History of the Town of Harlow
Memorial University of Newfoundland established the Harlow Campus in 1969. Since then thousands of students have had the opportunity to study there. Sadly, many returned home with little or no knowledge or appreciation of the town or the history that created it. This website was created to help those who would like to learn something of the town’s long history and to understand that the townscape of Harlow contains visible traces of many of the major events of English history. This website provides only a brief overview. It is not intended to take the place of the many books which tell the complete story of Harlow and of the New Town that was grafted on to its western side beginning in 1947. Those interested in the details of the story should consult the sources listed below and, if possible, pay a visit to the Museum of Harlow.
The Origins of Harlow and the Evolution of the Townscape
Celtic people were living here long before arrival of the Saxons in the 5th century. They probably lived on scattered farms, rather than in a nucleated settlement, but there appears to have been a concentration of activity near Ealing Bridge on Gilden Way, south-east of Harlow, and another north of Harlow Mill station. The most important site was the hill known as Stanegrove, located in the midst of the buildings of the Temple Fields Industrial Estate on the northern edge of the New Town, which was a site for worship by the 1st century B.C. More than 230 Celtic coins, some of them in mint condition, and 96 bronze brooches have been recovered from the site - presumably left as votive offerings.
There is no evidence of a Romanized town in the immediate vicinity, but around A.D. 80 a simple flint and mortar Romano-British temple dedicated to an unknown deity (but probably Minerva) was erected on the hill. In time it was improved and expanded and in the end was a masonry building with painted walls and a large courtyard. The temple was either destroyed, or simply decayed, during the reign of Constantine in the early 4th century A.D. One hundred and fifty-nine Roman coins, dated between 15 B.C. and 390 A.D, have been recovered from the site.
The traditional explanation for the name of the town is that it derives from two Old English words: 'hlaw' or 'hlaew' meaning 'hill' and either 'here' meaning an army or host or 'her' meaning 'holy' or 'sacred'. The people of each Hundred needed a place to meet. In the case of Harlow, the Moot, or meeting hill may have been either Stanegrove, or the hill behind the Green Man pub at Mulberry Green . If it was the latter it might explain the name of this crossroads - as 'moot-bury' or meeting place could easily have became corrupted to 'Mulberry'.
The first written record of the town's name appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 where it appears as 'Herlaua'. All towns are feminine in Latin, so the Norman scribes added the customary feminine ending of 'a'. In Norman deeds the town is spelled 'Herlaue' (where the 'Her' would have been pronounced 'Har', as in Hertford, and the 'au' would have been pronounced as 'o'). This was the regular form of the name until the 13th century when a 'w' reappears, and by 1430 'Harlowe' had become the most common form. The final 'e' was dropped during the Georgian era.