Albury Hall - Historical Survey

Albury Hall was a manor house situated in undulating well-wooded countryside and set in its own park, to the north-west of the village of Albury in East Hertfordshire. Over the centuries there have probably been at least three different houses on different sites. The most recent Albury Hall was built around 1780 and demolished soon after the Second World War. This report traces the history of the site and the now-vanished house.

The early background

The manor of Albury dates back to before the Conquest and was described in the Domesday Book of 1086 as belonging to the Bishop of London. It contained arable fields, meadows (for hay), pasture (for grazing) and woodland. Its mediaeval tenants included families called Baard, de la Lee and Barley. In 1594 the manor was divided between four sisters; by 1613 it was held by two of the sisters and their husbands, the Brograves and the Franks. It remained with these two families for most of the 17th century. In 1688 the two halves were united under Sir John Brograve and sold in about 1700 to Felix Calvert. In 1755 his grandson John inherited the estate. John Calvert was MP for Wendover in 1754 and later for Hertford. He was also Master of the famous Puckeridge foxhounds which, in 1780, were owned and managed by him, apparently at Albury. In 1781 he purchased the adjacent manor of Patmore Hall, which remained part of the estate until 1848, when the two manors split again.

It was John Calvert, according to the historian Cussans (History of Hertfordshire, written 1870-73), who rebuilt the house. ”Albury Hall formerly stood about seventy or eighty yards further south than the present building. It was pulled down about the year 1780 by John Calvert Esquire, who built the existing manor-house.” Unfortunately he does not say where his information came from. Seventy or eighty yards would put the old house on the terraces immediately north of the farm buildings. The Topographical Map of Hart-fordshire (Map 1) was first published in 1766 and provides a vivid depiction of the countryside. It is roughly accurate, but exaggerates the width of roads and the size of houses and their grounds. It shows the park boundary with its paling fence and the site of the present walled kitchen garden with the over large farm buildings just beyond. The approach drive, instead of diverting to the west of this group as it does today, continued in a northerly direction and swept round in front of the Hall from the east. It then looped back, leaving the park through its western boundary. The house is shown at some distance north of the farm buildings. It appears to have consisted of a central block with flanking ranges set forward on each side. In front was a walled or fenced courtyard with a central gateway and a small pond in the middle. Behind the house was what appear to be a series of terraces rising up to two large square plots, which usually represent gardens or orchards. (Similar plots are shown at Pelham Hall and Uphall.)

If Cussans' date of 1780 is correct, this must be the previous house. Its shape is quite different from that of the later building. Its apparent symmetry, however, suggests that it was post-mediaeval in date, perhaps even built by Felix Calvert soon after he purchased the estate in the early 1700s. Interestingly, the present walled kitchen garden to the south looks from maps and on site remarkably like an old moated enclosure. Almost all mediaeval manor houses were moated, so this was probably the site of the even earlier house.

Whilst looking at the maps, another striking feature is the way the estate is cut through by two artificially straight lines running roughly north-south but almost converging. Roman roads are an unlikely explanation, as the lines only seem to relate to this estate. They are not apparent on the 1766 map except by implication, but show up at least in part by 1805. The eastern one defines the original park boundary (later extended) and the western one seems to have been a central intersection, at least up as far as the pond near Kitchers.

The 1780 house

A print by the artist Oldfield (Fig.1), who was working c1790-1820, has the text: “Albury Hall the seat of John Calvert Esq is in a good Park...” followed by a brief resume of its ownership. Albury Hall was a large red-brick house of three storeys, with two full-height bays to the south. Later photographs indicate that it was, most unusually, a triple-pile house, i.e. it had three shallow-pitched roofs running east-west side by side, masked by a high parapet. The triple division was defined by the window groupings of 2-3-2, divided by flat pilasters, on the east and west fronts. There were projecting string-courses at first floor and eaves level. The print shows the east elevation looking rather stark, with a pillared and pedimented central doorcase. The drive approaches from the north and sweeps round to the east. (This approach seems to have survived as a woodland path on the 1875 and 1897 OS maps.) There appears to have been a pediment at roof level on the north face. Its shadow can be seen on the ground and the tip of its apex just shows above the parapet. It is likely there was a service building behind the main house, not visible in the illustration. The first Ordnance Survey map published in 1805 (Map 2), although drawn at a much smaller scale, appears to show a secondary building to the north-west of the main block. It also shows the south drive turning to the left as it does today, but making a much bolder loop to finish opposite the Hall, perhaps linking with the old western carriageway shown in 1766. The northern approach shown in Fig.1 shows up in Map 2 as a narrower path running parallel to the main north-south intersection.

No architect has been recorded as responsible for the ‘new’ Albury Hall, but it resembles Badger Hall, Shropshire, for example (Fig.2), which was designed in 1779 by James Wyatt (and demolished in 1952). He also designed Ashridge Park, but in a very different style. Other, less famous, architects were also working in similar style at the time.

Regency and early Victorian Albury Hall

John Calvert died in 1808 and was succeeded by his son, also John. He was described as “of Albury Hall” when he took over the management of the Puckeridge foxhounds in 1802. He too was an MP for, successively, Malmesbury, Tamworth, St Albans and Huntingdon; he was also secretary to the Lord Chamberlain. During his time, a single storey service wing was added off the north face of the house, extending westwards. A drawing (Fig.3) dated 1841 by J C Buckler (1793-1894) taken from the south-east shows part of this wing. It also gives a good representation of the surrounding landscape. Calvert’s ‘new’ house was located in a natural dip in the undulating parkland, the old site (as identified by Cussans) now a tree-covered mound. To the north of the house, the ground rises steeply and the whole area is well wooded. Although the drawing does not make it clear, the Tithe Map, which was made in the same year of 1841 (Map 3), shows that the main approach is now from the south, across the park. The service wing, seen on plan, overlaps half the north elevation and is quite extensive, with a small detached building beyond.

In 1844, John Calvert died, and the following year Albury Hall was offered for sale, apparently unsuccessfully. In 1847 his executors offered it for sale again, admitting that “since the death of the late proprietor it has not been kept in suitable order”. The sale particulars give a fairly detailed description (see transcript of extracts) and politely recommend the removal of the projecting north office wing.

Albury Hall in Squire Dawson’s time (1847-1868)

The purchaser in 1847 was Richard Dawson of Withcall in Lincolnshire. The following year, he acted on the hint in the sale catalogue and pulled down the old service wing, but then rebuilt it more extensively, projecting both north and west, two storeys high and with a three-storeyed Italianate tower (see photographs 1, 2 and 3). This was evidently a fashion feature of the time: cf the tower at Hooton Hall, Cheshire (Fig.4), built by J K Colling in the 1850s (demolished c 1935). It was probably Dawson who built the red-brick entrance lodge “in the Elizabethan style”.

An Albury resident, Frank Wheatley (1902-1959), wrote a series of fascinating articles in the church magazine in the early 1950s, describing his own memories and those of his father and grandfather, stretching right back to Dawson’s time (see copies). He says that all but two of the farmworkers lived in the house with Squire Dawson (presumably in the north wing) and describes their meals and way of life (July and September issues, 1953). Dawson had a great reputation for sheep, which were the main enterprise, with a few cows, fattening cattle and pigs.

Richard Dawson JP died on 8th April 1868, recorded in a memorial window in Albury Church, the stained glass representing the raising of Lazarus. His widow and his daughter Fanny continued to live at Albury Hall for a while but in 1873, as Fanny was about to marry the Revd E J Rogers, it was offered for sale. The sale catalogue was very detailed, with descriptions and measurements of the principal rooms (see transcript of extracts).

The house and park in Squire Shoobridge’s time (1873-1905)

The house and land were purchased by William Stephen Shoobridge, although the manorial rights were bought separately, by John Stock Clark, a substantial local copyhold farmer wishing to secure his tenancy. The sale particulars emphasise the fine sporting opportunities and Mr Shoobridge, like the Calverts, became involved with the foxhounds and was a local JP. His only son, Leonard, went to Eton and Balliol, Oxford and eventually also became a JP.

The 1st edition 25” OS map, published in 1878 (Map 5), shows the layout of Dawson’s service/farmworkers’ wing, built 30 years earlier. It also shows some increase in the trees around the house since the Tithe Map of 1841. The circular pond (a dew-pond, according to Frank Wheatley) to the north of the house is now surrounded, and deliberate plantings of clumps of trees can be seen in the park to the east, surrounded by fencing to protect them from grazing animals – probably the sheep. The parkland to the west, by contrast, is quite bare. The difference shows up even more clearly on the 1st edition 6” map, which used the same survey, although it was not published until 1898.

In 1897, the 2nd edition 25” OS map was produced (Map 6). By then, the Shoobridges had been in residence for nearly 25 years. A comparison with the earlier map gives no indication of any structural alterations to the house or its immediate surroundings. One open-sided shed has gone from the courtyard of farm buildings, although its rear brick wall survives. There are clear changes, however, to the park. Shoobridge has planted many more ring-fenced clumps of trees, spreading them further to the south, but still not to the west. This was probably to enhance the view from the carriage approach, which he realigned in a more sinuous, sweeping curve. He also removed the outer fencing beyond the east lawn, probably for the same reason. Photograph 1 may have been taken in his time, showing the east front from the newly unfenced area. The two simple oval flowerbeds at the end of the lawn can just be seen, and in view of the sheep, it is likely there was a hidden ha-ha just below them. Shoobridge also built a long greenhouse against one of the south-facing walls of the kitchen garden.

Maurice Glyn, city gentleman (1906-c1921)

On the death of William Shoobridge, the property changed hands again. The new owner was Maurice George Carr Glyn JP (1872-c1921). He was a partner in the banking firm of Glyn Mills Currie and Co, was a London County Council Alderman from 1912 and High Sheriff of Hertfordshire that same year. Photograph 2 was probably taken soon after he purchased Albury Hall. It shows the house from the south-west, with the distinctive full-height bays unchanged from the earliest illustrations. The west entrance front, however, now has a large projecting portico, unlike the modest porch shown in plan on the earlier maps. This may have been built by Shoobridge after 1897, or it may have been an early Glyn alteration. The same photo also shows a central pediment high up on the parapet (perhaps the same as the original north front) and long round-headed windows above the portico, their sill heights indicating that they light the full-height entrance hall mentioned in the sale catalogues. In Hertfordshire Houses, J T Smith describes the west front as having been remodelled by Maurice Glyn in Queen Anne style, but apart from the portico, there seems to be nothing to conflict with the 1780 date. The coat of arms on the pediment is not quite clear enough to identify, but it could be the Calvert arms. Dawson’s rather plain 1848 wing with its fancy tower is in the background, as are some workmen and building materials. The garden paths, as far as can be seen, are laid out as they appear on the 1897 map, in the Shoobridges’ time. Photographs 3 and 3a, however, show a newly laid out formal garden (see below), but with the Dawson wing as yet unaltered.

Photograph 4, judging by the trees, was taken only a couple of years after photograph 2 and from almost exactly the same angle. Maurice Glyn has transformed the servants’ wing. The chimneys and window positions are the only clue that it is still the old wing, but now clad in a pilastered brick front, to match the main house, and with a French-looking mansard roof and a clock tower. The Italianate tower has been remodelled and the link area below it has been enlarged, as has the portico entrance, which now has small wings each side. Heavy balustrading has been added to match the earlier balustrading on the portico, and there are garden walls, pillars, urns and specimen trees everywhere, in line with late-Victorian/Edwardian taste. Photograph 4a shows the same features from a slightly different angle. It illustrates the mansard roof of the link to the north range, with a pediment-headed sash window breaking through the eaves line. Is the car parked in the drive Mr Glyn's?

The extent of the Glyns’ alterations and additions can be seen on the next edition of the 25” OS map, made in 1921 (Map 7). The service wing is wider than before, perhaps with a lean-to on the back, which cuts into the uphill slope. The outline of the carriage porch with its extra side-pieces can be seen, as well as a large projecting wing on the north-east corner of the house. This can be seen in photograph 4b as a substantial three-storeyed block closely matching the detail of the existing house, with a single projecting bay, asymmetrically placed to the south side of the east front.

The photograph also illustrates clearly the much-enlarged garden with its formal geometric layout of terracing, steps and paths, with a swimming pool area south-east of the house. The garden is slightly more established than in photographs 3 and 3a. A flight of steps leads up to a semi-circular terrace created around a large tree, with yew-lined avenues beyond. Apart from the mature trees on the hilltop, the area is relatively open. The 1921 OS map adds to the pictures. Mr Shoobridge’s curvaceous parkland carriage drive was simplified and the west entrance was straightened and enlarged (see photograph 4a). Its importance was emphasised by the planting of a straight avenue of trees across the park to the west. Additions were made to the farm buildings and greenhouses, and five cottages and other buildings erected north of the Conduit Pond. Mr Glyn laid on piped water to the village, and he and his wife were generous benefactors to Albury Church.

A field just outside the park to the south-east, pasture in 1848, had gradually become a wood. Wheatley records that during the First World War it was named after the battle of Ypres, although he says the locals pronounced it Vespers (unless it was a misprint for Wipers). He also describes a former brickfield near Oakham Wood., and a stone summerhouse in the Plaisance – the wooded hill to the north of the house.

Colonel Francis Glyn (1920s-1950s)

By 1922, Maurice Glyn had died and the house was unoccupied, his widow living at Upwick. Possibly it had been used for other purposes during the First World War. By 1929, however, Francis Glyn was living at the Hall., and in 1932 received a group from the East Herts Archaeological Society on one of their excursions, although Francis himself was not present. They viewed the house, and particularly admired the handmade Chinese wallpaper in the drawing room. In 1938, Francis Glyn planted a new block of woodland on the hill north-east of the house and named it Munich, to commemorate Neville Chamberlain’s visit. When, in spite of Munich, the Second World War broke out, Albury Hall was requisitioned by the Army. This happened to many country houses. Usually officers lodged in the house, and the men were in huts in the grounds. The Army laid on mains water but probably did little else to maintain the building. Francis Glyn (referred to as both Colonel Glyn and Sir Francis Glyn by Frank Wheatley) moved the short distance to Hole Farm. This had been purchased and added to the estate by Mr Shoobridge, who built the roadway leading to it, the road originally continuing north, to the side of White Cottage After the war, faced with the inevitable repair and maintenance bills of a large country house, the Glyns decided to remain at Hole Farm. Albury Hall was demolished, according to Frank Wheatley, in about 1950.

Photograph 5 is a mystery. It is captioned ‘Interior, Albury Hall’ in the same lettering as that used for Photograph 4. It shows two fluted pillars and a marbled fire surround, which resemble the description given in the 1873 sale catalogue, although those pillars were said to have an imitation marble effect. However, the furnishings are very modest and the carpet is threadbare, contrasting with the opulent exterior in Photograph 4. The style of the furniture, fittings and firegrate looks later than c1910. In addition, there is a porthole window next to the fireplace. No round windows are visible in the other illustrations, and none of the chimneys seem to be on an outside wall, except perhaps on the north side of the new east wing. It may only be resolved if further pictures or plans can be found.

The later Glyns (1950s-1981)

The Glyn family continued to own and farm the estate, with a continuing emphasis on woodland and shooting. The area of woodland between the walled garden and the old carriage drive, which appeared sometime between 1921 and 1977, is named Suez, so was presumably planted or named in 1956. (Is it coincidence or deliberate irony that all the names are of British disasters?) More farm cottages were built. The 1977 OS map records the loss of many of the old parkland trees, along with Maurice Glyn’s avenue, and the new blocks of planting, including on the old house site. In 1981, the Glyn family sold the estate.

Recent owners (1981-2000)

Albury Hall was held by various institutional and industrial owners, who added Albury Lodge Farm to the estate. Some root crops were grown, but in recent years it has been run as a mainly arable commercial unit. As before, shooting has been an important feature, and yet more planting of trees was carried out 1990-2000 under the Farm Woodland Scheme. The estate was resold in 2000.

The site today

With the aid of the large-scale OS map(Map 8), a surprising amount of evidence survives of the former Albury Hall and its grounds. The footings of one of the high bay windows have been exposed, enabling the rest of the foundations to be traced. The retaining brick wall behind the service wing is still there, and most of the steps, terraces, pillars and alleys of Maurice Glyn’s formal gardens can still be found amongst the overgrown trees, as well as the swimming pool within its now enormous yew hedge. Up in the Pleasance an avenue leads to a circular level site, perhaps that of the flint summerhouse Frank Wheatley remembered. Nearby is a huge and ancient cedar of Lebanon, probably planted (by John Calvert?) as a focal point at the top of the hill, to be viewed from the Hall.

The walled garden (probably of the same date as the house, i.e. c1780) has survived almost intact, although the glasshouses and Victorian fernery have gone. Its triple division is most unusual, but has the advantage of providing three south-facing walls. It was still in use in the 1950s, as metal labels still fixed to the west wall record varieties of pear and the date 1952.

The red-brick barn (probably Victorian) is still there, as is the brick wall along the south and west sides of the “pleasure-grounds”, with its distinctive curved coping. The old carriage drive from the south can still be traced, and Maurice Glyn’s formal west entrance.

No doubt if the site could be cleared of ‘modern’ trees (cf Copped Hall, Epping), a great deal more evidence would be found.

Anne Padfield
October 2000


Acknowledgements and sources

Hertfordshire Record Office
Victoria County History of Hertfordshire
History of Hertfordshire, Cussans
Hertfordshire Houses, J T Smith
Liz Barratt, East Herts Archaeological Society
Albury Church Magazine
John Moase

Appendices

Please click the links below to view more material on the estate. The images will open in this window, so use the Back button on your browser to return to this page.

If you want to view the pictures in a new window, right-click the hyperlink and select "Open in new window". The pictures will then be automatically scaled to fit into your browser window, by Internet Explorer. To enlarge them to actual size (to see the detail) hover your mouse over the image then click on the "Expand to Regular Size" button which will appear to the lower right of the picture (assuming you are using a recent version of Internet Explorer). Repeat this action to shrink the picture back into full view. In this case, rather than using the Back button, close the browser window to return to this page.

Map 1: Ordnance Survey map of Hertfordshire, c.1905
Map 2: Albury Tithe Map, 1841 (partial tracing)
Map 3: 1st edition 6” Ordnance Survey map (surveyed 1870s)
Map 4: 1878 25” OS
Map 5: 1897 25” OS
Map 6: 1921 25” OS
Map 7: 1977 1:2500 OS

Fig 1: Oldfield drawing, c.1800
Fig 2: Badger Hall, Shropshire
Fig 3: Buckler drawing, 1841
Fig 4: Hooton Hall, Cheshire

Photograph 1: Albury Hall from the east, c.1890
Photograph 2: Albury Hall from the south-west, c.1908
Photograph 3: Albury Hall, "The Terraces", c.1909
Photograph 4: Albury Hall from the south-west, c.1910
Photograph 5: Interior, Albury Hall, as Photo 4, or later?

Transcripts: Extracts from 1847 sale catalogue
Extracts from 1873 sale catalogue

Extracts from Albury Church Magazine 1952-54 (Frank Wheatley articles)

Page 1 (1952)
Page 2 (1952)
Page 3 (1952-3 - apologies for the loss of the bottom of this article)
Page 4 (1953)
Page 5 (1953-4)
Page 6 (1954)
Page 7 (mid-late 1954)
Page 8 (late 1954)
 


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