History: 7 - The Victorian Era

During the Victorian era, the Houblons consolidated ownership of all the various rights in Hatfield Forest, ensuring its survival as a Forest, rather then being ploughed up for farming. The Houblon era came to an end in 1923.

Ownership passes through successive generations

Ownership of the Forest passed through succesive generations of the Houblon family.  Jacob Houblon III died in 1770 and was succeeded by his son, Jacob Houblon IV. His main contribution was remodelling Hallingbury Place.  He died young, in 1783, at the age of 47, and was succeeded by his son John Houblon.  in 1800, he changed his surname to Archer Houblon, on the death of his maternal grandfather, as a condition of inheriting the Archer family seat of Welford Park in Berkshire.  He died in 1831 and was succeeded by his son, also John Archer Houblon.

Consolidation of the Forest

Following his succession, John Archer Houblon made extensive enquiries about the various forest rights, with a view to consolidating ownership. In particular, the Houblons owned the rights to the soil across the whole of the Forest, but the timber rights only to the west of Shermore Brook, with the Barringtons owning the remaining timber rights. 

Sir Fitzwilliam Barrington, the last of the Barringtons, died in 1832 and John Archer Houblon bought out all the Barrington's interest in the forest, for £1750. The Houblons now owned 85% of the forest. 

In 1830, there were 187 commoners’ claims to the forest, but only approximately 51 people exercised their rights. The reason for this decline was that larger farmers no longer found it viable and only the small farmers continued to do so. The commoners rights in Hatfield Forest were only for grazing, unlike in many other forests which also included the removal of a certain amount of wood each year. 

John Archer Houblon set about buying out as many commoners’ rights as possible. In 1834 he bought five of the properties in Takeley claiming "sharers" rights.

Inclosure of the Forest

In 1854, he obtained statutory powers to inclose the Forest and this was done in 1857, making him the absolute owner of the Forest.  He compensated some of the commoners with money (£1834 in total, a large sum in those days). To others he gave pieces of land around the Forest edge, thus giving the Forest the straight-line boundaries it has today. The Houblons now owned the Forest almost completely, about 1070 acres, and free of all commoners’ rights. 

Following this consolidation, Hatfield Forest became an extension of the parkland at Hallingbury Place, to the west of the Forest. 

The present minor roads surrounding the Forest, date from this era. Bush End Road, runing from Takeley to Bush End, is a typical dead straight "enclosure road".  

a typical dead straight "enclosure road"
Bush End Road, on the eastern boundary of Hatfield Forest

The splendid little church at Bush End, St John the Evangelist, was built in 1857, on land which would previously have been in the Forest.

The threat of 'Enclosure' averted 

Enclosure Acts had been used to convert other Essex forests such as Enfield Chase, Epping Forest, and Hainault Forest, to more productive farmland. In comparison, Hatfield Forest was saved from this fate because of the Houblon’s appreciation of it as a forest, and their understanding of its management. They kept up the grazing and the coppicing, but not the pollarding of the oaks as they disapproved of this practice. 

Improvements 

Drainage ditches were dug in a number of coppices, including Long Coppice and Spittlemore Coppice.

Fences was erected around Elgin, Collin's and Gravel Pit Coppices, using cast-iron fluted pillars.  This was only about 1.2m high, so more likely intended to exclude cattle, rather than deer, from the coppice.  A short section has been reconstructed just beyond the end of the barrage, in Gravel Pit Coppice.  These fencing posts have also been re-used around the entrance to the main visitor hub.

Horse chestnuts trees were planted in the area of the Warren.   

The end of the Houblon era 

Sadly the fortunes of the Houblons declined and they left Hallingbury Place for their other family estate, Welford Park, Berkshire, in 1909.  Hallingbury Place was let out briefly, but in 1923 was sold at auction and then demolished. 

Hatfield Forest itself was sold to a Mr Price, from Northallerton, North Yorkshire. Within a short time, the standard oaks were being felled for timber.  Before too much further damage could be done, it was acquired by the noted conservationist Edward North Buxton and his family and then bequeathed to the National Trust.  It was opened to the general public in May 1924.