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A Modern History of Brookmans Park
1700-1950

by Peter Kingsford

Chapter 3
Towards Dissolution 1880-1923

The next period in the history of Brookmans was one of greater change though much remained as before. The situation and the personal background of Robert George Gaussen, the new owner, were very different from those of his father. A month after his accession in 1880 the depression on the land was already so general that Gladstone appointed a Royal Commission on Agriculture. Now began the years of falling prices and falling rents. Fortunately for North Mymms landowners and farmers the prices of beef and hay did not fall as much as for corn. Moreover they were, to some extent protected by their nearness to the ever growing London market.

One may wonder whether the new lord of Brookmans was as well qualified as his father to deal with such an unpromising situation. The experience of a captain in the Grenadier Guards was not likely to be ideal for the problems of adjustment to changing conditions. Some of the old traditions in the use of the land were maintained. For example, when Gaussen let one of his farms, Parsonage Farm, to Alfred Walker in 1888, the agreement described in detail how the land was still to be "managed according to the rules of good husbandry". The new tenant had the right to destroy rabbits "by ferreting, but not by trapping, shooting or by dogs". This farm had become slightly bigger than when R.W. Gaussen had let it to James Littlechild in 1844. Thirty four acres had been added from the Potterells estate of the Casamajor family, perhaps part of a dowry. The rent was £224 per annum, or about £1 per acre.

If, as seems likely, Gaussen’s farm lands at that time were not less than his father’s had been in 1844, his income from farm rents in the parish was probably about £1,500 a year. This was clearly much less than that of his father in 1850s. It was still, however, about forty times the wage of a farm worker. In fact, wages had risen noticeably especially since 1872 when the vicar warned his flock against joining the newly formed Agricultural Workers’ Union. Landowners and farmers were indeed caught between the falling prices of agricultural products and increased wages.

Arrival of Scottish farmers

For many landowners in the home counties Scotland provided an answer to the depression. Scottish farmers came south to take over farms, which their English tenants had not been able to make profitable. This happened in North Mymms and to Captain Gaussen. The two farms of his which were untenanted in 1881 were taken in due course by two Scots, Tollgate Farm by Sinclair and Skimpans by Crawford who had already brought his own kith and kin with him and settled at Potterells Farm.

Even in the years of depression the captain was able to maintain an expansive style of life. At Brookmans his staff included the butler Joseph Warner, footman Job Burr, upper housemaid Emily Gatland, under housemaid Fanny Starsmore, laundry maid Margaret Lambert, under laundry maid Emma Tyrrell, scullety maid Annie Swan, coachman James Cheeseman, grooms Ernest Arnold and William Brown, head gardener Andrew Grant, and gardeners Charles Knight and William Brown, not to mention his agent, Archibald Gorrie who had served his father before him. Hardly any of these were local people, only Job Burr was a native of the parish.

Brookmans Manor Burns Down

His expenditure provided for a yacht. While the family were cruising off the Dutch coast in 1891 the mansion was totally destroyed by fire. Fire engines galloped up in due course from Hatfield, Hertford and Barnet, but only when the third arrived was there a sufficient length of hose to bring water on to the flames, and by then it was too late. Melting lead from the roof poured down the walls and the whole building became a glowing furnace.

The loss of the 17th century mansion and its contents must have been severe. According to the Hertfordshire Mercury some valuables were saved: oil paintings from the drawing room, library, billiard room, dining room and sitting room, wine from the cellars, plate and documents from the strong rooms, fine books from the library, guns from the study and the smoking room, but "curios and articles of vertu of immense value" perished. The origin of the disaster was believed to be a painter’s spirit lamp. There was some compensation when the vestry reduced the rate assessment from £225 to £75.

The domestic servants also lost; they had moved into the mansion while the family were away and their belongings went up in the flames. There may well have been insurance but the mansion was never rebuilt and it was the stable block which was converted into the family residence, later into flats, and eventually in 1929 into the present golf club house.

Following in his father’s footsteps in parish affairs, the captain was a pillar of the church as churchwarden for ten years during the remaining existence of the vestry, and host to the Band of Hope. In 1890 a great crowd of 277 members in contingents from Welham Green, Water End, Bell Bar and Little Heath converged in procession on Brookmans for recreation and refreshment.

Times were changing, however, and there was a new spirit abroad after the landless labourers received the vote in 1884. In the vestry, soon to be replaced by the democratic parish council, it was considered that the tithe owners were avoiding payment of the full rates due. When the captain’s agent refused to pay the full rate on his master’s tithe the vestry threatened him with a summons and only after much heat eventually reached a compromise in the matter.

The Coming of the Railways

Also like his father before him, the captain tried to resist encroachment by the Great Northern Railway but, like him, without success. In his petition in 1902 against the railway company acquiring twenty acres of his he alleged that they were close enough to Brookmans Park and "the Mansion" to injure his property if, as seemed to be the intention, a station, goods yard and depot were built there. He offered, however, to sell land at Marshmoor which was, in his opinion, the right place for a station. With this view the parish and the district councils did agree, but the station was eventually built in Brookmans Park.

The financial difficulties of the captain’s successor to Brookmans, which were to appear a few years later, may have originated during the period of agricultural depression. A sale of Gaussen land seems to have taken place in 1898. "Bell Bar Farm No. 2", Colney Heath farm and Round House farm, a total of 213 acres, were apparently sold to Francis Rickards. That sale had, however, little effect on the total property.

At the beginning of the twentieth century the captain still owned 2,075 acres in the parish, slightly more than his father had in the 1840s. From the eight farms on his estate in 1904 there was a rental of about £1,664 per annum. In addition he had eight farms in Hatfield, Smallford and Colney Heath which made a grand total of rents of the order of £2,800. The insurance on his property was for at least £67,000.

One of the farms shown is Moffats, where the tenant was Charles Honour. While Rider Haggard, the novelist, was preparing his book on Rural England (Vol. I, 1906) he interviewed Honour and wrote about him as follows:

"A very interesting farmer whom I saw on a subsequent day was Mr. Charles Honour, of Moffat’s Farm, North Mymms. Mr. Honour told me that he had worked his own way, and that what he possessed he had made, for he did not start with a penny Since the Russian war he had been climbing up till he took his present farm of 350 acres, of which only twenty two were pasture. He had a family of sons, all of them teetotallers like himself, of whom one was a baker. Three of them stayed at home and helped him, and he said of these three that they got through as much work as five hired men, — the old story of men labouring for their own house — and that he paid them according to what they did. Labour, he told me, was very expensive and inferior, and the young men, many of whom were ‘neither use nor ornament to themselves or anyone else’ kept going away. Rents in that district he put at from 15s to 25s the acre, according to the quality of the land.

Farmers, he thought, were not doing ‘so very well’. The business required great perseverance and practical men to make it succeed. There was very little margin for profit, He had managed to get along, but if he were asked, he could scarcely say how, perhaps because they all worked together, daughters as well as sons, but many only ‘scratched along’ and were not able to do their land as it ought to be done. He kept pigs and cows, retailing the pork and milk himself, which, he said, paid better than sending them to London; also he did a great deal of carting, and were it not for the money earned thus would, he declared, be sometimes hard pressed Mr. Honour said that there were no small-holdings in that neighbourhood; indeed, if he could do so he should like to find a little farm of from fifty to 100 acres in which to put one of his sons ‘When starting lads’, he added, ‘let them have a pinch to begin with’."

Thus at the beginning of this century the captain was, as his father had been, by far the biggest landowner in the parish. After him came Mrs. W. H. Burns at North Mymms Park, J. Thompson at Mymwood, S. G. Sheppard at Leggatts, the Marquis of Salisbury, and the executors of C. Field at Hawkshead, in that order. The total area of 4,423 acres owned by these six landowners was no less than 86% of the whole area of the parish. Between them the half dozen largest landowners had increased their hold on the land, though in fact the Gaussens were the only family to have survived that period. On the other hand, the very small landowners, those having less than an acre, had shot up from fifteen to fifty one, a change largely due to housebuilding in Little Heath. The middle sized owners had been squeezed.

Loans and improvements

When the captain died in 1906 the Gaussens had run out of male heirs and there began the regime of his daughter Emilia and her husband, Hubert Ponsonby Loftus Tottenham, who assumed by royal licence the name and arms of Gaussen. It was to last only seventeen years. The new squire spent about £1,000 on improvements. For whatever reason it soon became necessary to raise money on the estate and there began a series of loans or mortgages secured on it. Why this happened at a time when landowners and farmers had recovered some of their former prosperity, can only be conjectured. The first loan in 1911 of £6,500 at 4% was followed rapidly by loans of £5,000 in 1912, £3,000 in 1913, £1,500 in 1917, £6,500 in 1919 (in three separate payments) and £6,500 in 1920 (in two payments). The total sum raised came to £29,000. The interest payable amounted to £1,474 per annum, or about half the income from rents a few years earlier. In the meantime the Gaussens had found it necessary to sell part of the estate in 1914. This sale covered 596 acres which included the outlying farms of Redhall, Parsonage and Tollgate. Little now remains of the first two. What events, whether of misfortune, mismanagement or extravagance, led to these financial changes remain unknown.

The financial difficulties suggested here may have had a bearing on the family’s relations with the parish council on the question of allotments. The council, since its inception in 1894, had seriously tried to meet the heavy demand for allotments from the villagers. The problem was how to acquire the land. Mrs. Burns, of North Mymms Park, having provided the first piece of land in Welham Green, thought that other landowners should supply the second. Negotiations with Brookmans over this were so long drawn out that finally in 1912 the county council intervened to award land on the Gaussens’ Skimpans Farm. The same problem arose at Little Heath. Mrs. Gaussen was asked by the parish council if she would sell a piece on Swanley Bar Farm but the price asked was too high and the search continued until eventually again it was the county council which offered five acres which it had acquired by compulsory purchase.

1914-18 war

During the 1914-18 war the financial decline of Brookmans seems to have continued. There was a fourth loan on the estate in 1917. While inflation grew, farmers were protected by guaranteed prices and labourers’ wages maintained by minimum rates of pay. The Gaussens still received their rents. Daniel Crawford was paying them some £500 a year for Skimpans Farm alone. This may not have been so, however, in every case. When it became compulsory to notify any "land improperly farmed", the Gaussens’ Swanley Bar Farm was duly reported to the War Agricultural Committee.

Socially, the family continued the tradition of good works and contributed to the war effort. By December 1914 the Brookmans stewards house was in use as a small hospital holding eight wounded soldiers. Mrs. Tottenham Gaussen supplied flannel and wool for the Water End schoolgirls to make vests and mufflers for the Red Cross, and gave a site for the Scout hut. She organised the Registration of Women Workers in Agriculture in respect of North Mymms parish. Her mother presented new doors for the church. With the end of the war the whole situation of Brookmans changed drastically.

In the same year as the last loan of £6,500 in 1920, the Gaussens sold another part of the estate by auction at the Red Lion Hotel, Hatfield on 23 September. It was a good slice of 558 acres. S. C. Titmuss, the tenant at Lower Bell Bar farm bought it for £3,500, James Crawford of Potterells Farm had Skimpans Farm of which he was already the tenant, and Kentish Lane Farm went to Imperial Hotels. There were sixteen other smaller lots in the sale on the Great North Road, Bell Lane, Woodside Lane and at Hawkshead, including thirteen cottages and the White Swan. The Rural District Council was interested in some of the land for a sewage outfall works for Welham Green. These sales were merely a stop gap.

Living in the stables

Meanwhile Mr. and Mrs. Tottenham Gaussen continued at Brookmans. The stable block had been converted into a residence with servants’ quarters. The scale of living was a good deal lower than the glory of former days. Now there were a mere six servants, cook, kitchen maid, house parlourmaid (instead of manservant and housemaids), nursery governess and two nurses. These latter may be explained by the number of children in the family, no less than six. The accommodation was greatly reduced; on the ground floor, dining room, sitting room, school room, kitchen and pantry; on the first floor, main bedroom and dressing room, childrens’ rooms and servants’ bedrooms.

Mrs. Isabella Money (nee Logie) was cook at Brookmans at £1 a week from 1912 to 1914 and from 1918 until her marriage in 1920. She remembered the daily routine. She herself rose at 6.30 by which time the kitchen maid had lit the range, there being no scullery maid or under housemaid to do it. The servants’ breakfast of bacon and eggs at 8 was followed by the childrens’ breakfast at 8.30 at which time the parlour maid called the gentleman and lady and then served them their breakfast of bacon, eggs, kedgeree, kidneys etc. at 9.30. At 10 o’clock Mrs. Tottenham Gaussen visited the kitchen to order the menu for the day, which was invariably in French. Lunch, sardines on toast, meat and vegetables, and pudding, was at 1. Tea and toast was served at 4 o’clock. Then at 8 it was time for dinner, sometimes with the company of local gentry, soup, fish, meat and vegetables, sweet, cheese and finally coffee. After clearing up the servants could go to bed.

This regime lasted only a few more years. The end came in 1923 when a syndicate of John White, a Birmingham contractor, J. J. Calder of Allsop brewery, Burton on Trent, solicitor J. A. Hattrell and ex army officer Major Burton bought the rest of the Gaussen land, an area of 969 acres, for the sum of £43,000, enough to cover the mortgages and leave something over. The Gaussen era of 130 years was over. The land was now available to develop a new commuter village at Brookmans Park. The syndicate then formed Brookmans Park (Hatfield) Ltd. to do the job.

Peter Kingsford - 1983


Chapter 4 - Developer's Delight 1923-1939
Index - A Modern History of Brookmans Park
Historical Notes - to help understand these chapters
Photographs - from the book

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