Dean Incent's House
129 High Street
The handsome timber-framed house that stands on Berkhamsted High Street opposite St Peter’s Church dates from the 15th century.
In the late 15th century, the house belonged to Robert and Katherine Incent. They were a family of high standing in the town as Robert served as Secretary to Cicely, Duchess of York, the last royal resident at Berkhamsted Castle and mother of two Kings of England, Edward IV and Richard III. The Incent family are commemorated with memorials in St Peter’s Church.
The house is named after the Incents’ son, John Incent (c. 1480–1545), a priest in the Church of England who was appointed by King Henry VIII as Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in 1540. John Incent was a loyal servant of the Crown, and played a role confiscating religious property during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
John Incent is especially well known in the town as the founder of the Berkhamsted School. He was master of a monastic hospital in Berkhamsted, the Brotherhood of St John the Baptist, and in 1523 he closed it down and appropriated its lands, later using the property to establish a school. It was common practice at this time for high-ranking clergy to make their mark by founding schools, and in 1541 he obtained a Royal Charter for “one chauntry perpetual and schools for boys not exceeding 144 to be called Dean Incent’s Free School in Berkhamstedde”.
Incent “builded with all speed a fair schoole lartge and great all of brick very sumptuously.” It was completed in 1544, “when ye said school was thus finished, ye Deane sent for ye cheafe men of ye towne into ye school where he kneeling gave thanks to Almighty God”.
The school crest granted at the time – and still in use today – bears Incent’s coat of arms of crossed swords on a blue shield. The crossed swords emblem can also be seen on the sign outside Dean Incent’s House, a 20th-century portrait of Dean Incent. In the background is the high-spired old St Paul’s Cathedral which was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666; in his arms, Incent holds an architectural model of Berkhamsted School Old Hall.
Around the 1850s, Stephen and Lucy Holloway moved into Incent’s House with their children. Holloway was well known in the town as a builder and decorator, and publican of the Five Bells pub. It may have been Stephen who divided the property into two occupations. At this time, the curate of St Mary’s Church in Northchurch, John W Cobb, was lodging at Dean Incent’s House. He later became Rector of St Peter’s Berkhamsted. Stephen Holloway died in 1866 and he has a large pinnacle memorial in Rectory Lane Cemetery. His son Thomas inherited the house and lived here until the opening years of the twentieth century. John W Cobb was also buried here on his death in 1883.
Around 1907/8, Dean Incent’s House was occupied by a local photographer, James T Newman, who had moved to Berkhamsted in 1888. Newman set up a studio in the house and shot many photographs of Berkhamsted, as well as photographs of the Inns of Court Regiment which was based in Berkhamsted during World War I. His photographic legacy has provided a substantial historical record of late 19th and early 20th century life in the town.
From 1930 to 1970, Dean Incent’s House was used as a tearoom and restaurant, after which it was used as accommodation for schoolmasters at Berkhamsted School.
Today the house is in use as a private dwelling.