Edward North Buxton - A most generous gift

Edward North Buxton

In 1923, the owners of Hatfield Forest, the descendants of the Houblon family, sold their Hallingbury estate, including Hatfield Forest, at auction. It was initially purchased by a timber merchant. He had already starting felling large oaks in the Forest when it was rescued from further destruction by the action of the noted conservationist Edward North Buxton and his family. The Forest was bequeathed to National Trust and opened to the public in May 1924.

Edward North Buxton - a noted conservationist

Edward North Buxton was a noted conservationist and a long standing member of the Council of the National Trust in its formative years. 

He had a long standing interest in the forests of Essex, in particular preserving them as open, public spaces as the suburbs of north east London crept outwards, to “let people breathe”. 

Hatfield Forest is sold at auction

Edward had become aware in 1923 that Hatfield Forest may become available, as the then owners, the Houblon family, tried to realise some of their assets. He initially considered leading a campaign to purchase the Forest by public subscription but regretfully decided not to proceed, on account of his failing health.

Later in the year, the Hallingbury Place estate, including Hatfield Forest, was put up for sale by auction. Buxton tried to purchase the Forest before the sale but his telegram containing an offer did not reach the right person in time.  The estate was sold in late October to Thomas Allen, from Northallerton, North Yorkshire, and he started felling large oak trees in the northern coppices almost straight away.

The Forest is purchased by Edward North Buxton

Aware of his father’s disappointment at this setback, his son Gerald contacted the new owner, leading to an offer being made.  This was for 215 acres in the central area, including the lake.  The offer was accepted on 1 Jan 1924, and the deal completed on 8 Jan 1924.  

The following day, Edward died.  He had however spent the last few days of his life happy in the knowledge that the Forest had been saved from further destruction.  The 215 acres of Forest he had purchased were bequeathed by Edward in his will to the National Trust.

The initial bequest is extended

The Buxton family were aware of their father's wishes and the initial gift was then extended, by further purchases from Thomas Allen, adding coppices to the west and south of initial block of land, including Gravel Pit, Emblems, Lodge, Round and Collins Coppices. Elgins Coppice was bought and donated by Major Archer Houblon, making a total area of over 600 acres. By October 1924, the Trust had become owner of the whole of the post-enclosure Forest. 

The Forest is opened to the public as a National Trust property

The Forest was opened to the general public, as a National Trust property, on 10 May 1924, in a ceremony performed by Viscount Ullswater, then Vice-President of the National Trust, and attended by many local dignatories.

" His father never spent a happier day than that Christmas. During the remaining days of his life a large-sized plan of the forest lay at his beside, and in his dreams he must have pictured the forest as an open space for the people he loved and served so well"
- Gerald Buxton, at opening ceremony, reported in Times, 12 May 1924

The Fishermans Shelter and memorial plaque

The Fishermans Shelter (eastern wing of the Shell House) was bulit in the late 1920's, as a memorial to recognise the Buxton Bequest annd contains the following inscription on a beam:

- National Trust

An illustrious family

Edward North Buxton came from an illustrious East Anglian family. which had links to Paycockes House, Coggeshall, dating back to the 16th century.  It was this family associaition which inspired his nephew, Noel Buxton (1869-1948), to undertake the restoration of the house in the early 20th century, before bequeathing it to the National Trust.  

Noel Buxton was a Liberal MP for Norfolk Northern, from 1910 to 1918, and then a Labour MP from 1922 to 1930.  He served as the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, under Ramsay McDonald as Prime Minister, in 1924 and from 1929-30, when he was made a Baronet.

Edward's grandfather and Noel's great-grandfather was Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton (1786-1840).  He was a noted social reformer, working with his sister-in-law Elizabeth Fry on prison reform.  He was also a prominent abolitionist, taking over the leadership of the anti-slavery movement from William Wilberforce when he retired in 1821.  Although the trade in slaves  to the West Indies and America had been abolished in 1807, slavery was still operational in the sugar plantations in the West Indies.  Sir Thomas was an MP and led the parliamentary campaign for its abolition, presenting a succession of petitions parying for its abolition.  A bill was finally passed in 1833, leading to abolition in the British Empire in 1834, albeit  at the cost of very expensive compensation to the slave owners. He subsequently became interested in the on-going issue of slavery in Africa and, in part, inspired the missionary David Livingstone in his life-long campaign to erdicate the sale of African slaves to Arabia.