A History of Preston in Hertfordshire
Engraving of Stagenhoe Park 1852c
Stagenhoe is a small settlement located just over a mile south-east of Preston. Today, it nestles close to St Pauls Walden, just off the B651, and lies in this parish. The name, Stagenhoe, probably derives from the Old English words, stacgena hoh meaning ‘spur of land of the stags’. The first recorded historical mention of the manor of Stagenhoe is in the Domesday Book (1086):
“Rannulf, brother of Ilger, holds one hide in Stagnehou and William holds it of him. There is land for three ploughs (worked by three oxen apiece). On the demense is one (plough) and six villeins have another and there could be a third. There are two cottars and there is woodland to feed 20 swine. The land is worth fifty shillings; when received, it was worth 20 shillings.”
So, Stagenhoe was a small community of one hide - around 120 acres. (The manor of St Pauls Walden was ten times greater) Many local farms have a higher acreage. Besides the Lord of the Manor, there were only eight heads of households, probably eight homes and around forty people. The manor included woodland.
The location of the Stagenhoe mansion/Sue Ryder Care Home today. The red square depicts 120 acres to illustrate the area of the manor in 1086 and not the actual location of the boundaries of the manor
1086 1246 1270 1380 1489 1595 1672 1703 1830 1841 1866 1881 1889 1923 1932
Owners and tenants of Stagenhoe: 1086-1932
Rannulf - brother of Ilger. Simon Fitzsimon of Weston. John de Verdun and heirs, John, Thomas and John. Sir John Pilkington and heirs, Edmund and Sir Thomas. Thomas Stanley, Earl of Derby and heirs, Thomas, Edward, Henry and Fernando. The Hale family: Richard, William and Rose, Rowland and Sir John. Rose Hale (Sir John’ widow) married Sir John Austen. Their heir - Sir Robert Austen. The Heysham family: Robert, Robert, Giles Thornton, Robert, Robert Thornton the Younger. Baron Feversham Henry Rogers The Fourteenth Earl of Caithness Sir Arthur Sullivan William Bailey-Hawkins Sir Henry Whitehead Dorothy Gertrude Dewar
Historical Jottings re: Stagenhoe 1246 - 1650
The important St Albans Highway ran over the hill and passed through the manor of Stagenhoe. Passing drovers and pilgrims would have brought news of the outside world – of crusades and revolutions; the rise and demise of kings. From 1246 until 1366, Stagenhoe is mentioned frequently in documents – a knight’s fee; rights of warren (to kill game) and rights of hunting, hawking, killing beasts and fowls (provided this was not in the King’s forests). According to a charter of 1268/69 a tradition arose that the owner of Temple Dinsley at Preston had the right to stand on the front door of Stagenhoe on Christmas Day and fire off a gun. Toward the end of the thirteenth century, a monthly rental shows six named copyholders paying rents and later Lay Subsidies show a slight increase of tenants – so Stagenhoe had around the same density of population as at Domesday. According to the Subsidies Records from 1306 to 1314, the manor of Stagenhoe had grown by seventy acres. Later Subsidy Rolls show that the number of tenants had also increased by six, including a smith and a shepherd. There was an incident in the early fourteenth century when Thomas Horn of Stagenhoe was assaulted and robbed by Thomas Cranmer, William Swayn, Richard Shepherd and Robert Hayward ‘so that his life was despaired of’. They stole six florins worth 30/8d and his goods. Then again, Henry de Bungay and Bartholomew de Burghersh plundered another Stagenhoe tenant, Hugh Veysey and raped his wife. They were chased and caught at Cambridge where they were imprisoned – but later, they escaped. During the Black Death of 1349, Stagenhoe, like much of the surrounding Hertfordshire countryside, suffered grievously - the number of tenants dwindled and the Lord’s holding was left derelict and untilled. Edmund Pilkington lived at Stagenhoe and reared a family of seven there in a manor house that was not on the present site, but ‘at a lower level about the middle of the Park’. Hine suggests that if excavations were made, ‘it would probably be found that the building was of Tottenhoe stone and of modest dimensions’. Re: leisure pursuits at Stagenhoe. As the Lords had rights noted earlier they would have hawked and hunted. Some of the field names perhaps hint of archery and country dancing – ‘Butts Mead’ and ‘Morris Croft’ By the beginning of the 1600s, the Stagenhoe estate had grown to around four hundred acres – probably the result of the Earl of Derby’s acquisitions. Richard Hale was a benefactor to the poor people of the parish of ‘Paules Walden’, making a bequest of £3 6s 8d to them in his will. Hine mentions that there is a deposit of the Hale Household and Accounts Books at the British Museum. From these it is possible to follow the day-to-day life at Stagenhoe and Kings Walden. He writes that it is a remarkable collection that should be transcribed as a record of English estate life in those days. During the stay of the Hales family, the estates of Stagenhoe and Kings Walden were administered together. Thus, although the family coach was kept at Kings Walden, the family who lived at Stagenhoe used it for their frequent visits to London. From there, provisions were brought for both houses. During the English Civil War, the Hales took little interest in the uprising although they declared themselves as being for the Parliamentary cause. A nephew raised a horse troop and was forever quartering it at Stagenhoe and Kings Walden. This caused Rose Hale and her son Rowland some disquiet and expense – ‘Since the beginnings of April, there is taxed upon this parish near nine score pounds and what is to follow, God knoweth’.
A new mansion at Stagenhoe circa 1650
According to Chauncy, the Hertfordshire historian, John Hale rebuilt the manor house at Stagenhoe in about 1650. There is a surviving bill dated 1648 for charges incurred from the pulling down of ‘the old house’. Capital for the rebuilding was raised in part by the selling of timber in Frydays Wood in 1649 where more than nine acres was cleared. Some details of the construction of the new house survive: carpenters were employed for sixty-six days and bricklayers, for one hundred-and-six days. Local brick and tile kilns could not cope with the demand so 16,000 bricks were ordered at nineteen shillings a thousand. The accounts are incredibly detailed showing, for example, the purchase of one peacock for ten shillings to strut the formal garden. A sketch of the new mansion from around 1700 depicts stag hounds in full cry, horns blasting, whippers-in and followers on foot with frightened stags lurking in the woods. Quite oblivious elegantly- attired guests move around in a stately manner and there is a family dancing master. The Kings Walden coach-and-four sweeps up the drive. At the two ends of the forecourt are charming arbours and there is a walled garden with its regimented beds and borders and pots and tubs. The depicted estate includes a brick kiln, a cow byre and a dovecote. The plague of 1665 affected Stagenhoe. One of the tenants, Mr Warner ‘and his entire family perished’. In 1698, the estate had 28 tenants, paying rent of £66. Five were Chalkleys – others included John Slow, Thomas Prudden, John Tuffnayle, Humphrey Manfeilds, Thomas Younge and Father Nutting. The state was sold by Sir Robert Hale to Robert Heysham, a London draper, for £18,284 in 1703. In 1737, ‘about 12 at night on 29 November a fire broke out at Stagenhoe and in a few hours burnt down this fine seat’. Losses amounted to £10,000. ‘It was occasioned by workmen running of lead for weights in some new buildings just finished’. Only the cellars and lower portion of the stables and parts of the Jaden House (sic) remained.
The mansion was rebuilt over three years in the Palladium style and the Heysham’s returned to it in 1740. Twenty-seven years later, in 1767, Squire Giles Thornton Heysham contracted and died from smallpox (despite the availability of free inoculations at Hitchin). Giles successor was Robert Thornton Heysham who married the Pauls Walden girl, Hannah Jepp, daughter of Jonathan. As the Jepps bought property at Preston Green, it is worthwhile mentioning them – Richard Jepp of Stagenhoe bottom Farm is included in the Poor Law accounts between 1768 and 1792. Perhaps as a result of the smallpox outbreak, Robert had a ‘Pesthouse’ built a short distance from Pauls Walden, in a belt of trees opposite the entrance to the Hoo. Here were taken victims of smallpox who were provided with bundles of straw. It was not easy to make the sufferers go, nor keep them – the accounts record the spending of 4s 11d on the windows that Widow Bailey broke. The diet was ‘generous’ – if the inmates were to die, they went in style! The standing dish was pork that was washed down with gin and wine. The patients were nursed by Dame Eves (in between her consumption of quarts of beer). Dr Vaudeval bled the inmates and apothecary Joseph Pilgrim ‘physicked ‘them. When the ministrations failed, John Hill made the coffins, and William Jeeves, the shrouds. The Lord of the Manor was also the local magistrate and heard local cases in the Justices room at Stagenhoe – Sarah Agnell was examined as she was ‘with child’ and Shambrook’s ring, marriage fees and beer at the wedding were financed. Robert Heysham expanded the Stagenhoe estate acquiring 117 acres in Kings and St Pauls Walden. The field names on the Stagenhoe estate that appeared between 1780 and 1835 were recorded by Hine as follows:
Stagenhoe rebuilt by 1740
Now another list, this time of Stagenhoe tenants, farm-hands, men and maid servants, that has been extracted from Stagenhoe deeds and family papers between 1720 and 1820. They include some familiar ‘Preston’ surnames:
The early nineteenth century
When the purse strings of country gentlemen began to be stretched during the French revolution and the Napoleonic Wars and in order to pay for additions to the estate, Thornton Heysham was forced to execute a mortgage of £11,000, land elsewhere was sold, Stagenhoe Bottom Farm was let out to William Bates of Harpenden and the mansion was taken by the wealthy Carbonell family who were wine importers. It proved impossible to save the estate which was finally sold to Charles Baron Feversham of Duncombe Park, York for £25,000. After mortgages had been satisfied, Heysham was left with £1,278 – a sad ending for a family that had rebuilt the mansion and improved the land for more than a century. Included among the farm labourers of the estate during the early nineteenth century were John Bunyan, James Fobler, Luke Church, James Halfpenny and Charles Butter. Some Irish labour was used and old men from St Pauls Walden were used for docking, rat killing, mole catching, hollow draining, bean setting, hulming or yelming and cleaning out the horse pond. The Lord Feversham owned Stagenhoe for a mere six years. He probably intended that it should be the country seat of one of his sons, but this they didn’t want, so the property was sold in 1841 for £29,500 to Henry Rogers who enjoyed the estate with his four sons. A new entrance at the Hitch Wood point of entry was constructed (Thornhill’s Lodge); an artificial warth for foxes, built; a lake was dug in the park that contained pike and a light railway was engineered. The brick and lime kilns were put into working order, chalk pits were utilised to lime the land, sand was discovered and dug at Stagenhoe Bottom and an archery ground was laid out beyond the Wilderness. The Rogers’ brothers also played cricket on the home pitch sited on Dovehouse Close (known affectionately as Duffers’ Close) The Rogers attended St Pauls Walden Church and had two Stagenhoe faculty pews that stood together on the right-hand-side of the nave and ran through to the south aisle. They were ‘high box’ pews and were supplied with a charcoal stove which Henry poked vigorously if the sermon was too long. The pew also had green baize curtains to allow slumber unobserved. There was an inheritance controversy following Henry Roger’s death. His eldest son, Henry jnr, swore a declaration that he recalled destroying in a fire three deeds of conveyance from his father to his three younger brothers and that a charge on the estate to his brother Thomas of £200 pa was also burnt. He claimed it was his father’s wish.
Lord Caithness and the Duchess de Medina Pomar
Indemnities and releases were given by Henry Rogers jnr., however, and in 1869, Henry sold the estate (now 606 acres) to Lord Caithness for £37,700. An accompanying declaration to the Abstract of Title revealed some of Stagenhoe’s features: a waterfall and stew-ponds; a pheasant dell; a melon ground; an ice house and showed the St Albans Highway clearly traversing the estate from the direction of Preston and on to Kimpton. In 1874, William Henry Darton sold more than 23 acres of Earns (or Herons) Field Wood to Lord Caithness for £1,000. The acreage was certified by George Wright of Preston Hill Farm who was ‘well acquainted with the tenure and position of the said wood’ as he had acted as Overseer and had therefore ‘beaten the bounds of the parish as an annual custom’. Lord Caithness was accessible and affable – often dropping in on his tenants (and their wives) for a couple of hours chat and to down glasses of whisky. Once a month, the staff was given a dance in the servants’ hall. Hammond, the coachman, would play the fiddle and there were casks of beer on tap. Anyone in the village was welcome. This gregariousness was possibly born of loneliness as the Lord’s wife died in 1870 shortly after coming to Stagenhoe. In 1872, he married a widow, Maria, the Duchess de Medina Pomar who was the daughter of Senor Don Jose de Mariategui. Lord Caithness spent thousands of pounds to bring Stagenhoe up to his new wife’s standard of accustomed magnificence This renovation included the addition of a third storey by the Hitchin builder, Jeeves. The Lord’s coat of arms and motto, ‘Commit Thy Work To God’, was added to the pediment above the windows. The British Museum has a pencil study by Buckler (25 June 1832) of the two-storied mansion and a sketch of the changed building in 1845. Contemporaries describe the Duchess as ‘a massive, rather theatrical looking woman; flamboyant in her dress and liked wearing jewels even in daylight’. She believed in spiritualism and the occult and considered she was the reincarnation of Mary, Queen of Scots – even collecting personal relics of the Queen. The Duchess was possibly the last person to be buried in Holyrood Abbey, as was Mary. Occasionally, séances were held at Stagenhoe that were attended by villagers and other Hertfordshire adherents. The ceiling of one of the rooms was painted with a pale blue sky, moons, planets and stars. One of the footmen claimed he was a devotee in order to advance his prospects and was constantly consulted by his mistress about what he referred to (under the stairs) as her ‘fancies’. He was however unable to hide his surprise when the Duchess showed him a plant ‘the Spirit has bought me’ that he recognised as a geranium he had helped the head gardener bring into the house a few hours earlier. Locals also recalled that she trained animals. At the conclusion of séances, she took her guests to the dining room where her dogs were set dancing and ‘doing all manner of absurd antics on the slippery surface of the mahogany table’. The Duchess wrote several books about her beliefs and edited a monthly review, ‘L’Aurore du Jour Nouveau’. Stagenhoe was open house for poets, artists, spiritualists, magicians, healers and ‘a whole world of odd people’. On Christmas Eve, there was a Grand Ball in the drawing room to which the local trades-people were invited and were entertained by a local band. Miss Eldred of Whitwell recounted how her mother wore a gorgeous silk dress to the ball which was ruined when coffee was spilt down its front and claret, down its back. She later cut up the dress and made a chair cover.
Stagenhoe Park in 1905
When Lord Caithness died in 1881, a will could not be found. As a result, his successor let Stagenhoe to Lord Templemore and then Sir Arthur Sullivan. He wrote and produced ‘The Mikado’ and ‘The Golden Legend’. When he entertained ‘as many as thirty young ladies’ at weekends, locals deemed it a scandal and thought him to be a Bluebeard or a Mormon. They later realised he was merely giving the chorus girls a pleasant weekend in the country! On the death of the 15th Earl of Caithness (and following much pedigree research), the estate was sold to William Bailey-Hawkins of St Albans for £18,000. In the village, gossip about such a low sum centred on doubts about the title of the estate. The mansion had become somewhat run-down and its new owner embarked on a programme of restoring, rebuilding and re-conditioning. He built the White Lodge on the Kings Walden road together with four cottages for those who worked on the estate. The drainage system was also renovated and the sewers were laid along the front of the house under flagstones, down the Lime Avenue and thence into a little wood planted for the purpose. During the excavations, the mansion began to settle and was supported by two iron girders in the cellars. It was during this work that a secret passage was discovered leading (so it was said) in the direction of St Pauls Walden Church. This was bricked up so its destination and purpose are unknown. Close to the mansion, a cricket ground was laid-out with a reed thatched pavilion. The team was composed of sons of the owner and estate workers and played local village and town sides. Bailey-Hawkins hunted at Stagenhoe, Hitch Wood and Temple Dinsley – and was still shooting aged eighty-four. The game books record the killing of a Reeves (speckled-white) pheasant that measured seven feet from nose to tail tip. The gardens of Stagenhoe became an attraction and landscape design became a hobby of the new owner. An article in Gardeners Magazine (30 April, 1910) described the layout in detail. Following Bailey-Hawkins’ death, in 1923 Stagenhoe was sold to Sir Henry Whitehead, a wool magnate, for £24,000. He also made several improvements to the mansion and estate over five years that cost a quarter of a million pounds. A new lodge was built opposite the old one on the Hitchin to Whitwell road and gates were installed to connect the two; four cottages were built near Home Farm for twelve gardeners and other estate workers; a 350 foot-deep well was sunk at Home Farm and a new electrical plant installed. In the house itself, a boiler room fed seven bathrooms and sixty radiators; a lift was installed, the entrance hall was extended and a new oak staircase built; a canopy roof covered the dining room and plaster panels adorned the withdrawing room. However, Sir Henry’s tenure was brief – he died on 29 February 1928 and his wife sold the estate to Dorothy Dewar in 1932. Link to Nina Freebody’s History of Stagenhoe to come
Stagenhoe 1943 - 1969
Since this article was originally written, e-mails have been received that shed light on the occupation of Stagenhoe mansion from 1943 until its purchase by the Sue Ryder Fondation. Dorothy Gertrude Dewar died in June 1943. Marion wrote to say that a friend was born at Stagenhoe in December 1944. The mansion was then a nursing home - perhaps it was sold during the intervening months. However, although his birth certificate clearly states his birthplace as Stagenhoe, his mother was adamant that he was actually born at St Pauls Waldenbury. It is understood that a doodlebug landed nearby around this time and perhaps this was why the mother-to-be was transferred to another large house. The birth certificate records that the person attending the birth was ‘E E Hughesdon’ - Evelyn Ellen Hughesdon. There are several documents that mention her. She was born at Greenwich, London in 1893. Twenty-seven years later, in 1920, she was appointed by the Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Institute for Nurses. She was transferred to Scunthorpe in 1922 and then from St James Hospital, Balham, London to West Africa in the autumn of 1924. By 1939, Evelyn was nursing at St Mary Abbots Hospital in Kensington and Chelsea. Then followed her work at Stagenhoe but in 1946, she was back in London at St Stephen’s Hospital. Evelyn died a spinster on 3 September 1965 at 213 Wickham Lane, Abbey Wood, London, SE2. Then Rene wrote from France that her parents had sent her Stagenhoe Park - a small elementary boarding school - between April and July 1948 to ‘foster her English ability’. She reported that the school had eighty to ninety pupils who were aged between six and twelve. Rene recalls that the school had relocated to Stagenhoe in the previous year. ‘The park looked half abandoned, the meadow needed to be mown - but a cricket pitch had been made’. There were no flowers and the ‘swimming pool was empty and muddy. Just a vegetable garden had been set - which was a valuable resource in the post-war food restriction period’. The headmaster was Mr Griffith - ‘ we used to call him “ Mr G”’. Rene kept in contact with his daughter for a while and ‘suspects she may have taken over the direction of the school’. She understood that the school ‘moved to another place, or even disappeared’. Recently, Rene’s recollections were confirmed by Jeremy. He wrote, ‘The school moved to Stagenhoe Park in 1946 following the war, from Northaw House (near Potters Bar), becoming Stagenhoe Park Preparatory School. (It was) started by my grandparents in the late 1920s. The House was rented by my grandfather, Paul Griffith, who ran the boarding school together with my grandmother, Daphne. The school continued at Stagenhoe until mid-1963, when my grandparents retired and the school closed. The remaining boys at the school mainly transferred to a new school in nearby Stevenage (I think). ‘(The photographs below are of) my grandparents and their family are on the verandah at the top of the steps leading down to the garden (the stone sleeping lions that sit on each side of the steps are there to this day); my grandfather seated with the family dogs, and of myself with my grandparents again on the verandah’.
‘The school continued at Stagenhoe until mid-1963, when my grandparents retired and the school closed. The remaining boys at the school mainly transferred to a new school in nearby Stevenage (I think). ‘There are still a number of the school’s Old Boys who keep in touch. Amongst the more famous past pupils of the school are Peter Kindersley (co-founder of Dorling Kindersley publishers) and actor Richard Marner ( best known as the German colonel in the TV series “Allo Allo”). Richard was one of a number of White Russian refugee children taken into the school by my grandfather prior to the war, along with a number of German and Russian Jewish refugees. ‘I have attached an aerial photo of the school taken approximately mid-1950s (shown below). It shows a number of features that still exist and some that no longer do. Starting at top left is what Mum calls the “staff lodgings”, originally the stables, staff quarters etc. Top-right are the kitchen gardens and greenhouses with the Dower House at far right. The photo shows how the gardens were still being used by the school to supply food for the kitchens. The remnants of this layout can still be seen in current day aerial views on Google Maps. The gates into the Kitchen Gardens with the stags (shown on your web page) can be seen at the bottom-left of the gardens, to the right of the large yew tree. Below this tree at bottom-right is the tennis courts, of which there were two, although in this picture they are being used as a basketball court. To the left of this is the swimming pool, which is still there to this day. At the bottom of the picture are the two rugby pitches, with the boys clearly visible training on them. Of the house itself, the main house is largely unchanged, although the picture does show the old conservatory to the right of the house, which was converted into squash courts and a gymnasium for the boys. This part of the house has since been extensively added to by the Sue Ryder Foundation.’
‘The Old Boys of the school have planted trees at Stagenhoe in memory of both of my grandparents, and of George Walker who was head teacher at the school for over 40 years.’
The Sue Ryder Foundation at Stagenhoe
In the summer of 1969, The Sue Ryder Foundation acquired the mansion – purchasing the house, walled gardens, the lawns and shrubbery. The remainder of the estate was sold separately to local landowners and farmers. The short-term aim was to provide a holiday home for survivors of the Nazi concentration camps. Miss Ryder had married Group Captain Leonard Chesire (well known for his own philanthropic homes for the disabled) and already held two homes at Cavendish in Suffolk (purchased in 1951) and Hickleton Hall in Yorkshire. During the Second World War, she had co-ordinated the activities of Resistance groups in lands occupied by the Germans. Groups of around thirty came four or five times a year during warm weather. In 1971, Stagenhoe was home to forty-two Polish former prisoners, most of whom were women who had been interned at Auschwitz and Ravensbruck (where 92,000 women and children perished). The longer purpose of the charitable Foundation was to offer permanent quarters to some of the worse affected victims of Nazi brutality. The Home was managed by its ‘house father’, ex-Royal Navy officer, Mr Mumford, and his wife.
Views of the Stagenhoe mansion circa 1970 Including (above) the lodge gates and (far left) the gates to the kitchen garden. (Note the stags)
At first, accommodation at Stagenhoe was somewhat austere – a wardrobe, a chest of drawers and one carpet. Despite gifts of second-hand furniture, in the early 1970s jugs, washing materials, casseroles, dishes and large food containers were needed as well as daily supplies of vegetables, biscuits and fruit. The boiler was on its last legs and the cost of replacement was estimated at £4,000. Later, in 1984, there were seventy-two Homes – seventeen in England, many more in Yugoslavia and Poland, a few in India and Belgium with others planned in the Third World. Their charitable objective evolved to encompass help for terminal cancer patients, geriatrics, disabled people and those suffering from multiple sclerosis, brain damage, Parkinson’s Disease and Huntingdon’s Cholera. No state aid was provided for patients and the Foundation relied on public subscriptions and donations for improvements. The general running costs were largely born by the County Councils who sponsored the patients. More needed income was provided by wine and cheese parties, coffee mornings and jumble sales. Today, the Sue Ryder Care Centre at Stagenhoe has forty-two single rooms and four shared rooms that are home to upwards of fifty residents. In 2010, it had a CQC quality rating of excellent. (Shown below, the Sue Ryder Care Centre in 2011)
Arthur Cook - under-gardener at Stagenhoe 1950 - 1954
Arthur Cook was the under-gardener/handyman at Stagenhoe from 1950 - 1954. His previous employer was Miss L Rabaliati at Kings Hill, near Gosmore, Herts. Arthur and his wife, Ivy, (right) lived at the Lodge (shown above) which was tied accommodation. This was divided into two homes - hence the two front doors. The other home was occupied by the head gardener. One of Arthur’s duties was to clean the shoes of boarders when they put them outside their doors at bedtime.
More memories of Stagenhoe
Dave Driver writes from Australia: ‘I was born there on the 11 of Aug 1941, my family lived in East London E17. Evidently the bombing had been bad, and they were sending Mums to country areas. I remember my Mum and Dad taking me to look atwhere I was born in the early 50s, but have never seen it since. Bit posher than E17. I have been in Western Australia since 1972.’ Oliver Britton writes: ‘I have just visited your site having Googled Stagenhoe. I was a pupil at the school 1956 to 1960. Whilst I have not kept up with any of my fellow pupils I remember the school with affection. It provided me with four very happy years with an enormous amount of outdoor life:in the woods, using the sporting facilities which were simple and a certain amount of forced labour as we were sent out with boy-sized mattocks to weed the gardens, the bunkers for the pitch and putt golf course laid out in the grounds and various other places. The enormous St Bernard in the picture was Mr Griffith's dog called ‘Buffin’. He accompanied the head into Maths lessons where he always took the blame for any foul odours. What is described on your site as a tennis court was used as a basketball court (and, in various games that we played, as a prisoner of war camp on account of the wire-netting all round it) and was not in fact a tennis court but a cinder, fenced playground. The grass tennis court was immediately to the right of the house by the large cedar tree, A hard court was out of picture by the cricket ground, mostly out of picture. The cricket ground used to have a picture postcard pavilion with thatch and verandah. I can smell the linseed bat oil even now. Before it moved to Stagenhoe the school had a number of what we called White Russian pupils among whom were the famous Prince Obolenski who later played for England and died during WWII in the air force. he was one of 12 alumni who were killed during the war and who were commemorated by shield of their respective regiments or squadrons in the wood panelled dining room. There were still a number of highly anglicised White Russian boys in my time. Apart from cricket, rugby ('rugger' in those days), football, golf and tennis we were lucky to have a squash court. Croquet in the summer was available and year round there was table tennis and billiards and snooker (on a full size table) and a half-size table. The swimming pool was used extensively and one year, with an Indian summer, I recall it being re-opened in September. There was an annual meet of foxhound on the drive outside the front door which the older boys were able to follow, rather unsuccessfully, on foot. Hare hounds also met with the huntsmen in a smart green livery: we also followed them - but with equal lack of success. I could ramble on but hope some of this might be of interest. Kate Bone writes, “I was interested to read your article on Stagenhoe. My mother, Carol Ann Jones was born there in the war (10 December 1942) when it was used as a maternity home. My grand- mother said it was owned by Dewars. They lived in North London and she was sent there to have her baby.” Richard Holland writes, “I was at the school from January 1957 through to July 1961 and it had a major major affect and influence in my life. Playing rugger in the snow with amazing coach and player Adam Duncan. Outdoor assembly in all weather. Emptying the filthy swimming pool by bucket chain and cycling on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. Flavio the cook. Miss Pieper. Watching Robin Hood 30 mins black and white TV at 5.30pm on Saturday in Keyes. I often sat next to David Sneath who actually became The Sheriff of Nottingham in 2017. I remember every little detail good and bad. I am still in contact with a few old boys.” Richard Alvarez writes, “I have read your article regarding the above with great interest. I was a pupil at Stagenhoe school when it closed. The sudden closure was neither anticipated nor without a great deal of anguish for both parents and pupils(some of whom were about to take the common entrance exam). Thank you for all the hard work which must have been taken in compiling all this information.” Dr Kevin Connolly writes, “I was looking for something else in Hertfordshire and got distracted and looked up Stagenhoe. I came across you web site I visited the school only twice, in 1953 and 1954, as a member of the Wellbury Park School rugby team, being not good enough to be in the cricket team. The 1954/55 Wellbury team must have been one of the most efficient prep school sides ever. A former Leeds Rugby League player and army pt sergeant had taken the then sole allowed dispensation to coach it. Its worst performance was when it returned dejected from another school having only won 25 nil in the days a try was only worth 3 points. We played at Stagenhoe and when we won 63-0, Mr Griffith came onto the field to apologize for their poor showing. We showed no mercy on the return match and succeeded in our ambition of reaching 101 points in 35 minutes each way with the 3 point tries, embarrassing for our cricket team who did not reach 100 against them that year. Perhaps it is too embarrassing for Stagenhoe, which was clearly a happy place but it would be nice to record it for posterity, possibly in memory of Charles Middleton-Stewart academically and athletically the most talented member of the team who six years later as an officer cadet was killed in a motor accident which clearly was no fault of his own. The photo reminds me of Mr Griffith as I recall him, and I am sure that there were dogs around in which as I said was clearly a happy place”
Reginald Hine - The History of Stagenhoe
Bundled with the type-written History of Stagenhoe at HALS is the fascinating correspondence between Hine and Major Michael Dewar as they agreed details and payment for the research. Hine had just finished his History of Hitchin when he wrote on 2 January, 1935, ‘I am glad you feel disposed to have some research done into the history of Stagenhoe.....it is a work that should have been undertaken years ago...’ He continued, ‘But of course the main labour and cost of research would lie in examining the stacks of manuscript material relating to this county and sifting them again for Stagenhoe: Patent Rolls, Close Rolls, Domestic State Papers, Assize Rolls and Papers, Pipe Rolls, Inquisitions, Charter Rolls, Quarter Session Rolls, Manor and Court Rolls, Wills, Feoffments and Title Deeds, Household Account Books, Diaries, letters etc. It means turning over some thousands of documents, but I am inclined to think it would be worth while and you would at any rate know that every possible avenue of information had been explored. A mere casual or surface browsing over the obvious sources would hardly be worth undertaking.’ The following Sunday, Hine travelled to London to meet Major Dewar at Mayflair Place to discuss the details. Following this, he wrote on 15 February, ‘As a writer I have always declined to handle any subject unless it appealed to me, for without that personal interest there can be no heart, no keenness in any kind of work. I must say I have taken a liking to Stagenhoe and its present owner at first sight.....And perhaps (who knows?) you have a secret passage that may lead on to the discovery of treasure, buried in haste by the Knights Templar centuries ago! I am sceptical about that, but let us rest in hope’. With this letter, Hine enclosed an agreement that he would produce his history of not less than 100 foolscap pages for £250 plus expenses not later than twelve months after the agreement was signed. The contract was to be signed over a 6d stamp. He also mentioned that he had contacted the curators of Hertford, St Albans, Welwyn and Letchworth Museums asking them to list their holdings about Stagenhoe according to their card indexes. On 26 November 1935, Hine wrote, ’The good work on Stagenhoe goes forward and I get so interested in it, I cannot keep it as short as I intended. He reported, ‘120 pages already typed’. When the history was completed, a cheque for £256 11s was sent to Hine on 13 July 1936.