Hemel Hempstead Church, Hertfordshire

St. Mary’s stands in the old town of Hemel Hempstead (basically a street and a bit overlooking parkland to the north and east of the modern town). It has the tallest church spire in the “Home Counties” and is by a long way the tallest in Hertfordshire at 200 feet.

The basic church building dates to 1140 and was completed around 1180, although as was usual there have been many additions over the years. The spire was added in the 14th Century and the porches in the 14th and 15th.

In 1302 a cell of Ashridge Priory was founded at Hemel Hempstead and the church was briefly a Collegiate Church – until 1536 when the Dissolution closed Ashridge. A door at the base of the tower was used by the monks to avoid contact with the parishioners who used the regular entrance.

St. Mary’s remained as parish church in Hemel Hempstead and served the small community well, in the 19th Century a vestry was added and the church took the form it stands in today. When the modern town of Hemel Hempstead was constructed at the foot of the hill, St. Mary’s became a hidden corner and the old town and its church is quite a surprise to anyone who knows Hemel merely because of its “magic roundabout” and shopping centre.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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