The Houblon family
The Houblon family purchased the Hallingbury Place estate, including Hatfield Forest, in 1729. The first resident was Jacob Houblon III. The estate then passed through successive generations. A good marriage added Welford Park in Berkshire and Coopersale House in Essex to the Houblon estate and introduced Archer into the surname. The Houblon connection ended in 1923 when the estate was sold.
The Early Houblons
Sir James Houblon
Sir John Houblon
Jacob Houblon III (1710 - 1770) - a country gentleman and MP
Jacob III was the grandson of Jacob Houblon and great nephew of Sir John and Sir James Houblon, and the first Houblon to live at the newly acquired country estate of Hallingbury Place.
He married Mary Hynde Cotton of Madingley Hall in Cambridge, in 1735. It may have been this family connection which led to Capability Brown being invited to work on landscape improvements at Hallingbury Place, after he had carried out work at Madingley Hall.
Unlike his predeccessors, he never went into business but became a country gentleman. He was a philanthropist, building cottages for his workers. It is thought that his scheme to drain the marshy land around the Shermore Brook and create the lake in Hatfield Forest was at least in part a work creation programme.
He was an MP for Colchester, from 1761 to 1768, supporting the Tory government, unlike earlier Houblons who were Whigs. He was also a member of the Cocoa Tree Club, a renown meeting place of Tories and Jacobites in the 18th century.
Jacob Houblon IV (1736 - 1828) – Hallingbury Place is remodelled
Jacob IV was the first born son of Jacob III. He completed his education with an extended Grand Tour from 1759 to 1761, staying for several months in Italy. This was recorded in a caricature "Antiquaries at Palo", painted by Thomas Patch and now hanging in the National Trust collection at Dunham Massey. He inherited the estate on his father’s death in 1770 and soon after had Hallingbury Place remodelled.
He married Susanna Archer, from Welford Park in Berkshire in 1770 and this was to prove to be an important alliance for later Houblons.
He stood for Parliament in 1768, for Essex, but was defeated.
Laetitia Houblon (1742 – 1828) – a Prussian Baroness
Laetitia was a daughter of Jacob III. She is credited with decorating the Shell House in around 1757, after it had been built by her father.
Some of the shells used to decorate the Shell House are believed to have come from the West Indies and would have arrived in the UK mixed in with ballast in the holds of ships. The ships were used to transport slaves from West Africa to the sugar plantations in the West Indies, and then to carry sugar back to the UK (to ports such as London, Bristol, Liverpool or Glasgow).
She had an interesting later life, undertaking a grand tour of Europe. She met and married a Prussian, Baron Friedrich Ludwig, in 1789 and lived in Turin until 1807, before returning to live in Thremhall Priory, about 2m (3km) NE of Hallingbury Place (and just to the north of the B1256, near Start Hill). Both are buried in the family tomb in St Giles Church, Great Hallingbury.
John Archer Houblon (1773 – 1831) – a family name change
Following the death of his maternal grandfather, John Archer, in 1800, John Houblon, son of Jacob IV, inherited the Archer family seat of Welford Park in Berkshire and changed his name to John Archer Houblon. He also inherited Hallingbury Park on the death of his father in 1828.
John was an MP for Essex from 1810 to 1820, generally supporting the Tory government.
Welford Park has achieved fame more recently as the location for the tent in the TV programme "The Great British Bake Off".
John Archer Houblon (1803 - 1891)
On the death of John Archer Houblon in 1831, the estate was split. Hallingbury Place was inherited by his elder son, also John. He lived at Hallingbury Park for 54 years, until his death in 1891.
He appears to have been a well-intentioned landlord. His second wife, Georgina, who he married in 1848, wrote a two page tribute to his good works, after his death. This included building the local school, restoring St Giles Church, and adding a new aisle, drainage work in the village and the Forest and building the road all round it and through Woodside Green.
He died childless.
The Welford Park connection
In 1831, the second surviving son, Charles, inherited Welford Park and took the surname Eyre. In 1891, Hallingbury Place was inherited by Charles’ son George Bramston Eyre. He moved back to Hallingbury Place and reverted to the surname Archer Houblon.
He was a Colonel in the Royal Berkshire Regiment.
Lady Alice Archer Houblon – the family historian
Henry Lindsay Eyre (Archer Houblon) - the end of the Hatfield Forest connection
Henry inherited the estates on the death of his father George in 1913. He was a confirmed bachelor and preferred the smaller Welford Park. Hallingbury Place was already let and then, in 1923, put up for sale.
The source of the Houblon family wealth
The Houblon family were influential merchants and bankers in the City of London, in the late 17th century, before converting their accumulated wealth into real estate, with the purchase of the Hallingbury estate in 1729, for the sole survving male heir, Jacob Houblon III. This wealth was then enhanced by a series of good marriages into families which were wealthy, even if not titled. The Houblons thereafter lived the life of country gentlemen.
Unlike many of the families who became rich during this period, we have not found any evidence to suggest that the Houblons were directly connected with the slave trade, slave ownership in the sugar plantations in the colonies in the West Indies or the use of slave labour in the American colonies. James and John Houblon's main trading interests focussed on Spain and Portugal. John Houblon was however involved from 1674 to 1685 with Capt Samuel Hankey in a company Houblon & Hankey "traders to Jamaica, Antigua and the Leeward Islands". After 1685, this continued as a goldsmithing and banking business, with no Houblon involvement, evolving into the banking firm Hankey & Co which eventually became a predecessor part of NatWest.
As well as providing banking facilities to several prominent proprietors of plantations in the West Indies, Hankey & Co were owners of enslaved people in Grenada in the 1760's through a mortgage default. The individual partners were part-owners of the Arcadia estate in Jamaica from the 1790's, with William Alers Hankey successfully claiming compensation, as absolute owner, through a mortgage default, for 286 enslaved people in 1835.
We would be interested to know if you have come across any further evidence of their involvement.
If you would like to do your own research, you may like to use these two databases as a starting point:
These show how widespread slave ownership was and how the wealth generated flowed into many aspects of British society.
Hatfield Forest,along with a number of other places and collections in our care, has direct links to colonialism. Learn more about what we are doing to address histories of slavery and colonialism at our places.