A large town in the Greater London area, which greatly expanded as a London overspill community in the 1950s. Developed as a "new town" under acts of 1946, it is one of several recently developed conurbations along with Basildon, Stevenage and Harlow. Careful planning has ensured it has remained one of the best of the new towns, with attractive modern architecture, pretty water gardens and an excellent shopping centre.
Not all of the town's architecture is modern. The narrow High Street has plenty of old world charm, with ancient inns, bow-fronted shops and the Norman parish church of St Mary. There are also several old brick and timber whitewashed cottages and some 18th-c houses of purple brick and red dressings.
In the heart of the High Street stands the Grade II listed, neo-Jacobean, Town Hall (circa 1852), built of red brick with carved stone dressings. The hall is currently run as an theatre with a regular programme of performing arts, comedy and music. St Mary's church, which stands behind the hall, is one of the finest in the county, with a central tower and tall spire. It contains 14th-c brasses and some 19th-c stained glass windows. Near the church is Henry's Banqueting Hall, built in the 16th century.
The original settlement developed at the confluence of the rivers Gade and Bulbourne on the edge of the Chiltern Hills. It was formerly a centre of the straw plaiting industry. The Grand Union Canal runs to the south and there are several old inns along its towpath. The remains of a Roman Villa have been discovered nearby, in the urban parkland known as Boxmoor and also to the north in Gadebridge Park.
One mile north stands the 15th-c Piccotts End. Believed to have been built as a pilgrims' hospice, it boasts some remarkable period wall-paintings. The property is open for public viewings on Heritage Open Days. On the road to Piccotts End is the Marchmont Arms Inn, an early 18th-c structure with a Greek Doric doorway and possible connections to the 3rd Earl of Marchmont.
Located just a few miles from historic St Albans, Hemel Hempstead is a good base from which to explore the Chiltern Hills and surrounding area.