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A Modern History of Brookmans Park

by Peter Kingsford

Historical Notes

The development of Brookmans Park cannot be properly understood without some knowledge of the social organisation in the area in the 18th century when this story begins. The following brief survey is therefore given to assist the reader.

The parish of North Mymms had an area of just over 4,900 acres and consisted of two manors; North Mymms Manor — by far the larger — and the Manor of Brookmans, the name probably originating with the late 14th century family of Brokeman. All the land in the parish, with the exception of Gobions estate, was part of one or other of these two manors. By the 18th century, the local government functions of the Manor Courts had been taken over by the vestry, the elected body which appointed the parish officers such as the Churchwardens, Overseers of the Poor and Surveyors of the Highways. However, the Manor Courts still controlled and recorded the changes in land holdings, and the ‘rights of common

The land of a manor was not necessarily contiguous and separate from the land of other manors, but was often scattered, and we do not know where all the land of each manor in North Mymms was. The land could be divided into four main categories; domain, freehold, copyhold and common or waste.

Land in the hands of the Lord of the Manor, which he either occupied and used for his own purposes such as his house and park, farm, warren, and coppice, or leased to someone else. By a survey made in 1691 we know that the domain land of North Mymms Manor was 1,160 acres in extent, and much of it was leased to other people.

Land held freely’ ‘of the manor’, usually by payment of a quit-rent which could be a token or nominal one, and subject to a fine upon transfer of the holding by sale or inheritance.

The holding of land in any of these categories was not exclusive. A person could, and often did, hold both ‘freehold’ and ‘copyhold’ land, in more than one manor, and also lease further land of the Lord’s domain’. Furthermore, the Lord of a Manor could hold freehold and copyhold land of another manor. In fact at the end of the 17th century Andrew Fountaine, Lord of the Manor of Brookmans, held some such land of the Manor of North Mymms. Thus, when in the following text you read that Lord John Somers purchased a certain number of acres with the Manor of Brookmans from Andrew Fountaine, the area mentioned includes not only the ‘domain’ of the Manor, but also the freehold and copyhold lands he held of the North Mymms and any oiher manors. It did not include the freehold and copyhold lands of the Manor of Brookmans; these were held by the ‘tenants’ of that manor. When the Gaussen family enlarged their estate they did not enlarge the Manor of Brookmans, but took into their own hands land previously held by tenants of the manor and, by purchase, increased their holdings in other manors, mainly North Mymms.

The uncultivated and unenclosed land of the manor, which included large ‘commons’, small ‘greens’, and the highway verges. The soil of all this was the property of the Lord of the Manor, but most of the inhabitants and tenants of the manor held some rights of use, known as ‘rights of common’. These could vary by custom from one manor to another, but usually included the grazing of animals, the gathering of wood for fuel and/ or small building repairs, and the cutting of turf and furze for fuel and bedding. In the 18th century the largest piece of common in the parish was North Mymms Common or Wood, which belonged to the Manor of North Mymms and extended, some 700 acres or more from Bell Bar to Swanley Bar, and from just west of the Greai North Road (on its old route), to the eastern boundary of the parish, where it adjoins the parish of Northaw. The tenants of both manors had rights of common on this, and although we do not know what those rights were, its enclosure in 1780 must have adversely affected the economies of the small farmers and cottagers in the parish.

By the end of the 18th century the population of the parish numbered about 1,000, and it had retained its hierarchical structure. The lords of the two manors, through their officers, exerted the greatest influence by reason of their positions as principal landlords, but there was also a small group of residential gentry who must have directed much of the day to day activity of the community. Following the displacement of the More family at the end of the 17th century, Jeremy Sambrooke, later a baronet, purchased Gobions in 1708. He reconstructed the medieval house of the Mores to create an 18th century mansion and employed Bridgeman, the famous gardener, to lay out the pleasure ground and garden. After Sir Jeremy’s death in 1754, the estate passed through the hands of three further gentle families, until, in about 1840, the house was demolished and the land taken into the Brookmans estate. The other main residences, North Mymms Place, Potterells, Skimpans and Moffats, also changed hands during this period, but always remained in the occupation of gentlemen who took an active part in local and county affairs.

Below this social level of the six top gentry came an important group of about thirty residents, upon whom much of the responsibility of local government must have devolved. These were the vicar, the estate stewards, the larger farmers and the innkeepers. They formed the Vestry and occupied the parish offices of Churchwarden, Overseer of the Poor and Surveyor of the Highways.

The whole social structure stood upon the great majority, the manual workers, who within their own ranks contained a whole range of levels of status. There were the domestic servants, both indoor and out, from the butlers to the kitchen maids, the gardeners, grooms and coachmen; the artisans: — smiths, wheelwrights, carpenters, bricklayers, bootmakers and cordwainers. Then there were the great number of agricultural workers, including the small farmers (usually little better off than the higher ranking farm workers), bailiffs, carters, haycutters and general labourers. With them were all their wives and children, many of whom supplemented the family income by part-time work in the fields, or by home industry such as straw-plaiting. And finally, at the bottom of the pyramid, were the paupers, regulated under the poor law by the vestry, which was effectively led by Joseph Sabine, brother in law to the lord of North Mymms manor and churchwarden. Sabine saw to it that the poor were dealt with strictly in accordance with the new spirit of public economy.

This then was the parish and community in which the Gaussen family built up their estate, which formed the basis for the development of Brookmans Park, our village.

Peter Kingsford - 1983

Index - A Modern History of Brookmans Park
Historical Notes - to help understand these chapters
Photographs - from the book

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