WOODHALL ESTATE

HERTFORDSHIRE

History

Originally Woodhall encompassed a substantial Tudor mansion sited at the top of the Avenue. The route from London to Woodhall was the Great Cambridge Road, which passed through Ware, and access was gained through what is now known as the Ware Lodge, and thence up the Avenue. This house was destroyed by fire in 1772.

Following the fire the architect Thomas Leverton was commissioned to build a new house on a fresh site some 300 yards to the north east of the original mansion on higher ground. This neo Classic house was completed in 1775 and enlarged some years later, and a new Stable block was built on the site of the former mansion. At that time the River Beane was dammed up to create a lake to enhance the view from the new house.

The house was purchased, together with the surrounding land, by Samuel Smith, a banker from Nottingham, in 1801.

The park in its present form has existed at Woodhall since 1838, when a herd of fallow deer was introduced as an aesthetic feature. It was then that the park wall, park railings, lodges, gatehouses and ha-ha in front of the house were constructed. The chronological history of the park was the subject of a research project by the landscape historian John Phibbs in 1984, following which a major replanting programme was instigated to return it, as far as possible, to its 19th Century state.

 
country estate Hertfordshire
rural estate Hertfordshire
The Smith family have always strived to contribute to the community in the area.  They financed major changes to Watton Church circa 1860, built almshouses and schools, and co-founded the Herts Reformatory (later the Herts Training School) on the site now known as Crouchfield for wayward boys and a house in Stapleford, now called Fairview, for errant girls.  They were also co-founders of Haileybury in 1862.  Four successive generations of the family were Members of Parliament.

These four generations each occupied the house at Woodhall until 1930. Following the death of the fourth, Colonel Abel Henry Smith, the contents of the house were dispersed and it became a school in 1934 and has been let to Heath Mount School since.

Since 1930, the Abel Smith family lived in a series of smaller houses on the estate until 1957 when the former Stables were converted into the family home. The current occupiers are Mr and Mrs Ralph Abel Smith and their family, who have effectively come full circle back to the site of the original Woodhall mansion of some 240 years ago.

The herd of deer was discontinued in the early part of the war and part of the park turned into the production of food as part of the war effort (growing corn and grazing cattle and sheep) with the other part used as an army camp. A group of German prisoners of war were allowed out of their camp to work on the farm, sleeping in one of the barns, checked each night by the local policeman.

Over the intervening years, the park has played an ever decreasing role in the estate’s agricultural activities. All corn storage and handling and machinery storage have been devolved to outlying farms.  There are now no cattle, leaving only a flock of sheep. Otherwise it is rich and varied in its aesthetic and biodiversity merits.