HALF PRICE OFFER Subscribe to Hertfordshire Life today CLICK HERE

Hitchin: Cafe culture, violins and lavender

17:42 15 February 2010

St Mary

St Mary's Church, Hitchin

Sue Armstrong travels to Hitchin to see what attracts so many people to this town in the north of the county

HITCHIN is a friendly and welcoming town at any time of year and on sunny market days, it takes on a vibrant, continental feel. People sit outside trendy cafes and traditional tearooms enjoying their cappuccinos and home made cakes, street musicians and artists show off their talents and the banter of stallholders attracts throngs of shoppers.

At regular intervals the bells of St Mary's parish church join in the melodies filtering through the streets. With its riverside frontage, the beautiful 13th century church sits in the centre of Hitchin alongside clusters of attractive buildings and inns dating back to medieval times. And just beyond, Windmill Hill provides panoramic views over the town and countryside.

Narrow lanes lead to an exceptional selection of specialist shops, alongside many well known high street names and family run stores, some having traded here for more than a hundred years. In fact, King George II was still on the throne when watch and clock maker, James Gatwards, first opened his doors for business in 1760. Today, Gatwards of Hitchin is in its seventh generation, making it one of the oldest jewellers in England.

This country town also has one of the finest collections of music shops in the whole of East Anglia, attracting visitors from as far away as Scotland, Wales, and Europe. Violins, woodwind and brass instruments, guitars and pianos can all be bought, restored or repaired.


There are plenty of interesting places to visit here and, within a short walking distance of the shops, Hitchin Museum is one of them. It features displays of local industries and domestic life and has a fascinating costume gallery. Close by, the British Schools Museum tells the story of elementary education in Britain from 1810 until 1945. Group tours can be organised for adults and children with the opportunity to step back in time, sit in the classroom and take part in a lesson, Victorian style. Wooden desks, inkwells, dip pens and very strict teachers are the order of the day.

Hitchin's modern day schools enjoy an excellent reputation, making it a popular place for families to settle. The leafy roads surrounding the town centre and pretty neighbouring villages add to its appeal along with good road and rail links to London, Cambridge and Luton airport.

Keith Hoskins, manager of the Hitchin Town Centre Initiative, says, 'Behind the scenes, great care is taken to ensure Hitchin continues to prosper and embrace the future. The Initiative works in partnership with the council and community groups to safeguard the town's heritage and to ensure it remains an attractive, clean and accessible place for residents and visitors alike. We encourage events and activities and support businesses in Hitchin and the rural areas through networking, training and mentoring.'

That care and community spirit is evident all around this distinguished town. Numerous activities and entertainments take place here throughout the year, including the ever-popular annual Hitchin Festival during the summer. This is an arts festival for all the family, which makes the most of warmer days and lighter evenings. And if a special outfit is needed for the film festival, a garden party or one of the many concerts included in the programme, then Hitchin is the ideal place to find something original, along with the accessories to match.


Lavender days

LAVENDER led the way to world fame for Hitchin when Edward Perks started cultivating and distilling it commercially in 1822. The town became one of only two major lavender growing areas in the country and 100 acres were planted. Each lavender field could produce abundant crops for five years before they needed to be uprooted and burned, blowing a perfumed aroma for miles around.

Hitchin Lavender has recently revived this industry and now cultivates and distils five different varieties of this fragrant plant at Cadwell Farm, in nearby Ickleford. Zoe Hunter runs the business with her husband and says, 'We have a small arable farm, with a few horses, and this has diversified into growing 12 acres of lavender on the chalky hillside.

'The lavender looks at its best in late June and July when we get quite a few visitors. The view from the top of the hill across the lavender is breathtaking and walking through it is an experience not to be missed. We do arrange walks and talks on different days during the summer but they are very popular and are already fully booked this year.'

Mr Perks' original method of producing lavender oil is still used by Hitchin Lavender, by cutting the heads off the plants and distilling them. But much of the labour intensive work has been removed, as Cranfield University has designed a special harvester, which strips the flowers from the stems.

A visit to Hitchin would not be complete without discovering the Perks and Llewelyn's charming Victorian chemist shop, which used to sell lavender water, lavender bath salts and other specialities. The store opened in 1790 and traded in the High Street until 1961. The last pharmacist to work there, Violet Lewis, bought most of the stock and fittings. Initially she reconstructed the shop in a purpose-built extension to her home and opened the display to the public. Since then it has been moved to Hitchin Museum and the original mahogany furniture and colourful bottles give a fascinating glimpse into the past.

Pay a visit
The farm at Hitchin Lavender will be open to visitors from June 8 to August 3. It is free to enter the farm and there are public footpaths but if people wish to walk through the lavender and pick it a programme/guide can be provided for 3 per person or 6 per family. There is also a shop on site selling lavender goods.


Fact file
Hitchin Lavender
Cadwell Farm, Ickleford
01462 434320
www.hitchinlavender.com


Hitchin Museum
Paynes Park
01462 434476


The British Schools Museum
41/42 Queen Street
01462 420144
www.hitchinbritishschools.org.uk


0 comments

Shop with us at Great British Life

More from Out & About

Yesterday, 18:29
Crossing the river Ash on the Easneye estate (Photo: Liz Hamilton)

With a walk of the month and many more routes besides, the Herts Campaign to Protect Rural England website is a great resource for exploring the county’s countryside (and to cross hemispheres) says Liz Hamilton

Read more
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
© BuckleyPics

If you love history and exploring then check out our guide to historic churches in Hertfordshire

Read more
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
A shy and retiring Chrsyler at last year's show (Photo: Teresa Whyte, Studio 66 Photography)

May is an important month for car lovers as the county hosts a day devoted to magical motors. This year’s Herts Auto Show promises to be the most impressive yet with a vast array of vehicles from vintage to supercars. Doretta Sarris Hogan discovers the story of the show and the allure of fine motoring

Read more
Monday, May 16, 2016
The event is a Mecca for narrowboats, with around 100 gathering on the festival stretch of the canal (Photo: Greg Townsend)

Rickmansworth Festival, one of the premier waterway events in the country, takes place in May. A hundred narrowboats and so much more, writes Louise McEvoy

Read more
Wednesday, May 11, 2016
The Queen is presented with a book written by former schoolmaster John Davison, Berkhamsted School  A 475th Anniversary Portrait (photo Will Gunary)

Berkhamsted was in full royal fever for a visit by the Queen, the patron of Berkhamsted School, as part of celebrations to mark its 475th anniversary.

Read more
Monday, May 9, 2016
The walks cater for all ages

Exploring Herts’ nature and history, getting fit and meeting like-minded people, all for free – sound good? There are more than 70 guided routes on offer in the Countryside Management Service May Walking Festival. Hertfordshire Year of Walking officer Rukia Augustine explains

Read more
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
© Siri Stafford, Thinkstock

From five star hotels and Georgian townhouses in the city to countryside farm houses and even a VW camper van, we have something for everyone who wants to escape

Read more
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
The river Mimram at Tewinbury (Tim Hill)

Hertfordshire is home to around 10 per cent of the world’s chalk rivers. David Johnson, Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust living rivers officer, takes a clear look into these rare water courses

Read more
Sunday, May 1, 2016
(c) Mypurgatoryyears, Getty Images

From comedy to classic cars, indie-rock to art, jiving ponies to jazz greats and folk music to old-fashioned family fun, whatever your tastes – Hertfordshire has a festival for you. In fact, you could fill every weekend with a festival in the county this spring and summer, so here we celebrate 50 of the best

Read more
Sunday, April 24, 2016
Goldcrest feed on insects that live on conifers on the site

A new Chalk Stream and Heath walking route has been created at Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust’s Waterford Heath reserve giving access to heath, river and marshes. Reserve officer Andy Brown outlines the history of the site and its wonderful wildlife

Read more


Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Job search in your local area




Local Business Directory

Hertfordshire's trusted business finder

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search