The Decoy Lake - a Brown legacy
Many visitors to the Forest probably overlook the Decoy Lake, and most likely do not appreciate its significance in the history of the Forest. This neglected piece of water is the remaining legacy of a plan provided by the great landscape architect, Lancelot "Capability" Brown, to modify the original lake.
The Detached Pleasure Ground
Following their purchase of the Hallingbury estae, including Hatfield Forest, in 1729, the Houblon family, following the then fashion, began to develop a detached pleasure ground in the central area of the Forest. A lake was created from a marshy area, by building a dam across the Shermore Brook, and a picnic shelter built by the lakeside. The family and their guests would ride out to this, from Hallingbury place, and enjoy refreshments in the shelter.
Capability Brown plan
in 1757, the famous landscape architect, Lancelot "Capability" Brown provided a plan for modifying the lake, by the provision of two arms, and softening the edges, to make it appear more serpentine. There was also an island towards the end of each arm.
The plan was only partially implemented, with the arm at the southwest end of the lake being added, along with a small island. This is shown on maps of the area as early as the Chapman and Andre Map of Essex, dating from 1767.
Plans also show a boathouse at the far end of the arm.
Creating the Decoy Lake
The main lake retained its arm untl 1979 when it became detached as a consequence of raising the height of the dam. The separated arm became known as the Decoy Lake.
The size of the arm was increased by the digging of a wide channel behind the northern original bank, in the process creating a second, much larger island, Decoy Island.
The name is a bit of a misnomer. Decoy lakes are normally associated with wild fowling - ducks are lured onto waters where they can be then shot.
The southern bank of the lake contains several specimen conifer trees. At the far end is a London Plane, a tree favoured by the landscape movement.
Managing the Decoy Lake
Recent work to clear vegetation around the edges of the Decoy Lake has been rewarded with a marked improvement in the water quality and greater biodiversity. Water scorpions are now a regular sighting.
To celebrate the 300th anniversary of the birth of Capability Brown in 2016, a concerted effort, starting with the Big Brown Bash, has been made to clear the scrub and tree growth on Decoy Island. This has revealed two splendid oaks on the island and opened up the view across the lake. The original Brownian island at the far end of the lake is now more obvious, as the water channel between it and the large island is now more visible.
In addition, decaying stumps and branches have been removed from the margins of the lake, to improve the water quality.