Hemel Hempstead is a large town in Hertfordshire, United Kingdom. It serves as the administrative centre of Dacorum, the westernmost region of Hertfordshire. Dacorum Borough Council have their offices in the town centre. Hemel Hempstead is unusual in that it has two town centres located a short distance apart. The first is relatively modern, being built around a pedestrianised street. The architecture here is predominantly that of the 1960s. The other is a little to the north, and is far more traditional. The reason of this situation is Hemel Hempstead's status as a new town. Prior to the new town designation, Hemel Hempstead was a small market town. However, the existing high street could not cope with the proposed expansion, so the new town centre was built to the south.
Hemel Hempstead's skyline is dominated by the Kodak Building. This 19-storey tower was formerly the head offices of the British arm of the Kodak camera company. The company vacated the building around the millennium and it is now being converted into flats. The Kodak Building acts as a marker of the position of the town centre, which is actually quite far south and west in comparison to the bulk of the town. Most of the town's urban area is made up of 1950s-1980s housing estates, divided into several individual districts. There is also a large park a little to the north of the two high streets.
Some parts of the town predate the new town development. The historic settlements of Apsley and Boxmoor now form part of the larger town, constituting parts of the southern and western areas of the town respectively. The southern part of the town is bisected by a linear park following the route of the Grand Union Canal.
Hemel Hempstead is located on the A41 road linking London to Aylesbury. Between these towns it is a grade-separated dual carriageway, acting for all intensive purposes as a motorway. The town is also the southern terminus of the A4146, which links it to Milton Keynes. the M1 motorway passes to the east of the town, with junction 8 providing access via the A414.
The West Coast Main Line railway serves Hemel Hempstead. Two stations are within the urban area, Hemel itself and Aplsey, those lying between the stations of Berkhampstead and Kings Langley. The WCML provides stopping and semi-fast services by London Midland to Watford and London to the south and to Leighton Buzzard, Milton Keynes and Northampton to the north. Hemel was formerly the starting point of a branch to nearby Redmire which closed in the 1950s. Parts of this line's route remain in place today as walking trails.
Hemel Hempstead made international news in December 2005 when the oil storage depot at Buncefield, on the eastern flank of the town, suffered a major explosion. The shockwave from the blast blew out windows of homes up to two miles away from the epicentre, whilst cars parked in the depot vicinity were either destroyed or severely damaged. Amazingly there were no fatalities from the accident - the potential disaster occurred in the early morning when the plant was not fully staffed. The fires burned for several days, casting a black smoke plume several miles high which blackened the sky over several surrounding counties. Three days after the explosion the smoke plume reached mainland Europe when it arrived in France.