Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire is one of those places in Britain that is frequently derided.
The original settlement, which
dates back to the 8th Century, was expanded after World War II as one of Britain's "new towns" to rehouse working-class
families from London.
Sitting between the M1 (Junction 8) and the M25 (Junction 25), it's also a commuter haven. Hemel's most notable landmark is
the Magic Roundabout in the town centre - and what a thing to be famous for, critics point out. In
December 2005, Hemel
Hempstead became more infamous as the site of the Buncefield oil depot fire, Europe's biggest peacetime fire. With its
convenient motorway links, it's no coincidence that Britain's fifth largest oil depot was located
just outside Hemel
The Boxmoor Trust
A stranger to Hemel Hempstead researching the town on the Internet could be left ignorant about
many of its positive points.
Foremost of these is the Boxmoor Trust, 480 acres of protected green space in the south-west corner of the town. In 1594,
grazing and fishing rights on meadow lands between the Gade and Bulbourne rivers were conveyed to 67 inhabitants of Hemel
Hempstead and nearby Bovingdon. These meadows had once formed part of the lands held by the Monastery of Ashridge, dissolved
during the reign of Henry VIII.
Today this land is still held in trust for the public benefit of the current and future inhabitants of the area. It will not
be built on or developed. It is administered by the Boxmoor Trust, now a charitable organisation. The Trust is governed by an
Act of Parliament of 1809, updated by a Charity Commission Scheme in 2000. Over the years, where
Boxmoor Trust lands have been
compulsorily purchased for transport schemes (the Grand Junction Canal in 1795, the London-Birmingham Railway in 1837 and the
A41 road improvement in the 1990s) new land has been purchased to replace lost acreage.
Conserving Hertfordshire Wildlife
The original function of the Boxmoor Trust land has changed over the years. Yes, it is still used for grazing. In the summer
months the "Boxmoor ponies" are a local attraction, and rare-breed cattle (Belted Galloway) and sheep (Norfolk Horns) call the
meadows home. But today the primary use of the Boxmoor Trust lands is conservation of the local wildlife - particularly the
natural habitat of the Bulbourne valley - and recreation and leisure.
The Boxmoor Cricket Club (founded 1857) and a children's playground are sited on Blackbirds Moor, which is a
popular park for local
residents. The Trust hosts a free community music festival every other summer, called Music on the Moor, in Bulbourne Meadow; a
"conker festival" each autumn; and in the summer there are free one-day activities to introduce children to the local wildlife.
Trust lands lie undeveloped and open to the public - criss-crossed with public rights of way and various nature walks. Station Moor and Blackbirds Moor are characterised by avenues of mature horse chestnut trees, planted during Queen Victoria's reign. Sadly, some of these have recently been felled as they are approaching the end of their natural life spans1. The
Bulbourne river runs through some of the Trust's lands, as does the Grand Junction Canal.
Sitting within the Boxmoor Trust lands is the former village of Boxmoor, which became subsumed by Hemel Hempstead in the
1950s and 1960s. 'Boxmoor Village' as it's known, retains a distinct character, with its
own high street, post office,
primary schools, social club, and Church of England and Roman Catholic churches. The houses in Boxmoor are primarily Victorian family
homes, and although they are in
demand by commuters moving into Hemel Hempstead, the area retains strong community ties.
Hemel Hempstead station, with trains to London Euston, was previously Boxmoor station. It is surrounded by Trust land, and
it is not unusual to see Hemel communters walking home from work, shouldering past grazing cows or horses on the pathways.
Sights like these make it hard to believe that one has only left London half an hour behind by train.