Henry Nash 1816-1899 “The Grand Old Man of Berkhamsted”

For those familiar with books about Berkhamsted the name Henry Nash is immediately associated with his Reminiscences of Berkhamsted (published in 1890) but in his modest way he did a great deal more for his native town, helping others to make their way in life. John Wolstenholme Cobb in the preface to his second edition thanking those members of the Mechanics’ Institute, to whom he passed the copyright of his book, History and Antiquities of Berkhamsted mentions “most especially my old friend Henry Nash, still the Secretary”.

Henry Nash

Henry Nash

Not only was he a founder of the Mechanics’ Institute but also a member of the School Board and probably did more than anyone else to establish the Berkhamsted Girls’ Grammar School. By trade he was a leather cutter and from his little shop in Castle Street he supplied leather to the boot makers and cordwainers of Berkhamsted. Little more than five feet tall, he had been a cripple from birth.

When the market house came to be rebuilt after the disastrous fire of 1854 the Mechanics’ Institute was sufficiently well established for the building to incorporate a Reading Room for the Institute, so that it now had a permanent home. Initially lectures were given by local worthies free of charge but as membership increased fees were paid and lecturers obtained from further afield. Penny readings took place, exhibitions were held and attempts were made to establish a museum in 1867. This started with a collection of stuffed birds and kangaroos, a gift from Henry Costin who had established a saw mill in Victoria, Australia; two rare Australian birds were added from Admiral Gambier, but the museum was not a great success.

Henry Nash, “the Grand Old Man” whose life spanned almost the entire nineteenth century passed away in 1899. He is buried in Rectory Lane Cemetery. He has left behind a rich legacy in so many fields. “He sought not honour for himself.” In Berkhamsted we should remember him.

Jenny Sherwood, Chronicle, v.XII, pp.3-8