What happened around here:
“When we turned out of the town, round a corner… and gazed round upon the open country and the starlight night for our destination. There was a light sparkling on the top of a hill before us, and the driver, pointing to it with his whip and crying, “That’s Bleak House!” … Presently we lost the light, presently saw it, presently lost it, presently saw it, and turned into an avenue of trees and cantered up towards where it was beaming brightly. It was in a window of what seemed to be an old-fashioned house with three peaks in the roof in front and a circular sweep leading to the porch…”
So, is Dickens’ Bleak House Ellenbrook’s Great Nast Hyde House? The location certainly fits, just outside St Albans. Legend has it that the bell tower housed a revolving lamp to guide travellers across the dangerous Colney Heath, with its highwaymen. Was this Dickens’ inspiration for the light? WC Day, writing in 1930, seemed in no doubt that “It is the only house in Hertfordshire which answers to Dickens’s description of Esther’s house”.
Whether it provided the inspiration for Esther Summerson’s residence or not, the house is interesting to both the historian and local passers-by. Nast Hyde is even older than the house – it was part of the estates of the Abbey of St Albans in the Middle Ages. Hyde is a late Saxon word for an area of land, in this case probably granted by the Abbott to be farmed by a tenant. Nast may well be derived from “East”, being to the east of St Albans. As early as 1337 there is mention in the Abbey Estates’ “Court Book” of Richard atte Rothe de Esthide. Nasthioe appears in 1369 when land was granted to Thomas atte ffelde for the grand sum of five shillings, plus the performance of certain services for the Abbott. When the monasteries were dissolved “Nasthyde” was assessed and recorded as have rental of “£1..16s..0¼ d”
The house was built in the 17th century – probably around 1611, the same time as Hatfield House. By 1642 Phillip Oxton owned the house and was amongst those in the civil war who pledged to “defend the true Protestant religion” and submitted a petition from locals asking for the St Peters’ vicar to be replaced by one with Puritan ideals. He also offered a horse for use by Parliamentary forces. In 1662 Phillip paid tax on his nine hearths – we can still see the nine chimneys in groups of three today. He died in 1665 leaving his property to his son William.
William sold the estate to Robert Kentish who in 1699 died and left to his son Thomas ‘the estate I live in by the name of Nast Hide with all the lands thereunto belonging and my stocke upon the same’. The house stayed in ownership of the Kentish family but was then let to William Cannon who purchased the house and passed it to his son William when he died in 1814.
Great Nast Hyde had 268 acres of land, stretching across what is now the Country Park, University and Salisbury Village. By 1841 William Cannon lived at the house with his family, 5 agricultural labourers and two servants. The estate was auctioned in 1843 after William’s death and was said to have “proverbially good” shooting, being “Most desirable for the occupation of gentleman farmer”. The house was advertised as ‘one of the substantial Farm Mansions of the olden time whose massive Walls, spacious Rooms, Gabled Roof with Cupola Top present to the eye a frame that has much capability of improvement’.
In 1861 Richard Clark owned Great Nast Hyde and lived there with his family, a servant, a shepherd, a carter, a ploughman and a tasker. With depression in farming, land was sold off reducing the land to around 30acres and in 1923 it was auctioned as an ‘Elizabethan residence occupying splendid position on high ground with good open views·.
More interesting residents followed: the daughter of one owner, Christabel Burton, married Peter von Bielenberg, a Nazi dissident linked to a bomb plot against Hitler in 1944. She was interrogated by the Gestapo, and in her book The Past is Myself in 1988 recalled how her memories of the house sustained her “…indefinable horrors seemed too close to be dealt with. Think of something else. Come now, it is easy, the garden at Nast Hyde and the path through the orchard… it is spring, and the orchard is carpeted with daffodils, let’s watch them nod and bend in the wind…”
Another former resident wrote to the Independent in 1995 describing how her mother lived in Great Nast Hyde “an Elizabethan house of outstanding beauty that could not be imitated” and had commissioned the construction of Torilla in the adjacent land, designed and built by F. R. S. Yorke in 1934.
With war the house was no longer a family home: during the Second World War it was a military hospital and then was purchased by DE Havilland (later British Aerospace) and used to entertain and accommodate visiting customers and guests. But in 2001 the house became a family home again as a descendant of the de Havilland family purchased the house and undertook a massive project to restore it to its former glory. It has changed hands twice more but remains a family home.
Across Wilkins Green Lane from Great Nast Hyde House is the Little Nast Hyde farmhouse, the oldest part of which dates from a similar period to Great Nast Hyde. The names probably date from the early nineteenth century referring to the 268 acres of land attached to Great Nast Hyde and the 90 acres farmed by Little Nast Hyde. Both houses witnessed the construction of the Hatfield to St Albans railway in 1862 and the opening of the Nast Hyde Halt on what is now the Alban Way,
Great Nast Hyde House by Alan James
Note the old railway G.N.R St Albans branch, Great Nasthyde House, Popesfield farm, and Harpsfield Hall (now demolished)
more on Nast Hyde Halt:
YOUNG GIRL’S SUICIDE.
ST. ALBANS MILL WORKER ENDS HER LIFE ON RAILWAY.
REBUKE FOR CLANDESTINE TALK WITH MAN RESENTED.
“I hope you are going to forgive me for what I am going to do.” That was the opening phrase of a letter which was found in the bag of Ethel Violet Mason, an eighteen–year-old girl who committed suicide on the London and North-Eastern Railway between Nast Hyde and Smallford. The girl, who was described as cheerful, was the youngest daughter of Mr and Mrs William Mason, of 3, The Almonry, Lady Wootton’s Green, Canterburv, and had been residing with her brother-in-law and sister, Mr and Mrs P. H. King, at 17, Springfield-road, Smallford, since Christmas, and had been employed at the Hosiery Mills, Hatfield-road, St. Albans.
At the inquest, which was held at the Town Hall. St. Albans, on Saturday, the Coroner (Mr Thomas Ottaway) said he did not think the letter which the girl had addressed to her parents should be made pub-lie as it was an unkind letter which contained certain statements which might not be true. The communication was handed to the Jury and to the brother-in-law, who stated, in reply to the Coroner’s questions, that what the girl had said about his home life at his house was untrue. She had been rebuked by his wife for going downstairs, after the family had retired to bed, to talk to a man who was not known to Mr and Mrs Kent.
The brother-in-law said he regarded the rebuke as reasonable and justified. The Jury returned a verdict of “Suicide while of unsound mind.”
Evidence of identification was given by the girl’s father, Mr William Mason, who said she was eighteen years old and had resided with his daughter and son in-law, at Smallford, and. during that time, she had been employed at the Hosiery Mills, St, Albans. Deceased had been away from home since Christmas. She was not a nervous girl, but she was excitable at times. She had not threatened to take her life previously, so far as he knew, and he had never had any trouble with her. She was obedient in every way.
A FATHER’S DISTRESS.
Asked if he knew deceased’s writing and on being handed a letter, witness, breaking into tears, said the writing on the envelope was that of his daughter.
The Coroner said the letter, which was in the* same handwriting as that on the envelope, was addressed to “My darling Mother and Dad.” and was signed “Eth.” It began: “Just a few lines. I hope you are going to forgive me for what I am going to do.” Then it made, certain statements which he (the Coroner) did not think ought to be made public. “I do not think lit is a kind letter,” he added, ” and there may be no truth in it.* The letter was passed to the jury for their perusal.
The Coroner handed three photographs to deceased’s father, who said one was of the girl’s mother, but he had not seen the other two before.
Percy Harold Kent, tailor’s stockkeeper 17, Springfield-road, Smallford, said that deceased had been living with them since just after Christmas. Deceased seemed quite happy and had never threatened her life. On May 21st. she went to bed but before witness and his wife, who retired about 11 p.m. About 11.15 p.m., witness heard deceased go downstairs and the front door open, and deceased spoke to a man. His wife went down and rebuked deceased. He did not know who the man was.
The Coroner: Was the rebuke just and reasonable? – Witness: I think it was, quite.
Did she take it to heart much? – I don’t think she did much. She seemed upset at the time about it. She did not seem to think there was much harm in It. Did your wife tell her unless she behaved herself she would have to go home? – Yes. What did she reply – She said, ” All right, I will.”
Shown the letter which had been identified by deceased’s father, witness mas told to read it and, when he had done so the Coroner asked “You see what she says about her home life with you.” Is that true?” – Witness: No. – Is there no justification for it at all? – Witness: None at all. A Juror: Were there frequent quarrels at your house between your wife and this girl? – Witness; I don’t remember my wife and sister quarrelling at all. The Coroner: No quarrels between her and anybody else? – Witness: Not to my knowledge.
AT THE LEVEL CROSSING.
Leonard Richardson, horseman, 4,Greenfoot Cottages, Roe Green, Hatfield, said on Thursday he was working in a field adjoining the railway between Nast Hyde and Smallford. About 3.30 p.m. he raw deceased sitting just inside the gate at a point where a footpath crossed the line. She appeared to be writing, and he last noticed her just after 4p.m. A train going to Hatfield passed about 4.30 p.m.
The Coroner: Was there anything suspicious about her conduct at the time? – Witness: No. She just sat there writing or reading.
Witness added that he left the field about 5.30 p.m., and. in consequence of what was said to him by a railway employee, he went to the crossing and saw the body, which he recognised as that of the young woman he had seen previously.
Ronald Berry, a L. & N. E. Railway porter, of 2,Bloomfield Cottages, Newtown, Hatfield. said he was travelling on the 5.5 p.m. train from Hatfield to St. Albans. Between Nast Hvde and Smallford, he saw the body of the girl lying on the ballast close to the footpath.
Charles Sidney Cox, L. & N. E. Railway ticket collector, 5, Railway Cottages. Hatfield, who was acting as guard on the train from St. Albans to Hatfield, said he did not notice anything on the line as he passed the spot in question.
George Myddleton Rickards. Locomotive Superintendent, L. &N. E. Railway, Hatfield, gave evidence of finding a small spot of blood on the leading guard iron in the front of the engine, about two inches from the bottom. He found the imprint of some material, probably serge, in the ducts of the guard iron.
P.c. Martin (Colney Heath), who went to the crossing later, said he found the body tying on the North-West side of the line, about four feet from the track and about nine yards on the Nast Hyde aide of the crossing. There was a black hat near her feet, a white handkerchief two yards from the body, and a blue leather handbag on the edge of the grass and ballast near the gate of the crossing on the North-West side of the line. He examined the ballast and the line, and he could not find any blood or marks except where her head lay. He removed the body to the St. Albans City Mortuary. He examined the handbag, and in it he found the letter and photographs which had been produced.
The Coroner: Were the injuries such as you would expect if she had been knocked down by an engine? – Witness: Yes, 1 think so.
In hl» address to the Jury, the Coroner said it seemed that the only difference between deceased and her sister was on the Tuesday night, when deceased was talking on the doorstep to a man. He thought the Jury would think that deceased wag properly rebuked for that conduct. With regard to the letter written by deceased and addressed to her parents, he thought, because of the evidence given that day, it was one which should not be made public. There were certain reflections in it which did not seem to be kind, and no good could be done or useful purpose served by making them known. On the back of a photograph of her mother and herself wan, “Dear, forgive me; I love you.” On the back of another photograph, a postcard, wan, ” Tell the boys to think of me sometimes.” The Coroner added that the post-mortem examination showed nothing of the kind of thing which might be suspected in a ease of that sort.
The Jury, after a brief consultation in private, returned a verdict of “Suicide during temporary insanity and the Foreman added that the Jurors desired him to express their deep sympathy with the parents and relatives of deceased.
The funeral took place on Monday, at St Mark’s Church, Colney Heath, the Vicar (the Rev. A. Marchant) officiating, and the interment was in the Churchyard Extension In addition to the five mourners, a number of sympathising neighbours and friends attended. Included in .the wreaths was one inscribed “With deepest sympathy, from the employees of St. Albans Hosiery Mills.”
From the Herts Advertiser & St Albans Times, 31-May-1929.
Geoffrey de Havilland, pioneering aircraft designer and founder of the de Havilland Aircraft Company purchased some farmland close to Hatfield. Flying commenced in 1930.
In 1934 significant works were undertaken at the site and a large factory and imposing Art Deco administration buildings were constructed together with a flying school building which also housed flying control.
During the Second World War, de Havilland was most noted for its Mosquito fighter bomber, the famous ‘Wooden wonder’. This was developed privately at Salisbury Hall, outside of Hatfield to avoid being targeted by German bombers.
World War II
Filming on the old Hatfield Aerodrome
Saving Private Ryan (filming 1996)
The fictional war-torn French town of Ramalle, where Ryan is defending a bridge, was built on the former British Aerospace airfield in Hatfield, complete with a river. It’s here where the movie’s climactic battle takes place.
Band of Brothers
Old Hatfield Aerodrome will also be the location for Band of Brothers, an 11-hour, £63m television series based on the best-selling book of the same name that tells the story of Easy Company, the 506th Regiment of the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division.
Created by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, and starring Damian Lewis, Donnie Wahlberg and David Schwimmer, the show follows US paratrooper battalion Easy Company and their exploits during the conflict.
The Poet’s House
Hatfield Local History Society HOGS YEOTHAM A chance look at an old Ordnance Survey map revealed the above place name located on, what was to become, part of De Havilland’s Manor Road site. A document at HCC archives reveal that, in 1885, there were, at Hogs Yeotham, two messuages (houses with land and buildings) with three fields totaling about 10 acres: Longfield, Upperfield and Barnfield. The Copyhold tenancy was then held by a Rose Bryan and an ancient fealty of 5 shillings per year was to be paid to the Lord of the Manor of Astwick - then a John Lloyd. The two messuages appeared to have become a single, six roomed building by the time of the 1911 census. It was still being lived in 40 years later by an elderly lady named Rene Reeves. Recollections from local folk later identified (dialectically speaking) Hogs Jolt’am as being the real ‘Poets’ house - and not the nearby- Beech Cottage as reported in Newsletter 77. The place was also called Hogs Yeotham Common, Hogs Yotham and erroneously reported as Hawkes Yeotham (but never, fortunately, as Hogs Bottom!). However, Hogs Yeotham is clearly seen as a settlement in the 1879 OS map and appears to have always been within the Manor of Astwick. The earliest reference found was in 1630, when a ‘Neeles House’ was alluded to at Flogs Yotcham in a topographical map showing fields relating to, and the borders surrounding, the Manor of Harpsfield Hall. It shows an ancient track- named Upwood Lane - that wended its way from Coopers Green Lane to Hogs Yeotham, and later spurred off to Harpsfield Hall. Its route was still in use some 325 years later, when a few future Hatfield Local History Society members visited the place, in the mid 1950s, to find a vandalised building and hundreds of old rotting books strewn around the garden - some of which were once, evidently, expensively bound. Member Jim Parker has never forgotten the title of one book - Jane’s Fighting Ships. In about 1940, the place was once visited by our Ben French, and his work colleague Don Lawrence. Ben recalls seeing chickens running around the garden and an old lady at the door. This lady may have been 69 year old Ada, the mother of Rene Reeves above. Ada was also the wife of the famed ‘Poet’, who had died in March 1938. He became Rene’s stepfather. His name was Garnet Smith. The Hertfordshire Advertiser announced his passing: Death of a Brilliant Scholar ....Mr Garnet Smith , of Hawkes Yeotham...has died in his 77th year. Just before his death he was writing a sequel to his book the Melancholy of Stephen Allard.... He took his BA degree at Queens College, Oxford where for some years he was a tutor. He later made his name as an essayist, poet and writer. For 26 years he reviewed books for the Times Literary Supplement and contributed to many Magazines. A shy, sensitive man, he was looked upon as a brilliant scholar by his contemporaries. In his own library he had over 6,000 Books.....Perhaps some of these were the ones found rotting in the garden of his home almost 20 years later? Garnet Smith was buried in Newtown Churchyard. With thanks to John Brindle