Sunday, October 6, 2013

In search of Harpsfield Hall, Hatfield

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Harpsfield Hall, Hatfield
When Hatfield Aerodrome was built in the 1930s the farm called Harpsfield Hall was demolished and John was interested to know how old the house was, and supplied a picture from 1925. As a result I have carried out a search of online records relating to the 19th century, and some printed sources, and identified the following facts/observations:
  • While the name Harpsfield goes back to the 13th century it was not a manor, and hence has been ignored by the main published County Histories.
  • The Harpsfield estate was owned by the Gape family, of St Michael's Manor, St Albans, and let, in whole or in parts during the whole of the 19th century.
  • Harpsfield Hall was sometimes called Hatfield Hall, at least at the beginning of the period studied.
  • William Pittman was a tenant at the beginning of the 19th century, occupying Hatfield Hall and 300 acres. Clearly Harpsfield Hall was a major establishment as when William died the sale of furniture, paintings, china, wines, and the farms live and dead stock took six days. 
  • In the 1830s and early 40s it is clear that the Hall, and a much enlarged farm, were let to separate tenants.
  • From about 1850 onwards Harpsfield Hall appears to have been the name of the hamlet, the word being used to describe several agricultural labourers cottages  
  • The 1925 picture shows a house which must be considerably smaller that the one where the auction was held in 1813.
  • The design of the house suggests it could have been a new build in the mid 19th century.

My suggestion is that that by 1840 the original Harpsfield Hall was passed its "sell by" date, and there were difficulties in letting the house and farm together. The farm was merges with a neighbouring farm and a new farm house (the one in the picture) was erected. Shortly afterwards the old hall was demolished - perhaps with parts being kept as farm cottages.

I would like to confirm this and if you are aware of any pre-1850 references to the Hall (and ideally a picture) I would be very grateful.for details.


  1. National Archives have Will of John Sergius Fothergill of Harpsfield Hall , Hertfordshire dated 12 April 1836. Another tenant of the Gape family? Anthony

    1. I have just checked and he was buried in St Albans Abbey and there is a brass memorial plate giving his date of death as 24 March 1836 at the age of 70, and also names two sisters. ( Would explain why Harpsfield House came up for rent shortly afterwards.

  2. The archives at HALS suggested the Manor might be found under St Peter's rather than Hatfield and indeed Victoria County History has a detailed account there with the spelling Harpesfield. At the time of publication the manor was still in the Gape family and was then owned by Nugent Gape. Anthony

    1. I found recently a handwritten book amongst some old books of my parents entitled'Reference to the Map of The Hertfordshire Estate of Thomas Foreman Gape Esq situate in the Parishes of St Peters St Stephens Hatfields 1827' It lists several farms, their size and their tenants. John Fothergill Esq is the tenant of Harpsfield Hall Mansion. There is an additional page attached, dated 1838, referring to an exchange of land with a Mr Thomas Cannon. I found your site when I looked up Harpsfield Hall Mansion

  3. I just sent a comment/reply as Anonymous because I don't really know how to use the options. As i see that my post doesn't get published immediately, I can give you my email address for reply.

  4. I have just had a note from L. SInclair which says:

    There is some interesting information in your pages relating to Harpsfield Hall but the house shown in the photograph ( actually, that image is from my album) is the original hall. The site was excavated about 10 years ago and I believe medieval foundations were found there. Externally, the facade was from the Eighteenth Century and was surmounted by two, large statues of eagles, although by the time my family lived there, the central clock tower shown in an 18th Century watercolour of the hall, had been removed. The land extended to about 400 acres and there were barns and granaries and cottages etc for the staff and farm labourers. Mill Green Museum at Hatfield would have more information.

    I will be updating the page on the web site later this week - and would be interested in the archaeology - as even if the house in the picture is Harpsfield Hall, the sale in 1813 was of the contents of a much bigger house.

  5. I have a handwritten book dated 1827, entitled Reference to the Map of The Hertfordshire Estate of Thomas Foreman Gape Esq situate in the several parishes of St Peters St Stephen and Hatfield detailing size and tenants. Also added note about an exchange with William Cannon, dated 1838.

  6. Harpsfield Hall Farm was the home of James and Elizabeth Nowlson in 1851. They came from Wiltshire. Their daughter Elizabeth Wiltshire Nowlson married James Debenham (On my family tree)


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