we still need to dispel some common misconceptions. It lasted from about 2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago and was not a period of constant cold. True enough, it was a time of repeated glaciations, but these were mixed with much warmer periods. We should think more in terms of repeated rapid climate change. For more than 2 million years, the climate flipped between cold and warm, with the shift between them sometimes much less than a century. The change could be short enough for an individual to notice the variation in climate during their lifetimes.

Find out more about the Ice Age in North Hertfordshire here.

Cottages in Lilley

The parish of Lilley lies on the western edge of North Hertfordshire, mostly north of the A505. Its northern boundary follows the early medieval line of the Icknield Way, and it abuts Bedfordshire to the west. Part of the parish once included Mangrove Green, now in Offley. Three areas now in Lilley, one stretching from the eastern edge of Ward’s Wood in the west to Kingshill Plantation in the east, the second from west of Lilleypark Wood to the boundary wall of Putteridge Bury and a third to the east of Dogkennel Farm, were formerly part of Offley. The longer version of this post, linked below, explores how this complex arrangement came into being.

Although the first record of Lilley is in 1086, when Domesday Book was compiled, the community has a much longer history. It is possible that the settlement initially lay in the northern part of the parish and developed from the estate of an undiscovered Roman villa. Its move south to East Street and West Street perhaps happened when the parish church was founded, before the Norman Conquest. Archaeological remains take the story back to earlier periods when there were farmsteads and valleys across the landscape. There may even have been a henge (an oval area enclosed by a chalk bank) on a hillside overlooking Mazebeard Spring.

Read more about the history and archaeology of Lilley here.