People have lived, farmed and traded in Tring for thousands of years. The Icknield Way, which hugs the Chiltern scarp, is reckoned the oldest road in Europe, while the Bulbourne valley provided an obvious route for the Romans heading out west from St. Albans. It was almost inevitable that a settlement would grow up here on the well-drained soil, with springs and good sites for wind and water mills.
The Manor of Tring, described in the Domesday survey, was to be the dominant influence on the town for centuries. It was held by the Crown and a succession of religious houses, including the Abbey of Faversham which secured the all-important market charter in 1315. The manor was granted in 1679 to Henry Guy, Groom to the Bedchamber and Clerk of the Treasury to Charles II. Soon afterwards Colonel Guy built himself a mansion designed by Sir Christopher Wren. He was also responsible for looking after the King's mistress Nell Gwynne but it is improbable that she ever lived here. A tenant of the manor was the Revd. Lawrence Washington, whose great-great-grandson George was the first president of the USA.
The coming of the Grand Junction Canal in 1799 brought profound changes to this peaceful agricultural place. It took hundreds of "navvies" four years to dig the long, deep cutting needed to cross the Tring gap and four reservoirs were built to maintain the water level. From a wharf at New Mill, coal, bricks and slates came in, while flour and farm produce could be loaded for distant markets.
Industry arrived when in 1823 the manor was bought by a northern businessman, William Kay, and a huge silk mill was built in Brook Street employing 600 people, mainly women and children. New housing was built on the western side of Tring; a bank was established by the Butcher family, while John Brown came up from Dorset to buy a brewery and build some handsome pubs to serve the growing population. For many, the family income was supplemented by plaiting straw for the Luton hat trade.
In 1835 the London and Birmingham Railway was built alongside the canal. It needed a longer and deeper cutting, so the navvies descended once again and spent their earnings in the local pubs. The railway was never intended to pass through Tring itself nor even to have a station here but local traders petitioned the company to provide one as near as possible. The line opened in 1837 putting London within an hour's journey.
Tring and the Rothschild family
Still greater changes came about after 1872 when the Rothschild family added Tring Park to their clutch of local estates. The banker and statesman Nathaniel, later the first Baron Rothschild, set about a radical transformation of Tring over the next forty years, rebuilding the farms and building new cottages to replace decaying properties in the town.
Together with the new Urban District Council he made many improvements, pulling down the old Market House outside the church to create a public open space, remodelling the buildings flanking Mansion Drive and creating a miniature welfare system. A new Market House was built by public subscription to mark Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, while the Rose and Crown was rebuilt along 'reformed' lines for the new Trust House movement. The architect for these and the many new buildings along Western Road was William Huckvale, whose characteristic style with its timber framing, steep roof pitches and ornate chimneys has become something of a local trade mark. Among his commissions was the museum built to house the immense zoological collection of Lord Rothschild's eccentric elder son, Walter.
At the start of the twentieth century Tring was a confident and prosperous place, but as elsewhere the whole way of life was abruptly changed by the Great War of 1914-18, in which large numbers of Tring men lost their lives, and the death of Lord Rothschild in 1915 marked the end of a glorious era. The younger son Charles inherited the estate but his early death was to lead to its sale, with the Mansion becoming a school.
After the Second World War, large areas north of the town were developed for housing and a bypass was built through the park. An industrial estate sprang up and new schools and a sports centre were built; Dolphin Square was developed and numerous enhancements carried out in the town centre. At Pendley Manor several new facilities were created by Dorian Williams, including sports pitches, a theatre converted from an indoor riding school (Pendley Court Theatre ) and an annual outdoor Shakespeare festival. An annual Arts Festival was begun, while the campaign to restore the derelict Wendover Arm canal brought its own annual event – Tring Canal Festival. Tring Park, threatened with development, was bought by the local authority and handed over to the Woodland Trust .
For a list of events taking place in Tring, please see Tring Town Council’s website .