HERTFORD is a surprisingly small, old-fashioned county town, protected by a quilt of greenbelt at the junction of the Rivers Beane, Lea and Mimram. It is possible to take a boat south to the sea from here by negotiating a series of locks. Much of the town centre is a conservation area, charmingly provincial considering its proximity to London. Independent traders and specialist shops, including Botsford & Sons ironmongers, provide variety and a farmers’ market is held once a month. There is a county court, county hospital and all the other public buildings you would expect of an administrative centre, the 1939 County Hall on its hilltop being the most ostentatious.
Hertford Town Council organises the annual fun day at Hertford Castle, in addition to an annual music festival, a garden festival and a Christmas gala. Other prominent social groups include the Company of Players, based at the Little Theatre, and the Dramatic and Operatic Society, which organises the annual theatre week. There are also choral and art societies, and a symphony orchestra. There is quite a sporting fraternity too, with a cricket club, canoe club, Hertford Football Club, the Old Hertfordians Rugby Club, and fishing in streams made famous by Izaak Walton in The Compleat Angler.
Hertford is generally more expensive than other nearby towns, partly because of its status as county town. Commuters have a good choice of routes into London. The Moorgate/Kings Cross trains from Hertford North provide easy changes to the London Underground at Finsbury Park or Highbury & Islington. Or, if you prefer, there are trains to Liverpool Street from Hertford East, which connect with the Underground at Seven Sisters and Tottenham Hale. So many people scuttle through the short cuts converging on Hertford North station in the morning that there is a prescribed route known locally as the Commuter Trail. Not many of these commuters live in the area immediately behind the station, which is dominated by council estates, but there are plenty of good streets within walking distance.
At the cheaper end of the market, modern town houses can be bought for around £325,000 to£350,000. For middle-range, three- and four-bedroom houses with generous gardens you should look in the Fordwich area. Here you will find semis at around £450,000; detached houses around £750,000. For more extravagant housing see High Molewood and Great Molewood, where large detached houses and chalet bungalows are spread along unmade private roads surrounded by woodland. Five bedrooms, two bathrooms and four reception rooms in Thirties architectural style might cost around £600,000. The smartest suburb to the north is Bengeo. People moving to Hertford are often so completely fixated on Bengeo that they will consider living nowhere else. It has a parade of shops and a good prep school. A five-bedroom house in half an acre of garden will cost well over £1.5m.
However great the appeal of Bengeo for commuters, it is the south side of town which locals consider to be the more desirable. The large Victorian and Edwardian houses of Queen’s Road and Highfield Road, enlivened by the occasional architectural curio, sell at over £600,000 for four bedrooms, £750,000 for five bedrooms.
In the centre of Hertford, upwardly mobile young couples are attracted to the riverside, where terrace cottages were originally built for mill or malt workers. Folly Island has been mercilessly gentrified, regardless of the shortage of parking places, and tiny two-bedroom houses with small gardens now cost around £225,000. The second bedroom tends only to be cot-sized, so those with growing families have to think of moving on.
Outside Hertford, Hertingfordbury is probably one of the most exclusive villages in the area. The thriller writer Frederick Forsyth has a house here. The village has no more than 50 or so houses, in addition to a cricket pitch and two pubs, a church and a bridge over the Mimram. Its quaintness sends prices for tiny cottages over £275,000 and detached houses start at £1m.