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A Modern History of Brookmans Park

by Peter Kingsford

Chapter One
Lord Chancellor and Bank Governor 1700-1816

The modern history of Brookmans Park really starts with the coming of the Gaussen family in 1786 for it was from their estate that the present place we live in was developed. As we shall see in the following pages successive members of that family were lords of the manor at Brookmans, living there for nearly 140 years. It was only in 1923 that they left and the new village of Brookmans Park began to appear and take the shape we know today.

Brookmans Park was and is, of course, only one part of the parish of North Mymms. The parish may, in fact, be seen as a group of settlements of people:- the old village of Welham Green, the street-like hamlets of Bell Bar and Water End, the outlying communities of Roestock and Little Heath which connect with Colney Heath and Potters Bar respectively, and later, Brookmans Park when the railway served it.

We should, however, go back a little earlier than the Gaussen family. We can then bring in the famous statesman who was lord of the manor of Brookmans and, perhaps more important for the common people, the enclosure of North Mymms common and the benefits it brought to the big landowners.

John, Lord Somers (1651 -1716)

John, Lord Somers (1651 -1716) lived at Brookmans for the last fifteen years of his life. During those years he was, for two years, Lord President of the Council, one of the most influential men in Britain, and earlier he had been one of its most powerful as Lord Chancellor. One may suppose that much of the government of the realm was discussed at Brookmans and on the journeys along the Great North road to and from Westminster.

At the age of fifty he had had a long and distinguished career. The son of a Worcester attorney, he went to the cathedral school there, to Oxford at sixteen and then to the Middle Temple, being called to the Bar at twenty five. Born in the same year as Cromwell’s victory at Worcester which finally ended the Civil War, living his most formative years during the Protectorate, coming to manhood under Charles II, resisting James II, advising William III, he survived into the reign of Queen Anne. As the Whig and Tory parties began to form on the issue of the royal prerogative and the exclusion of Charles II’s roman catholic brother from the succession, Somers attached himself early and firmly to the Whigs by writing a number of political treatises.

Within two months of the landing of William of Orange on the fifth of November, 1688 Somers was elected member of Parliament for his home town of Worcester which had just appointed him the city’s recorder. While it is doubtful that he had a hand in the invitation to William it is certain that he was prominent in drawing up the Declaration of Rights presented to the new king, which, as the Bill of Rights, ensured the supremacy of Parliament and the protestant succession to the throne.

Peace Treaty with France

His appointment as Solicitor General, with a knighthood, in William’s first government, seems a natural step. A few days later he drafted the declaration of war on France. Immersed as he became in government business, he kept in touch with his Worcester constituents, and presented a petition from the city’s clothiers to require the East India Company to export a given quantity of woollen goods. After three years he moved up to the Attorney Generalship.

While the Whig junta remained in power and Somers had the full confidence of the King, his progress to Lord Keeper of the Seal and eventually to Lord Chancellor with a salary of £4,000, valuable perquisites and a peerage as Lord Somers of Evesham in 1697 was easy.

But his hold on this summit was brief for widespread resentment of the taxes to pay for the war led to a Tory House of Commons and the King dismissed Somers in 1700. Impeached by the Commons for his part in the peace treaty with France, he was acquitted by the Lords where the Whigs were strongly entrenched. However, although out of office, he was still influential. As England prepared for renewal of war with France, it was Somers who composed the speech from the throne:

"It is fit I should tell you the eyes of all Europe are upon this Parliament: all matters are at a stand till your resolutions are known, and therefore no time ought to be lost. You have an opportunity, by God’s blessing, to secure to you and your posterity the quiet enjoyment of your religion and liberties, if you are not wanting to yourselves, but will exert the ancient vigour of the English nation; but I will tell you plainly, my opinion is, if you do not lay hold of this occasion, you have no reason to hope for another."

William III died on 7 March, 1702. Somers bought the Manor of Brookmans in April 1702, perhaps intending to retire there. He knew that he was now out of favour. Queen Anne was determined to curb the power of the Whigs and Somers was immediately dropped from the Privy Council where he did not regain his seat until three years later. Since, however, the Queen was firmly for the war (Blenheim 1704, Ramillies 1706, Oudenarde 1707) and the Whigs, with Somers their leading man, gave it all their support, they gradually crept back into favour. Somers himself, while occupying Brookmans, was active in the problems of the Union with Scotland. The protracted negotiation, finalised in 1707, "was argued ... above all by the Lord Somers". This service, combined with Whig election victories led to Somers’s last great post as President of the Privy Council in 1708 at the age of fifty seven.

Tory victory and out of office

No doubt he did not spend much time at Brookmans while Lord President since he had his town quarters in Leicester Square, a fashionable residential district of London. He kept his post for only two years. For the country grew weary of war, heavy taxation and press gangs, while the Whigs failed to make peace on terms reasonable to Louis XIV. The election of 1710 gave the Tories a great victory, swept the Whigs out of office and Somers with them.

By now he was nearly worn out. He was frequently absent from Parliament on account of various illnesses — fever, jaundice, kidney stones, gout. In semi-retirement at Brookmans he suffered a stroke in 1712 from which he did not fully recover. The last four years of his life were marked by the Treaty of Utrecht with France which Somers and the Whigs opposed vigorously in as much as it left Britain’s allies in the lurch, and by the death of the Queen. At the accession of George I he was voted a pension of £2,000 a year and awarded a seat in the cabinet, but without portfolio. He was past work and died on 26 April, 1716.’

When Somers bought Brookmans from Andrew Fountaine in 1702 he paid £8,000, with another £54 for "Goods in the House". The house, "that new erected messuage", only about twenty years old, was a handsome four square mansion, commanding a delightful prospect, and close to the Great North Road. The price included the park of about 239 acres and about 180 acres of fields, meadows and woods, the names of which, such as Pepper Wood, Springfield, Shallowfield, have disappeared (or may still be remembered by some). A life long bachelor, he was looked after there by his niece and no doubt spent much of his time in his library of 9,000 books, enlivened by visits to meetings of the Kit Cat Club in London. His portrait, along with the other members of that famous club, may be seen at the National Portrait Gallery. As lord of the manor he probably presided at meetings of the manor court. In St. Mary’s church he altered his pew to suit his status, enlarging it to "12 feet long and 3 feet wide". His imposing monument in the church bears the inscription:

The Rt. Hon John Lord Somers
Baron of Evesham
Lord High Chancellor of England in the Reign of King William
To whose Memory this Monument was erected by Dame Elizabeth Jekyl

A wealthy man with landed property in Surrey and Worcestershire, he brought money into the parish, like many before and after him. A more particular benefit to the people were the 2½ acres of a field called Wants near Moffats which he conveyed to trustees for the use of the poor, in return for permission to stop up a right of way near his mansion.

Growth of Brookmans Estate

The second major event before the coming of the Gaussen family was the enclosure of North Mymms common. This gave rise to the first in a series of increases in the area of the Brookmans estate. When George III ("farmer George") was king the enclosure movement swept England. The enclosure of the parish common under Private Act of 1778 (18 Geo III) was part of this. There was, in fact, a link between Somers and the owner of Brookmans, Sir Charles Cocks Bart, at the time of the enclosure, for the Cocks were related to Somers and Sir Charles eventually became the second Lord Somers.

The common, an area covering then about one seventh of the parish, is occupied today by the BBC Station, Pine Grove, Queenswood School and Leggatts. It was divided up among the lords of the two manors, their freeholders and copyholders, large and small, and the vicar. Sixty one pieces of land were allotted to fifty two proprietors. As was usual, the large landowners gained the bulk of the land. Six big landowners were allotted 430 acre between them and in addition they bought many of the small allotments of the lesser owners who could not afford to enclose them. Another 151 acres were transferred to them in this way, giving them a total of 681 acres. Thus little was left for the small holders.

Sir Charles Cocks of Brookmans was one of the main beneficiaries, with the second largest allotment of 61 acres. This was in right of his estate and of his three cottages which had rights of common. To this must be added common land which he had bought before the Act, a piece of about 12 acres. In contrast, some of the old yeoman families sold out to the big landowners. For example, Thomas Marlborough disposed of his allotment of 2 acres and Joseph Marlborough his of 1 acre to the owner of Potterells, Charles de Laet Esq. By this time, therefore, Brookmans estate had probably grown by about 73 acres since the lordship of Somers earlier in the 18th century.

Changes in ownership

Very soon after the enclosure was effected by the awards of land in 1782 there was a series of changes in the ownership of Brookmans. Two years later Sir Charles Cocks, now created Lord Somers of Evesham, sold the manor and other property to Alexander Higginson, a lawyer of Bedford Square, London. The next year Higginson sold it to Humphrey Sibthorpe, "Doctor in Physic" of Skimpans who in turn sold it in 1786 to Peter Gaussen the Younger:

"Memorandum It is agreed this Twenty seventh day of May in the year of our Lord one thousand and seven hundred and eighty six between Humphrey Sibthorpe of the City of Oxford Doctor in Physic of the one part and Peter Gaussen of Saint Helen’s London Merchant of the other part as follows: The said Humphrey Sibthorpe for and in Consideration of the Sum of Sixteen thousand pounds of lawfull Money of Great Britain ... shall and will at his own expence make out a good Title to the said Peter Gaussen to the Manor of Brookmans with the Appurts and also the Capital Messuage called Brookmans with the Buildings Gardens Lands and Hereditaments thereunto belonging Together with the Household Goods Fixtures and Furniture now in upon and belonging to the Premises and also all other the Freehold and Leasehold Premises lately purchased by the said Humphrey Sibthorpe of Alexander Higginson Esq."

The newcomer, Peter Gaussen the Younger, thus started his family’s ownership of Brookmans which was to last over a hundred years and to exercise a wider and dominant influence over the whole parish of North Mymms. Like his predecessor, John Lord Somers, he brought the wealth of London into the parish. He could well afford £16,000 for Brookmans. Director of the Bank of England from 1761 until his death in 1788 and Governor for three of those years, he left in his will personal legacies alone of £57,340, and a gold mourning ring for each of his fellow directors. He had built on the wealth left him by his uncle Pierre Gaussen, or Peter the Elder who had in turn inherited from his brother Francois Gaussen, ‘marchant de Londres". This Huguenot forerunner had written his will with legacies of £7,130 in 1743:

"Au Nom de Dieu Amen, Je francois Gaussen de Londres Marchant etant malade de Corps mats par Ia Grace de Dieu sam d’esprit fais ma derniere volonte & Testament de La maniere suivants, ... pour ce regarde mon bten temporel Je veux & ordonne en premier lieu que tous Ies debtes que je devray justement au tems de ma mort sotent duement payees & dechargees aussy tot qu’tl sera possible. Je ordonne les Legs suivants Savoir:

Et pour ce qui est du Reste de mon bien Je donne en fidel commis a mes deux Executeurs que je nomme, savoir Mon Honore Oncle Mons. Jean Bosanquet & Mon frere Pierre pour l’usage & benifice de mon dit frere Pierre durant sa Vie Naturelle."


In the name of God Amen. I, Francois Gaussen of London merchant being sick of body but by the grace of God sound in mind make my last will and Testament in the following manner, ... Concerning my temporal goods I wish arid order in the first place that all the debts which I rightly owe at the time of my death shall be duly paid and discharged as soon as possible. I give the following legacies, to wit:

And as regards the rest of my goods I give in fidei commission two executors whom I name as My Honoured Uncle M. Jean Bosanquet and my brother Pierre, for the use and advantage of my said brother Pierre during his natural life.

Peter Gaussen the Younger had married into another Huguenot family. His bride, Anne Maria Bosanquet, brought him the substantial dowry of some £6,000 while he provided for her and any children to the extent of £12,000. He did not live long to enjoy Brookmans, dying two years after the purchase. He left the property, £15,000 in Bank 3% Annuities and a third of his personal estate to his son Samuel Robert. Thereafter the Gaussens remained in possession of Brookmans for 135 years, until 1923. Their sarcophagus is prominent in St. Mary’s churchyard.

Samuel Robert Gaussen

Samuel Robert Gaussen, The new owner, was himself wealthy before he inherited from his father. At the time of his marriage, five years earlier, to another Bosanquet girl, Elizabeth, he had £715 0 11¾ per annum in rents from dozens of manors and farms in Middlesex, Derbyshire and Warwickshire. This probably represented about £20,000 in capital, and the girl brought him £10,840. Two years after his marriage he received the great inheritance from his father, as mentioned above.

His "Freehold Estate called Brookmans Park situated near the High Road at Bell Bar in the parishes of North Mymms & Hatfield" was described in the previous sale from Higginson to Sibthorpe in 1785. The "Descriptive Particular" is worth giving:

The Manor called Brookmans to which there are sundry Quit Rents paid Yearly to the Amount £5.3.6½ but after deducting Land Tax to which one of the Copyholders is subject, the net value per annum is £4.11.11. The Copyhold Estates within the Manor being about £32 yearly the proportion of fines of Heriots is £5. The Buildings Comprising the House which on the lower floor consists of Kitchen, Housekeepers room, Servants Hall, Cellars etc. On the Entrance floor a Vestibule Lobby two Stair Cases, two Closets, Break fast room & Drawing Room; on the next floor six Bed Chambers, & on the Attick six Rooms, all in complete Order & Repair having been newly fitted up last year at a considerable Expence with many Improvements £200. The Detached Offices which consist of Dairy

The description continued with details of The Park of 240 acres, Other Land in Hand of 72 acres most of which had growing crops, Clement’s Lease of 15 acres, the White Hart Inn with 20 acres, Ansell’s Tenement (a small new brick house) with 4 acres, the Smith’s Shop, Mrs. Stephenson’s House, Reeves Farm with 45 acres, and Lilly’s in Hatfield Parish with 45 acres and, of course, the timber estimated to be worth £2,500.

This description gives a total of about 440 acres. When Peter Gaussen bought the estate he paid "a further Sum of Three pounds for the purchase of the several Crops now growing upon the Ground" and another sum for the livestock at valuation. It would seem that not a great deal of farming was in hand.

Landed gentleman

Samuel Robert Gaussen took up residence in the handsome, late 17th century residence and engaged Humphrey Repton to landscape the park. He started to establish himself as a landed gentleman, prosecuting any labourers, such as John Williams who was sent to gaol for three months for poaching pheasants in Fox’s Wood. The Game Laws came into their own. After the enclosures landowners were more concerned to protect their property from dispossessed cottagers. The old rhyme was now out of date:

A sin it is in man or woman
To steal a goose from off the common
But he doth sin without excuse
Who steals the common from the goose.

Samuel Robert played his part in local affairs as Sheriff, as a trustee of the Galley Corner Turnpike Trust (the Great North Road ran close by Brookmans) until his death in 1812, and as churchwarden of St. Mary’s. He exercised his vote in the county elections of 1796, 1802 and 1806, during the French wars. Appropriately, as a monied man, still a nouveau riche among the county gentry, he voted for the Whigs; the Huguenot immigrants had always been anti-Tory. When Wiliam Baker of Bayfordbury, Whig MP for Hertfordshire, changed his allegiance to the Tory Party, Gaussen no longer voted for him. In politics Gaussen was of the same persuasion as his predecessor, John Lord Somers. His son, Samuel Robert II, survived him only four years, but his reign, though brief, was marked by another addition to the estate. In 1814 he bought 149 acres from Frederick Booth, thereby enlarging the estate to 589 acres. This land lay between the east end of Bradmore Lane and Moffats, including that house, and from Moffats southwards to Deep Bottom. It thus joined up the main part of his estate with Reeves Farm in the south.

For this property, the "Capital Messuage Lands and Hereditaments called Moffats", he paid £16,000 (£l08 per acre), nearly as much as Peter Gaussen had paid for the mansion and 440 acres twenty eight years earlier. But in the inflation and high agricultural profits of the Napoleonic war that was to be expected.

Some idea of the kind of farming during that war emerges from a sale of farming stock at Brookmans Park Farm. The rearing of cattle and pigs was combined with crops of wheat, oats and beans. Oxen pulled the Hertfordshire wheel plough: a pair, with harness, fetched £30. The vehicles, "a good 6 inch wheel cart, two narrow wheel dung carts, and a water cart, were pulled by two, 2 year old bay fillies of the cart kind". There were also many items of fuel for sale — 1,000 faggots. They fetched 18 shillings a hundred. The labourers bought faggots and they paid for them by "working it out with their masters". At the current basic wage of 12 shillings a week they gave ten days’ work for 100 faggots. Such was the heap at the bottom of the Gaussen pile.

Brookmans was already, and much more later, a significant part of North Mymms, the estate being nearly an eighth of the total area of the parish. The Gaussens were already one of the wealthiest families. They had great influence in the parish church since they had the living in their gift.

When Samuel Robert II died in 1816, his son Robert William became the new lord of the manor at the tender age of four.

Peter Kingsford - 1983

Chapter 2 - The Squire's Domain 1816-1880
Index - A Modern History of Brookmans Park
Historical Notes - to help understand these chapters
Photographs - from the book

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