Ware has been described as "one of the oldest, continuously occupied sites in Europe". It grew up beside a ford across the River Lea, carrying the ancient trackway that later became Roman Ermine Street and the Old North Road, the main road of medieval England. A small Roman town here served as a staging post for the legions on their way to York and Hadrian's Wall. In Saxon times, the town was on the frontier between Wessex and the Danelaw. It then acquired its present name from the drop in the river or `weir'. One of the oldest jokes in England is to ask a local "Where do you live?" and get the reply: "Ware." "Where?" "Ware! W-A-R-E."

Because of its position on the Old North Road, the town became an important coach stop in the period from 1400-1700. Virtually every building on the south side of the High Street (then known as `Water Row') was an inn, with a waggonway leading to an inn yard with stables and gardens running down to the river. Kings, abbots and pilgrims stayed in the Ware inns. In the Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer mentioned the town twice and named his notorious cook `Roger Hogg of Ware'.

Shakespeare also mentioned the town in Twelfth Night. He referred to the Great Bed of Ware, which also gets a literary airing in contemporary plays by Ben Jonson and Thomas Dekker. Scholars now think the Great Bed was used as one of the first advertising gimmicks - come to an inn in Ware and have some fun in the Great Bed! It is known to have resided in five different inns before the townspeople let it be sold off to a showman in Hoddesdon.

In 1931 the Great Bed went to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, where its dimensions of 10ft 9ins square and 7ft 6ins high fascinates visitors. But in 2012 it retruned home on loan for a year and was in Ware Museum where it attracted over 30,000 visitors, many from far afield.  There is a replica bedpost in Ware Museum and a Trail around the inns that hosed the Bed.

During its time in Ware, it was reputed to be haunted and to have accommodated 12 London butchers and their wives (each taking care not to sleep next to an unrelated member of the opposite sex, otherwise he would itch for seven years).  

Not every visitor from London intended to come here. The 18th century poet William Cowper told how poor John Gilpin intended to have lunch with his wife at the Bell at Edmonton but his horse had other ideas because its owner had a house "full ten miles off at Ware". Gilpin's adventure is commemorated in a painted window in Hertford Regional College.

The coach trade waned from 1600 onwards as a major industry took over the town. This was the making of malt from germinated barley for the brewing of beer. In the 18th century, Ware was the premier malting town in England, specialising in brown malt for the brewing of a beer known as `porter'. Fortunes were made (and lost) in the malting industry and men were drawn to the town to work in the maltings or on the barges which took the malt to the breweries of London. Every spare piece of land was pressed into use and there were as many as 140 malthouses in the town by 1880. Maltmaking in Ware has now ended and the malthouses have been converted into housing or other uses, but the cowls of the malt kilns are still a feature of the skyline and the Maltmaker Statue commemorates this important industry.

Ware is full of architectural jewels - many of them timber-framed. English Heritage has listed four of its buildings as Grade I, fifteen as Grade II* and 181 as Grade II. Some of these buildings are described on the Town Highlights, with a location map.


Great Bed

Great Bed Trail