The novelist E M Forster, who lived in the county, described Hertfordshire as “England at its quietest; England meditative”. When he wrote that in the 1950s, the county’s population was just over 600,000; it has now topped one million. The more southerly towns expanded as residential areas for London commuters, and after the Second World War, with an acute housing shortage in the blitzed capital, New Towns such as Stevenage were created to cater for the thousands of Londoners, who had lost their homes.
But the centre of the county is still largely agricultural and the southern edge lies within the precarious protection of the Metropolitan Green Belt. There is still some excellent walking and splendid scenery, most notably within the National Trust’s Ashridge Estate, where the woodlands and downlands are home to a wide variety of wildlife, and the views from the highest points are magnificent.
The strongest historical ties in the county are to be found in the ancient city of St Albans, while Hatfield combines old and new elements: it was one of the designated Hertfordshire New Towns, but the old town survives, along with the magnificent Hatfield House and part of the medieval Royal Palace, which was the childhood home of the future Elizabeth I. Close to Hatfield lies Welwyn Garden City, conceived by Ebenezer Howard and built in the 1920s with the aim of providing working people with a pleasant and attractive place to live, with easy access to the countryside.
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