The Museum is closed now until 27 April.

Presentations at Local History Day

The presentations to be given in Function Room 2, each at about 20 minutes

Health & Safety policies restrict attendees to 55 seated.

From left to right above: Anne Brewster, Dr Alexander Thomas, Amanda J Thomas, Tony Berk, Stephanie Reynard.

The talks will explore the surprisingly ancient origins of Harpenden and how the foundations for our prosperous commuter town were put down far earlier than you might expect.

Author and historian, Amanda J Thomas, who organised the Mini Conference says:  “The talks will definitely inform and educate, but we guarantee they will also leave you open-mouthed with the realisation that in over two and a half thousand years, nothing much has changed!”

12.00   Annie Brewster, JP, The High Sheriff of Hertfordshire 2024-25

About Annie Brewster and the High Sheriff’s press release following her declaration ceremony.

A Brief History of the Office of High Sherriff

In the year 969 King Edgar is said to have established Hertford as the principal borough of the shire or county that bears its name.  He appointed a Shire-Reeve to act, in effect, as governor of the new county, holding in his name both civil and military power.  High Sheriffs are still appointed personally by the King for one year to be his representative in the county in all matters relating to the judiciary, the maintenance of law and order and the administration of justice.

12.20   Dr Alexander Thomas, Independent Archaeological and Historical Researcher

Dr Alexander Thomas is a researcher and web designer.  His doctoral degree in Archaeology and Anthropology from the University of Bristol examined the archaeological and manuscript landscapes of the late 9th century AD Danelaw Boundary. This work is currently being expanded into a major new book for Amsterdam University Press.  Alexander is a regular chair, panellist and speaker at international archaeology and medieval studies conferences.  For more information, see Alexander’s website at

Grain, Trade and Pilgrims: Harpenden from Prehistory to the Medieval

Harpenden has a history which stretches back thousands, if not millions, of years. From prehistory to the medieval period, this landscape was agriculturally fertile and politically contested. The cultivation of grain is fundamental to understanding Harpenden’s ancient origins, as is its harvest yield as the source of political arguments over its land management and ownership. This lecture will explore many of the key events which shaped the development of the town and the big questions still outstanding.

1.00   Amanda Thomas, Author and Historian

Amanda J Thomas is an author and historian with a particular interest in social and medical history.  She is a regular on Channel 5, contributing to tv documentaries such as The Great Stink of 1858, London’s Greatest Bridges, and London 2000 Years Revealed; she has also worked on several series of the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?  Books include The Nonconformist Revolution, Cholera: The Victorian Plague, and The Lambeth Cholera Outbreak of 1848-1849.  For more information see Amanda’s website,

Medieval Harpenden, The Plague and its Consequences

In mid-14th century England, the plague killed around half the population. Known as the Black Death, it is the origin of folklore and myths, one of the greatest of which has only recently been debunked – rats did not transmit the pestilence.  Harpenden was not spared from this medieval apocalypse but fared better than other Hertfordshire villages.  Whilst our town did not emerge unscathed, the Black Death created some unexpected opportunities.

1.40   Dr Tony Berk, Scientist, Author, Local Historian and Tour Guide

Dr Tony Berk’s background is in science and engineering, with a PhD in maths and theoretical physics.  For much of his working life he has run his building and property development company, nurturing a keen interest in the history of the built environment.  Tony is on the Council of Arc & Arc (the St Albans & Hertfordshire Architectural and Archaeological Society) and in 2018 became a St Albans Green badge guide.  Tony says, “Any guide will tell you that children ask the best questions.  A favourite is, ‘What did the Romans wear in bed?’  Answer that if you can!”

Was Harpenden Important even before the Railways?

Harpenden exploded in size, population and importance when the railways came, especially with the coming of the Midland railway and its direct link to London.  But, originally our town was just a very minor little settlement in the older and much more important parish of the village of Wheathampstead with its dominant minster church.  What happened?  When exactly did Harpenden really predominate over the much more important village of Wheathampstead?  The answer is not obvious.

2.20   Stephanie Reynard, Vice-Chairman, The Arts Society Harpenden Evening (TASHE)

Stephanie Reynard is the Vice-Chairman of The Arts Society Harpenden Evening (TASHE).  Following a career in IT and business, and with a passion for modern languages, she became a self-confessed culture vulture.  A good friend of Stephanie’s is the great niece of the artist Frank Salisbury, one of Britain’s greatest, yet most unrecognised, artists.  Talking about her research into Frank Salisbury’s life and work, Stephanie commented, “The Harpenden Local History Society recognised his importance but hardly anyone else did.  I knew something needed to be done!”

Francis (Frank) Owen Salisbury of this Parish (1874-1962)

Born in Harpenden, the ninth of 12 children, Frank became the painter laureate of his generation.  Demanded by Royalty, Rockefeller, Roosevelt, he painted over 800 portraits, and was King George V’s first choice for tableaux of state events.  Frank displayed 77 pictures at the Royal Academy, several hang in the Palace of Westminster, and his stained-glass windows adorn churches in Harpenden and around the world.  Yet after his death came obscurity – what went wrong?

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