The Forest was bequeathed to the Trust in 1924 © National Trust

The Forest was bequeathed to the Trust in 1924

A brief outline

Hatfield Forest is a rare surviving example of a medieval royal hunting Forest, with over 1,000 acres of coppices and wood pasture.

It is mentioned in the Domesday Book prepared for William the Conquerer in 1086. The royal hunting Forest was created by Henry I around 1100 - royal hunting rights remained until 1446.

Ownership passed through a succession of owners, including Robert the Bruce, the Dukes of Buckingham, the Rich family, the Parkers and the Turnors. This was a period of disputes between parties who held rights to different parts and aspects of the Forest.

In 1729, the Forest was bought by the Houblon family, and they made changes to the landscape, as it became an extension to their estate at Hallingbury Place. During the 19th century, it was saved from enclosure.

The Forest was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1924.

So, where are all the trees?

Forget about a modern commercial woodland with densely packed conifers. The name Hatfield Forest comes from the Anglo-Saxon Hoep-Field, 'Hoep' meaning heathland and 'Field' meaning open space in sight of woodland.

Foreign fallow deer introduced

A royal Forest (with a capital F) was an area where nobility could hunt deer and was governed by Forest Law. The deer you see today are descended from the original herd introduced by Henry I in 1100.

Rabbits, rabbits everywhere

The Normans brought rabbits to Britain from the Mediterranean. Introduced for their meat and fur, rabbits were a valuable commodity. A warren was established in the 17th century, to farm the rabbits.

The Houblon connection

The Houblons were a wealthy City family, originally from Flanders. Sir John was the first active Governor of the Bank of England. The family purchased the Forest in 1729 for Jacob Houblon.

Landscaping the Forest

The lake was formed in 1747 by damming Shermore Brook.  The famous landscape architect Capability Brown provided a plan (which still survives) to modify the lake, adding what is now the Decoy Lake.

Afternoon tea in the Forest

Close up of the star detail on the Shell House

The Shell House was built beside the new lake. Highly fashionable at the time, it was used for picnics. The shell decoration was designed by Laetitia Houblon, daughter of Jacob Houblon.