English town named Baghdad by the Knights Templar

This is a truly unexpected story. There’s an English town that was named Baghdad by the Knights Templar. It turns out that Baldock in the county of Hertfordshire is derived from an old French word for the Iraqi capital Baghdad. But why would the Knights Templar have done such a thing?

Well, the Knights Templar ran the area in the 12th century. They decided to call their new English market town Baghdad because they hoped that it would be as prosperous as the huge Arabic metropolis. The old French for Baghdad was Baudac or Baldac.

Back in the Middle Ages, the capital of the Islamic caliphate moved from Damascus to Baghdad. The city became the centre of the Abbasid caliphate that was eventually destroyed – not by the crusaders but the Mongols, conquering from the east. At one point, it may have had a population of a million – which by medieval standards was stupendously huge. Only ancient Rome had seen an urban population so large.

So – maybe not surprising that the Knights Templar were secretly in awe of Baghdad. And resolved to name this Hertfordshire town after a place thousands of miles away. In more recent years – 2006 to be precise – I understand that The Knights Templar School (yes, such an educational institution exists in Baldock) was going to twin with a school in Baghdad. But then I’ve heard nothing more since. Were these plans scuppered? Do tell if you know!

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Now, not everybody agrees that Baldock was named after Baghdad. Some think this very English town was named after the ancient city of Baalbek in modern Lebanon. Or, that it came from an old Saxon word. But the Baghdad explanation is still the most popular.

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