Cheshunt High Street (or more correctly High Street, Cheshunt) is just one part of the old London to Cambridge road, although this has largely been replaced by the newer A10 a little to the west. It appears to have been built in about the 12th century, replacing the Roman Ermine Street, one of the major Roman arteries in Britain that linked London and York. Ermine Street’s Cheshunt stretch ran along what’s now Bury Green Road and Dark Lane, and then through the Rosedale Estate and Cheshunt Park; the original village, including St Mary’s Church and the old manor house, grew up near it.
It’s not clear why this was replaced in the 12th century by a new road running closer to the river, although it may have been connected with the reduction of the River Lea’s width following King Alfred’s engineering works, and the subsequent drying off of the marshes. This new road quickly became the commercial district of Cheshunt, with shops appearing along its route, and gradually eclipsed old Cheshunt.
The section from the junction with Church Lane to the crossing of Rags Brook was originally called Cheshunt Street, a name also applied to a local government ward. It’s frequently stated by local historians (e.g. by Jack Edwards in Cheshunt in Hertfordshire) that the name was changed to the High Street in 1954. As far as I can tell, though, this appears to be incorrect. The last census to list Cheshunt Street is 1891, and from 1901 onwards, as well as in court records from a similar period, the road is given as the High Street. Percy Charles Archer’s book Historic Cheshunt (c.1924) also refers to the High Street (e.g. p.96). There seems to have been no local tradition of calling it Cheshunt Street up to the 1950s. I grew up in the area in the late 50s and the 60s, and I have no memory of anyone still using the old name, as might be expected. It’s possible, though, that 1954 was when the electoral ward ceased to be called Cheshunt Street, since there were boundary changes that year.
The High Street remained the main thoroughfare, as well as a busy local road, until the “Arterial Road” (as it was still called locally in my childhood) was built in the 1920s. Its role as a central shopping district, like that of many high streets, has declined in recent years, with competition first from the Old Pond, half a mile or so further south, and then from out-of-town shops (in this case, particularly the Brookfield Centre). Many of its old buildings were demolished in the 1960s and later, to be replaced by modern flats and maisonettes. Nevertheless, some old buildings remain, going back to the 17th century, or even earlier.
The occupation and use of the High Street has changed a great deal over the last couple of centuries, but some things have stayed the same. A few businesses have remained for a remarkably long time, even when they’ve constantly changed ownership, and a few of the family businesses I remember from the 1960s were already in place in the 1911 census or earlier.
The articles below chronicle various aspects of a changing high street’s evolution. Information is taken principally from the 1842 Tithe Award, the censuses of 1851 and 1911, Kelly’s trade directories from 1851 and 1912, and the Land Tax records of the 1910s. I’ve supplemented this with various other sources, especially the work of local historians such as Percy Archer, Jack Edwards and Peter Rooke, as well as my own memories of childhood in the area during the 1960s.