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Welwyn Garden City

Hertfordshire Countryside Vol 29 No 187 November 1974
Article: An historic Hertfordshire home

Author: Frank E. Ballin (article)

Published: 1974 by Wm. Carling & Co., Hitchin (published monthly)

Format: Magazine 11¼" by 8¼" with 84 pages


The photograph captions and credits shown are those that appeared in the magazine.

An historic Hertfordshire home


One of the few old houses yet remaining in the Panshanger district is the Old Cottage,
now No. 39 Bridge Road, Welwyn Garden City.

The Old Cottage

Photograph by Dr. Rosalind King

(click image to enlarge)

The residents of Handside Lane in Welwyn Garden City will doubtless be interested to know that the name of their road commemorates a medieval manor of which the last mention appears to have been in 1599. In the 13th century "Haneshyda" is recorded as belonging to the Bishop of Ely and the spacious domain of Hatfield and the adjacent manors were held by the Abbots of Ely before the Norman conquest.

The manor of Handside had its origin in lands held by John Polayn in 1324 and his son was Lord of Ayot Montfichet. During the reign of Henry VIII it was held by the family of Fish. As the result of a lawsuit brought by Edward Brockett he gained the reversion of the manor after the death in 1599 of Elizabeth, widow of Thomas Fish. This Elizabeth later married William Perient who predeceased her. He was a member of the family which had for long held Digswell. Thereafter Handside was absorbed in Brockett estates.

Some 200 years later a great area of this part of Hertfordshire comprised the extensive estates of the family of Cowper, whose seat at Cole Green was built by the first Earl Cowper, Lord Chancellor under Queen Anne and George I and was pulled down in 1801. The fifth Lord Cowper then built a much larger house at Panshanger, which was demolished as recently as 1953. The seventh and last Lord Cowper died in 1905 and after the death of his widow it passed to her niece, Lady Desborough.

It was after her death that Panshanger shared the fate of so many big houses in our time owing to the ever soaring cost of maintenance and so her executors had it pulled down. In 1919 a great part of the Panshanger estate was sold to the Welwyn Garden City Company and was incorporated in the new Garden City.

One of the few old houses yet remaining in this district is the Old Cottage, now No. 39 Bridge Road and the residence of Mrs. Lloyd. Some years ago the date 1604 was inscribed on the front wall, but the style of the front room in which the beams, still in an excellent state of preservation, may very likely indicate that this part of the house could well have been erected in the closing years of the old manor of Handside. This would appear to have been the opinion of the late Dora Ward as expressed in her most informative and interesting book "From Doomsday to Garden City." *

Before 1920 almost the whole of Hertfordshire was purely agricultural and the workers on the Panshanger estate lived in scattered hamlets and isolated cottages. Among the county's then sparse population, as at Hitchin and elsewhere, there seems to have been a considerable number of Quakers and the Old Cottage is recorded as one of the meeting places of that at one time much persecuted sect. In those days the greater part of the land now occupied by the Garden City was comprised in the parish of Bishops Hatfield.

Some very interesting information about the Old Cottage has recently come to light through the researches of Richard Busby of the Campus Library who sent me a cutting from a long defunct Welwyn Garden paper. In the issue for August, 1924, of the Welwyn Garden Pilot there appeared an article, the details of which were supplied by Henry James Halsey, then a ticket-collector at Hatfield Station.

This member of the Hatfield branch of a very old Hertfordshire family had worked for William Horn at the Lower Handside farmhouse before he joined the railway. His rent was £4 a year, which he paid in quarterly instalments at the Cowper estate office at Cole Green.

Before the development of Welwyn Garden City, Handside Lane and Bridge Road were secluded narrow rural lanes and in Bridge Road there used to be a pond, long since filled in.

Attached to this article was a photograph of Henry's father, one of the many Williams in the family, seated on a stile just outside the cottage. This photograph was unfortunately too worn to be reproduced. William's father, John, employed as a woodman by the last Lord Cowper lived to the good old age of eighty-nine and one of the apple trees which he planted in the garden still survives.

The Old Cottage as it was some years ago.

By courtesy of the Campus Library, Welwyn Garden City

(click image to enlarge)

A story is told of John, unfortunately without any date, but as the last Lord Cowper succeeded to his estate as long ago s 1857, this must be the one meant. John Halsey, then an old man, was naturally very worried when he heard that his house would shortly be pulled down. When he next met Lord Cowper he told him that if they pulled his house down he would never "be able to find his way into another." "Well, John," said his Lordship, "what do you suggest ?" and the old man replied: "I would like you to patch it up for me to end my days in."

Fortunately for John and for everybody who treasures the too fast diminishing relics of our county as it was in the old days his quest was granted.

William was one of a family of nine and his son, the ticket-collector, who compiled these notes about the old house and its former inhabitants was one of eight, of whom two sisters emigrated to South Africa. A brother went to Hitchin, whose grandson Peter eventually settled at Bedford.

I have been very fortunate in contacting one of the last of the Halseys who lived at the Old Cottage. This was William Halsey, a Chelsea Pensioner, who passed away towards the end of last year at the age of 80. He wrote me two very long and interesting letters, in which he gave me an account of his army career and also that of his father, who bore the same Christian name.

The elder William lived to be 92 and died at Brading in the Isle of Wight some fifteen years ago. He was born at an old house at Ayot Green, which was supposed to be a toll house many years ago and has recently been taken down brick by brick and rebuilt elsewhere. He served in India in his younger days and went to the Parkhurst Barracks in the Isle of Wight about 1889, where our Chelsea Pensioner was born in 1893. Father and son both served in world war one, in which the elder William was awarded the DCM. Our Chelsea Pensioner went through the retreat from Mons, and afterwards he was wounded and lost his left eye. Thereafter he was on home service for the rest of the war.

Some years previously the family had returned to the Old Cottage, where at the age of eleven he wrote the hitherto unidentified signatures on two of the windows and also carved his initials on a brick near the front door. They left the house in 1906, after which William Junior told me that an uncle of his may have lived there. However, as I have not been able to trace the records of the house for this period, its immediately subsequent history must remain in doubt. He told me that he entered the Royal Hospital at Chelsea in 1965, where he spent the last eight years of his life.

His great-nephew Roland, who is a near neighbour of mine at Welwyn, and I both intended to go to London to meet him and it is a matter of regret to us both that we deferred our intended visit too long.

When Henry James visited his old home, it belonged to the Misses Sharp, for whom it had again been renovated by Fredrick Palmer, whose firm was one of the original firms of builders in the Garden City.

Another view of The Old Cottage

By courtesy of Campus Library, Welwyn garden City

(click image to enlarge)

About twenty years ago it was occupied for a short time by Mr. and Mrs. Alec Hattie and in the course of some minor alterations during their tenure some copper coins of the period of Charles II were found embedded in a wall. As this type of souvenir was often left by builders in the old days, it seems highly probable that some reconstruction of the house took place in the reign of the Merrie Monarch. Mrs. Hattie will be long be remembered with respect in the Garden City for her many years of service on the council, on which she occupied the chair for one year.

It was, we believe, in the reconstruction during the Hatties' residence that the old bread oven and stove were removed.

After them came the late Dr. Lloyd and Mrs. Lloyd, as stated in the beginning of this article, still lives there and takes a great interest in her beautiful and historic home.

*My notes on Dora Ward's 1953 book "Digswell from Domesday to Garden City" can be accessed via my WGC book menu link at the top of this page, or just click here for the notes.