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A History of Royston

Royston's History

There's over 2000 years of history in Royston and the surrounding area.

Nearly 2,000 years ago, the Romans built Ermine Street running south to north, from London to York. It became one of the most important Roman roads in the country and Royston grew at its intersect with Icknield Way, a prehistoric highway running east to west, from East Anglia to Salisbury Plain.


The custom of erecting crosses at crossroads developed early in the Christian era. The origin of Royston’s cross is unknown, but it has been widely attributed to a Lady Roisia. Records, dating from just after the Norman conquest in 1066, mention several noblewomen by the name of Roisia. The earliest was the wife of William the Conqueror’s steward, who owned extensive land in the area. It is possible that she erected Royston’s cross or restored an existing monument. At that time, no town existed and the area was known as Crux Roisae or Roisia’s Cross.


Following the establishment of the Augustinian Priory here in the 12th century, a market was formed from which a town developed. By the early 14th century, Roisia’s Cross had become Roisia’s Town which eventually contracted to Royston. Dedicated to St John the Baptist and St Thomas of Canterbury, the church and priory buildings gradually expanded until the dissolution of the monasteries nearly 400 years later during the reign of Henry VIII. The stone that formed the base of the cross now stands at the northern end of the High Street.


Royston was also an important place during the reign of King James I. On his journey from Scotland to London to be crowned King in 1603, he stopped in Royston to hunt. The following year he built  palace here and returned frequently. His hunting lodge in Kneesworth Street still partly exists and is now known as the Old Palace.



A Site of Special Scientific Interest and local nature reserve, wander the woodland footpaths and chalk tracks of Therfield Heath and explore its open views.

Once the hunting ground of King James I, today Therfield Heath is a popular spot with dog walkers, birdwatchers and sports teams. 

In late March to early May, discover the rare Pasque flower which grows on the well drained chalky soil of Church Hill. Legend tells that it springs from the blood of dead Vikings!

The Heath contains a long barrow, thought to be Neolithic, and several bronze age round barrows, all of which Historic England classes as scheduled ancient monuments. The Neolithic long barrow on Therfield Heath is the oldest standing monument in Hertfordshire.

King James
I's Palace

On 29 April 1603, while travelling to London to be crowned King of England, James I stopped overnight in Royston. Attracted by the suitability of the area for hunting, in 1604 the king returned to build a hunting lodge in the town. 


The buildings were never extensive enough to cater for a full court but it provided a suitable spot for hunting, near enough to London for convenience and sufficiently far away to deter intrusion. He returned almost every year to hunt and shoot.


It was here in Royston that Lord Monteagle lived, the man who warned James I of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, and it was here in Royston that James I famously signed Sir Walter Raleigh's death warrant in 1618.

King James' successor, Charles I, visited less frequently. Charles last visited Royston in 1647, as a prisoner of the Parliamentary army during the Civil War. Afterwards, the buildings fell into disrepair.

Parts of King James' Palace can still be seen today on Kneesworth Street. The King's Lodging is privately owned.


A priory of Augustinian Canons in Royston in c.1184. Dedicated to St John the Baptist and St Thomas of Canterbury, the priory buildings gradually expanded until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 by King Henry VIII. Today, Royston Parish Church sits on the site of the original priory.

The attached Priory Gardens have won multiple awards. Seasonal displays of perennials, mature woodland and bedding plants make this an attractive place to walk through or sit and relax. Younger children can also enjoy the junior and toddler play areas.


Royston was first awarded a charter to hold a market in 1189 by Richard I, and it's still trading today! From fruit and veg, to fish, flowers and baked goods, drop by our medieval market and shop its fresh, local produce every Wednesday and Saturday, 8 am - 3 pm.

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