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The history of the people at Hatfield Forest

Tree and landscape at Hatfield Forest, Essex
The beautiful landscape of Hatfield Forest | © National Trust Images/Britainonview/Rod Edwards

A number of individuals and families have played a prominent part in the history of Hatfield Forest. The most significant of these was the Houblon family, who owned the majority of the forest from the 18th to the 20th century. A number of other families were also involved with Hatfield Forest, including the Barrington family, the Parker family and Sir Richard Rich. Read more about these people and how they helped form the place we see today.

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.

A timeline of the Houblon family

Before Hatfield Forest

The early Houblons

The Houblons were a Huguenot family who fled to England from Lille, in Flanders, then part of the Spanish Netherlands, in 1560, to avoid religious persecution. They became wealthy merchants and financiers in the City of London.

In the 17th century, James Houblon and his wife Marie du Quesne had ‘five sons flourishing merchants’, including Sir James II and Sir John Houblon. 

Sir James was a close friend of Samuel Pepys and is mentioned in multiple entries to his Diaries. Like Sir John, he was heavily involved in the establishment of the Bank of England and was one of the original directors.

Sir John was appointed as the first Governor of the Bank of England, on its foundation in 1694 and remained actively involved until his death in 1711. This was commemorated on a version of the £50 note, in circulation from 1994 to 2011.  

The image shows the obverse of a £50 banknote featuring Sir John Houblon
The 'Houblon' £50 banknote | © National Trust / Chris Connell
View across the lake at Hatfield Forest, Essex
View across the lake at Hatfield Forest | © National Trust Images/Ben Rosendale

The Barrington family

The Barrington family were prominent in nearby Hatfield Broad Oak from the 12th to the 19th century. They were the hereditary Woodwards of Hatfield Forest and lived just beyond the south east boundary of the Forest.

The family interest in Hatfield Forest related to the eastern side of what is now the lake. This ended in 1832 when they sold this to John Archer Houblon, allowing him to consolidate all aspects of ownership of the Forest.

A timeline of the Barrington family

12th century

Woodwards of Hatfield Forest

The Barrington family claimed to be the hereditary holders of the office of  Woodward or Forester of the Forest, dating back to at least the time of Henry I, in the early 12th century, when this was awarded to Eustace de Barenton, a servant of the King, and subsequently confirmed by several later Kings. 

This was challenged, early in the reign of Henry VIII, after the King had seized the Forest following the execution of the then owner, Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham. A petition was presented to the Lord Chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey. This was successful and the family status was confirmed. 

The Parker family

The Parkers were a long-established local family with an estate adjacent to the western boundary of Hatfield Forest, in the parish of Great Hallingbury. The family owned a part of the forest from 1592 to 1666.

Prominent members included Sir Henry Parker, the 10th Lord Morley, a courtier to Henry VIII, and his daughter Jane, Lady Rocheford. Her sister-in-law was Anne Boleyn and her testimony at Anne’s trial of her brother’s alleged incest with his sister was an important element in achieving her conviction.

A later Parker, Sir William Parker (also Lord Monteagle) was linked to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. He had received a letter from his brother-in-law, Lord Tresham, advising him not to attend the State Opening of Parliament. This was in turn passed onto the Earl of Salisbury, King James Secretary, leading to a search of the House of Commons and discovery of the barrels of gun powder.

During the Civil War, the family supported the King and suffered thereafter. Declining family fortunes forced them to sell their interest in the forest in 1666.

Sir Richard Rich (c. 1497–1567)

Sir Richard Rich, 1st Baron Rich, gained notoriety during the reign of Henry VIII, working initially with his sometime Chief Minister, Thomas Cromwell. He later became Lord Chancellor under Edward VI and served under Queen Mary and then Queen Elizabeth.

Early Life

Richard Rich was born in the City of London in about 1497. In 1516, he entered the Middle Temple as a lawyer, before becoming an MP in 1527. He worked in a number of legal roles, and in 1533 was knighted and became Solicitor-General to Henry VIII.

Political involvement

Sir Richard played a prominent role in the trial of Sir Thomas More, his distorted testament of a friendly conversation helping to secure his conviction, leading to his execution in 1535.  In the play and film ‘A Man for All Seasons’, by Robert Bolt, Sir Richard is portrayed as a great villain. 

He was involved in the torturing of numerous opponents of the King, including the only recorded torture in the Tower of London of a woman, Anne Askew. She was Protestant radical and had already been found guilty of heresy before being transferred to the Tower. She alleged that Sir Richard had personally operated the rack, after the Constable of the Tower had refused to carry out what would have been an illegal act. She was subsequently burned at the stake in Smithfeld, in 1546.

A survivor

Sir Richard was a key mover in the downfall of Thomas Cromwell, in 1540. He survived this and went on to become an executor of the will of Henry VIII. As a consequence, he was ennobled, as Baron Rich of Leez, in 1547. He remained in royal favour, serving under the next King, Edward VI, as Lord Chancellor, until 1551.

He continued to serve under Queen Mary, in spite of being involved in her earlier mistreatment, and then Queen Elizabeth. Although a practising Catholic in private life, he managed to serve and survive under a succession of Protestant monarchs.

A benefactor

Lord Rich acquired Leez or Leigh’s Priory near Felsted, Essex, which became his home. He used some of his wealth to found nearby Felsted School, in 1564, and the associated almshouses, in 1565.

He died in 1567 and is buried in a magnificent 4m high canopied monument, with reclining statue, in a specially built side chapel at Holy Cross Church, Felsted.

Links with Hatfield Forest

After the downfall of the then owner, the third Duke of Buckingham, in 1521, Hatfield Forest was confiscated by the Crown and again became a Royal property. It was given to Lord Rich in 1547 by Edward VI, whilst he was Lord Chancellor.

In 1612, the Rich family sold their interest in the Forest to the Barrington family.

From the Houblons to the National Trust

In 1923, the Hallingbury estate, including Hatfield Forest, was sold at auction, to a timber merchant.

He had already started felling large oaks in the forest when it was rescued from further destruction by the action of the noted conservationist Edward North Buxton and his family. The forest was bequeathed to the National Trust and opened to the public in May 1924.

Person walking a dog in a field at Hatfield Forest, Essex

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