Harpsfield Hall, Hatfield, 19th century

October, 2013


St Albans


Harpsfield Hall was demolished when Hatfield aerodrome was developed in the 1930s (1935 Booklet). John Clifford is interested in knowing that the house shown in this picture (from an album owned by L. Sinclair) and demolished in the 1930s, was the original Harpsfield Hall, or a later 19th century farm house.

As a result I have looked at census and old newspaper reports to see what they contain about the occupants of Harpsfield Hall and the associated farm.


Summary of Findings

While Harpsfield Farm is usually described as part of Hatfield, historically it is part of St Peter's parish, St Albans. In 1800 the house, then normally referred to as Hatfield Hall was occupied by William Dearman. By 1813 the house was occupied by William Pittman. On his death he left a 9 year lease which included the house and a 300 acre farm. The sale of the contents took six days. John Sergius Fothergill, whose sister married into the Gape family was there until he died and in 1836 the farm was let, and the house was advertised  for let in 1837 without the farm, but with shooting rights over 600 acres.

It would seem very likely the new tenant to Harpsfield Hall was Charles Peterson who in 1840 was Charles Peterson, esquire of Harpsfield Hall, Herts but now residing at Five Rock Cottage, Chale, Isle of Wight. The 1841 census shows a Hariot Page and domestic servants in residence - but it may be the real tenant may have been at another address. After this date the only "occupiers" were agricultural workers and it would seem that the term "Harpsfield Hall" was being used  for any occupiers of the hamlet.

For a few years after about 1836 the records make a distinction between Harpsfield Hall and Harpsfield Hall Farm (which apparently now also included Roe End Farm - totalling 5-600 acres.)

The identified farm tenants from 1836 to 1901 were William Jefferies, James Smith Nowlson, Arthur Debenham, James Sinclair and John Sinclair.  The few cases where the landlord is named are in agreement with the property belonging to the Gape Family of St Michael's Manor, St Albans.

NOTE: Thanks to Anthony it now turns out that historically Harpesfield was a manor in St Peters Parish, St Albans, for which documentation exists. Thanks to L. Sinclair  it is clear that the farmhouse demolished in the 1930s incorporated at least part of the old Harpsfield Hall. After the airfield was closed there was an archaeological investigation carried out by the Museum of London Archaeology Unit which apparently records medieval origins and several phases of development of the site in the 17th to 19th centuries. It should be possible to get more information on the tenants from land tax records, old maps, and the Gape family papers - but I leave this research for others to follow up.


Timeline of Evidence


History of the County of Hertford   Harpsfield Manor passed to the Abbey of St Albans at the time of King John - book gives ownership up to start of 20th century
Gape Muniments 1565 Manor of Harpsfield Hall acquired Happsfield Hall from the Wooley family. For further details see document
History of Parliament 1676 John Gape (1623-1703) purchased the manor of Harpsfield Hall in 1676
History of Parliament   John Gape (1652-1734) of Harpsfield Hall
    Manor remained in the possession of the Gape family into the 20th century

References to occupants of the house and farm during the 19th century


Elizabeth Dearman, d of William & Elizabeth Dearman, baptised 8 September 1790 at St Peters, St Albans

John Dearman, s of William & Elizabeth Dearman baptised 30 November 1791 at St Peters, St Albans.

Ann Dearman, d of William & Elizabeth Dearman, baptised 28 July 1793 at St Peters, St Albans

William Dearman, s of William & Elizabeth Dearman baptised 16 July, 1794 at St Peters, St Albans.

Sarah Dearman, d of William & Elizabeth Dearman, baptised 24 January 1796 at St Peters, St Albans

Mary Dearman, d of William & Elizabeth Dearman, baptised 6 March 1798 at St Peters, St Albans

George Dearman, s of William & Elizabeth Dearman baptised 29 January 1804 at St Peters, St Albans.

Hannah Dearman, d of William & Elizabeth Dearman, baptised 6 December 1805 at St Peters, St Albans

Ann Maria Dearman, d of William & Elizabeth Dearman, baptised 18th November 1807 at St Mary, Luton

The Luton Times of Friday 2nd January 1914 printed details of tombstones in Luton Churchyard including the following inscription, which could suggest that William Dearman was in Harpsfield Hall at the time his children were born.

Near this stone lie the remains of Sarah Dearman, who died 13th March, 1811, aged 15 years. Also John Dearman, Lieut. H.M. 36 Regt. who died 25th April, 1815, aged 28 years. Also of Ann Maria Dearman, who died 2nd May, 1815, aged 7 years. Also of Hannah Dearman, who died 15th January, 1821, aged 18 years. The above were the children of William and Elizabeth Dearman, late of Harpsfield Hall, Herts.

Stamford Mercury 23rd August 1811

also Hampshire Chronicle 26th August 1811

15th November, 1812 William Pittman made his will. (not mentioning any property by name) setting up a trust fund for his wife Ann (with normal clause if she remarries) and benefits to his sister Mrs Elkins. No indication of any children.
4th October 1813 William Pittman made a codicil to his will remembering his servants.
29th November 1813 William Pittman died.
Cambridge Chronicle 3rd December 1813 DEATHS ... On Thursday last, at his house in Baker-street, Portman-square, after a few days illness, William Pittman, Esq., of Hatfield Hall, Herts,
21st June 1814 William Pittman will proved (PCC) - executors John Elkins and John Boys
Morning Post

1st April 1814

Hatfield Hall, Herts, Elegant Residence, with Land; Modern Furniture and Effects .... the late property of William Pittman, Esq., deceased, at hs residence called Harpsfield Hall, otherwise Hatfield Hall, two miles from Hatfield, five from St. Albans ...will be sold by auction the very valuable Lease of the elegant and modern residence and capital farm of 300 acres ... nine years unexpired at Michaelmass last, and the low rent of 220l per annum. ...  

Hatfield Hall, Herts, Elegant Residence, with Land; Modern Furniture and Effects .... the late property of William Pittman, Esq., deceased, at his residence called Harpsfield Hall, otherwise Hatfield Hall, two miles from Hatfield, five from St. Albans ...will be sold by auction the very valuable Lease of the elegant and modern residence and capital farm of 300 acres ... nine years unexpired at Michaelmasslast, and the low rent of 220l per annum. ...

Windsor & Eaton Express 4th May 1817

MARRIAGES ... On Tuesday, at St Clement Danes, Robert Miller, Esq. of Jermyn-street, St James's, to Mrs Pittman, widow of the late William Pittman of Baker-street, Portman-square, and of Hatfield Hall, Herts.

Morning Chronicle 28th May 1823 PURSUANT to a Decree of the High Court of Chancery, made in a cause "Miller v Elkins," the CREDITORS of WILLIAM PITTMAN, late of Hatfield Hall, in the county of Herts, Esq., deceased (who died on or about the 29th day of June, 1813) or their solicitors, on or before the 17th June 1823, to come and prove their debts before William Alexander, Esq., one of the Masters of the said Court, at his Chambers, in Southampton-buildings, Chancery-lane, London, or in defect thereof they will be xxxx excluded the benefit of the said decree.
The Times 13th January, 1825 COURT OF CHANCERY, Jan. 12. MILLER vs ELKINS.  William Pittman's will was ambiguously worded. The question was (that is to say, 12 years ago, when the proceedings had their origin) of and concerning a portion of property, in value between 7,000 and 8,000, and whether it, being in the condition of real property, should or should not be converted into personalty to the benefit of the plaintiff, a widow who was to have taken some such interest in it under a will. ... ... the poor lady, now 63 years of age, and verging upon the borders of the tomb, sti;; struggles with poverty, and sighs for the advantages of that affluence which, but for \Chancery, might be hers. ... ...
Morning Post 17th January, 1825 The Lord Chancellor stated ... that Mrs Miller was entitled, under the will of her late husband, to be put into the possessions of the leasehold estates, which she had been kept out of till the rents and profits ... had amounted to the sum of 7,000 or 8,000; and that Mrs Elkins was entitled to the remainder, as residuary legatee. ... ...
4 March 1829

John Sergius Fothergill of Harpsfield Hall made his will. Witness includes Richard Faulkner of Harpsfield Hall. - He had an estate in Ireland - relatives mentioned in will include brothers and several Gape nieces: No sign of wife or children.

Note; Elizabeth Vernon Fothergill married James Carpenter Gape on 2 February 1785 at St Michael, St Albans.

11 March 1836 John Sergius Fothergill of Harpsfield Hall died.
18 March 1836 John Sergius Fothergill, aged 70, was buried at St Albans Abbey [Details of memorial plaque]
12 April 1836 Probate of Will of John Serius Fothergill, of Harpsfield Hall. (PCC Will, National Archives) Executors were Mary Foreman Fothergill, spinster, the sister, and Thomas Foreman Gape, Esg., the nephew.
Brighton Gazette, 9th June 1836 Lady Hampson has left Kemp Town for Harpsfield Hall, Hatfield. [?Wife of Sir George Hampson?]
Herts Mercury 29th November, 1836

In November 1836 there was a sale of the Live and Dead Stock on the Farm, on behalf of the proprietor, T[homas]. F[oreman] Gape, who had let the Farm. [Copy] This was presumably as a result of the death of J S Fothergill..

Herts Mercury 22nd August 1837

Harpsfield Hall was advertised to let, with hunting over 600 acres including Harpsfield Hall Farm - which was clearly a separate property

6 March 1840 Sun Life Fire Office: Insured Charles Peterson of Harpsfield Hall, near Hatfield, late Captain in the 11th Light Dragoons.  {London Metropolitan Archives - several policies]
1840 A document in the Isle of Wight Records Office (ELD87/38/5/32  1 November 1840) mentions Charles Peterson, esquire of Harpsfield Hall, Herts but now residing at Five Rock Cottage p. Chale I.W
1841 Census Hatfield Hall Farm William Jeffries Farmer
Hatfield Hall House Hariot Page Ind (with domestic servants)
Herts Mercury 8th July 1843 NEGLECTING EMPLOYMENT. - Joseph Ward and James Latchford, hired servants of Mr William Jefferies, of Harpsfield Hall, in the parish of Hatfield, were charged with neglecting their work in husbandry and staying away all night from the farm. Convicted in the penalty of 10s  and 11s 6d expenses, or one month's imprisonment and hard labour. Mr Jeffries paid the money for them, and the Bench ordered him to deduct it fro their yearly wages.
Aris's Birmingham Gazette 14th October 1844 Bankruptcies -  William Jefferies, formerly of Westerham, near Seven Oaks, Kents, but now of Harpsfield Hall,  Farm, St Albans & Hatfield.
Herts Mercury 29 March 1845 "Nowlson" was listed as one of a nuber of farmers at a meeting in St Albans.
Preston Guardian 31st October 1846 In evidence given before the Game Law Committe (of the House of Commons) on the Destruction of  Crops by Game, Mr Nowlson, who resides at Harpsfield, near St Albans, deposed that he had been frequently called in to value damage done by game, and that of varied from 2 to 6 per acre. ... The context, including the rest of his evidence, makes it clear that he was a farmer.
Stamford Mercury 7th January 1848 The Committee of the Hertfordshire based County Hail-Storm Insurance Company included Mr Jas. S. Nowlson, Harpsfield Hall, Hatfield, Herts
1851 Census Harpsfield Hall Farm James S Nowlson Farmer of 500 acres employing 30 lab
Harpsfield Hall Henry Shorby Ag Lab
Richard Sheldrake Ag Lab
Herts Guardian 18th November 1853 DEATHS. ... On the 28th Ult, at Harpsfield Hall, Herts, James Smith Nowlson, in the 50th year of his age.
Hertford Mercury 8th April 1854 Messrs Page & Cameron will sell by auction in [Hatfield Market] on Thursday April 20th ... 12 well-bred Two and Three Years old short-horn Store Oxen and 100 superior Fat Down Sheep, the property of the late Mr. Nowlson, of Harpsfield Hall. ...
Herts Guardian 1st August 1854 There was a sale at Harpsfield Hall of growing crops on Harpsfield Hall & Roe Hyde Farms following the death of Mr. Nowlson. 110 Acres of Wheat (with the straw), 40 Acres of Barley, 50 Acres of Oats, The second crop of clover on 30 Acres and a rick of well-got Trefoil Hay, the product of 40 Acres.
Herts Mercury 16th September, 1854

Sales by Auction

Harpsfield Hall Farm

near Hatfield, Herts

by direction of the executors of the late Mr. Nowlson


22 Short-horn Cows and Heifers

2 Working Oxen

355 Sheep & Lambs

60 Pigs and Poultry

A quantify of surplus Household Furniture

Dairy and brewing utensils, &c, &c.

Herts Guardian 2nd February 1856 Sale of Fat Stock - ... the property of Mr. Arthur Debenham, of Harpsfield Hall ...
Herts Guardian 17th May, 1856

DEATHS ... On the 10th inst., at Winchester, Elizabeth, eldest daughter of the late Mr. William Dearman, of Harpsfield Hall

Essex Standard 21st May, 1856 DEATHS ... Monday 10th, at the residence of her brother-in-law, Mr. Dean, S.W.R., Winchester, Elizabeth, eldest daughter of the late Mr. William Dearman, of Harpsfield Hall, Herts.
Herts Mercury 24th April, 1858 A case "Damaging Young Trees" states that Harpsfield Hall Farm was owned by George Gape, esq., and the farmer was Mr Debenham.
1861 Census Harpsfield Hall Farm Arthur Debenham Farmer of 500 acres

"Bailiffs Cottage"

James Seabbon Farm Labourer
Herts Guardian 21st July 1863

Petty Sessions ... Henry Packhurst, aged 13, pleaded guilty to stealing 16 hens eggs, the property of his master, Mr. Arthur Debenham, of Harpsfield Hall, and sentenced to 3 days imprisonment, and 10 strokes with a birch rod..

1863  James Sinclair took the tenancy in 1863. He kept no dairy cows at all, only a few bullocks for fattening, and very few sheep or pigs. He had a five course rotation of: 1. Potatoes, 2 Wheat, 3 & 4 Hay (or clover), 5. Oats. He manured his lad heavily with London stable manure delivered to the Fiddle Bridge siding and sold his straw for stabling London horses. ... ... [long account of his farming] Hatfield & Its People, Book 9
Herts Guardian 23rd April 1867 Petty Sessions - It was stated that the bad state of the road on the Hatfield Turnpike Trust from Ellen-brook was due to the manure brought from the railway by Mr Sinclair, of Harpsfield-hall Farm.
1871 Census Harpsfield Hall James Sinclair Farmer 500 acres emp 14 men 4 boys 4 women
Harpsfield Hall Cottage George Bradbury Ag Lab
Isaac Hawkes Ag Lab
Chelmsford Chronicle 15 August 1873 Debenham-Nowlson - 7th Inst at Trinity church, Waltham Cross, James, only son of the late A.E. Debenham, Esq., of St Albans, Herts, to Elizabeth Wiltshire, eldest daughter of the late J.S. Nowlson, Esq., of Harpsfield Hall, Hatfield
Harpsfield Hall, 1870s  

Harpsfield Hall

photographed in about the 1870s

James Sinclair is sitting on bench to the right of the picture.


Kindly provided by

Lindsay Sinclair

1881 Census Harpsfield Farm House James Sinclair Farmer of 690 Ac Emp 19 Men 13 Women & 5 Boys
Harpsfield Hall Isaac Hawkes Ag Lab
George Bradbury Ag Lab
William Winter Gardener
Bury & Norwich Post, 11th February, 1890

DEATHS ... DEBENHAM. 7th inst., at Theydin Bois, Essex, Catherine, widow of the late Arthur Debenham, formerly of Redgrave, and Harpsfield Hall, Herts.

1891 Census Farm House, Harpsfield Hall James Sinclair Farmer
Gardener's House, Harpsfield Hall William Winter Gardener Domestic
Hatfield Road, Harpsfield Hall Isaac Hawkes Agricultural Labourer
Hatfield Road, Harpsfield Hall George Bradbury Agricultural Labourer
Glasgow Herald 23rd February 1893 Sinclair - At Harpsfield Hall, Hatfield, Herts, on 21st inst., in his 80th year, James Sinclair, late of Redbog, Baldernock
1901 Census Harpsfield Hall Farm John Sinclair Farmer
Harpsfield Hall George Bradbury Ordinary Agric Labourer
Isaac Hawkes Horsekeeper on a farm
William Winter Gardener (Domestic)
When H. Rider Haggard visted Sinclair's farm, it was described as "one of the best cultivated and managed farms in Hertfordshire." By then it had increased to seven hundred and thirty acres for land of Roe Hyde and other neighbouring farms had been added. He was still farming in the same way as he had done thirty-eight years ago, keeping no dairy cows. He was now growing a hundred acres of potatoess yearly in the same five course rotation He used thirty tons of manure to the acre, mostly from London stables, and his seeds were from Scotland ... ... Hatfield & Its People, Book 9  
1911 Census Harpsfield Hall John Sinclair Farmer

If you can add to the information given above tell me.

Direct link   www.hertfordshire-genealogy.co.uk/links/HARPSFIELD.htm
October 2013   Page created
November 2013   Picture source acknowledged, Fothergill reference added, Note about further research needed
October 2015   Additional news references and early history
August 2016   Additional info on period 1800-1825
October 2016   1870s picture added