90th Anniversary weekend - the back story

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2014 marks the ninetieth anniversary of the opening of Hatfield Forest to the public, on 10 May 1924. Hatfield Forest had been given to the National Trust by Edward North Buxton and his family earlier in the year. The official opening ceremony was carried out by Viscount Ullswater, vice-president of the National Trust.

The National Trust in 1924
It was a much smaller organisation, mainly interested in land, and providing open access to this, rather then houses, reflecting the vision of the founding members.  It owned about 30,000 acres, including, locally, Wicken Fen and Blakeney Point, with only a limited number of small buildings. It had limited resources and expertise, with only about 2000 members.

The opening ceremony
The Forest was formally transferred to the National Trust and declared open to the public on 10 May 1924.  The ceremony was held in a marquee by the Shell House. It was a wet afternoon!  The gift was offered by Gerald North Buxton, on behalf of his father, and accepted by Viscount Ullswater, the vice-president of the National Trust. Guests included Mrs Edward North Buxton, widow of Edward North Buxton, her daughter, Teresa Buxton and her grandson, Edward Buxton, the Countess of Warwick, Lord Lambourne (Lord Lieutenant of Essex), John Bailey (chairman of the Executive Committee), two local MPs, joint masters of the Essex and Puckeridge Hunts, as well as many local residents.

Reduced rate train tickets were available from Liverpool Street to Bishop's Stortford and conveyances were laid on to meet certain trains and take guests to the Forest.

The ceremony was reported in the Times of 10 May and also 12 May 1924, with two photographs, one of which showed Viscount Ullswater talking to an old man who remembered the Forest before the enclosure of 1857, as well as the Chelmsford and Essex Chronicles of 16 May 1924.

The Forest thus became one of the largest public open spaces accessible to Greater London, neatly counter balancing the Trust's property at Box Hill to the south west of London.

Before 1924 - the Houblon connection
For nearly 200 years before 1924, the Forest had been owned by the Houblon family. They lived at Hallingbury Place, about 5 km to the west of the Forest and treated the Forest as an extension of their home estate, Hallingbury Park. In the second half of the 18th century, they had been responsible for much of the landscaping which survives until this day - the lake, the Shell House and the planting of exotic specimen trees. In the 19th century, their action in securing the enclosure of the Forest helped to preserve it by saving it from conversion to agricultural land.

The Houblons had bought the Hallingbury estate from the family of Sir Edward Turnor, a Speaker of the House of Commons in the late 17th century.  By a coincidence of history, Viscount Ullswater, who performed the opening ceremony, was also a Speaker of the House of Commons, and created a Viscount in recognition of his service to the House.

Sale of the Forest in 1923
The Houblon family also owned other estates, including Welford Park in Berkshire, which was acquired through good marriages, and by 1910 had stopped living at Hallingbury Place. In the immediate aftermath of the First World War and in common with what was happening with many other estates all over the country, the Houblon family decided to cut back. The Forest was sold at auction in October 1923, as a part of the main lot including Hallingbury Place, to Mr Thomas Place, a timber merchant form Northallerton, North Yorkshire. The house was subsequently demolished and the building materials salvaged.

Edward North Buxton
Edward North Buxton was a passionate conservationist, deeply interested in the protection of open spaces. He had long been active in trying to save Epping and Hainault Forests from further encroachment and conversion to agricultural land. He had tried to purchase the Forest prior to the auction, but his offer had gone astray. Following the sale, he renewed his efforts. He died in early 1924, but his family were able to continue his efforts and complete the purchase of the main part of the Forest, comprising 215 acres. This was then given to the National Trust, in line with Edward North Buxton's wishes. This was then extended to 350 acres, with two further portions of land, at the southern end of the Forest and Gravelpit Coppice, purchased by Edward North Buxton's sons, in early 1924.  The Buxton family was later able to purchase Emblem's Coppice, Lodge Coppice and Round Coppice in the west and Collins Coppice in the south of the Forest, whilst Elgins Coppice was purchased by Major Archer Houblon, making a grand total of over 600 acres (243 ha).  These were all included in the bequest.

The shelter attached to the Shell House contains the following inscription carved into a beam:
"This Shelter is erected in memory of Edward North Buxton of Knighton, Buckhurst Hill, and his son Gerald Buxton, of Birch Hall, Theydon Bois, to whom the public owes this gift of this Forest."

Conditions attached to the bequest included setting aside certain spaces for the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides of Essex, and giving access to the local hunts.

Paycocke's House - a second 90th anniversary
Paycocke's House is a richly ornamented Tudor merchants house in the village of Coggeshall, about 30 km east from Hatfield Forest. It was donated to the National Trust by Noel Buxton, the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and the nephew of Edward North Buxton, in 1924, after a twenty year restoration project.

10 - 11 May 2014
To mark the 90th anniversary of the opening to the public, we will be offering free car parking all day on Saturday 10 May, and activities all weekend to showcase what we have to offer in the Forest today.