I was in England last month visiting family. While I was there, I learned that there is a town in the green and leafy English county of Hertfordshire which was named after Baghdad.
It was founded by the Knights Templar in the 12th century on the site of earlier Roman and Iron Age settlements. Seemingly, while on the Crusades, the Knights Templar had visited, or heard about, the famed city of Baghdad with its bustling souks. On their return to England they wanted to emulate this city’s success by establishing a market town which they named Baudac or Baldac, being the Norman French form for Baghdad. The name has since been Anglicised and the town is now known as Baldock.
An alternative theory is that the Knights named the town after Baalbek, the ancient Phoenician / Roman city in modern day Lebanon, an area which the Crusaders were far more likely to have visited.
Whatever the true origin of the name, modern-day Baldock bears little resemblance to either Baghdad or Baalbek. The Charter Fair started by the Templars in 1199 is still held annually though these days it is more of a fun fair than a bustling Middle eastern souq. The town’s heritage is remembered through the Templars Hotel & Restaurant, the Knights Templar School and the Knights Templar Sports Centre.
The town is twinned with Eisenberg in Germany and Sanvignes in France. There are no plans to twin Baldock with the Iraqi capital!