15 things to do in Hitchin (Hertfordshire, England)

At the foot of the Chilterns Mountains in north Hertfordshire, Hitchin is a lovely market town with a medieval layout.

The market where corn has been traded over the centuries is beautiful, as are the old cobblestone streets emanating from there.

For lovers of historical architecture, Hitchin has its fair share of half-timbered houses and grand Georgian floor plans, especially in Bancroft, Sun Street and Bucklesbury.

The town has been on the tourist map for its summer lavender fields since the 2000s, and the ornate parish church is a relic of Hitchin’s thriving medieval wool trade and retains many of its 15th-century fixtures.

1. Hitchin Lavender

Hitchin Lavender

A crop you associate with places like Provence, lavender has been cultivated in the Hitchin countryside since the 16th century.

Since the late 18th century, Perks and Llewellyn Pharmacy, located in the heart of Hitchin, has been nationally known for its lavender products.

In 2000, the industry revived at Caldwell Farms, north of Hitchin, and this 25-mile-long landscape of lavender behavior brought shocking color.

In summer, you can come here for walks and photos while picking your own flowers.

Next to lavender are wildflower meadows and sunflower fields.

The farm’s 17th-century barn houses a café and a shop selling lavender plants, essential oils and cosmetics.

The museum on the farm has a faithful replica of the interior of the Perks and Llewellyn Pharmacy, the original of which is on display at the North Hertfordshire Museum.

2. St. Mary’s Church

    St Mary's Church

The parish church in Hitchin is the largest church in Hertfordshire, larger than the medieval town required.

Instead, St Mary’s Church bears witness to the wealth generated by the wool trade in the 14th and 15th centuries.

Much of the architecture dates back to that era, but the church’s roots go back further afield.

The tower was built in 1190, and when new floors were laid in 1911, a Saxon church built in the 7th century and enlarged to the 10th century was found below the current church.

Inside the church, take a closer look at the baptistery, carved in the 15th century with the image of the apostles destroyed by Puritan soldiers in the Civil War on the pedestal.

The pulpit is also from the 15th century, and the ornate screen of the “Angel” cross is also from the booth of the Congregation of Our Lady of St. Mary of the same era.

3. British School Museum

British School Museum

Housed in a sprawling schoolhouse, this acclaimed museum was built in a disused malt house in 1810 and then extended into the rest of the 19th century.

One of these expansions was the 1837 “Monitoring Classroom” (300 seats!), built on the theories of educational innovator Joseph Lancaster, and the other was an unusual 110-student built in 1854 gallery classroom. 1969, but the complex exists as an educational heritage and became a museum in the 1990s.

Children can dress like Victorian students and write with a dip pen.

You can learn how a principal taught 300 children in a large classroom, while the gallery classrooms have sand trays to engrave the children before they graduate.

In early 2019, the Carrot and Stick exhibit documented the different ways Victorian schools punish and praise students.

4. Market

    market

Besides lavender, Hitchin’s main crop is corn, which has been on the market for over 300 years.

Proof of this is the Corn Exchange on the west side of the square, which dates back to 1853 and used to be packed with booths occupied by corn dealers and seed sellers.

The square in front is mostly a pedestrian street, with rows of historical buildings on the west, north and south sides, and the modern Churchgate shopping center on the east side of the street.

The half-timbered building with intricate studs on the north side is Grade II* listed and houses a Starbucks, while the Café AIR on the south end is a kiosk with tables occupying the plaza.

5. Bancroft

bancroft

After visiting Market Place, you can follow the High Street, which will soon lead to Bancroft, another avenue full of historic buildings.

Bancroft is the main route into Hitchin from the north.

This explains the wideness of the street, which allows drivers to bring their livestock through town, and the many stages from Hitchin when it became part of the stagecoach network.

A section north of Hermitage Road is gorgeous for its row of Georgian and older timber-framed houses, some of which are hidden by updated 1700s facades.

Easily spotted due to its tall chimney, this half-timbered house at 105-106 is Class II* and dates back to the 15th century.

6. Mount Barton National Nature Reserve

Mount Barton National Nature Reserve

The northernmost branch of the Chilterns is at Mount Barton west of Hitchin.

The grasslands that cover these steep hillsides are home to many rare wildflowers that bloom in spring and summer.

These include pustules, fleas, and larger pine cones.

Indispensable to the reserve are the many species of butterflies, such as grey captain, marble white and chalk blue.

In summer, Dartmoor ponies are taken to the hills to graze, and at the base of one of the slopes you’ll come across a spring that feeds a crystalline chalk river that runs through an ancient beech woodland.

7. North Hertfordshire Museum

North Hertfordshire Museum

The North Hertfordshire Museum opened in summer 2017 as a modern extension to the refurbished Guildhall, showcasing the collections of the defunct Hitchin and Letchworth Museum.

The ‘Explore North Hutt’ gallery provides a quick chronological look at the county’s history, featuring epic marine reptiles swimming in the sea, as well as some of the characters from the 14th century Hitchin Biggin Abbey.

“Living in North Hertz” investigates ancient trades and trades such as wool production, showcases jewellery from different periods and features counters at Hitchin’s Perks and Llewellyn Pharmacy, famous for their lavender products.

Meanwhile, the Terrace Gallery is an interesting miscellaneous display of football boots worn by the great Sir Stanley Matthews, as well as information about North Hertz royal connections, local folklore and famous residents such as feminists Elizabeth Impere).

8. Stouffal Waterwheel and Nature Reserve

Stauffal Waterwheel and Nature Reserve

For more than 1,000 years, there has been a water mill on this site on the River Yver.

The first mention is recorded in the Doomsday Book of 1086. Much of the mill dates from the late 19th century and burned down in 1992. Fortunately, almost all the machines were salvaged, the mill was back in normal operation by 2006, and the surrounding wetlands became a nature reserve in 2011. Information boards are set over three floors, marking mechanisms such as an 1897 cast iron drum stand and two sets of millstones upstairs.

Children can try grinding their own flour using a quern stone.

The top floor has equipment for cleaning grain and sifting flour, as well as a working scale model of the mill.

You can’t help but go to the gift shop and stock up on the mill’s own flour, which can also be used to make the cakes and breads at Randall’s Tea Room.

9. Biggin Asylum

beijing almshouse

Crossing the Hiz River from St Mary’s Church is an attraction on your way to Hitchin.

Close to where Hitchin’s medieval monks used to be on Queen Street, Biggin Almshouse is housed in a half-timbered building dating from the early 17th century.

In 1654, John Kemp left the mansion, its grounds and outbuildings as a home for ten disabled women.

The building is located in four ranges around a small open courtyard with a Tuscan colonnade.

10. Orton Head Nature Reserve

Orton Head Nature Reserve

On the northwestern border of Hitchin is an important swampy woodland on the south bank of the Otton River.

On less than 15 acres, there is a wide variety of habitats, including swamps, river banks, and wet and dry woodland.

Oughtonhead’s damper components were previously used in the production of rushes, reeds and willows.

Whether it’s birds like redfinches, golden-crowned, cardinals, and sandpipers in fall or winter, or the common exotic kingfisher in spring, the sanctuary has a reason to visit in all seasons.

On your way, don’t be surprised if you stumble upon a herd of English longhorns on a pasture.

11. Purwell Ninesprings

Powell Nine Springs

East Purwell is a 15-acre nature preserve on a lush floodplain backed by the river of the same name.

The open waters and reeds of the Purwell Ninesprings are plentiful, attracting different bird species depending on the season.

Among grey herons in spring, reed buntings and little egrets are often seen, while warblers such as chiffchaffs and blackcaps appear in autumn.

Even in the depths of winter there is a lot of life and you may see siskins and snipes foraging in the meadows and alder woodlands when the bunting is roosting in the reeds.

In early summer, when the yellow irises and water forget-me-nots bloom, the colors are gorgeous.

12. Market Theatre

Market Theatre

On the historic Sun Street leading to the market is the Market Theatre, which has theatre shows throughout the year and many more suitable for young family members.

You might call this 100-seat venue a production theater, known for its “adult pantos.” From December to May and then touring the country, these are pantomimes based on fairy tales and folktales (Aladdin, Snow White and Sinbad the Sailor) but with erotic humor added for grown-ups.

These works are certainly not suitable for children. On Friday and Saturday mornings of the term there is a ‘Kids Club’ for singing, acting, sports, teamwork and improvisation, as well as workshops during Easter and summer break.

13. St Paul’s Walden Cemetery

waldenburg in st paul

In the countryside, five miles south of Hitchin is a grand country house that is also home to the Bowes-Lyons family.

Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mother (1900-2002) spent some of her childhood in São Paulo and was probably born here.

Built in the early 18th century, the red brick house is still a private residence (rented for weddings), but the 50-acre baroque woodland garden is open regularly in spring and summer.

This is an opportunity not to be missed: like the house, the garden dates back to around 1720 and features a long formal avenue in the form of a patte d’oie (patte d’oie). These will lead you to resplendent statues, temples, lakes and ponds.

As you visit meadows and woods, wildflowers such as spotted orchids, hyacinths and burdocks bloom, while magnolias, rhododendrons, lilies and irises are mesmerizing.

14. Independent Farm

independent farm

This family day was also a no-brainer for Hitchin.

The independent farm keeps everyone’s favorite farm animals and organizes a full schedule of activities.

Children will encounter or get close to cows, shire horses, sheep, goats, ponies, pigs and even alpacas.

There’s plenty to do, such as watching a milking demonstration, grooming ponies, feeding pigs and riding a tractor trailer.

The selection of activities changes with the seasons, so if you drop by in the spring and early summer, you should be able to bottle feed the lambs and goats, while there are regular raptor and reptile handling demonstrations.

The Greenway Café recently opened on the farm and features a gift shop and children’s play area.

15. Hitchin Swimming Centre

Hitchin Swimming Centre

On a summer day, Hitchin’s elegant 50-meter outdoor pool is an affordable way for families to spend a few hours in the sun.

Dating back to 1938, the swimming pool is surrounded by gardens, fountains, sunbathing terraces and beautiful Art Deco gazebos.

There is also a paddling pool for toddlers and babies.

In 1991, an indoor pool was built next to the Lido, with guaranteed year-round swimming, and a gym with 80 stations.

In addition to this, there are three fitness suites with more than 80 classes scheduled per week.

Where to stay: The best hotels in Hitchin, England
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