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Welwyn Garden City


Digswell from Domesday to Garden City

Author: Dora Ward

Published: 1953 by Welwyn and District Regional Survey Association

Format: Hardback 8¼" by 5½" with 176 pages


From the preface:

The aim of this modest history is to provide a record, as full as is possible to obtain, of the almost forgotten manor of Digswell, and that northern part of the parish of Hatfield on which Welwyn Garden City is being built. The record covers the period from earliest times to 1920, when part of the Digswell estate was bought by Ebenezer Howard for the site of his second Garden City.

From the Introduction:

Long before the Norman Conquest Digswell was divided into two parts, each held by a Saxon farmer with the village in between. This division continued until the fourteenth century. After the Conquest the southern part, that which lay between the Mimram and the Lea, became the manor of Geoffrey de Mandeville. It lay in what later became the parish of Digswell and the parish of Hatfield. Part of this ancient manor became the site of Welwyn Garden City.

The main body of the book is in two parts:

Part I: The Manor

  Digswell before the Norman Conquest
Digswell in the Domesday Book
Geoffrey de Mandeville and his Descendants
The Family of St. Michael
The Perients of Digswell and their Heirs
Digswell Village in the Middle Ages
The Family of Shalcross
The Village in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries
The Village in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

Part II: The Parish

  Areas and Boundaries
The Church of St. John the Evangelist, and the Abbey of Walden
Some of the Rectors
The Church of St. John the Evangelist

In chapter III, Dora tells of the second Geoffrey de Mandeville (grandson of the Domesday one already mentioned). He founded Walden Abbey, but "is one of those few characters of whom little good can be said". It was round his manor, and the church which he founded that the life of the people centred for the next four centuries. By playing off Stephen and Matilda against one another he was able to extract more and more for himself including the Earldom of Essex.

Dora's account continues through the centuries. It is quite riveting and includes much detail. The following is from the rear of the dust-jacket:

Miss Dora Ward, M.A., has spent many years in the examination of scattered records and in weaving into a continuous account all that can be gathered together of the manor and parish and those who have lived in them.

The families of St Michael, Perient, and Shalcross were lords of the manor before it passed to Lord Cowper and his descendants at the end of the eighteenth century. Their history and influence are recounted at length. The twelfth century church and its connection with Walden Abbey until the Dissolution are fully dealt with. The rectors of the church and the personalities of the village live before the reader.

This is a book which will be numbered among the few outstanding local histories.

There are 25 black and white illustrations on glossy paper with very high quality of reproduction in my copy, plus glued into the back a fold-out tithe map (1842) in pen and ink 10" by 14". The black and white illustrations include buildings and scenes from around Digswell, manuscripts, maps, brasses and 2 aerial shots.


1. Grant of Digswell Manor (c. 1218).
2. The Will of John Perient (1432).
3. A Survey of the Manor in the Sixteenth Century.
4. Notes taken from Statements made by Commissioners for the Commutation of Tithes (1841).

List of Illustrations

The Old Cottage
Facsimile from the Domesday Book
Tracery on the Wall of the North Aisle of Digswell Church
The Mill House
Part of Digswell Parish, showing Strips in a Medieval Open Field
The Brasses of John Perient and Joan his Wife
The Brasses of John Feld and Margery his Wife
Digswell Medieval Manor House
Ludwick Hall
Cottages at Black Fan
Upper Handside Lane
An Aerial View of Digswell Village
Digswell House
Monks Walk
An Extract from a Register of a Digswell Manor Court Roll (1640)
The Boundary Balk of Hatfield and Digswell Parishes
The Mimram below Digswell House
Cottages and Farm at Digswell Water
Digswell Place in 1785
The Medieval Parsonage (Quarterman's Cottage)
Digswell Lodge Farm
Digswell Church from the North-west
Digswell Church showing Chapel and Screen
The Chancel showing Double Piscina


Map of Digswell Manor, showing Demesne (1599)
Dury and Andrews' Map (1766)
Tithe Map of Digswell Parish (1842)




(click image to enlarge)

The caption in the book for this photograph reads "Aerial view of Digswell (circa 1934) showing strips in medieval open field (Lines of strips have been lightly emphasized). By courtesy of the Howardsgate Trust Ltd.". I am particularly fond of this photograph because it shows the house I lived in (36 Digswell Road) for the first 18 years of my life, as it was probably not long after it was constructed. Towards the bottom is the Cherry Tree on Bridge Road, with Hunters Bridge to the right and the inner semi-circle road (now paved over) of the Campus to the left. The outer semi-circle has not yet been constructed and neither has the new Welwyn Stores. The houses are there in Digswell Road, Blakemere Road, Walden Road, Pentley Park, Sherrards Park Road, Coneydale and Mandeville Rise. Beyond Coneydale are fields and woods as it was when I was a boy. The house we lived in (1945-1963) is nextdoor-but-one to the large house at the apex of Digswell Road and Blakemere Road. At the top right of the picture is the lane leading off to Digswell.


(click image to enlarge)

The caption for this shot is "Aerial view of Digswell village (circa 1934)". The lane from Welwyn Garden City appears at the bottom right having followed the western side of the railway line from the previous shot. It goes under the second arch of the viaduct and round to form a junction with the road running left-to-right from Old Welwyn to Hertford. At the bottom of the picture is the lake and the Mimram.