The Berkhamsted building that could be the ‘oldest shop’ in the country

Hertfordshire is renowned for its heritage with famous landmarks all across the county. Most of them are well-known such as St Albans Abbey, Cassiobury Park, Hitchin Lavender and lots more but what about the less well-known sites that have been in Hertfordshire for the ages.

173, High Street in Berkhamsted is a medieval building, considered to be the oldest extant jettied timber-framed building in Great Britain. It might not sound that exciting, but the building dates back to between 1277 and 1297.

It’s so old that it had to be dated through the process of dendrochronology, which is the scientific method of dating tree rings to the exact year they were formed. A ‘jettied’ building was a technique using in medieval times to project upper floor projects beyond the dimensions of the floor below.

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The advantages of this technique meant that extra space could be created in the building without obstructing the street below. Most jetties are external but some medieval houses were built with internal jetties.

At the time of the building’s construction, Berkhamsted was a relatively large, flourishing wool trade town that benefited from having a royal castle nearby. The building has a Victorian façade and was used as a pharmacy in the nineteenth century, however, its historical significance was not recognised until 2001 when renovators noted the age of the timber framing.

The building received two grants from English Heritage, one for investigative work and the other for conservation. Initial investigations suggested that the building had always been used as a shop but there was evidence found that showed the existence of a jeweller or goldsmith’s with a workshop behind.

It was considered the country’s “oldest shop” and the age would certainly put it within that bracket but there is no solid proof as to whether it always has been a shop. The building is currently being used as an estate agents.

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HertsLive – Hemel Hempstead