What has Hemel Hempstead ever done for us?

Paris has the Eiffel Tower. We have Kodak House.

Paris has the Eiffel Tower. We have Kodak House.

In order to get into Mensa, you need to undergo an intelligence test. If you want to get into Hemel Hempstead you have to negotiate a fiendish traffic management system called the magic roundabout. Somehow, just under 90,000 souls have passed the test and reside in the town.

It is a town of few accolades. Henry VIII granted the town a royal charter, presumably because he conducted his romantic liaisons in the town. It’s not the only time a reigning monarch has found the time to visit. Queen Elizabeth the Second came to Hemel Hempstead to open the appropriately named Queen’s Square shortly after her coronation. Louis Mountbatten went to school here.  Somehow, I think our days of royal interest have long gone.

Now Hemel Hempstead can add another accolade thanks to a recent survey. People voted the town the ugliest in the UK. Beating off stiff opposition from Luton and Slough amongst others, Hemel Hempstead came first with the grand total of 785 votes. Leaving aside the fact that only 3,000 people voted in the survey which is probably less than the number of left handed people with red hair who speak Norwegian, does Hemel Hempstead deserve the title?

Geneva has the lake and the jet d'eau - we have the water gardens

Geneva has the lake and the jet d’eau – we have the water gardens

It does suffer from “New Town Syndrome”.  Among many others, Hemel Hempstead grew very rapidly in the post war years to cope with a population displaced by the blitz. After a flurry of investment and concrete in the early days, it received precious little investment afterwards. This means there are a number of tired 1950s concrete structures which probably looked modern in their day but they are far from easy on the modern eye.

There are some very nice places in the town. We are blessed with a wide range of wide open green spaces in the form of Boxmoor and Gadebridge park. The Grand Union links Hemel Hempstead to Berkhamsted and Kings Langley. Hemel Hempstead has enviable transport links. A train line gets you into London in half an hour or so and the M1 and M25 are near at hand.

But ultimately, it’s an unremarkable town. The crime figures are low. So low in fact, that the Police are looking to close the Police Station in the town. How you can have a town of 90,000 people with no Police Station is beyond me. Mind you, there are plenty of babies around, but that didn’t stop them closing the maternity ward.

The vast majority of housing in the town is ex local authority and much of the housing stock is showing its age. But the thing that probably swung the award for us was the high street. A desolate wasteland of closed down shops, pawnbrokers reborn as chain stores, charity shops and mobile phone shops.

But to us, it’s home and ugly or not, we like it.


3 comments on “What has Hemel Hempstead ever done for us?

  1. Comments are essentially true but of course could be applied to hundreds of other towns throughout the country. We can also add the historical note that St. Mary’s Church is older than St Alban’s Abbey, Surgeon Royal, Sir Astley Paston Cooper, resided here and Lord Montgomery of Alamein was educated here. Latterly many sports stars have lived here but, ho hum, life goes on pretty well as normal.

  2. Its a average town but not as bad as mentioned in survey. Close to M1 & M25. Easily commutable to London. Low crime rate . Some good parks like Boxmoor and Gadebridge and Grand Union Canal that runs along.

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