St Marys Northchurch

Proclaiming the Christian faith in Hertfordshire for over 1000 years

Our History

St Marys Postcard

Although considered by some to be a suburb of Berkhamsted, the village of Northchurch is in fact far older. Situated on Akeman Street, the original Roman road from London to Chester, the site of a major Roman villa was discovered in the village in the 1970s during the development of a new housing estate. Roman occupation in this area dates from about AD 60 and was primarily devoted to agriculture, including the raising of cattle, sheep, pigs and goats. The local river Bulborne also appears to have been used for the farming of trout, oysters and freshwater mussels.  

Once the Romans had left the area the Saxons formed a settlement between the road and the river calling it "Birch Hamsted". The original church dates from this time and makes St Mary's one of the oldest churches in Hertfordshire. Part of the original Saxon building still remains in the south and west walls. In early Norman times the parish was known as Berkhampstead St. Mary and the entry in the Domesday Survey relating to Berkhampstead refers to  a priest with fourteen villeins (tenant farmers).

By the 13th century buildings had extended south along the former Akeman Street towards the Norman castle and effectively became a separate settlement, taking with it the old name of Berkhampstead. The church of St Peter, in present day Berkhamsted, dates from this time and with the creation of its own parish Berkhampstead St. Mary subsequently became known as “Northcherche” or the North Church, the church to the north of St Peter’s. The name of the village has since evolved into the current Northchurch.

St Mary's was subsequently extended eastwards between the 11th and 14th centuries to form a cruciform building with flint walls. A stone-faced tower was added over the crossing during the 15th century. A new north aisle, vestries and south porch were added in the 1880s at which time the existing pews and floor were added.

The internal decor of St Mary’s reflects Victorian "sensitivities", with renewed windows containing 19th and early 20th century stained glass. However, a major re-ordering project was undertaken in 1980, when the organ and choir stalls were moved from the north transept (now the Lady Chapel) to the west end of the church, and a nave altar constructed beneath the crossing. The Lady Chapel was refurbished in 1997 and a stained glass window introduced into the south transept in 2000 to mark the new millennium.

Almshouses

Apart from St Mary’s, probably the most well known building in Northchurch are the almshouses or Church Houses. These two-storey half-timbered houses date from the 15th and 16th centuries and have recently been refurbished.

The village school is adjacent to St Mary’s and dates from 1864. The original school building was built on land given by Earl Brownlow of the nearby Ashridge Estate and extended in the latter half of the 20th century.

To the north of St Mary’s, the Grand Junction Canal, linking London to the Midlands, was built in the late 1790s, with Northchurch lock located near the New Road bridge. Close-by is the 355 yard long Northchurch tunnel, built in the 1830s to take the London and Birmingham railway through the parish. The line now forms part of the West Coast mainline.