Battle of Berkhamsted Common Trail
In the mid nineteenth century the local landowner attempted to enclose Berkhamsted Common. What he hadn't taken into consideration was the determination of the local people to resist this move.
Car park on the B4506, grid ref: SP 977115
This is a waymarked trail which starts from an information panel in the larger car park beside the B4506 just south of the Aldbury turning. From the panel exit the car park at the back left corner and follow a well defined path that skirts the edge of fields on your right. You will see, on your right, an old trackway, bordered by tree-lined banks. Tracks like these ran across all the Ashridge commons, allowing people and their animals to pass through without encroaching on the local grazing rights of the commoners.
Continue to follow the main path skirting the edge of the woodland. You can tell by the large number of silver birch trees in this area that you are now walking through a relatively young wood. Silver birch is one of the first trees to grow into open spaces. For the last 400 years much of Berkhamsted Common was dominated by gorsy-heath. The actions of local commoners, harvesting wood for their fires and grazing their animals on the common, kept the landscape open.
At Coldharbour Farm the route divides. To follow the short route turn left in front of the house. Pick up the trail again at step 5. To follow the longer route continue straight ahead on the footpath which passes in front of the farm and into the trees; where it forks veer right and head into fields, keeping to the right field margin. Coldharbour Farm dates from the time of the Coldharbour Enclosure in 1618. The distinctive semi-circular shape of the common was created at this time, when land in the centre was enclosed and then turned into farmland. Prior to this attempt at enclosure, there was a great deal of unrest in the early 1600s when the Lord of the Manor at that time attempted to enclose portions of the common, but spirited resistance by locals ensured that it remained open.
At the treeline continue ahead into the woods. When the trees thin out look for a crossroads and take the left turn. Follow this path back to fields and continue around the edge of the fields following signs as you go back into wooded cover. The extraction of clay, flint and chalk from the common goes back at least as far as the 1600s. This cottage, now known as Brick Kiln cottage and the kiln which used to be close by, were established by the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater in 1803 to supply clay bricks to help in re-building Ashridge House. Tensions arose between the estate and the commoners as he used so much gorse, from the common, to fire his kilns that there was little left for anyone else.
At the cottages follow a well established track behind the buildings and alongside a fence running around the field to your right. Woodyard Cottage stands on an old road which ran from Aldbury to Hemel Hempstead, along the edge of Berkhamsted Common. The road was obstructed by the 7th Earl of Bridgewater (1753 -1823), during the final years of his life, in an attempt to prevent commoners from exercising their rights on the common.
Follow this well defined path towards the road and turn left to return to the car park. The banks on either side of this path are the remains of the medieval park pale, which marked the original boundary between Ashridge deer park and Berkhamsted Common. Successive expansions of the park into the surrounding commons were also marked by banks which can still be seen as you walk through the Ashridge woods. There is little doubt that the attempted enclosure of 1866 sought to expand the park still further.
Car park on the B4506, grid ref: SP 97711
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