Thursday, August 31, 2017

Insanity in Hertfordshire - More information about the Asylums

I have just received publication details of a book "A Place in the Country: Three Counties Asylum 1860-1999" by Judith Pettigrew, Rory W Reynolds & Sandra Rouse (Hertfordshire Publications, 2017). and because of what happened to my daughters Lucy and Belinda I am very interested the the mental health provision in Hertfordshire, and its history. I hope to get a copy of this book (perhaps as a Xmas present) and when I do I will be adding a review to the Genealogy in Hertfordshire web site - together with a brief history of this interesting asylum, later called Fairfield, which was constructed near the Herts and beds border.

The receipt of details of the book reminded me that the mental health information on my site needed a face-lift and some updating. There is now a new subject button ASYLUMS, and  an associated information page. I have also made some useful updates to the page on the Early Mad Houses in St Albans & Harpenden relating to the private asylum operated from Oster Hills and Harpenden Hall by James Rumball and his son..
from Herts Mercury, 1847

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

I visit the excellent rural history museum at Pitstone Green

A display of old ploughs
On Monday I decided to revisit the rural history museum at Pitstone Green. This is run by the Pitstone and Ivinghoe Museum Trust about 10 times a year, and the last time I visited it was at Easter 2009.

The museum is located in the farm buildings of Pitstone Green Farm, which were largely built by the Countess of Bridgewater (who lived in nearby Ashridge House) between 1820 and 1850. The farm itself was occupied by members of the Hawkins family from 1808, and on the death of Jeff Hawkins in 2001 the farm was left to the National Trust and is now part of the Ashridge Estate.
Display of mechanized farm equipment and the Great Barn

The farm buildings are a good example of early-mid farm buildings of the period, but there is also a much older great barn (used for arts and crafts stalls, but also containing a large cart) which was probably moved to the site when the current buildings were erected. The old cowshed, now used to display farming tools, reminded me of farm visits I made as a child some 70 years ago. The pioneering 1946 automated grain silos are also of interest to the farming historian. 

The Wheelwright's Workshop
As you walk round the museum you pass the blacksmith's forge, and the workshops of a wheelwright, a carpenter, a plumber, a cobbler, a brush maker, a printer and a book binder. All have a display of the tools they use and the goods they produced - and several are manned by volunteers skilled in the relevant craft. There was also a demonstration of lace making and on my earlier visit there was someone basket making. There are also displays relating to straw platt (which was an important cottage industry in the surrounding parts of Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire and brick making.

There is also an extensive collection of farm implements from small hand tools to a massive threshing machine made in 1917, together with old farm carts, and in 2017 a cart horse was in attendance. I liked the display of early mechanized farm tools and the engines that powered them and there is a powerful Crossley Gas engine, from Grace's Mill in Akeman Street, Tring. together with the associated gas making plant.

Model of Canal Wharf
Domestic issues are not forgotten and in addition to displays of old photographs and family history information there is a reconstruction of an old farm kitchen and a living room from the 1940s adjoins an area with first world war memorabilia. 

As there is  a major railway line and canal in the area it is appropriate that there is a large model layout which shows how the railways looked in the days of steam, while Wag's Wharf models a canal wharf and pumping station. There is also a science room, a display of early home computers, and reconstruction of a Lancaster bomber.

There are also extra attractions on open days and in 2009 there was a display of veteran army transport and an outdoor model railway line which had Thomas the Tank Engine going round. In 2017 there was a display of veteran cars - the Austin 7 reminding me of the first car i remember - which was a larger Austin 10. There was also a steam car offering rides but while it might look old I gather the car was built from a modern kit. On both occasions there was the chance of taking a trip round the farm by tractor and trailer.

The Steam Car
All in all a most attractive day out - particularly if you interested in local and farming history relating to the Chilterns and the Herts/Bucks border country.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Book Review: Hertfordshire's Historic Inland Waterway

Full Review
I am currently sorting through my library and have come across a pile of recent books which were waiting for review and somehow got overlooked. I feel that it would be useful to review these books and include them in the main book index. in preparation for the site becoming an online archive

As they are mainly still in print I feel it will ne more useful to try and get the reviews online in the next two or three months - as some of them could make useful Christmas presents.

I have decided to start with John Cooper's book:
It is a picture book with modern and early 20th century pictures, and a brief historic introduction to each.

In addition my web site contains many other reviews relating to the Grand Union Canal in Hertfordshire. You will find them on the

Friday, August 25, 2017

A History of the old Town Hall in St Albans

I have just heard that Chris Green has written a book about the old Town Hall in St Albans and I can't wait to get my hands on a copy. Chris is a former director of St Albans Museum and will be signing copies of the book from 12.00 to 1.00 pm on Saturday 2 September, at Waterstones, St Peter’s Street, St Albans. The full colour, fully illustrated book costs £6.99, ISBN 978-0-901194-10-7. It is being published by St Albans & Hertfordshire Architectural & Archaeological Society, email

During his time as director of St Albans Museums Chris Green worked in the old town hall and over the years has studied almost every inch of the building. He has drawn on his extensive knowledge and experience to write this definitive, fully illustrated guide to its history and use over almost 200 years. Original plans for the neo-classical building by architect George Smith are included in the book. The front cover of the book shows George Smith’s original drawing for the building.

The old town hall originally served as a place of local justice, with the local seat of government occupying just one large room. In 1851 the Bribery Commission held court in the building to investigate the ‘cash for votes’ scandal that resulted in St Albans losing its parliamentary representation for a period of time.

* * * * * *
In case you didn't know the original City Museum in Hatfield road closed in 2015 and is due to reopen in the Old Town Hall in Spring 2018

Click Here for some old post card images of the Old Town Hall

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Homewood, Knebworth - A house designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens

Homewood, Knebworth
It is always nice to get messages when the answer to one question provides an answer to someone else's question and they contact me to give details. Four years ago Chris sent me a post card of a house in Knebworth and asked if I could identify it. 

Now Stephen, whose family has lived in the house since 1973, has written to say that when the house was built one of Lutyens' plans showed an orchard. While there are still two ancient apple trees Stephen was delighted to note that if you look carefully at the above picture you can see a number of what are almost certainly young fruit trees.

I have taken the opportunity to update the Homewood page by adding a brief reference to the flowers in the garden in 1931 and the description of this architecturally important house by Pevsner.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Do you ever use Wikipedia for your Hertfordshire Research?

If you visit Genealogy in Hertfordshire regularly you will know that I frequently include links to the Wikipedia web site - and if you use Wikipedia you may have found some of the 200+ links from Wikipedia to my site.. 

I started the Genealogy in Hertfordshire web site at about the same time that Jimmy Wales founded Wikipedia and originally Wikipedia contained very little about Hertfordshire - but with teams of enthusiastic helpers it now contains an enormous amount of information about Hertfordshire towns and villages as they are in the 21st century - and also much valuable historical information. However there is a problem, as the following message from Jimmy Wales indicated.

To all our readers in the UK,
We will get straight to the point: Today we ask you to help Wikipedia. To maintain our independence, we will never run ads. We depend on donations averaging about £10. Only a tiny portion of our readers give. If everyone reading this gave £2, we could keep Wikipedia thriving for years to come. The price of a coffee is all we need. When I made Wikipedia a non-profit, people warned me I’d regret it. Over a decade later, it’s the only top ten site run by a non-profit and a community of volunteers. Has it crossed my mind how much we could have made if it had ads? Sure. But it wouldn’t be the same. We wouldn’t be able to trust it. Most people ignore my messages. But I hope you’ll think about how useful it is to have unlimited access to reliable, neutral information. Please help keep Wikipedia online and growing. Thank you. — Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia Founder

I know exactly how Jimmy is feeling - as Genealogy in Hertfordshire has always been a non-profit site, with no adverts, and it also asks people who find the site useful to make donations.

The big difference is that the donations to Wikipedia are to pay the expenses of running what is a very large web site used millions of times a day, and it needs money to keep the site going. Donations to Genealogy in Hertfordshire all go to a Hertfordshire Mental Heath project in memory of my daughjters Lucy and Belinda. The basic computer costs of running the site are independently covered because it is one of a number of community projects run by HertsWeb while the costs of building the reference library of books, post cards, CDs, subscriptions, etc. used for answering questions, etc., all come out of my personal pension.

Donate to Wikipedia
Support the Mentally Ill in Hertfordshire
The big similarity is both sites have large numbers of visitors who greatly value the information they contain and expect the sites to continue for free for ever. May I suggest that if you have never made a donation to support Wikipedia, or to support Genealogy in Hertfordshire's nominated charity, now is the time to do it.    

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A humorous look at supplying milk to St Albans 100 years ago.

The Milkman who supplied families daily - probably by "F S" circa 1907
My Great Grandfather, Jacob Reynolds, ran Heath Farm Dairy which supplied milk to St Albans. He had a great sense of humour and his scrapbook contains many jokes about milkmen.

Some time ago I came across a comic post card by Karaktus showing a milkman which had been published in St Albans and I decided to investigate. I have still not traced who the artist was but the other artist was one who normally signed himself "F S". Recently I have spent far too much time tracking down "F S" and will be reporting on his probably identity later.

Unfortunately "F S" did not sign all his post cards but I am sure Jacob would have liked the above - where the grin on the face of the milkman makes one wonder whether he "supplied" the families who are following him down the road!
Milkman post card currently on sale on ebay

One issue that often came up was the quality of the milk, and the second card (no connection with St Albans) shows why people were worried.

The issue of whether the milk had been tampered with came up in 1881 when the St Albans Town Clerk, Issac Newton Edwards, (Featured in Hertfordshire Men of Mark) arranged to milk to be sampled and the test- as published suggested that some of the milk from Heath Farm Dairy had been tampered with. However it turned out that the town clerk had recently acquired a herd of cattle and was supplying milk to the town himself - and it was the tests that were suspect ond not the sample! MORE

Monday, August 21, 2017

Hertfordshire Genealogy Web Site - Policy Update

Now that the site is moving into "archive mode" it seemed appropriate to modify the policy statement to reflect the change of service. The new wording includes the following:

This means that in future the web site policy will concentrate on safeguarding the historical content for the future.  The aim is to ensure
  1. That the current web site continues to be available - even if no longer updated.
  2. That when down-sizing becomes unavoidable no unique documents will be lost
  3. If possible the Newsletter will continue even if the main site is no longer being updated.
  4. Donations to help the mentally ill will still be accepted and those who have found the web site useful in the past, but have not yet made a contribution will be encouraged to do so.
In making the changes it has been decided to make improvements to the menus - and in future the bottom of each menu will have a link to the Policy/Copright statement. The Home menu has already been updated. In making so a minor systematic mis-link was found which affected about 300 menus. This has been corrected automatically and seems to have worked as intended - but I have not been able to test every links - so apologies if there is any trouble.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Baron Dimsdale & Essendon Place from 1834 to 2017

Essendon Place was built by the 5th Baron Charles John Dimsdale (1801-1872) in 1834. 

He was succeeded by the 6th Baron Robert Dimsdale (1828-1898) who was M.P. for Hertford between 1866 and 1874, and later for Hitchin between 1885 and 1892. The portrait is from the book Hertfordshire Men of Mark published in 1887.

The 7th Baron Charles Robert Southwell Dimsdale (1856-1928) is one of the people described in Hertfordshire Leaders (1907?). He continued in the house but sold it in 1912.

The next occupant was David Citroen who paid £13,500 for the house and 100 acres of parkland. He was only there for a short time as the house was sold again in 1917.  

The next occupant was Sir Frederick Lewis (1870-1944), a shipping magnate who became Lord Essendon in 1932.

The house still stands, but has been subdivided into a number of separate houses.

For much more information see 
This post was initiated by Peter who requested information on the 7th Baron Dimsdale as a result of the post Vanity publishing by Truman Press

Friday, August 18, 2017

Another Brick Pit Hole at Hemel Hempstead?

The sink hole in High Street Green, Hemel Hempstead, 2017
Oatridge Gardens, 2014

Two years ago I gave a posted "Forgotten" St Albans Brick Pit Rediscovered, followed a year later by What lies under Bernards Heath - and posted the slides of my talk "Brick Pits and other old holes" on the main web site. 

The notes for the talk also included brief details of another hole that appeared in Oatridge Gardens, Hemel Hempstead,  in 2014. which was also due to building on the site of a former brick pit which had been infilled - almost certainly with local town rubbish. See Hemel Hempstead sinkhole ‘may have been caused by building homes on former clay pit’ and Sinkhole latest: Landlord defends decision to build Hemel Hempstead homes on former clay pit. The later reference included the following
A life-long Hemel Hempstead householder has fuelled speculation that the sinkhole near his home may have been caused by building on former clay pits and chalk mines. Noel Swinford, 78, said they lined Wood Lane End between its junction with Briery Way, where he now lives, and Maylands Avenue. He said he used to play in them as a child. He said: “There must have been 50 or 60 of them holes along that road and them houses should never have been built there. “There were also big mines underneath there, where they mined the chalk. “I have lived here all my life, for 79 years nearly, and used to play in that area when I was a kid. I remember seeing trucks of chalk being taken out of the mines – that would have been in the late 1940s. “It was not an operational brickworks then – it was just used for taking out chalk.”

Another hole, 14 metres deep, appeared in nearby High Street Green in May this year and current estimated suggest that the road may be closed for about 5 months - Sinkhole in Hemel Hempstead may leave road shut for another two monthThe new hole is in the road north of the Saracen's Head on the 1897 OS map, while Oatridge Gardens is in the area of the brickworks shown to the east of the Saracens Head. The depth of the hole suggest that, like some of the other collapses, the problem could be due to a very deep well or a shaft into a chalk mine.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Dan Hill's Talk on the Hertfordshire Regiment

Last night Dan Hill, of the Herts at War group gave a most informative talk on the role of the Hertfordshire Regiment in the First World War. In particular he gave a detailed analysis of the events at St Julien on 31st July 1917, during the battle at Passchendaele. After the unsuccessful attempt to break through the German lines every officer, and 75% of the men were dead, wounded or missing. He also spoke about the erection of a war memorial on the battle field on the 100 year anniversary of the battle.

His talk ended with a very interesting film of the Hertfordshire Regiment in camp in October 1917.

It should be noted that the Herts at War group plan further talks on the First World War and details will be posted on their web site, if you are note already on their email list.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Vanity publishing by the Truman Press and relatives, of St Albans

Hertfordshire Leaders by Ernest Gaskell
Some years ago I posted information on the book "Hertfordshire Leaders" supposedly by Ernest Gaskell. In fact it was one of a very large number of vanity publications produced by Truman Press and his relatives, often under pen names. Other similar books relating to Hertfordshire were "Hertfordshire Men of Mark" and "Hertfordshire Country Homes."

The way of working was briefly summed up in the St Albans paper, The Clock Tower, in 1896:-

It appears that Truman is now engaged in an effort to induce all the fools in Surrey to pay him sums of nine or twelve guineas for the privilege of having their biographies and portrait inserted in a book which he is publishing by subscription. This is a trick on which Truman and Manning Press have been engaged for years, and as long as they can find idiots enough to keep the game going, no one can blame them for working it for all it is worth.

Helped by Linda Smith I have traced down a large number of similar books under the names of Truman Press, Manning Press, Ernest Gaskell and Allan North, covering most of the country. Because the number of copies published was very small, and the books were bound in a way that means the pages tend to fall out, the number of surviving copies is low, and I am always looking out for new titles to add to the list. I was there delighted to see that a copy of Hampshire Leaders is currently advertised on ebay. The binding is virtually identical to the Hertfordshire volume - even to the point of the edge-gummed leaved coming loose!

If you look at the contents of the Hertfordshire books and find that they include the biography of someone you are interested in let me know by commenting below and I will see if I can post the biography and portrait photograph (if there is one) online.

If you know of any other books by the Press gang which I have not mentioned - let me know so that I can add it to the list.

The Rothschilds and the RAF Connection

Halton House - The Seat of Alfred Charles de Rothschild
In the 19th century the Rothschild family family settled in the Vale of Aylesbury - extending into Hertfordshire in the Tring area. One of their slpendid houses, built by Alfred Charles de Rothschild was at Halton, just over the county boundary into Buckinghamshire.

When the First World War broke out Alfred made his couse and grounds available to the army. The initial army camp was used to train soldiers in Kitchiner's new army, but soon became a base for what was to become the Royal Air Force.

There will be an open days on Sunday 10th September between 10 am and 4 pm. Halton House (now the Officers Mess, RAF Halton)  will be open  providing a rare opportunity to see the interior of Halton House, built by Alfred de Rothschild in 1883, a lasting reminder of Victorian decorative taste.In addition a  shuttle bus will run between Halton House, the Trenchard Museum, (where more can be learnt about the history of the RAF Station and RAF’s Apprentice Scheme), and the James McCudden Flight Heritage Centre.  Transport will be provided between Halton House and the reconstructed First World War trenches.

Further details about the house can be found at 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

German POW at Hemel Hempstead & a link with Florence Nightingale

Cemmaes Court in 1897
In my book, The London Gunners come to Town I mentioned that after the war Cemmaes Court had been used to house German prisoners of war.

I have now had a request for a picture of the house and decided to find out more about it and who lived there.

It appears to have been built as a retirement home for Dr James Vaughan Hughes - who had been Surgeon Major in the Crimean War - and not only treated Florence Nightingale when she was ill, but was nursed by her when he was ill.

The information I have on Cemmaes Court has been posted at
If you can add anything about the history of the house, and particularly if you can provide a photograph of it I will be very grateful.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

More information on the Parish of Ardeley (Yardeley)

Ardeley Village Green
As part of my archive policy I have upgraded the pages on the village of 
including new post card images and higher resolution pictures (if you click om the smaller image.)

I have updated the information on the booklet describing the history of the parish school and included a list of the vicars and school masters. A new page has been added about the Old Bell and the New Bell inns, and the Ardely Bury page has been extended.
St Lawrence, Ardeley
In theory (if the computer keeps working) I plan to upgrade all the village pages (the bigger towns are more of a challenge) and if you would like me to include the village where your ancestors came from why not let me know and it can be moved up the "To Do" queue.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

What do you think happened when a Magistrate assaulted a passerby on a footpath in 1846?

In early Victorian times the punishments were often severe and one can imagine what would happen if a gang of people assaulted a rich local magistrate and his friends on a public footpath. The police would be quickly involved and the miscreants would find themselves in the dock at the next magistrates court - and they could well find themselves in prison for a long stay.
However on the 23rd July 1846 a group of  local people were walking along a public footpath between Walkern and Ardeley minding their own business when they were set on by Sir Robert Murray, J.P., and two of Sir Robert's staff. 
Were the police involved - of course not.They were unlikely to arrest a powerful local magistrate and parade him before the criminal court. However the events were not forgotten by the victims and led to a number of cases appearing in the civil courts.

Start of exceptionally detailed report published in the Herts Mercury on 17th July, 1847
When the case appeared in court it was not held before a normal jury but instead a Special Jury of rich Hertfordshire gentlemen was called. After all you couldn't have a baronet and magistrate appearing before a common jury as it was important that such an important person should be judged by his "equals." In the above case the jury heard the evidence - and as the evidence for the assault was very clear they really had no option but to find for the victim. To prove that they were acting "fairly" to both sides they then awarded damages of one farthing (then the smallest coin and equal to 1/960th of £1) against Sir Robert Murray.

Originally I had planned a detail write-up of this case and I discovered my outline notes while preparing my web site for eventual archiving. While I do not have time to write a detail report I have added outline details from my draft on the web page for Sir Robert's House -

Spam Warning

At the end of July one of my least used email addresses was hijacked and a large number of spam emails were sent out (presumably containing some kind of nasty) as if they had been sent by me. As far as I have been able to ascertain no spam was sent out from and no messages were sent to people in my email address book. However if you heave received spam purporting to be from me over the last week or two please accept my apologies.

I spotted the problem at about the same time as did my ISP - VirginMedia - and they sent me a urgent action letter by post on the 27th July which was sent by second class mail and didn't reach me until the 4th April - by which time I had sorted the problem out myself.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

New and higher resolution early post card images of Aldenham

The Gates of Aldenham House
As part of the policy to prepare the Genealogy in Hertfordshire web site for archiving I have added some new post card images of 
and some of the big houses in the area. In most cases I have also added larger images (when you see when click on the original picture)

St John the Baptist - Aldenham

The "Genealogy in Hertfordshire" site is moving into Archive Mode

The shelves contain books on town & villages
The boxes are post cards, etc
The filing cabinets contain magazines, papers and notes
Old age (mine and the computer software) means that the Genealogy in Hertfordshire site cannot continue to  expand indefinitely. Having taken a few months break from actively running the web site to think things over the big problem I face is not the online system but the future of the back-up collection of Hertfordshire material that I have accumulated to support it. I have been reminded that when a local historian died some years ago the first other historians knew what was going to happen to his collection was when there was a bonfire in his garden!!!

My collection occupies three walls of one "bedroom" (see pictures) and there are overflow bookcases in the living room, two other bedrooms, and on the upstairs landing. I also have extensive papers relating to my earlier research into human-friendly computers in the garage. To be realistic I have to plan to downsize, especially as the material is not organised in a way that makes sorting it out easy.

Top Shelf - St Albans
Middle shelf - General Hertfordshire
Bottom Shelf - Dacorum (excluding Tring)

[Tring books occupy most of the shelf below]
Far Shelves - Series & general local/genealogy books
Basically I need to prioritize the material in my Hertfordshire collection, highlighting the following categories which need safeguarding.
  1. Material the family may want to keep - with items properly identified with names and origins.
  2. Unique photographs and documents that should end up in a permanent archive.
  3. Unpublished research notes (on paper and on the computer but not yet online)
  4. The basic core of published book, maps, engravings and postcards (i.e material that is almost certainly available through the Herts Archives and Library Service.)
  5. Duplicate material, etc., which can be usefully be disposed of immediately on eBay or via a local charity shop.
The priority, at least until Christmas, will simply be going through the material and sorting it into categories to ensure that everything is properly identified. However I will not forget the web site. The process of sorting through the material will turn up much information which had been intended to go online but never made it. What I will try and do is selectively use such material to make one or two updates to the web site a week -  using the opportunity to upgrade pictures and check any external links. Brief details of such updates will be in this newsletter, starting in a day or two.

In updating the web site for archive purposes it is useful to give some brief statistics. The off-line master copy consists of 20,773 files of which 5,633 are text files, the rest being pictures. Of this total 18,278 files (1,431,198,000 bytes) are accessible online directly or indirectly from the home page. Many of the rest are draft pages and pictures which have yet to make it online! There are also 7,299 links to external web sites - and quite a few of these have wilted due to old age and no longer reach their intended target.

Clearly I don't have time to sort out all the problems at once but there are ways in which visitors to the site can help, For instance if you know of any significant online sources of information (say a local history web site or an online copy of a book on Hertfordshire) that is not mentioned on my site this could be useful - so I don't waste time duplicating information readily available elsewhere. In addition my time will be saved if you spot any broken links or other errors.