World War I - The buildup

Life in Royston in early 1914 was much the same as in any other year. The rhythm of events was driven by the rural nature of its surrounding countryside and villages, and the needs of businesses in the town.

The town was not without influence. It was represented in parliament by two MPs who would later play significant roles in eventual peace processes. Its councillors formed the backbone of the local govenment administration and it provided men for the Hertfordshire Regiment’s militia, the “E” Company.

Members of Parliament

1897 saw changes to the parliamentary boundaries which meant that Royston was represented by two Members of Parliament. The north of the town was in Cambridgeshire coming under the Chesterton seat, and the south was in Hertfordshire and was represented by the MP for Hitchin. The dividing line ran along Baldock Road, Baldock Street, Melbourn Street and Newmarket Road.

Both MPs were members of the War Cabinet and were instrumental in the peace negotiations at the end of the war.

From December 1918 Edgar Cecil was the only MP representing Royston, being Hitchin’s MP from 1911 to 1923.

Edwin Samuel Montagu


Edwin Montagu was the MP for Chesterton and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He served as Secretary of State for India between 1917 and 1922.

He also represented India at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. He warned the Conference that it was viewed by Muslim India as beginning to “take sides against Islam”.

Edgar Algernon Robert Cecil


Edgar Cecil, 1st Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, was the Independent Conservative MP for Hitchin.

One of the architects of the League of Nations, his defence of the organisation and his service to it saw him awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1937.

Local Councillors

This picture shows the members of the 1897 Jubilee Celebration Committee. Some of it’s members were also local councillors in 1914 or were otherwise involved with the local community.


Back row : John Phillips, GW Howard, WT Rowley,
Ellis Wilkerson, Rev. TH Lomas, Alfred Kingston, E Matthews, TL Gimson, WC Titchmarsh, AJ Jacklin, Charles Warren
Middle Row : Rev. J Harrison, Joseph E Phillips, FN Fordham, FJ Fordham, Dr. HR Archer, Harry Smith
Front Row: HS Tuke, AT Titchmarsh, S Camps, A Cheshire, G Cautherley, Thomas Goodman

Names shown in bold were local Councillors in 1914.
Harry Smith became a Councillor and was Chairman in 1918.

Councillors in 1914

William John Abbott
James Robert Booth

Simms Camps

George Cautherley

Robert Henry Clark

Thomas Goodman

Edwin Abraham Morgan

Ralph Erskine Sanders

Walter Charles Titchmarsh

Charles Whyatt

Charles William Windsor

Labour Party candidates

For the first time, in April 1914, the Labour party fielded three candidates who were unsuccessful. They were -

Harry Chapman

Thomas Inkerman Percy

Samuel Ernest Roberts

Royston's “E” Company

The Hertfordshire Regiment was a pre-war 'Territorial' unit, the men being part-time soldiers coming from all walks of life, training together at weekends and annual summer camps. In Royston and District they were called “E” Company and linked with Letchworth. Some of the members of Royston’s “E” Company came from nearby Cambridgeshire villages. There was a close association with the regulars of the Bedfordshire Regiment.

In January 1915, along with all other Territorial Battalions, the 1st Herts Battalion was restructured to follow the new four Company system although, unlike any other ‘Terrier’ units, the Herts took on the ‘Guards’ system of numbering rather than lettering their Companies. Thus Royston became part of No 4 Company with Hitchin, Letchworth, Baldock, Stevenage & Whitwell.

During the Great War, the Hertfordshire Regiment raised four battalions. The 1st Herts were among these units and were involved in fighting in major actions now synonymous with the First World War; Ypres, Loos, the Somme and Passchendaele, They fought with the British Army's elite Guards Brigade, gaining the honorary name of the 'Herts Guards' in the process.

However not all local men served with the Hertfordshire Regiment as men were placed in other regiments and served in other theatres of war. Other locals served with the Royal Flying Corps (later the Royal Air Force) and Royal Navy.


The Royston Volunteers, pictured before the Great War.  Exercises were often undertaken on Therfield Heath.

Links with the Bedfordshire Regiment

Due to the association between the counties of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, many Hertfordshire men had served in the Regular Army ranks of the Bedfordshire Regiment throughout the 19th century and this tradition continued throughout the Great War.

Indeed, the Bedfordshire Regiment's badge proudly sported the Hart crossing a ford from the introduction of the county affiliations in the 1880's, in recognition of the connection.

Bedfordshire Regiment War Diary

Steve Fuller has created and runs a website detailing the wartime exploits of the Herts' closest fighting allies, the Bedfordshire Regiment. You can read more information on the 1st Battalion Herfordshire Regiment via the transcripts of its 'war diary’ on this site.

A military funeral

Albert Reeve, a Sergeant in the Territorial Force, was killed on Thursday, 9th July 1914 aged 25, while working on the railway line near Letchworth.

His funeral took place the following Monday with full military honours. The procession formed at the railway station and was headed by a firing party of 16 men of the Royston “E” Company. Next came about 30 members of the Hertford Battalion Band, followed by the bier bearing the coffin draped with the Union Flag surmounted with Albert’s cap and arms and a wreath from his mother. Other wreaths hung from the sides or were carried by members of “E” Company. Then followed two carriages for the principal mourners and the procession was completed by other members of “E” Company.

A large crowd assembled at the station to witness the start of the procession and another gathered at the cemetery awaiting its arrival. The whole processional route was lined with those wishing to pay their respects.

The funeral service was held by the Reverend J. Harrison. The firing party fired three volleys at the graveside and the Last Post was sounded.

It is believed that the next funeral with full military honours did not take place in the town until October 1916.


Albert Reeve’s funeral procession making its way from Royston Station along Kneesworth Street towards The Cross

August bank holiday show

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The Bank Holiday Show, held on Monday 3rd August, encompassed a horticultural show, athletics and a “Merrie England” entertainment. The weather was good and the show went off well. It was held on Rookery Meadow, a tree lined open space running beside Tannery Drift and fronting onto Baldock Street (now occupied by the Fire Station and Tannery Drift School).

At the time, no-one in Royston knew that that day was to herald the end of an era. The following day, Britain declared itself at war with Germany.


The British government had issued an ultimatum to the German government in which they demanded that German forces should not enter neutral Belgium. At 23.00 on Monday, 3rd August the ultimatum expired without such undertaking being received.

The following evening two notices appeared at Royston’s Post Office (which stood on the south side of Melbourn Street near the Cross). The first was the General Army Mobilisation Order, the other was in respect of the Territorial Forces.

Limited time was available for preparations. Having read the notices, men of Hertfordshire Regiment’s “E” Company rushed to the Drill Hall in Mill Road to collect their accoutrements before going home for the night.

The following day, 5th August, forty four men, assembled at the train station for departure on the 12.14 train to Hertford. They were lead by Second Lieutenant John Bevan and were seen off by a crowd of several hundred people, including the Hon. Maud Bevan, Mr David Bevan and Miss Nancy Bevan, who had earlier said goodbye to their son Lieutenant Thomas Bevan who, together with Lieutenant CF Whiteman, had left on an earlier train. 


Members of “E” Company, Hertfordshire Regiment assembled on Royston train station on 5th August 1914 before departing for Hertford. The men with bicycles were to act as messengers.


Royston was to act as an enlistment hub for the Town and it’s surrounding district and approximately 1,300 men joined up here during the course of the war.

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Some of the men waiting to enlist in Baldock Street in September 1914