Woodlane End Farm stood at the western end of Woodlane End, close to its junction with Leverstock Green (Road), just a few yards to the southeast of The Saracens’ Head Public House at the junction of Leverstock Green & High Street Green. (See 1877 OS map extracts, RIGHT) It was probably built in the 17th century. Like other local dwellings of similar age (eg Cox Pond, Little Cox Pond, The Crabtree, & Corner Farm Cupid Green) it was built alongside the line of the old Roman Road, and what was until the development of the turnpikes, the principle route from London to Berkhamsted – The Berkhamsted Highway. It was eventually demolished at the time of New Town expansion and its site today holds 1960’s flats and other housing, not to mention the mini-roundabout at the junction of the two roads.
During the mid 17th to the early 18th centuries, Woodlane End Farm was the home to the Baptist Minister in Hemel Hempstead, Samuel Ewer and his family. In March 1657 the Hemel Baptists joined the Abingdon Association, and Ewer was appointed their first pastor. At this time non-conformity was illegal, and as we know Ewer held services in the Farmhouse, it is reasonable to assume that one of the reasons this property was chosen, was because it was on the outskirts of the town and would therefore attract less notice and be less open to information being laid against them.
In 1689 the Toleration Act was passed which effectively legitimised Non-conformist activity & the farmhouse as a place of non-conformist worship, although as far as we know it didn’t actually receive its licence till 1712. Ewer was one of many Pastors who attended the First London Assembly (otherwise known as the London Baptist Confession of Faith) http://www.grace.org.uk/faith/bc1689/1689bcsg.html There was a second later that same year. Samuel Ewer was to die in December 1708, the funeral being held at Woodlane End Farm on Christmas Eve. His friend and fellow minister John Piggot in the principle address given at the time stated that “Here, indeed he lived, here he constantly preached”; making it plain that the Farmhouse (or possibly a barn) was used as a church. The text of the full address given at the funeral makes interesting reading and gives a great insight into the character of Ewer. See 1701to1760.
Samuel’s wife and his friends continued to use Woodlane end as a place of worship, for in April 1712 it was formally licensed: "These are to certify that a congregation of Protestant Discentors called Baptists do intend to meet for religious worship in a house called Wood Lane End House, abbutting on High Street Green on the S.W., and on a lane called Wood Lane on the north, in the parish of Hemel Hempstead; inhabited by Sarah Ewer and John Mills, April 18th, 1712. Witnesses John Lowther, John Costard, James Yates, John Atkins, John Humphrey, John Mills. Registered April 18th 1712". how long it remained such is uncertain, but Leverstock Green got its own Baptist Chapel in 1841, and prior to that the Carey Baptist Chapel had been built in Marlowes. Places for dissenting worship were further licensed in Leverstock Green in 1813, 1820 and 1834, but the premises were not specified. Over seventy years later in April 1786 Joseph Camfield, a husbandman of Woodlane End, was instituted by indenture as a Feoffee of the Boxmoor Trust.
The Tithe Survey for Hemel Hempstead was published in 1843 (see Map RIGHT), and it gave John Wood as the owner of Woodlane End Farm, with Mark Patterson Wood as the occupier of a farm of 71 acres 2 roods and 30 poles. Mark Patterson Wood was still there for the 1851 census, together with his wife, 2 daughters a son, a household servant and 2 farm labourers. The farm was given as being 98 acres in size and employed 5 men. By the time of the 1881 census, the farm had grown by 50% to 150 acres.
Fifty-five year old Daniel How and his wife Sarah lived there together with a farm servant (Labourer) George Sage. However, 20 years later for the 1901 census, the head of the family living at the farmhouse, Thomas D. Cox, aged 40, was given as living on his own means, that is he was a “gentleman of means” living off inherited and invested income. Thomas and his wife Mary had two daughters, Phyllis and Doris. It was to remain a private residence thereafter. Kelly’s directory for 1910 names William Beecham as resident at Woodlane End, and he remained there until at least 1933.
In 1936 Mrs. May G. Clarke and her young son David rented Woodlane End Farm for the two years shortly following the death of her husband Dr. Sydney Clarke, a St. Albans physician. David Clarke, who had been given a Brownie Box Camera for his birthday in 1935, took several photographs during his stay. These included one of the farmhouse itself and another of the summerhouse to be found in the grounds. The summerhouse was a circular building, with intriguingly, a steam engine for a weather vane. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the weather vane still survives on some steam enthusiasts roof somewhere. If anyone knows anything about it, please DO let me know! Click here for more details and photos taken by David.
The photo of the house confirms that the farm was of 17th century origin or earlier, and when talking to Mr. Clarke, he said how much he regretted that he didn't take a picture of the barn, or the delightfully carved oak staircase. From his knowledge of architecture and what he can remember of the house, it seems probable that the farmhouse was built at about the time we hear of Samuel Ewer coming to live in it in the 17th century. He told me:
“My mother rented Wood Lane End for 2 years (1936-1938) after my father died. We put in electricity for which the landlady promised to compensate us, but didn't. It had been a farm and had 2 acres of garden and orchard. Most of the ancillary buildings had been demolished, but the great barn, with its splendid timber roof, fronted the road, and the adjacent small barn had been converted to a garage.
In the barn was a well, now covered with cement on which had been written DEEP WELL 50 FEET. Local people said a horse's head had been found in it, a custom dating from the Iron Age. A splendid owl was resident in the roof, and once made his exit through the door, as my mother was going in, to her great alarm.
The house was L shaped, the south side being half-timbered with brick infill, the north side plastered, as was the wing to the north, which was built in a slightly Gothic style. It was presumably a modification of an earlier wing. The front door was in the angle of the L. My aunt Kathleen made a watercolour of it which was unfortunately sold when we left St. Albans, it is perhaps still about somewhere. There was a heavy oak staircase with heavy balusters suggesting an early 17th century date. Our gardener built a tiled porch for the back door out of debris from the farm and I taught the cat to climb up to my bedroom, which was above.
Inside the backdoor was a passage, adjoining the kitchen, then the dining room, running the full width of the house, and a dairy beyond. The dining room had an inglenook fireplace. Upstairs was my mother's bedroom over the drawing room in the Gothic wing, and the bathroom opened out of my bedroom; no great problem, as I was often away at school. There were two bedrooms over the dining room and dairy.The stairs continued to a spacious attic, where I had my trains and playroom, and the usual store of trunks, etc.
From the back door a wide drive led to a gate in the lane. The rose-garden was to the left, with two big lean-to greenhouses, decrepit but usable. The walled vegetable garden was beyond. To the right was the overgrown orchard, which had a round summerhouse, topped by a weather vane in the form of an early locomotive. The (summer) house was of brick and flint, with a conical tiled roof: even the glass in the double doors was curved. There was a shallow pond, cement lined, which I cleared out but it never filled properly. We kept chickens and ducks. There was a huge tree of black cherries, so big that we could not pick it properly. We sold cherries at 6d a pound, which one passing cyclist thought was excessive.
The lane led to a row of cottages, one of which was occupies by Mrs. Sears, who regaled visitors with country wines. Alas I did not know that it also led to a major Roman site, which was discovered later. I remember once on a country walk stopping the little train which ran to Hempstead (never Hemel, that was non-U), at the little halt where the line crossed the lane beyond the "Saracen's Head".
Altogether we passed two apparently endless summers there before we moved back to St. Albans, in time for the war. The house, which did not get into RCHM Herts, was demolished by the growing town of Hemel Hempstead, a wanton act of vandalism, though all too common at the time!
The house was still standing at the end of the war as it showed on the 1947 OS map, but was to become a casualty of the New Town Development of the Adeyfield area. If anyone can supply more information concerning the farm, or has knowledge as to the whereabouts of either the weather vane, or the painting mentioned above, please let me know.