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A Modern History of Brookmans Park

by Peter Kingsford

Chapter 2
The Squire's Domain 1816-1880

The new owner of Brookmans, Robert William Gaussen, was in possession for a long time, a period of sixty four years, stretching from the depression in agriculture after Waterloo until the second and greater depression in the age of free trade and imperialism of the 1880s. It must have been during his early life that a great expansion of the estate took place.

By 1844 the property had grown to no less than 2,068 acres, about two fifths of the whole parish, making Gaussen by far the biggest landowner. The only known part of this growth occurred when he bought the Gobions estate from the trustees of T. N. Kemble in 1838. It added 328 acres to Brookmans. For this he paid £23,000, or only £70 per acre. Thus if Samuel Robert II paid an inflated wartime price in 1814, Robert William benefited from the post war deflated price of land.

Included in this purchase was the mansion of Gobions. This eighteenth century house had replaced the mediaeval one known at one time as More Hall after the family of that name. The name of the great member of that family, the latter day saint, Sir Thomas More, is today perpetuated in Chancellorís School and in the Roman Catholic Church in the parish. The estate agentís description in 1838 gives some idea of a noble place:

"The mansion comprising on the ground floor dining room, drawing room, library, billiard room, gentlemanís or chapel room, sitting room & gentlemanís dressing room; on the first floor 4 principal bed chambers, 3 dressing rooms, water closet, 5 capital bedrooms, a dressing room & a water closet. The secondary apartments comprise 6 good bedrooms, store rooms, butlerís pantry, housekeeperís room, kitchen, pantry & scullery, servantsí hall, bakehouse & larder. There are a laundry starching room, fruit chamber, washhouse, dairy, linen room, wine cellars & beer cellars capable of holding 120 barrels. Outside are the brewhouse, coal house, wood houses, knife and boot houses, water closet, coach house with granary and malt house above, stables & labourerís cottage containing three rooms and a pantry; kitchen garden, greenhouse & hothouse and stabling for six horses."

Pleasure Grounds (Gobions Wood)

The "Pleasure Grounds" with the lake, the "Lionís Den", the temple "which is erected in the Woods fronting the Mansion, at the head of a Canal" and the bowling green, were celebrated for their beauty in their day. The "Triumphal Arch" also mentioned, perhaps designed by James Gibbs and dating from 1754, is the existing Folly Arch. According to a map of 1815 it led through an avenue of trees to the Pleasure Grounds.

All this, except the lake and the arch, has disappeared. Gaussen had the mansion demolished, for whatever motive, the contents scattered and the land amalgamated with Brookmans. The building materials of the mansion, including the 17th century staircase, were re-used to build The Hook, Northaw. The mansion was situated in the existing wood north of the east end of the lake.

Six years after the purchase of Gobions, the Gaussen property, totalling 2,068 acres in the parish extended broadly from Bell Bar on the Great North Road to Folly Arch and from Roestock in the north west to Swanley Bar in the south east, and into Hatfield parish. No other landowner in the parish approached this size. The next largest were Fulke Greville, Lord of the manor of North Mymms, (North Mymms Place 772 acres), W. Casamajor (Potterells 596 acres), W. J. Lyseley (Mymmwood 297 acres), Sir Davidge Gould (Hawkshead 249 acres) and T. & E. Kemble (Leggatts 227 acres).

Gaussen had profited by the times. The depression in agriculture after the French wars, lasting from 1815 to the mid 1830s meant low profits, low rents, low wages and low prices of land. Throughout the country small holders and yeomen sold up and landowners bought up cheaply. An example in North Mymms is Joseph Marlborough, formerly a yeoman, who sold his cottages and piece of land at Water End to Joseph Massey, a tenant farmer of Gaussen2 Land prices began to recover by 1840 by which date Gaussen seems to have completed his purchases.

Brookmans Estate expands

Brookmans estate had now nearly reached its maximum. Gaussen, coming from a family of financiers, was an investor in land as well as a mere proprietor. The acquisition of Gobions had brought him about a hundred acres of cultivated farm field such as Dancers Hill Field and Mead, together with "the ploughings, half dressings, dressings, manure, seeds sown and labour done on the fallows at a fair valuation".

The estate in 1844 included, as well as three inns such as the Bell and the White Hart at Bell Bar, 15 farms such as those at Upper and Lower Bell Bar, Kentish Lane, Swanley Bar, Reevesí, Skimpans, Parsonage, Red Hall and Tollgate. All these, together perhaps about 1,400 acres, brought in rents to the amount of at least £2,123 a year. Other farms in Hatfield parish brought in another £458, a total of £2,581 per annum.

On his marriage in 1847 to Elizabeth Christian Casamajor he could, therefore, well afford the settlement on her of £1,000 per annum rent charge on the estate, or £35,000 of 3% Consols, together with portions for any children of £5,000 for one child, £10,000 for two and £15,000 for three or more.

From the mid 19th century onward the Brookmans estate was, therefore, a considerable economic and social organisation and Gaussen as a capitalist landowner no doubt calculated the return he could get from his investment in land in comparison with the return available from Government or railway stock. It was not uncommon for landowners to accept a lower return on land as the price for the status they gained in society. Gaussenís position in the parish meant that hundreds of villagers were dependant on him for a living. He necessarily had working and personal relationships with a network of farmers and labourers, tenants and employees of different kinds. His rent books and account books give some idea of them.

Tenants and labourers

The most numerous of the tenants were the labourers who lived in the cottages scattered over his land. There were about fifty of them from whom Gaussen collected rents of £3 - £5 a year. His income from this source was about £200 per annum. About a dozen were rent free, tied cottages mostly for his own workers. These included Sam Dimmock, age 43, cowman with his wife, a straw plaiter, and five children; William Longstaff age 60, labourer with his wife and four children; John Burgess age 33, farm carter with his wife, a charwoman, and five children; Henry Viner, coachman with his wife and four children; all these at Bell Bar. Also with them were James Rands age 31, garden labourer with his wife, three children and widowed mother, a pauper, at Deep Bottom; Thomas Rands of the same address; Jesse Harris age 50, haybinder but an invalid with his wife and nine children five of whom were working including one aged ten, at Reeves Lane; Joseph Redington, gardener at Bell Bar; and the widow Messer age 44 with two children, formerly baker at Bell Bar, then removed to Pancake Hall, Welham Green, who was probably a special case for charity.

Higher up in the social scale were Gaussenís farmer tenants. Among them were Joseph Tingay age 44 with his sister as housekeeper and two farm servants, ages 15 and 16, employing six boys and 12 men at Tollgate Farm; William Littlechild age 62 and his wife at Skimpans and 7 men; Francis Hart age 30 at Welham Green Farm with his wife, little son and fifty acres; and half a dozen others such as William Giddins, the farmer at Moffats.

Other tenants, of a different kind and lesser degree who contributed to his rent roll were the village craftsmen. At Bell Bar there were John Jackson age 39, journeyman smith from Devon with his wife and five children and Joseph Holton age 27, wheelwright and his wife, child and apprentice. At Welham Green Alexander Arnold age 32, cordwainer occupied, with his wife who was his bootbinder, four children and an apprentice, a house for which he had paid the considerable rent of £15 a year. Two bakehouses made up the total.

Providing local employment

Another extension of Gaussenís influence in the parish was in direct employment of labour. The maintenance of all his properties, and probably their improvement in the coming era of high farming, kept the local craftsmen busy. The blacksmiths, bricklayers and carpenters were paid considerable sums. For the half year ended June 1852 blacksmiths had £88, bricklayers £173, carpenters £113. As there were three blacksmiths, seven bricklayers and fourteen carpenters in the parish a substantial section of the villagers were effected.

His own employees complete the list of people dependant on him in one way or another. His bailiff, John Elliott, a north countryman of 33 living at Bell Bar with his wife and child, had sufficient standing to have a servant, a girl of 16 from Hatfield. The farm he kept in hand, also probably at Bell Bar, was not large, perhaps about 70 acres to judge by the number of workers who lived in rent-free cottages. This would be in line with the amount spent on farm labour for "ploughing, sowing, hoeing, hedging & ditching, etc." ó £80 for the first half of 1852. The home farm seems to have been run at a small profit, averaging about £125 per annum. Such an amount was not significant for a man of Gaussenís wealth and it may be that he kept the farm as a hobby or an example, or simply for the produce.

Dependant on him also was the large retinue of servants at Brookmans, though few of them were local people: butler, housekeeper, two house-maids, kitchen maid, page, groom and coachman. Faithful service was rewarded: he gave a pension of £20 a year for life to Charles Flint who had served the family for thirty years, first as a gamekeeper then as a bailiff.

Flint, described as a yeoman, had been appointed as gamekeeper in the manor of Brookmans in 1823:

"To take and kill any Hare, Pheasant, Partridge, and to seize and take all such guns, bows, greyhounds, setting dogs, lurchers and other dogs to kill Hares and conies, Ferrets, Trammells, Lowbells, Hays, or other Nets, Hare Pipes, Snares or other Engines for the taking and killing of Conies, Hares, Pheasants, Partridges and other game".

Now settled as one of the landed gentry Gaussen ran true to type in trying to stop the projected railway from running through his land. As chairman of the vestry he organised a petition to Parliament against the line which the Great Northern Railway was to take. When this failed the parish paid the costs. As the railway came it passed through four of his farms, Reeves, Moffats, Skimpans and Parsonage, cutting up his land but in other ways effecting improvement. The loads of London dung would soon be brought by rail to Marshmoor and Hawkshead. Rebuffed by the railway interest he succeeded in diverting the Great North Road from its route past his mansion and along the present Bell Lane to its modern line. This could hardly have improved the prosperity of Bell Bar though its coach traffic must, in any case, have been reduced by the railway. Out of at least three inns at Bell Bar only one remained thirty years later.

Poor Law

Gaussenís power in the parish rested not only on control of livelihoods and dwellings but also on influence in the vestry which governed the parish, subject to the county magistracy and the Hatfield Board of Guardians in respect of the poor law. Even so, he also sat on both of these bodies. The number of votes he could muster at election time increased his political influence in the county. By 1850 the Gaussens had four parliamentary votes, all based on Brookmans. This was out of a total of thirty five voters in the parish. They were acquired by Gaussen granting a freehold rent charge of £200 to each of three relations, two of whom had an address in the Temple and the other was an army officer. The four votes remained with the family until 1866 but reduced to two after the Reform Act of 1884. In addition there were the votes of eight tenant farmers open to influence before, if not after, the secret ballot.

Brookmans figured prominently in social control. Churchwarden for many years, Gaussen gave regularly to the parochial institutions, the schools and the thrift clubs some of the money required to keep them going, e.g. £25 in 1865 rising to £37.10.0 in 1880. A major contribution was the Iron Room at Bell Bar, a mission room holding sixty to seventy persons, which he had built in 1877. In this rather remote hamlet, no longer on the route of coach traffic, the church held Bible classes in the summer and cottage lectures during the winter for many years. The Iron Room still stands in Bell Lane, though now in the service of mammon instead of God.

Gaussen helped the flourishing temperance movement and Brookmans often provided hospitality for the Band of Hope. The youthful abstainers walked in procession from church to the mansion where they had tea in the marquees. The gentry valued temperance and piety in the parish. Education had not, perhaps, quite as much priority, if this is judged by the absence of boys from school so that they could beat for the Gaussensí shooting parties.

Gaussen also played the part expected of him in local government. He was a member of the North Mymms Sanitary Committee of 1866 which acted to remove the many nuisances and to reduce disease in the insanitary parish; deputy lieutenant of the county in 1870; chairman of the county constabulory committee at quarter sessions in 1872.

Gaussen died in 1880 and handed on the estate to his son Robert George. In January that year he wrote in his account book: "NB. In spite of the bad year all my rents were paid up to the day and there is not one shilling owing to me from anyone". That was the year of the worst harvest of the century. It was a happy situation for a landowner receiving about £3,000 a year from farmers in the parish. Such a one was George Sirett of Moffats Farm who paid £370 a year from 226 acres. All Gaussenís tenants were willing and able to pay their rents. This says something for their prosperity and their relationship with their landlord.

Owner of Brookmans for sixty four years he had been the permanent element in a changing world and a changing parish. Of his farmer tenants thirty years before only two, Joseph Hart of Redhall farm and David Littlechild of Little Tollgate, were still there. All the rest were comparative newcomers.

Income from estate 1880

The thirty years of high farming, improvement, greater profitability and higher rents were now coming to an end in Britain under competition from overseas. But while those years lasted Gaussenís rents from his tenants and profit from his home farm rose, though perhaps not as much as prices. On the other hand, in common with other landowners, he probably invested a good deal of capital in buildings and equipment. One item in his accounts may illustrate this. His payments to Groom, the bricklayer of Bell Bar, averaged £100 per annum in the sixties and seventies.

Profits from the home farm went to pay for the expenses of the estate. Any deficit of the two combined was amply covered by the farmersí rents. The following statement from his account book illustrates his domestic economy.

Probable receipts for the 6 months - 24 June to 25 December 1880 in £s

House account 70
35 Loads of Hay £4, 140
2 Bulls 45
6 Beasts 124
Cottage Rents 80
Tithe 34
Bark 37
Sundries 20
Total 700

Probable expenditure from 24 June to 25 December 1880 in £s

Cottages 35
Rates & Taxes 100
Labour Estate 80
Farm including Hay & Corn Harvest 250
Beer for Hay Making 35
Horse corn, Pigs food, oil cake, etc. 85
Saddler, Wheelwrights, Blacksmiths, etc. 45
Plumbers, Painters, Bricklayers, etc. 80
Straw for Thatching, etc. 30
Sundry unforseen Expenses? 100
Salary 85
Total 925

The above also gives an idea of the kind of farming. It consisted chiefly of cattle rearing and hay crops: the sale of beasts and hay in 1880 brought in £800. Forty loads of hay went up to London; the return journeys, of which there were sixty three during the year, brought manure at 7s a load. The significance of the cottage rents and of the sale of timber may be noted. Bark was for the tanners.

Over the years it is a picture of prosperity. Even the wages of the farm labourers had risen, especially after the Agricultural Workers Union was formed in 1872. But hard times and the great depression on the land had already appeared. A pointer in that direction may perhaps be seen in the fact that Tollgate Farm of 180 acres was occupied by a railway clerk instead of a farmer and Skimpans Farm, 200 acres, was apparently tenantless. Both were Gaussen's.

Peter Kingsford - 1983

Chapter 3 - Towards Dissolution 1880-1923
Index - A Modern History of Brookmans Park
Historical Notes - to help understand these chapters
Photographs - from the book

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