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A History of Gobions
Chapter One - The Place

by Peter Kingsford

This is the story of an ancient private estate which flourished on merchant wealth and is now a place for public pleasure. It lies close to the Great North Road, four miles south of Hatfield. Its name has varied over the centuries and through many ownerships. Originally it seems to have come from "Sir Richard Gobion who was Lord thereof in the reign of King Stephen" in the twelfth century. By the 16th century, if not earlier, the place was called More Hall after the family of that name which included Sir Thomas More, and also Gybynnes. It had reverted to Gubbens in the 17th century and Gubbins in the 18th. Confusion persisted, for as late as 1836 the description was "All that manor of More, otherwise More Hall, otherwise Gubons, otherwise Gubens, Gubbins and Gobions". The last name was unequivocally stated in the sale of the estate two years later and is the one used today. A Gubbins is "something of little value" — Gobions was certainly not that. (1)

The estate was celebrated in its time as an example of the landscaping art of Charles Bridgeman. His work, together with that of the architect James Gibb, drew visitors from France as well as Britain. Queen Caroline, "Walpole’s most loyal ally", went there in 1732 with three of her daughters to see "the fine gardens, waterworks and the collection of curiosities". Daniel Defoe, ten years later, called the place "one of the most remarkable Curiosities in England". A generation later in 1774, "the Ambulator; or, The Stranger’s Companion" gave a guided walkthrough the "Curiosity":

In a charming wood with a walk irregularly cut through the underwood the visitor came suddenly to a perfect rotunda of about the same diameter with the ring in Hyde Park … On one side is a large alcove. Opposite to the place of our entrance …is another avenue, which brought us to a large alcove situated at the end of an oblong piece of water, on each side of whose banks are fine gravel-walks, lined with rows of trees. The pond is so formed that a part of it is deep, and therefore the bottom not easily seen, but the other part is shallow … The grass at the bottom, when covered with water, hath a fine effect. From the alcove we have a view over the water to a fine large figure of Time … holding a large sun-dial … we were conducted through a most superb and elegant walk, which terminated at a summer house, built of wood, in the lattice manner, and painted green. We then turned to the left through meandering walks … to a grotto, which having passed a large arch presents itself across the walk, and through it we behold a cascade. Continuing onward, we turned to the right … to a seat where the cascade has a more distant sound. This is a very contemplative situation. From this seat a walk brought us to a good statue of Hercules … from whence, through a verdant arch, appears a beautiful canal, at the end of which is a handsome temple, whose front is supported by four pillars. In this temple are two busts of Miss Sambrookes … On one side of this canal is a Roman gladiator … Leaving the canal we ascended a straight walk, which brought us on the left to a Cleopatra, as stung with an asp … And on our right appears a very large and beautiful urn. The top of our walk terminated at a large oak, from whence there is a view over the canal … to the gladiator, and from thence through a grove to a lofty pigeon-house. Turning to the right we came to a neat and retired bowling-green, at one end of which is the urn … at the other a summer house full of orange and lemon trees. On one side of the green is a statue of Venus, and on the other one of Adonis.

Even towards the end of its existence as a separate estate Gobions was described in a French guide book of 1742 as "un des plus agreables séjours des environs de Ia capitale." (2)

A last picture comes from estate agents Shuttleworth & Sons at the sale of 1838 which, allowing for some natural hyperbole, indicates that Gobions was still much as it had been for a hundred years. 

The Important
FREEHOLD MANOR and ESTATE
of GOBIONS, HERTFORDSHIRE
Particulars
of the valuable and highly important
FREEHOLD ESTATE
called
GOBIONS
Tithe Free and Land Tax Redeemed, formerly the
much celebrated Residence of the
Illustrious
SIR THOMAS MORE,
together with the
Manor and the Noble Mansion
most delightfully placed in the centre of a
MAGNIFICENT PARK
of
328 acres
chiefly rich meadow land
Embellished with Stately Avenues, Groves and woods of
the Finest Timber, a Triumphal Arch commemorative
of Queen Elizabeth’s progress in 1560
Pleasure Grounds, Lawns, Shrubberies, Gardens, Conservatories,
A Splendid lake, fishing temple, canal, ice house, ornamental
Lodges, and other decorations of a superior order,
Commanding a Finely Elevated and picturesque situation,
only Sixteen Miles from London, in the much
admired
COUNTY OF HERTFORD,
With a short Drive of Hatfield House, and other
distinguished Residences of
the Aristocracy.

*****************************************

For the Sale by Private Contract, by
SHUTTLEWORTH & SONS,
May be viewed with Tickets only, which with Particulars may be obtained of
Messrs. Shuttleworth & Sons, No. 28, Poultry.
Particulars may also be had of Messrs., Dawes & Sons,
Solicitors, Angel Court, Throgmorton Street:
And at the Mart.

The mansion is described as follows:

"The mansion comprising on the ground floor dining room, drawing room, library, billiard room, gentleman’s or chapel room, sitting room & gentleman’s dressing room: on the first floor 4 principal bed chambers, 3 dressing rooms, water closet, 5 capital bedrooms, a dressing room & a water closet. The secondary apartments comprise 6 good bedrooms, store rooms, butler’s pantry, housekeeper’s room, kitchen, pantry & scullery, servants’ hall, bakehouse & larder. There are a laundry starching room, fruit chamber, washhouse, dairy, linen room, wine cellars & beer cellars capable of holding 120 barrels. Outside are the brewhouse, coal house, wood houses, knife and boot houses, water closet, coach house with granary and malt house above, stables & labourer’s cottage containing three rooms and a pantry; kitchen garden, green house & hothouse and stabling for six horses."

After that there is silence.

The mansion, which in the 18th century stood on rising ground on the north side of the lake, underwent considerable change. Little is known of it in the middle ages and until the early 18th century when the talents of James Gibb were employed there. How much he did is not clear but it is know that he added a large room and "did other building" that his work included "designs for a dovecourt and a ceiling". If the result was the mansion as it is shown in the Buckler drawings of 1840 the improvement was probably extensive, including perhaps the bathroom, the three water closets inside and one outside in the back yard. The size and splendour of the mansion later on may be envisaged from the sale prospectus quoted above. Although there may be some exaggeration the total areas of 328 acres given there is only two acres more than that given in the parish valuation list of the same year. (3) and Appendix Ill

THE WEALTH

Great wealth went into Gobions, chiefly merchant money, much of it from Britain’s expanding empire in the 17th and 18th centuries. Earlier in the 16th century it came, not from trade, but from the law. Sir John More, the son of a prosperous baker, who held the property at the beginning of that century, had risen by the end of his career to the position of Justice of the Court of the Kings Bench. His famous son, also in the law, Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor, executed for refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy, may have lived at Gobions though there is no proof of it. It is said that he wrote Utopia there but there is no evidence for this except that of a writer, Henry Peacham, a hundred years later. Sir Thomas never owned Gobions, for when his father, Sir John, died in 1530 he left it to his wife, Lady Alice, for her lifetime and she remained there until after Sir Thomas was executed in 1535. Sir Thomas’s estate, therefore, had only the reversion of Gobions, and the King seized it on the death of Lady Alice, and then leased it to others. Later it was regained by the descendants of Sir Thomas and was held by a Thomas More in 1659. Commercial money was introduced when his second son, Basil More, bought Gobions in 1664. From then on it remained in merchant hands or at least with the monied interest. A City merchant, Sir Edward des Bouverie, was the owner in 1693 and soon after him, Sir Robert Beachcroft of Blackwell Hall, London, both men of a class strengthened by the Glorious Revolution a few years before. Beachcroft’s wealth came from the woollen cloth trade, at the time England’s biggest export. Blackwell Hall, where he was a factor or agent, consisted of "commodious storehouses and different apartments assigned to the counties for the lodging and harbouring of cloth and other woollen commodities brought from the several counties of England, and there sold either by the maker himself or by his factor: so that ‘tis reckoned without vanity or ostentation the most noted market for cloth in the whole world." Finally, in 1707, Gobions was bought by Jeremy Sambrooke, the man who employed Bridgeman and Gibbs on the Pleasure Grounds and the mansion. (4)

With Jeremy Sambrooke the source of wealth moved to the East. He belonged to a family having a long and close connection with the East India Company. The connection seems to have originated with Samuel Sambrooke, grandfather of Jeremy referred to hereafter as Gobions Jeremy. In 1650/1 Samuel was appointed "writer of the Company’s letters and Keeper of the Callicoe warehouse at the salary of £120 per annum", later increased to £200. His son Jeremy rose much higher. Evidently he prospered for his marriage settlement required the expenditure of £8,500 on land and property. After serving as warehouse keeper at Fort St George, Madras, he eventually became Deputy Chairman of the East India Company (1683-4), received a knighthood in 1682 and subsequently a baronetcy. A member of the Haberdashers Company, he was elected alderman for Cripplegate ward. This Sir Jeremy was a forerunner of the nabobs who came home to invest their Indian wealth in property and politics in the era of Clive of India and Warren Hastings. His grandson, son of his elder son Samuel, did follow the nabob trail and became Member of Parliament for Bedford. When Sir Jeremy died in 1705 his title and much property passed to Samuel and, upon his death, to his son Jeremy Vanaker Sambrooke. His second son, Gobions Jeremy, also inherited much property and valuables which no doubt enabled him to buy Gobions. Later, in 1740, when his nephew, Sir Jeremy Vanaker Sambrooke, died he inherited the baronetcy and "an estate of £2,000 per annum". Other property passed to him when his mother died in 1744.

India financed Gobions. When its owner, Gobions Sir Jeremy, died in 1754 what he had made of it may be seen in a contemporary account:

Imagine to yourself a vast Hill, shaded all over with a Forest of Oaks, through which have been cut an infinite Number of Alleys covered with the finest Gravel … a large Square, embellished with Orange-trees and Statues, and with a beautiful Summerhouse, whose Windows present on every Side a most delicious Prospect … a magnificent Bason, adorned with green Pyramids, orange-trees, Statues, and surrounded with wide-extending alleys; and then you see a kind of verdant Circle, all covered with the Trees of the Forest, but illumined with so much Art and Taste, as to fill the Eye with Raptures. In short, the Beauty of the Alleys, whose verdant Hedges are of a surprising Height, the pleasing Variety of the Prospects, the Richness of the Ornaments, the singular Taste that prevails through the Whole Distribution, and the Choice of the different Parts of this charming Place, form all together almost the only Garden of its kind.

Sir Jeremy wished to preserve the place. He left all his property to his sister, Judith Sambrooke, for her life and thereafter to his nephew, John Freeman, since he was single and childless, but providing that "the Statues, Urns and Ornaments in the Gardens I do hereby order and direct shall remain in the said Gardens to be held and enjoyed as Heir Looms… " He was buried at North Mymms church, according to his will "to be attended to my grave by none but my own menial or Domestic Servants." (5)

The wealth continued to come from the East India company when the nephew, John Freeman, sold Gobions to John Hunter who, according to one account, "by long service in trade as a free merchant in the East Indies had raised a very substantial fortune of upward of £100,00 (sic) and arrived to a seat in the East India Direction." Not only a director, as Hunter, like Sir Jeremy Sambrooke, became Deputy Chairman of the East India Company during the trial of Warren Hastings. He made himself known in Hertfordshire as Sheriff of the County and, following the nabob pattern, became Member of Parliament for Leominster. While maintaining the beauty of Gobions, he extended his property locally by buying up land on North Mymms Common which had been enclosed by the Act of 1778. He too finally rested at the parish church where a tablet commemorates him and his wife, Ann, who made her contribution with a bequest of bread for the poor of the village.

The riches of India also flowed to Gobions in the next generation. John Hunter’s will left "all my capital Mansion House called Gubbins, farms and tenements in North Mymms and South Mimms" to Thomas Holmes of Worcestershire who had himself "acquired a fortune in the East Indies". There was another connection for Holmes married the daughter of the Governor of Bombay, William Hornby. At one time, he had shares in a ship named after the Governor jointly with Holmes, "a gentleman high in the Company’s service in Bombay". (6)

Holmes, having changed his name to Hunter, seems to have remained at Gobions for about twelve years and in 1815 he sold it to a William Booth who in turn sold it two years later to Thomas Kemble. The Kembles were the last family to own Gobions as a separate estate intact with its mansion and Pleasure Grounds. With them the source of wealth moved from the East India Company. Various members of the family who were involved in the purchase and in the eventual sale of Gobions were active in foreign trade. One was a merchant of Mincing Lane in the City, a centre of the spice trade, two others were "wholesale grocers" in St John Street nearby. Much earlier another Kemble was consul in Salonica for the Levant Company, importer of spices.

The sarcophagus near the west window of North Mymms church shows that the Kembles, father and son of "Gubbins Park" remained until 1833. The son’s will, at his death in that year, left Gobions in trust to his son "except for his estate called Leggatts together with the small farm formerly the Mill". At that time still "the gardens at Gobions were widely celebrated". Leggatts became the residence of the Legatee’s mother. It may have been so intended for Gobions mansion was pulled down by its new owner in about 1840. (7)

With that new owner, Robert William Gaussen of Brookmans, in 1838 the wealth came from a different direction. The Gaussens were originally London merchants but later were in finance, for the purchaser of Brookmans was a Director and Governor of the Bank of England. That wealth descended to the Gaussen who demolished Gobions mansion house and incorporated the estate in his own of Brookmans. There is no record of the Pleasure Grounds thereafter. (8)

THE LABOURERS

Something however is known about the men, with their wives and children, who had worked for the Kembles on the estate. In 1841, at about the same time as the demolition of the mansion, there were the lodge keepers: John Simmons at Gobions Lodge, Richard Burgess at Gobions Upper Lodge and Philip Wilshire or Wiltshire at Leggatts Lodge across the Great North Road, whose son James had been born there several years earlier. Nearby were Thomas Mitchell in Gobions Cottage and John Clements in "Gobions Wood". Completing this little group were the two families of John Wiltshire and Charlotte Sapshead in Deep Bottom.

John Simmons, agricultural labourer of thirty five and his wife, Sarah, who lived in the small four square lodge next to the Folly Arch, must have been cramped for room for there were six children between three months and nine years. A Londoner, he had recently moved from Hatfield. Ten years later they were still there and still overcrowded, for three more children had been born who, added to those still at home, made the total still six. Sarah had thus borne nine children. John had risen from labourer to gardener, presumably employed by R.W.Gaussen. This improved status, however, meant that his school fees had also risen from twopence to threepence a week. Two of the boys were now earning but they had not risen as one was an agricultural labourer and the other, at fourteen, an errand boy.

At Gobions Upper Lodge, later called Moffats Lodge and still standing, Richard Burgess, a deaf and elderly labourer, and his wife Ann were also pressed for room with their four children, three of them adult. Probably Gaussen took him on also as he was still there ten years later. There was plenty of room in the Lodge by then, however, as he and Ann were alone with a grandson, the infant Samuel; he stayed there until he died at the ripe age of eight-nine. His name was perpetuated in the parish as his son John, living in Bell Bar, worked as a carter for Gaussen for thirty years. John’s wife, Anne, in the intervals between having five children, supplemented his wages as a charwoman and subsequently as a dairymaid. The name Burgess, though not perhaps the same family, continued on with Henry the pupil teacher, William the woodcutter and church beadle and Jesse the wood man who was elected to the first parish council in 1894.

Thomas Mitchell, agricultural labourer of twenty five years in Gobions Cottage, lived by himself. It seems likely that his widowed mother, Elizabeth, had entered North Mymms Workhouse and, when it was closed, was one of those who were transferred to Hatfield Union Workhouse. A "well-behaved" pauper, she died there in 1838, a notable year in this history. Not far away, "Gobions Wood" was occupied by an old couple - seventy year old John Clements and sixty five year old Elizabeth. Meanwhile, in Leggatts Lodge, across the turnpike road, there were two families while Leggatts was still part of Gobions. In one were Philip Wilshire or Wiltshire, garden labourer, and Elizabeth with three small children to care for. They remained there to be employed by the Kembles. the other lodge was more crowded. William Samuel, a "male servant" - probably the coachman - and Rose had five children between eight months and ten years. Three of the children had gone ten years later but the Samuels had replaced them with two more, Alfred and Henry. Rose had Henry, her seventh child, when she was forty-five.

Two other cottages stood some way off down in Deep Bottom. John Wiltshire, agricultural labourer, and Elizabeth with three young children occupied one. The other was full with five adults, elderly widow Charlotte Sapshead with two daughters and a young couple, George, agricultural labourer, and Mary English, apparently lodgers. Earlier on Charlotte’s other two children had departed. Ten years later, two other families, the Burrs and the Rands, had taken their places in Deep Bottom. Both James Burr and James Rand were tenants of Gaussen and employed by him as agricultural labourer and garden labourer respectively. Rand’s cottage was rent free, perhaps because he supported his mother as well as his wife, Eliza, and their three young children. Burr paid Gaussen £1.50 a quarter, he had only Sarah and two children.

Those are the people who worked on the Gobions Estate of the Kembles and subsequently for the Gaussens. Most of them stayed where they were for a decade or longer either from choice or because they were taken over with the estate by Gaussen. Many were prolific, though not by the custom of the times. Nothing is known about the domestic servants in the mansion except for Gobion’s coachman and his wife, Edward and Sarah Simmonds and the birth of their son, Peter, in 1819. The names of the folk on the estate were still present in the parish many years later. There were three families of Burgesses and three of Burrs until the 1880’s and probably beyond though they may well not have been direct descendants. Their forebears had served in the North Mymms Company of Volunteers during the French Wars while the rustle of silken gowns accompanied the waterworks in the Pleasure Grounds but their names outlived those of the gentry of Gobions. (9)

THE ESTATE AFTER 1838

Little change seems to have occurred for a hundred years after Gaussen’s purchase except for the wild growth of vegetation smothering the Pleasure Grounds. A carriage way was opened up from Folly Arch to Brookmans and, at some point, an avenue of lime trees was planted from the Arch northward to the woods. An alternative recollection is that the trees were elms: this is supported by a photograph on this page.

Although the farmland consisted chiefly of "rich meadow land" the sale inventory included "ploughings, half dressings, dressings, manure, seeds sown and labour done on the fallows, live and dead stock, growing crops and implements". Some farming may have been carried on but the Gaussens had numerous tenanted farms in the parish to occupy them. While the estate workers mentioned were enumerated as agricultural labourers that term covered many skills.

Almost a century after the mansion was demolished there was a prospect of public money going to the rescue of the neglected estate. Hatfield Rural District Council decided in 1938 to buy part of it as a public open space, eleven acres of meadow and twenty two acres of wood land together with Folly Arch and the Lodge for £1,830. War in September 1939 put an end to the project.

The notion of public ownership survived for in more settled times in 1956 North Mymms Parish Council acquired the land and the lake now known as Gobions Open Space. This was not the last rescue from neglect and the danger of development, however, as twenty-nine years later householders in the parish subscribed to a fund which helped the Gobions Woodland Trust to buy the large remainder of the estate. The change from private to public pleasure was completed. (10)

REFERENCES

1
Chauncy, History of the Antiquities of Hertfordshire 1700
Clutterbuck, History & Antiquities of Hertfordshire 1815-27
Cussans, History of Hertfordshire Vol Ill 1870
Colville, North Mymms Parish & People nd. HRO 23704

2
Friedman, James Gibbs 1984.
Howard Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1979
Plumb, England in the Eighteenth Century 1950
Gentleman’s Magazine Vol I p 874.

3
Colvin op cit. HRO OP 65 19/31

4
Cussans op cit.
Richard Marius, Thomas More 1984
Davies & Butcher, Gubbins In North Mymms 1952. HRO 23702, 23704
Haynes, A View of the Present State of the Clothing Trade in England, quoted in Lipson, An Economic History of England Vol 111934.

5
IGI - Parish Registers MS 8319/1, M56988/1
Beavam, The Aldermen of the City of London
PRO PROB 11/48 1 (78) 1705, PROB 11/483 (162) 1705
PROB 11/811(284)1754. HRO 80228.

6
India Office Library, East India Co. Home Misc. 764, Minutes B23, B24, B26
Parker, Directors of the East India Co. 1754 -1790.
HRO 79188, 79199, 79201.
Quennell, Ed. Memoirs of William Hickey 1960 pp 352, 358
Sunderland, The East India Company in 18th Century Politics p378, 1952

7
HRO 23702, 23704

8
Kingsford, A Modern History of Brookmans Park 1983

9
Census Enumerators Returns for North Mymms 1841-1881
HRO Parish Registers, Baptisms & Marriages
Kingsford, North Mymms People in Victorian Times 1986
Kingsford, Victorian Lives in North Mymms, 1989

10
Kingsford, op cit 1983.


Index
Index - A History of Gobions
Chapter 1 - A History of Gobions - Peter Kingsford
Chapter 2 - The Present: Gobions Woodland Trust - Linda Jonas
Chapter 3 - Charles Bridgeman & The English Landscape Garden - Richard Bisgrove
Chapter 4 - The Garden at Gubbins Today - Linda Jonas
Photographs - Assorted prints from the book
Appendix - Appendices I, II, III - Three sections rolled into one including the Roll of Known Owners;   Welham Green Connections; North Mymms Parish Valuation List 1838

All material reproduced on this site thanks to the co-operation of the Gobions Woodland Trust. The Trust has its own page on this site.

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