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A History of Gobions
Chapter Two - The Present

by Linda Jonas

In 1923 the Gaussen estate, which had swallowed the old Gobioris estate nearly a century before, in its turn came to an end when the building syndicate of White, Calder, Hattrell and Burton bought what remained of the Gaussen land and the transformation from private mansion with parkland to a pleasant, residential village began. The syndicate divided the land up amongst themselves, selling off parcels for development as and when required and by the 1980ís virtually the only land left in the ownership of Calder Estates was 48 acres of pasture and the adjoining 44 acres of Gobions Wood, both part of the remains of the old Gobions "Pleasure Ground".

During the period of Calder Estatesí ownership local people used Gobions Wood for recreational purposes albeit without the landownerís consent. During the 1970ís it was obvious that the wood was neglected and when Dutch Elm Disease caused increasing blockages to the paths which were not cleared, a local resident, Michael Jonas, started to investigate the ownership of the land. In 1978, after establishing it belonged to Calder Estates and after discussions with Herts Middlesex Wildlife Trust, Mr Jonas approached their agents with a proposal to form a local trust to buy the land on behalf of the community with conservation support from the HMWT and, hopefully, also to involve the North Mymms Parish Council.

However, Calder Estates were not prepared to sell and, although Mr Jonas continued to raise the proposal from time to time, it was not until 1985 that matters progressed. During the spring Calder Estates approached the North Mymms Parish Council asking them if they wished to buy Gobions Wood. In the event, the Council were advised that the wood had no value but they were prepared to pay the legal costs involved in the land transfer. This proposal was rejected by Calder Estates and in July 1985 Gobions Wood and adjoining pasture was put up for sale "with long-term development potential".

At that time Mr Jonas was the Secretary of The North Mymms Ratepayers Association and their Committee, realising the importance of Gobions Wood to the local community, called a public meeting at which residents voted to form a Trust to try and raise the money needed to buy the land. A Steering Committee was voted in to organise and spearhead the campaign. Although the initial offer of £100,000 was gazumped by a shooting syndicate to £165,500. The members of the Steering Committee worked very hard over the next six months trying to raise this money through public appeals, approaches to industry, local authorities, government and other bodies.

In order to manage the land properly and obtain maximum financial benefits, the Committee formed Gobions Woodland Trust, and a second public meeting elected Fred Haynes, accountant, Robert Stephany, solicitor, and Michael Jonas, architect, as Trustees with Derek Walpole, surveyor, as the Trustís Honorary Secretary land agent. Linda Jonas became the Trustís Honorary Secretary. In 1993 Fred Haynes retired and Bernard Spatz, computer engineer, took over as the third trustee.

Donations and covenants from local residents and industry eventually produced £50,800; the Countryside Commission gave a grant of £20,000 and, through the foresight of Michael Jonas, a small piece of land which fronted Mymms Drive was sold with planning permission for £97,000. The Trust received valuable he!p and advice from many quarters, in particular Hertfordshire County Councilís Countryside Management Team, and after a year of hard work the sale was completed in July 1986.

In July 1987, the Trust bought the old pump house, settlement tanks and surrounding acre of land in Deep Bottom at the southern end of what had been Gates Lane but is now a woodland path. This small sewage works had been built in the 1920ís but only served the village for a few years before the main sewer was laid. A year later the Trust took a ten year lease on the two fields adjoining the Trustís tenant farmerís pasture land at the west end of the wood.

The Trustís aims are to conserve and enhance the land under its management for the benefit of wildlife and the community. We are a registered charity whose Trustees are local professional people. Our volunteer workforce is drawn from the local community and we are delighted that our patron is the Marchionness of Salisbury.

Since 1986 we have done a great deal of research into the history of Gobions Estate and the Bridgeman garden in particular including visiting the Bodleian Library in Oxford to look at James Gibbís original drawings for the pigeon house. In 1988, we organised trial digs by the Hertfordshire Archaeological Trust in the area of the canal and "temple". These established the construction of the former and discovered the foundations of the latter including evidence that it had been extended to form a larger dwelling. This is borne out by an 1815 map of the estate which refers to "temple cottage". The archaeologist also confirmed the site of the bowling green which lies to the south of the canal.

In 1990 we applied for County Heritage Site status and, after a comprehensive survey and report by environmental consultants, Cobham Resource Consultants, this was granted. Their report confirmed the historical importance of the site and made several recommendations for its re-interpretation some of which the Trustees are now implementing, in particular, the re-flooding of the "water works" which were such a feature of the Bridgeman design. The report also confirmed that work had been carried out in the wood during the Gaussen era as evidenced by the sequoia and other non-native evergreen trees in the area of the old driveway. Although no written or drawn evidence of Gausseriís personal plans for his garden has yet come to light Victorian gardening was heavily influenced by the work of John Claudius Loudon who started Gardeners Magazine in 1826. Loudon advocated the separatist use of plants with the garden being full of exotics and rarities able to bear close individual scrutiny. He always preferred a foreign plant to a native one and, in particular, recommended the use of the many new conifers being introduced during the early part of the century through the collecting work of David Douglas along the Pacific coast of North America. Many of the conifers in the wood originate from this part of the world.

Our connections with Hertfordshire County Council have brought us much help and assistance over the years but none more so than when Andrew Clark of the Countryside Management Team remembered seeing a map with Gobionsí connections in the Gloucester Record Office. This chance recollection unearthed the original Bridgeman garden design drawn on a vellum estate map of c. 1735. This plan showed that the garden was more extensive than had been thought and, together with the contemporary accounts quoted in the book by Terry Friedman on James Gibb found for us by the librarian of the Royal Institute of British Architects, enabled us to locate most of the main features of the garden on the ground. The map was deposited with the Gloucester Record Office as part of the papers of the Freeman family by reason of the marriage of Captain William Freeman of Fawley Court, Buckinghamshire, with Susannah Sambrooke. The original map is 3 feet by 5 feet and shows on the left hand side the garden (as illustrated on page 18 and 19) and on the right land owned by Sambrooke in and around what is now Welham Green. It is believed that the map was part of Susannahís marriage settlement showing the extent of the land owned by her family in Hertfordshire in which she would have had an interest. By kind permission of the Gloucester Record Office we have now produced a limited framed edition of this map which can be purchased from the Trust.

We have opened up the view to the Folly Arch along the Gaussen driveway in the wood as far as our boundary with the Royal Veterinary College who now own that part of the estate south of the wood. Our future historical conservation projects include the clearing and reflooding of the canal; the establishment and marking of the exact positions of the main garden features and statues and the production of a permanent information board giving a brief history of the estate including the Bridgeman plan of the garden.

The Trust shares the objectives outlined by Cobham Resource Consultants in their Management Plan to preserve and interpret the historical integrity of Gobions Wood so that knowledge and understanding of its history is not lost. Garden archaeology is as yet in its infancy but more and more we are learning that manís "interference" with nature can tell us as much about society as his constructions and we hope that our work will mean that the silence of the last 150 years will, in fact, be only a pause in the history of Gobions.

If you would like to join THE FRIENDS OF GOBIONS WOODLAND TRUST and receive our quarterly newsletter giving full information on our activities please telephone 0707 656531.

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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