10 historical figures born in Hertfordshire

PUBLISHED: 16:57 10 November 2020 | UPDATED: 17:07 10 November 2020

Monument to Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, three time prime minister, in front of the gates of Hatfield House (c) Cmglee/Creative Commons/Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Monument to Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, three time prime minister, in front of the gates of Hatfield House (c) Cmglee/Creative Commons/Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Cmglee/Creative Commons/Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Meet 10 Herts men and women, some well known and others less so, who helped mould their times and left a lasting legacy

So-and-so was born here. Oh, really? I didn't know that. It's hard not to stop and read a blue plaque on a building to find out who the celebrated person is linked to it. Well in Herts there are perhaps many more links than you knew about.

Here are just 10 figures born in the early 19th to 20th centuries who could claim to have made their mark on their times and beyond.

Frederick Archer, Bishop's Stortford, 1813

The inventor of an improved photographic process, Frederick Archer was born in Bishop's Stortford (although some say Hertford), the son of a butcher.

The collodion process that he developed (excuse the pun) enabled the exposure time for photographs to be reduced, which was a great boon to snappers.

Sadly, Archer failed to patent it, which meant he barely made any money and died early, in 1857, impoverished. Although he's recalled chiefly for this one invention, Archer was also a handy sculptor and got into photography to capture images of his work.

South Street, Bishops Stortford


Henry Hawkins, Hitchin, 1817

The alliterative Henry Hawkins aka 'Hanging Hawkins' was a lawyer and judge who was a tad more lenient than his moniker suggests.

Born in Hitchin, the son of a solicitor, he became a High Court judge (1876-98) and presided at many of the Victorian era's famous trials, including the celebrated Tichborne Case (1871-74), in which a mystery man claimed to be the heir to the Tichborne baronetcy.

Hawkins, a member of the prosecution team, cross-examined the claimant, who was convicted of perjury and sentenced to imprisonment.

High Street, Hitchin


Thomas Wells, St Albans, 1818

As surgeon to Queen Victoria, Thomas Wells (1818-1897) rose to the peak of his profession. He was educated at St Albans School, which was then housed in the Lady Chapel of the Abbey.

Wells served as both a navy surgeon, then an army surgeon (during the Crimean War) before becoming the long-serving surgeon to the Queen (1863-96).

A pioneer of abdominal surgery, but specialising in ovarian surgery, Wells also developed improved artery forceps and was among the early advocates of anaesthetics. He was created a baronet while administering to Victoria.

St Albans Abbey Gateway in the snow


Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, Hatfield, 1830

Three-times Conservative Prime Minister (1885-86, 1886-92 and 1895-1902), Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury (1830-1903), was in No 10 for both the second Boer War and the demise of Queen Victoria (January 22, 1901).

Born into aristocracy at Hatfield House, he still suffered a miserable childhood, included bullying at school. Having become an MP in 1853, aged 23, Gascoyne-Cecil served as Foreign Secretary before getting the top job.

He died on the 50th anniversary of his first becoming an MP, aged 73.

Tomb of former Prime Minister, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil


William Gosse, Hoddesdon, 1842

Ayers Rock was in the news recently. Declared sacred, the Australian sandstone monolith, also known as Uluru, was the subject of a proposed ban on people climbing it. Of course, people then turned up in numbers to climb it while they still could.

They were following in the footsetps of William Gosse, a Hoddesdon-born explorer and the first white man to reach the rock in July 1873, giving it its alternative name, Ayers Rock after Sir Henry Ayers, Chief Secretary of South Australia.

His second-in-command, Edwin S. Berry, was possibly the first to climb it, however. Gosse emigrated to Australia in 1850 and died of a heart attack, in 1881, aged just 38.

They call it Uluru


Edward Salisbury, Harpenden, 1886

Sir Edward Salisbury (1886-1978) was a botanist and ecologist, born at Limbrick Hall, Harpenden, who became director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew from 1943-56, and was responsible for the restoration of the gardens after the Second World War.

Salisbury's early research was focused on forest ecology, especially in his native Hertfordshire.

He seems to have been a mind ahead of its time in that regard. He passed away in 1978 at the grand age of 92.

Harpenden, Herts


Wilfrid Clark, Hemel Hempstead, 1895

Born in Hemel, Sir Wilfrid Clark (1895-1971) was a scientist and anatomist who was one of three men credited with exposing the Piltdown Man hoax - a claim that an evolutionary 'missing link' had been discovered in 1912, which was finally proved a hoax in 1953 (it was a combination of orangutan and human remains).

Clark served with the Royal Army Medical Corps during the First World War before pursuing a career in anatomy.

He is best known today for the contribution he made to our understanding of human evolution.

Bust of Sir Wilfrid Le Gros Clark in the Le Gros Clark Building, University of Oxford


Elizabeth Maconchy, Broxbourne, 1907

A talented composer of operas and chamber music, Dame Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994) was born in Broxbourne and spent the last 40 years of her life in Borehamwood.

With Irish parents, Maconchy began her musical studies in Dublin. She composed string quartets, symphonic works, 'concert ante' works and music for the stage and was awarded the DBE in 1987.

She once declared that the best music was 'an impassioned argument'. She would have loved to be around over the past few years!

Maconchy on vinyl


Joy Batchelor, Watford, 1914

Watford-born Joy Batchelor (1914-1991) was an animator, director and producer, who, having married John Halas, a Hungarian émigré (1940), co-established the cartoon company Halas and Batchelor which had its greatest success with the animated feature film Animal Farm (1954), based on the book by George Orwell.

Joy attended Watford Grammar for Girls and later the Watford School of Art, Science and Commerce. Halas and Batchelor also produced propaganda films for the British Government during the Second World War.

Bangkok. 23rd July 2014.


Dame Cicely Saunders, Barnet, 1918

Philanthropist Dame Cicely Saunders (1918-2005) was a doctor and writer who founded the Hospice Movement, having made her name with research into terminal and palliative care.

Born in Barnet, Dame Cicely went on to open St Christopher's Hospice in south London in 1967 - regarded as our first modern hospice. Today, UK hospice services have expanded to well over 250 inpatient units (adults and children), plus home care, hospice at home, day care and hospital support services.

In recognition of her work, Saunders received a damehood in 1979 and Order of Merit in 1989.

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