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Although the Roman Army units were withdrawn around 405AD that was not the end of the Roman system in Britain.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.

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© 1998 Chris Hicks, Cheshunt & Rugby
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Place Name Evidence

The study of the origins of place names is a very skilled and inexact process. It is essential that very early spellings are used as names were corrupted over the years. Modern spellings are normally misleading when looking for the original form of the names. The Domesday book (See below) spellings are the earliest available for many places, and almost the latest considered useful.

Most words used to form English place names are Anglo-Saxon. The use of Celtic words increases the further west the place is, probably indicating increased contact between the Anglo-Saxons and the British.

The words used in place names are called 'elements' and are grouped into types. The most common types are:-

Habitative -
referring to a settlement e.g a farm or a hamlet examples are by, thorpe - Danish, ton,ham - anglo saxon - they form the end of names
Topographical -
describe a landscape feature e.g steep hill, river bend
Personal Name -
normally the name of the holder of the manor. Normally the first part of the name. Can be Saxon or Danish. In the past unknown words have tended to be treated as personal names, these are now being looked at again.


Domesday Book Entry

An initial interpretation of the Domesday entries for the present borough would be :-

The Manor of Cheshunt was one of the estates of Count Alan and he run it himself and was worth *** per year. Before the conquest the manor was held by ***** and had been worth *** ( £0.00 ) per year.

The manor was *** hides with 23 plough lands. There was ** acres of meadow, woodland that could support 12000 pigs and a mill for which the miller had to pay **s *d ( **p ) per year in rent.

The manor farm worked * plough with * slaves working it. The rest of the manor was farmed by ** villagers and * smallholders operating * ploughs.

At first sight this appears to give us the size of the manor, the amount of arable land and a population. However the Domesday Book was a tax return not a census and it's not that simple. Historians do not know the actual definitions of many of the terms used but careful analysis and comparison with other records has provided some clues.

Both the hide and the plough land are nominal units for tax assessment. The hide was the traditional Anglo-Saxon unit, the ploughland was an attempted replacement. Although both were nominally an area of arable land the assessment was adjusted depending on the population and the fertility of the soil.

The numbers of ploughs operated by the manor and villagers is probably the actual draught animals available converted to standard 8 oxen teams. Not the number of actual ploughs.

The numbers of villagers mentioned will be the heads of family who had tenancy agreements with the manor for land in the open fields. Each person may represent a large extended family with several generations.

The entry does not imply anything about the settlement in the area as anything owned by the manors will be included. In some places it has been proved that the entry includes land and people outside the modern parish, however this is probably not the case for Broxbourne as the Cheshunt outliers have separate entries.