The history of Hatfield Forest

Hatfield Forest is a medieval hunting Forest with a rich history stretching back over two thousand years. For a quick introduction, first read the Brief History, and then move onto the more detailed article, each dealing with a particular period. The final article describes the bequest by which the Forest was gifted to the National Trust.

View showing ditched enclosure at Portingbury Hills

A Brief History of Hatfield Forest

The Forest has a rich and varied history. The Roman were here, and in World War II, the trees camouflaged ammunition dumps. Much happened in between.

Arch made of Roman tiles at St Giles Church Gt Hallingbury

Before the Norman Conquest

The Forest was a hive of activity over 1100 years ago before the Norman Conquest.

portrait of Henry I, statue of Robert the Bruce and stone effigy of Eleanor de Brohun

Medieval history

In the medieval period, the forest was designated a Royal Hunting Forest.

Effigy of Sir Richard Rich, Felstead

The Tudor era

In the 16th century, the Forest passed into the hands of Sir Richard Rich, a notorious "fixer" for Henry VIII and later Lord Chancellor to his son, Edward VI

An overgrown pillow mound in the Warren

History from 1600 to 1729

In the 17th century, the Forest was sold by the heavily indebted Morley family to Sir Edward Turnour, from nearby Parndon, a Speaker of the House of Commons.

A map of the Forest from 1757

The Houblon era (1729 - 1923)

In 1729, the Houblon family acquired Hatfield Forest and set about turning the central area into a pleasure ground.

View of Shell House across the lake at Hatfield Forest

Landscaping the Forest in the Eighteenth century

Having acquired the Forest in 1729, the Houblon family set about improving the central area, to create a detached pleasure ground, a short ride away from their residence, Hallingbury Place.

Victorian cast iron fencing posts

The Victorian Era

The Houblon family continued to regard the Forest as source of pleasure rather than a source of revenue so was saved from being ploughed up.

Detail from ticket for opening ceremony for Hatfield Forest 1924

The Forest in the Twentieth century

The Forest was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1924.


Edward North Buxton - A most generous gift

The special nature of the forest was recognised nearly 100 years ago, when it was saved by a wonderful act of generosity by one of our earliest conservationists.