'Ware is one of the oldest continuously occupied sites in Western Europe.' So wrote the archaeologist Robert Kiln, in his book, 'The Dawn of History in the East Herts', where he described how excavations on the Glaxo site near Ware Lock had revealed settlements going back to the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age of some 5,000 - l0,000 years ago.
The reason why people first settled here lay in Ware's position on one of the country's oldest roadways, at the point where it crosses the River Lea. The road later became known as Ermine Street and later still the Old North Road, which was the main road of medieval England. The stone implements of those prehistoric Ware citizens can be seen in the Ware Museum, along with a clay pot of the Bronze Age 'beaker folk' - contemporary with the great civilisations of Crete and Mycenae and the Trojan War. There is evidence of even later Iron Age fortifications in many parts of the town.
When the Romans came, they paved and widened Ermine Street to form a military road for the legions marching northwards, and a small town grew up along the road. It was probably also an inland port and one of the more grisly exports from here may have been slaves, since a Roman slave shackle (now in the Ware Museum) was found near Ware Lock. A number of buildings have been found on the Glaxo site, including pottery kilns, and finds have included jewellery and ladies' toilet implements, like eyebrow tweezers.
It must have been a substantial town, fron the large number of burials which have been discovered around the edges of the Roman site. It is these burials which are undoubtedly the reason why, during the 16th century, the Glaxo site became known as the Buryfield (long before the Great Plague of 1665, which is sometimes thought to be the reason for the name).
After the Romans came the Anglo-Saxon invaders and examples of early Saxon pottery were found during the extension of the Library in the High Street in 1977. One rare and intriguing find is a Saxon coin of the 7th century AD which came to light just north of the High Street - it is also in the Ware Museum.
It is towards the end of the Saxon period that the story of Ware's early history really takes off. In the 9th century a large Danish force had overrun the Saxon kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia and East Anglia, until only Wessex was left. The Peace of Wedmore in 886 established a frontier between Wessex and the Danelaw. Part of this frontier was the River Lea, and Ware found itself a frontier -town; it is thought that two Ware place-names, Wengeo and Widbury, are of Danish origin.
The 'Anglo-Saxon Chronicle' records that, in 895, the Danes moved a large force along the Thames and up the River Lea for 20 miles, where they established a fortification. King Alfred came up the river with an army of Londoners, and tried to engage the Danes in battle but was beaten off. So Alfred, using the Danes' own tactics, built fortifications on either side of the river and started work on diverting the rivers course so that the Danes could not row their ships down the Lea again to the Thames. Then the Danes decamped and marched across country to the river Severn. Most archaeologists now believe that this happened at Ware, and the town's Saxon name 'Waras' comes from the weirs Alfred built.
One result of the Danish wars was the building of Hertford as a Saxon fortified burg, and for a while Ware appears to have been controlled by the authorities in Hertford. However, Domesday Book records that in the later Saxon period, under King Edward the Confessor, Ware was still a substantial settlement with a large population, five mills, and worth more in taxes than Hertford.
After the Norman Conquest Ware regained its independence and began to grow. The first step was taken by Hugh de Grentmaisnil, the lord of the manor recorded in Domesday Book, who obtained a charter in 1078 to found a priory, as a daughter house of…