Great Nast Hyde House
“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 actually 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,
The Old Railway
Nast Hyde Halt was opened on Tuesday, 1st February 1910. At just under two miles from Hatfield Station, the Halt had been considered by the Ways and Works Committee in September 1909 with an estimated cost of £455.00.The Halt would have been staffed by two people, each earning around £50.00 per year.
The Halt was built to serve the nearby estate of Great Nast Hyde House and Nast Hyde Farm, plus the growing community around it.It sits around half a mile from ‘Deadmans Crossing’ which marks the Border Line with St. Albans (Not the Blueberry Arch which sits further west towards Smallford).
The Idea of the Halt was greatly encouraged by the Great Northern Railway General Manager at the time a Mr Oliver Bury (not surprising given that he only lived around the corner in Wilkins Green Lane!). The original Halt was a timber faced platform which was later replaced by brick. A small waiting room with glass windows and a projecting roof reaching about three feet towards the track. This was later replaced by a track side rail workers hut, which was removed in 1988.
One local resident recalled to me how the steam train driver would throw a couple of chunks of coal out to him whilst travelling over the Ellenbrook Lane Crossing to help keep his open fire going through the winter!
Nast Hyde Halt officially closed in September 1951… although some locals did sometimes grab a lift from the goods train!
The Ellenbrook Lane level crossing and the adjoining gate keepers house date from the opening of the line (1865). The house is a two-storey building and is still in place today as a private dwelling. It has been extended a lot since the closure of the Line on Tuesday 31st December 1968.
This information was gained with great thanks to Roger Taylor, Brian Anderson and the National Archive Document No.1189/1513
Hatfield in World War II
For a town of its size, Hatfield played a significant part in the world’s most widespread and destructive war. Yet there is little in the town to remind today’s generation of the efforts and sacrifices made on their behalf.
On 22nd September 1944 a V1 rocket destroyed two houses (Nos.2 & 4) in Selwyn Crescent, Hatfield, Herts. There were four deaths Ruth Knight, 41 and her 8 year old daughter Irene also Ernest Woodcock,62 and his wife Minnie,52.
View from No 10
No 12 Selwyn Cres
No 6 still standing
No 19 view Selwyn drive
No 9 & 11 view Selwyn Cres
more old photographs
Fred gets the milepost moved
mileposts new location
Jet over De Havilland