Before the Norman Conquest
The history of Hatfield Forest dates back to at least the Iron Age. There was activity in the Roman era and the Forest acquired its name in the Anglo-Saxon era. Before the Norman Conquest, the Forest was part of the estate of King Harold.
It is believed that there may have been Iron Age farming activity in the Forest, following the discovery of Iron Age remains in the area. What is less certain is whether Portingbury Hills had Iron Age or later origins. It is a large rectangular mound in Beggar's Hall Coppice, about 30m by 20m, surrounded by a ditch 8 to 10m wide and still wet in winter. This is marked on the OS map and is still visible today, albeit overgrown with vegetation.
If Iron Age, then it may have been a chieftans house, although such structures are unusual for the area.
An alternative theory is that this is associated with later medieval farming activity.
During the era of Roman occupation, from 40 AD to 410 AD, it is likely that there was activity in this area of the Forest. We have new exciting evidence to support this.
Archaeologists from Essex County Council have recently completed the analysis of a hoard of pottery fragments recovered from a location near Forest Lodge, out in the main plain. This suggests an earlier / mid-Roman lower-status rural community. It is dominated by local coarse wares, especially from the local "Hadham" industry, especially jars and coarse bowls. There are relatively few examples of fine table wares or imported fabrics. It is a good indication that Roman settlement activity was occurring nearby, almost certainly within Hatfield Forest itself.
Late Iron Age / Roman pottery fragments have also been recovered from near the Shell House access road, shortly after the bridge over the Shermore Brook.
In 1979, a scatter of late Roman pottery was found south of Collins Coppice, near the forest boundary, on newly turned soil, where a gas pipeline had recently been laid.
Slightly further afield, the Roman road, Stane Street (the present day B1256), runs along the north of the property. This linked the important Roman town of Colchester with the major Roman road, Ermine Street, at Braughing, Hertfordshire. A Roman farm village was discovered during the construction of nearby Stansted Airport, to the north of the property.
In the ancient village church of Great Hallingbury, St Giles, on the western edge of the forest, there is a magnificent arch of Roman bricks, leading from the nave into the alter. Roman brick is also evident in the church at Liitle Hallingbury.
In the Anglo-Saxon era, the forest acquired its name. Hatfield comes from the Anglo-Saxon word Hoep-Field; its modern meaning is Heathfield. Hoep means 'heathland' and field meaning, not 'field', but 'open space in sight of woodland'. Hatfield, we presume, came with the patches of gravel making the heath possible.
Confusingly, there are several other places with "Hatfield" in their name, not least the town of Hatfield, 33km to the west, in Hertfordshire and which includes Hatfield House, well known for its association with Queen Elizabeth I.
Immediately prior to the Norman Conquest in 1066, the land was in the possession of King Harold.