This project was undertaken on behalf of Wheathampstead History Society (WHS), between March 2013 and January 2014. It was funded by an ‘All Our Stories’ grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and was supported by the University of Hertfordshire. 

An introduction to our Project

The project provided a snapshot of our high street in 2013 and chronicled how it has changed over the last one hundred years. Our researchers interviewed many residents, delved through directories and pored over newspapers. They discovered stories that moved them, challenged them and cheered them. On this website you will find the stories of the individual buildings, shops and homes which make up the High Street.

The changing face of Wheathampstead

100 years ago the High Street served a largely agricultural community with a population of just under 3,000 in 1911. The gas street lamps were lit manually, cattle were watered at Mill bridge and the Hertfordshire Hunt met on the High Street. The village also had its own railway station on the branch line from Hertford to Luton.

In the 1920s the village was largely self-sufficient with a miller and grain mill, baker, blacksmith, builder, butcher, carpenter, decorator, dressmaker, grocers and hardware stores, milliner, saddlers, shoe shop, wheelwright and at least eight pubs and beer houses. 

In the 1960s the village shops still closed for lunch. Half-day closing was on Thursday. The High Street had two banks. The arrival of the first supermarket improved choice but impacted on the independent traders within the village. The branch line to Hertford and Luton closed to passengers in 1965. By the 1990s the growth in car ownership and out-of-town retailing led to the closure of some shops and the two banks. 

Despite the recession of the early twenty-first century, when we completed the project in January 2014 all the retail premises in Wheathampstead’s High Street were occupied and trading. The population was approximately 6,400 and most people traveled beyond the boundaries of the village to work and shop. The changing nature of the high street was reflected in the range of shops which included a baker, bathroom and kitchen showroom, a beauty parlor, butcher, carpet shop, chemist, coffee shop, computer services, estate agents, florists, food takeaways, garage, hairdressers, jewelers, nail bar, an off-license, Post Office, restaurants, and a Tesco Express grocery shop, but only two pubs.

Changing character and appearance

The High Street of the early twentieth century has bequeathed a rich vein of historic buildings that reflect the village’s past. One reason why so many historic buildings survive may be because the economy of the village was poor in the early part of the twentieth century and this slowed down redevelopment. The village lost some significant properties in the 1930s and 1970s before listed building status was introduced. Despite this the appearance of the high street is still much as it was in 1900.

Whilst many buildings in the High Street are listed, in some cases their character has slowly been eroded by the changes in detail including loss of original features such as timber windows.

At the beginning of the twentieth century the street had an unsealed road; this has given way to a tarmac road, pavements and traffic calming features. The opening of the Cory Wright Way in the 1970s, bypassing the village, helped ease some congestion, but today the High Street is still a very busy road in the rush hour.

At the beginning of the 1900s the High Street would have been dominated by four large telegraph poles, street lamps lit each night by a lamplighter and horse troughs. There was a gradual build-up of utilitarian traffic-related street furniture and street lighting right through until the end of the twentieth century, including a second world war surface air raid shelter in the centre of the village, opposite ‘The Bull’.


In 1911 the largest local employers were major landowners, farmers, tradesmen and those who employed domestic labor. In the inter-war years Helmets Ltd. and Murphy Chemicals moved into the village, providing local jobs. Nearby engineering firms such as Vauxhalls at Luton and de Havilland in Hatfield provided even greater employment opportunities. Employment in the engineering industries increased during the Second World War and continued until the 1980s when this sector experienced real economic problems. Many companies closed down or moved away and they were replaced by service industries. The majority of employment in the village in 2014 is in the local primary schools, nurseries and office based companies. The majority of the working population commute within the County and beyond, particularly into London.


The village of Wheathampstead and its High Street have seen many changes over the past one hundred years, both in how people live, work and shop. The population growth of the village since the 1950s may have reduced the feeling of community but many families such as Collins, Simons, Titmuss and Westwood, whose names can be found in the earliest census returns, have been constants in the village story over the past one hundred years. They have adapted to the changing times, and reflect the truth that a living village is not something which is preserved in aspic, but one which welcomes those who choose to call it home, taking the best of the past and marrying it with the best of the present.

The research for this project was undertaken by 20 volunteers * (all residents of the village) who brought their enthusiasm and individual style to the findings. To read their story of the changing high street go to the village centre map and click on the buildings to see what information they have uncovered.

There are inevitably some gaps in our research but if you have any information that might help us please email the Wheathampstead History Society at

My grateful thanks to all who in any way contributed to this project.
Sandra Wood
Project Lead

* Christopher Batey, Suzie Brind, Ann Atton, Eddie Cornell, Jacky Edwards, Nancy Hale, Terry Holden, Elizabeth Holland, Janet Holmes-Walker, Margaret Humphrey, Ruth Jeavons, Bobby & Alan Read, Andrew Robley, Gill & John Roe, Neill Sankey, Mike Smith, Sandra Wood, Jan Woodhams.

Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund