Although quite a reasonable amount of information on the Leverstock Green area has emerged with specific dates within the time we loosely call the "middle ages", there is an almost equal amount of generalised information about the period, to which we cannot put an exact date. I have therefore given these generalisations first under this heading, and then listed the items we can date more exactly. It is therefore likely that some of this information will not be in true chronological order.
In the clay areas of this part of Hertfordshire, the lanes were frequently bounded by wide "greens" . These once played a part in the local economy, as wayside pastures or patches of green pasture in an area where it was predominantly arable, and these provided supplementary grazing. They took the place of the "common" land in other areas. Green Lane shows evidence of this, as does High Street Green (just outside our area of study), and Leverstock Green Road as it was earlier this century. Even the name "Green Lane" is suggestive of the use it was put to up until probably the fifteenth century. [ S1 - p.12 ]
In the period after the Norman Conquest in 1066, it seems likely that the manorial lords of our area permitted assarting ( that is the clearing of the land from woodland,) where woodland had once again encroached during the dark ages. As the population increased and pressure was put on them to create and find homes for their increasing number of dependants and villeins. This would at the same time have created fields which could be tilled. Looking at the field patterns as shown on the O.S. map for 1872, it seems possible that this might have happened in some parts the north-eastern part of the area, as the fields here are less reminiscent of the open field system, and more compact. However, as this area was thought to have been part of the Romano-British estate based on Gorhambury, and recent archaeological discoveries indicate the presence of a Romano-British villa off Westwick Row itself, the field patterns could well have survived in part from that time, the Romans with their love of order preferring almost square fields. Specific evidence for this exists in a late 12th/ early 13th century document, where there is mention of " a certain assart beside the villa de Westwyca".[S167, p.84]. What is certain, is that the area was put to the plough at a very early stage, and probably remained tilled for most of its history.
Jonathan Hunn has reconstructed the medieval woodland around St. Albans [S167 Fig.32,p.88] which shows that most of the area was in fact cleared of wood by the time the Middle Ages were well established. Blackwater Wood being the probable only true woodland remaining within our study area. However it seems likely from the field names, that the western edges of the manor of Westwick were associated with old woodland. [S167, p.67]
The area to the south-west of our study area showed very distinctive open field patterns, even if they have been enclosed at a later date with hedges at right angles to the old furlong boundaries. By "open" I mean that the land was subdivided or in strips, not "common" fields. If you refer to the O.S. maps drawn up prior to the New Town development of Hemel Hempstead, the field boundaries flowed in a wave-like formation from Bovingdon right through towards Bennetts End and Leverstock Green. Even today, two ancient roadways which have been left virtually intact ( Chambersbury Lane and St. Albans Hill - formerly Bennetts End Lane ) preserve the curves of the furlongs. Other roads such as Belmont, Great Elms (although strictly not Leverstock Green), the eastern end of Peascroft Road ( if you include the footpath by the tennis club ),and the eastern end of Tile Kiln Lane have also been constructed along the lines of the medieval furlongs. Even Malmes Croft and Missden Drive follow in part the line of the old field boundaries. [S1; S10 p.165 ]
I have taken a tracing off the 1872 O.S. of all the field boundaries to the S.W. of the old Roman Road - that is Leverstock Green Road and Bedmond Road - leaving out the boundary lines which cross the N.E. - S.W. lines at right angles. This leaves a perfect pattern of furlong strips from the old open field system of nearly 1000 years ago. It seems incredible to me that despite all the growth of Hemel New Town, some parts of this system are still preserved in our modern roads and footpaths. Had the original plans for the New Town's development gone ahead, this would not have been the case. In fact if you look at the various maps showing the Roman and medieval infrastructure of this area, it can be seen they still form the framework for what is here today. (Click here to see a map of the Roman Infrastructure of the area, and here for a map of the medieval Infrastructure of the area.
We do know that some of these open fields were still in existence in 1523 when a manorial survey was undertaken which included Hemel Hempstead. However it is uncertain if all the information in the 1523 survey related to that year, or whether all or some of it was taken from an earlier survey. [ S10, pp.107 & 164 -165 ; S14 also modern street plan of Hemel.] In addition to this, as late as the Tithe survey of Abbots Langley in 1839, a small area of land was still farmed in strips, the strips having individual owners. This area was known as Winchdell Common, and was off Bunkers Lane. Dennis Bell-Taylor of Westwick Row Farm, who has farmed this area, says it is not very productive. Perhaps that is why the land was not generally consolidated in that small area, as it wasn't generally worth the trouble. In fact the 1877 1:10,000 1st Edition O.S. map still showed the boundaries of these strips, though whether or not they had individual owners is unclear. In this part of the country, medieval open-field systems did not generally take the form of nucleated villages surrounded with up to four huge open fields, within which strips of land were portioned out; instead smaller units of cultivation - usually great furlong strips were more common, especially where woodland hadn't been cleared until the twelfth century. It is these typical furlong strips which showed up so well on the old O.S. maps, and which have still left signs of their existence behind them today. [S1 p.12 ]
As mentioned previously, the area to the SW of the line of High Street Green - Leverstock Green Road - Bedmond Road, shows the medieval field pattern to have followed the pattern of long furlong strips typical of this part of the country. (Click here to link to map showing this.) The area to the north and east of this line, however, shows a different pattern, more reminiscent of the text-book "Medieval Field System" with which we are more familiar. It does not, however, conform exactly with this "school-book" idea of Medieval farming, but does conform to the field system found by D. Roden to have existed in the Chilterns. [ S167, p.96-7] Roden states that " the typical pattern of arable fields comprised both common arable land ( namely arable land contained in fields cultivated in common and which were open to common grazing after harvest), and substantial amounts of enclosed land held in severalty.1* Some demesne and tenant holdings were completely enclosed, while others included both common and "several land".
A survey carried out in 1306 of the manor of Westwick showed it to have four large Common Arable Fields which occupied 90% of the total manorial holding, and totalled 690 acres. There were however many other smaller fields. (Click here to link to page giving details of the Manor of Westwick in 1306, and here to link to a Map showing medieval field names around Leverstock Green. - LG Library also has copies.) Unfortunately no mention was given in the survey of how the land was managed. Of the four large Common Fields within the manor of Westwick, only one, Manyagfield, was all or nearly all within our area of study at this time. Manyagfield covered 140 acres of land around what is now Westwick Hall Farm, and may have reached as far SW as Westwick Row itself. [S167, Fig.33 p.89, p.92 - 94]
By the time of the survey undertaken for Sir Nicholas Bacon in 1569 we know that many of the land holdings within the manor were in delineated fields - known as Croftes, Closes and Pightles -, though this does not necessarily imply that they were totally enclosed with hedges, as only about 15% of the non-wooded landscape was hedged [ S167, p 109].
There were still, however, several common fields in 1569. One such was Blackreddings, or Blackruddings, the area of land the St. Albans side of Pancake Lane (Twichel Lane). Although 1569 cannot really be considered medieval, it is reasonable to assume that these fields had developed long before the survey was undertaken, especially as by this time farm holdings were beginning to be consolidated, and common fields were for the most part disappearing. Fields such as Blackreddings are likely to have developed at least during the previous century, though it may of course have been known by a different name. The earliest documentary evidence to have yet surfaced concerning Blackreddings is 1547, though that does not necessarily mean that the common field did not exist before that date. [S167]
Many of the entries in the 1569 survey referring to holdings within common fields, refer to a `Pece of land in the comen feild called...'. A Piece (or pece) consisted of a consolidated group of adjoining strips accumulated by an owner in piecemeal fashion through purchase and exchange. Although still farmed under the common field system and subject to common grazing rights at certain seasons, many pieces had their bounds marked by hedges or fences. However it was not until common rights were extinguished over them that they could be held in severalty (q.v.) and be regarded as closes. A piece was therefore often an intermediate stage in the process of enclosure, and references to this in our own area indicates the gradual process which occurred here from the middle ages, as opposed to statutory enclosures which occurred in the 18th century in other parts of the country. [S202]
In the part of our study area which fell within the old parish boundary of St. Mary's Hemel, we know too that some of the land at least was in large open fields, rather than the "open" furlong strips previously mentioned. A survey undertaken in 1523 shows two such fields in our area; Woderedyng, which was in the area of Woodwells Farm and appears to have been a large, almost oval shaped field; and Robyns, Pit & Peascroft which appears to have been in the area to the north of present day Peascroft Road ( retaining the name), to the south of Beneyet's End (1269) and including much of the area associated with tile and brick making in later centuries. The field was long and thin, but larger than the true furlong strips. [ S1, Fig.1, Fig 4,p.13,pp30-31] This is shown on my map showing Known Medieval Field Names.(Click here to link to map) It is worth remembering, however, that over the 500 year period we loosely call the Middle Ages, the field system was constantly and gradually being altered as farmers and landowners consolidated their holdings and threw off the shackles of the feudal system.
Despite the fact that many of the field names shown on the map have long since disappeared, several survived in similar if not exact form until the last century, and a few have even survived ( if not as fields, at least as names) until the present day. e.g. Buncefield, Breakspears, Robyns, Pit and Peascroft ( as Robins Road & Peascroft Road). One particular field, Harpescroft, although no longer known by this name, still retains it's exact size and shape, a very distinctive triangular shape. (Click here to map showing this.)
The Medieval Infrastructure of our area, that is to say the system of roads, lanes, manor houses, farms and other physical objects or places which would have been known to our medieval ancestors, are shown on the map "Known Late Medieval Infrastructure and Settlement in the Area of Leverstock Green." (Click here to link to map) Although this map shows the Infrastructure as known by the early sixteenth century, (with the exception of the windmill which had long since gone out of use by the 16th century,) the vast proportion of the lanes, farmsteads and other items shown have documentation going back considerably earlier.
As can be seen from the map, a considerable system of roads and lanes existed during the middle ages, much of which can still be traced today either as roads or footpaths. In fact recent documents which I've studied at the Hertfordshire record office have suggested further Lanes and paths to have been in use in the 15th century, but as yet I have been unable to plot their exact positions. It should be pointed out, however, that the period between the 11th century and the early 16th century which we loosely call the Middle Ages, covers over 500 years, and it is therefore impossible to say with certainty that all the items on the map existed all together for the entire period. Similarly, there may have been other buildings and routeways which have left no documentary or visible evidence, and which are yet to be uncovered.
As more archaeological and historical evidence comes to light, it now seems increasingly likely that the manor and vill of Westwick began life centred along Westwick Row. At some stage, possibly the 14th century, the centre of the manor shifted towards and finally to Gorhambury, so that by the time Nicholas Bacon acquired the manor and its lands, the focus was further to the east at Gorhambury. However, despite a shrinking of the settlement of Westwick, there has being continuity of settlement along and off Westwick Row since the earliest times.
It is also interesting to note that although the principle manor house later became known as Gorhambury, and indeed the entire manor took that name in part, on all the old documents I have studied so far, when individual people or properties are referred to they are said to be either situated in, or to come from WESTWICK or the parish of St. Michaels. They are almost never referred to as coming from Gorhambury prior to 17th century even though the property in question is referred to as belonging to the manor of Gorhambury, Westwick and Pray.
Dr. Jonathan Hunn in his reconstruction of the landscape in this area , shows on his map of the Medieval settlement patterns,[ S167, p.80], a hamlet centred on Westwick Row, and a farm or messuage at Breakspears. He does not show any other settlement in the parish of St. Michaels within our study. Just outside our study area, he does however, show the Manor of Westwick in its supposed position within Gorhambury Park.
Exactly when the settlement grew up along Westwick Row is unsure, it was certainly well established by the survey of 1569 [ HRO XI2], and many of the memoranda within that survey refer to transactions concerning various fields and tenements along Westwick Row during the previous century. Recent Roman discoveries along Westwick Row suggest there may even have been continual settlement along the Row of some kind from the 2nd century onwards.
In addition Westwick Cottage, which is now thought to have been the early medieval manor house, and has been conclusively dated to the end of the 12th century/beginning of the 13th, shows evidence of the existence of at least one dwelling along the Row as early as the 12th/13th century [S33]. It now seems likely that the medieval settlement, and possibly the Saxon settlement before it was centred around Westwick Row. It did not, however, achieve full village status after the early middle ages, probably because it never had it's own church. The secular Lords of the manor initially having their own chapel as shown in the survey of 1306, and later the Bacon and Grimston families as well as having their own chapels, had become patrons of St. Michael's, with the manorial centre having moved further to the East. This church already being established as part of another of their neighbouring manors - Kingsbury. With the likely patrons of a church catered for elsewhere, there was no early incentive for the establishment of a church close to the settlement along Westwick Row.
Westwick was not included in the Doomsday survey of 1086, but as mentioned later on, this does not preclud its existence at this time. A document dating from the late 12th/early 13th century refers to " a certain assart beside the villa de Westwyca". This may have referred to a fairly nucleated settlement, around the site of Westwick Cottage. Given all the demographic, documentary and physical evidence, it seems probable that by the later middle ages, and remembering that it was a rural area, settlement was widespread over the area, though for the most part consisted of reasonably spaced individual farmsteads. It included the following: a hamlet based along Westwick Row, and known individual farmsteads at Palmers, though strictly within Redbourn parish), Breakspears, Kettlewells, Megdells, Hillend, probably Coxpond, Woodwells, Bennetts End, Northend, Stonards* (This possibly being the earliest documented, in 1273-4, and placed right at the heart of modern Leverstock Green.), and Chambersbury. It also seems highly probable to me that the Prioress of Markyate would have installed some kind of steward to oversee their grant of land which later became known as the manor of Market Oak, and there is documentary evidence of the manor/farm by the 17th century. [ Click here to see page relating to The Location of Principle Properties in the Area.]
Added to the above, any additional simple dwellings in the form of wattle or cob huts, can only be guessed at. [S167, S192] I have also include on the Infrastructure map Coxpond and Blackwater. Firstly because the schedule for Little Coxpond farm suggests it may be earlier that early 16th century, documentary evidence for Great Coxpond suggests a dwelling dating to the early 16th century or earlier, and additionally in the case of Blackwater, although the earliest date we have for Blackwater is 1551, the 1569 survey suggests it may have been well established at that date. The lane certainly goes back much earlier than that, as the hedgerow indicates. 2 This is particularly obvious in springtime as the hedgerow is full of bluebells, a sure indicator of a very hedgerow, and the relatively sparse growth early in the season allows the shrunken level of the roadway relative to the fields to be clearly seen.
As in Roman times, during the medieval period, Leverstock Green and its environs would have been well known to those who had to travel between St. Albans and the growing "towne" of Hemel Hempstead; and also Berkhamsted which was gaining in importance. The chief route for this was The Berkhamstead Way - that is the road leading from St. Albans, through Leverstock Green and along High Street Green. At what point settlement started to develop along the Berkhamstead Way is unclear; but as other substancial and prosperous farmhouses were growing up in the area, it seems likely that by the 14th century at the latest there may well have been some simple peasant's dwellings which have long since disappeared.
It should be remembered that this route was the main entrance to the district around Hemel and Berkhamsted at that time. It was referred to in many early documents as the Berkhamsted Way or the Berkhamsted Highway, or sometimes even the "road from St. Albans to Berkhamsted". It must also be remembered, however, that Leverstock Green as a village, did not exist during the Middle Ages, although there was a manor of Leverstock Green. (Alias Market Oak alias Market Dole.) [S1, S192] Instead the settlement along Westwick Row, off the main highway, was the residential focus for the area. Leverstock Green was in fact just that, a Green or common formed where the roads from Watford and St. Albans merged. The wide verges stretching along the Berkhamsted Way were also referred to as Leverstock Green ( green as in common) on many early maps, including the early O.S.maps. It was not until the development of the turnpike roads, canals and railways in later centuries that the Leverstock Green area was "by-passed" by principal traffic in the area, though in recent years the route having once again become a feeder road for Hemel and the motorways, the route through the centre is very well used as anyone trying to travel along it during the rush hours can testify.
In the Medieval period, despite the brief but violent upheaval in June 1381 of the Peasants Revolt in which we know men of Westwick took part, the land was very much under the power of the Abbots of St. Albans, or those to whom they passed their rights, such as the priory at Markyate. It seems likely therefore, that during this time much of the remaining woodland in the area was cleared and small isolated settlements grew up within easy reach of the larger settlements of St. Albans, Abbots Langley and to a lesser degree Hemel Hempstead. Indeed the name Leverstock Green suggests an area of such clearing, as the "stocc" element of the name refers to a tree stump (or stumps ). [S22;S23;S10 p.107; GORHAM, Vol. 1, p.93; S162 p.15]
Recent work by various scholars has led to the suggestion that the population of England prior to the Black Death in 1348-9 was considerably higher than previously thought. In the 1982 edition of "Deserted Medieval Villages in Hertfordshire", K.Rutherford Davis put the population of England in about 1300 as high as nearly 6 million. A figure not reached again until the 18th century. As a result of the visitation of the plague, together with other climatic and economic factors which led to over population and famine at the very beginning of the 14th century, by the poll tax of 1377 the population had dropped to between 2.5 million and 3 million. It continued to decline to its low point of 2.0 - 2.5 million in the mid fifteenth century. It then rose very slowly until about 1520 when it may have reached 2.5 - 2.75 million. It can be seen from these figures, that there were probably as many people living in our local villages and hamlets in 1300 as there were rural dwellers in the 1851 census! ( See graph.) [ S71 ]
Using the evidence of the Domesday Book, it can reasonably be assumed that Hertfordshire was a typical county, and therefore the national trends on population would have been roughly similar within our own county, and therefore within Leverstock Green. On this basis, together with the fairly complicated infrastructure we know to have been in existence, it is highly probable that the area was fairly well populated in the early middle ages, but that much of this settlement disappeared as the population dwindled, and was not to increase again for several hundred years. As the vast majority of the dwellings in this very early period of our history were simple wattle huts, it is not therefore surprising that there is no tangible evidence of their existence. [S71 ]
In addition, extensive research undertaken at various DMV's including Broadfield in Hertfordshire, has shown that the pattern of settlement was never fixed, and that subsidiary hamlets might grow at the expense of the previous more nucleated village; or alternatively that a hamlet might almost disappear, while a new one developed round a previously isolated farm. Westwick is now officially regarded as a "shrunken" rather than "deserted" medieval village ( see entry for 1334 ), and this, together with all the previous evidence suggests that in the half century prior to the Black Death in 1349, the area in the vicinity of Leverstock Green may well have had a population not dissimilar to its 1851 population of over a thousand. Even if you reduce that number by half, as much of the nineteenth century population was concerned in the manufacture of bricks and tiles, that still leaves a fairly substantial early fourteenth century population. Not forgetting that the area to which I am referring covers over 10.5 square kilometres (about 4 square miles) and includes Woodwells Farm, and Bennetts End, as well as Rectory Manor ( later known as Chambersbury ) and Northend (see entry for 1355 ) in addition to the hamlet or "village" of Westwick which now seems almost certainly to have been centred around Westwick Row in a pattern known as an "Interrupted Row".. [ S71; S312; S327]
St. Albans certainly grew very rapidly during the Middle Ages, the Abbey and its influence became especially important nationally as well as locally. Much of the land in our study area belonged to the Abbey in early medieval times. The " Liberty " of St. Albans was the area of land granted to St. Albans Abbey, and appeared to be autonomous, owing allegiance only to the King. It was even free from direct interference from the church authorities, although that caused considerable disputation during the 12th century. ( See entry for AD 793.)
Although final allegiance within the Liberty was to the King, the Liberty represented immunity from Royal administration because the officials of the Liberty, not the King's officials, carried out Royal orders. Each Liberty, (St. Albans wasn't the only Liberty in the country by the Middle Ages, York for example had two separate liberties in the 14th century.), had jurisdiction for crimes committed in it and contained its own courthouse, jail and gallows! [S132, p 361]. The Liberty also represented immunity from Diocesan control, or rather the Archdeaconry of St. Albans did, with the Abbot appointing the Archdeacon to administer the Liberty. In 1163, Henry II declared the Liberty exempt from Episcopal visitation and all other forms of Episcopal control. This remained in force until 1540. [S232,p.v]
In the extremely scholarly book "Studies in Manorial History" by Professor Ada Levett, a map shows quite clearly that the early medieval manors of Westwick and Abbots Langley, both within the Liberty of St.Albans, held within them much of the area covered by The Leverstock Green Chronicle. Other manors within the Leverstock Green area, shown on the map in this book were Rectory Manor (i.e. Chambersbury ) and Windrige.
This latter is somewhat confusing, Wendrige, or Windridge, was shown on Miss Levett's map as being within the parish of St. Michael, in the area to the north of Westwick Row and to the east of Woodwells Farm, approximately where Kettlewells farm is shown today. However, no other traces of it appear at that site, but instead, it is still within the parish of St. Michael, but near to Appspond, where there is still today a farm of that name. The Victoria County History suggests that the manor was divided, although it gave no precise location(s). In the study called "Deserted Medieval Villages of Hertfordshire", Windridge is listed as being one such deserted village, but the references for it suggests only the site near to Appspond and Potters Crouch. As one of these sites is within my study area, and the other is not, it is important to try and resolve the issue. As Miss Levett showed only one site for Windridge, it is possible that the cartographer in this book simply made an error, and should have placed the manor in a more south-easterly position.
The feudal system was at its height during the Middle Ages, and the principal Lord of the manor would have been the Lord Abbot of St.Albans, (a list of the Abbots of St. Albans is included in a separate appendix,) as all the manors and sub-manors within his "Liberty" owed allegiance to him after the King. All this land within the "Liberty" of St. Albans fell within the hundred of Cashio, whereas the land outside this "Liberty" fell within the hundred of Dacorum. I have drawn a map to show the Hundred boundaries within our study area. The land within the Dacorum hundred, was mostly under the control of the Rector of Ashridge and to those whom he granted land. Therefore until the dissolution, the Leverstock Green area was under the jurisdiction of two great monastic houses: the Bonnehommes at Ashridge and the Benedictines at St. Albans. Specifically. the manor of Leverlestock, alias Market Oak or Market Dole, was controlled by the Priory at Markyate, established in 1145 by Christina of Markyate. (Click here to show map of the manor.
For most of the middle ages the principle units for local administration were the township and the manor, but by the latter part of the medieval period the parish had superseded the township, although the role of the manor as an administrative unit for some legal matters at least - in particular those relating to the transfer of property - was to remain until the early part of the twentieth century. [ S167 p.69] The township for our area of study was Westwick, but its boundaries spread outside our area of study.