Rural Heritage Society

NEWSLETTER Spring 2006

1. Vice-Chairman’s Notes

2. The Society’s Walks in 2005 John Leonhardt

3. The Life and Times of Thomas Cox Lyn Hyde

4. Clarissa Dickson Wright on Tony Blair

5. Ode to the B 4506 Gerald Humphreys

6. John Wilson’s Diary - First printed in the National Trust Magazine in 1993

7. Committee Members

8. Subscription Form, etc


We are all very sorry that we have not yet published the promised, new, up-to-date Footpath Map but the following by John Leonhardt is the reason why we haven’t! As soon as all the work is completed it will be a matter of moments (!!) to make it available.

“Work on the new footpath map keeps on going. Walking and detailed plotting of every path in a 7km x 7km square centred on Little Gaddesden is what's happening at present. That makes 49 square kilometres, of course, which is 19 square miles. You will be pleased to know that over three-quarters of this area has now been surveyed by me personally, and it is mostly riddled with paths. Once I am on a path a speed of about 1 mile per hour is necessary to record the details I am after, most of which I hope will be on the final map. These details include access, such as stiles and gates, and which side of hedges the paths go, and where permissive paths have cut off the zigzags of some of the public footpaths across open farmland following the routes of long-removed hedges.

There are many different classifications of path. Apart from the defined public footpaths and public bridleways, which are legal rights of way, and "permissive" paths, there are several longer routes which travel over a mixture of these and cut through our map area. The Chiltern Way, the Hertfordshire Way and the Ashridge Boundary Trail are the most obvious ones you will have seen on local signposts. You may have wondered where they lead. I hope our new map will tell you. There are some others, including, confusingly, three different Icknield Way routes.

As we are using (with permission, of course) the latest 'six-inch' to the mile Ordnance Survey map as our base map, it will show much more than just the paths.

The 'six-inch' ordnance survey maps, (nowadays 6.336 inches to the mile, l:10,000) which are not in colour apart from brown contours, do not show public rights of way as smaller scale maps do. The paths which are shown are the ones that surveyors could (at one time) plainly see on the ground or on aerial photographs, private or public alike. Long-overgrown paths in woods tend to linger on in the maps.

This is practically the same scale and almost the same area as the old Rural Heritage Society map. That one started with the 1920s principal survey which had been revised for significant changes (ie roads and buildings) up to 1951. For instance, only 3 houses were shown in Golf Club Road and none in Church Road, except the old Bede Houses. Numbers 1 to 6 Church Road were built in 1953. The Rural Heritage Society's footpath overprint was the only up-to-date thing about it when we published it in 1976! There is still a lot of checking to be done against the rights of way as plotted and recorded by the county councils of Herts, Bucks and Beds, and the routes permitted to various travellers (foot, horse, cycle) on the National Trust land.”


We managed to include 5 in our programme last year, all on Sunday afternoons:

January 30th: Home Farm - Golden Valley - Nettleden - Nobody's Bottom

February 20th: L.G. Church - Bridgewater Arms - Golf Club Rd - The Park - Hudnall Lane - Church Rd

July 24th: Rodinghead - Berkhamsted Common - Alpine Meadow N.R. - Brick Kiln Cottage - Frithsden Beeches

October 16th: Dockey Wood - Ward's Hurst - The Coombe - Clipper Down

December 4th: Bridgewater Monument - Aldbury


Advertised under this title on the village notice boards, and more soberly in the Gaddesden Diary, this walk attracted about 16 people and 5 of their dogs. While we all enjoyed the scenery I was also checking details of paths for our proposed new footpath map.

We met outside Home Farm where Home Farm Lodge had once been the residence of the gatekeeper who opened the gate which led into the park opposite. Descending into Golden Valley through the woods you will now find a National Trust permissive horse track, a recently opened-up permissive path, a part of the Hertfordshire Way following the Ouseley Path (public footpath No.25), the National Trust Ashridge Boundary Trail along the bottom of the valley, and bits of public footpath No.7. Rather strangely, with all this clearing and waymarking going on, a part of footpath 7 has completely disappeared into the undergrowth leaving you to make a fairly short diversion.

While following the Ashridge Boundary Trail down Golden Valley past Cromer Wood we stopped to check the site of a former boundary stone which is marked on the 1920's large scale (1:10,560) ordnance survey and later derivatives, but omitted on the next full survey done in the 1970's. Some people thought they remembered the stone, but opinions on where it had been seemed inconsistent with the mapped location at TL00581131 We confirmed that the stone has gone. Its site is completely smoothed over in a small arable field. It was most likely a large pudding stone like the one that still stands in the gardens at Ashridge House. Perhaps it had been moved a short distance to get it out of the way

and later removed entirely. It marked a corner in the boundary between Ivinghoe and Little Gaddesden Parishes, and therefore between Bucks and Herts, pre-1895. Pulridge Wood was in Ivinghoe Parish. The two ends of Ivinghoe Parish were connected by a long thin strip of territory along the bottom of the lower part of Golden Valley. In places this was less than 100 yards wide. On the south side of it lay a broad strip of Pitstone Parish (also Bucks) in which lay part of Nettleden and most of Ashridge House. Beyond that strip was Great Berkhamsted Parish, as it still is, taking you back into Herts.

The walk continued along the Ashridge Boundary Trail, which provided a convenient and scenic link with the Nettleden-with-Potten End footpaths Nos.14 and 19 along the hilltop, a choice of three parallel routes down to Nettleden: "Roman Road" through the cutting or footpaths 19 and 8 on either side of its rim: then footpath 13 back up through Nobody's Bottom into Little Gaddesden footpath No.22 back to our starting point.


Advertised both in the Gaddesden Diary and in the February Parish News, as well as the village posters, only 7 people (including 2 guests from Watford) and 2 dogs turned up for this one. A short walk, more or less on the level, it began and ended at Little Gaddesden Church and remained within the parish boundaries. Footpaths 12 (a small part of it), 5 (part), 20, 17, 21, 12 (another part), and 16 (part) were covered. The first and last parts of this walk also follow the long-distance Chiltern Way.

The route went round the back of Bede Court, the front of the Bridgewater Arms, between Witches Hollow (at one time an inn) and Faerie Hollow, to Golf Club Road, circling back through the park to come up from Golden Valley at the end of Hudnall Lane, back across Nursery Field, Mill Field and Pond Field into The Strip. (All right, if you don't know which fields these are look at Page VI in the map section of "A Century Remembered".) Mill Field is where some of us took the short diversion up footpath 21 and the rest continued on the direct part of footpath 17.


This walk was planned too late for any publicity except village posters, so perhaps it is not surprising that there was only one participant outside my family. It was a very good walk though for the 4 of us and 1 dog. We hoped to find butterflies and we did. The sun was just coming out as we reached the nature reserve, and the butterflies quickly emerged from their hidden perches amongst the grass and fluttered about in plenty. There were 4 species of "Browns", typical of flowery rough grassland: the Meadow Browns, Ringlets, Gatekeepers and Marbled Whites. (The Marbled White is in the "Browns" family, not the "Whites".) The others were Small Skippers, a Comma or two and a Common Blue. There was also a very pretty little moth on a bramble, which I later identified as Pyrausta aurata, but no common name in my book. It is brown with gold bands. Marjoram and Wild Basil were the most notable wild flowers out.

On the way down we made a diversion through the woods of Berkhamsted Common to look at a Hoof Fungus growing on a Beech tree. Its name is very apt as it does look like a horse's hoof in shape and size in its early stages, and it is hard and woody. There were several lumps of it on the same tree. It grows slowly and lasts for years, building new layers underneath so that it eventually looks as though the hoof had been shod with extra horseshoes.

On the way back, near Brick Kiln Cottage, we walked under an arch formed by an Ash tree which had bent down to the ground where it had taken root and started another branch. Finally we went for a look at some of the veteran Frithsden Beeches.

The walk went over parts of Northchurch footpaths 63 & 62, and bridleway 52.


I suspect that this walk got its name from being our last walk before the end of British Summer time. Another case of last-minute planning meant that this was only advertised on the village notice boards. We were four people and two dogs!

I wanted to check the way that 6 footpaths converge on Ward’s Hurst, and we approached by the diagonal one from the corner of Dockey Wood, Ivinghoe No 20. The waymarking through the farmyard is clear if you keep your eyes open. The downhill path to the north-east, No 1 , is steep and muddy as it always will be.

It brings you out into Mead’s plantation in The Coombe, where the sign-posted path now takes you through a series of side-skips along the rakes of conifers, which have now grown tall and thick. I remember when the trees were little and the obstacle was the coarse vegetation which grew up quickly between the rows. That is now all shaded out by the low sweeping branches. Although planted up as a mixture of Western Red Cedar and Beech, the Beech have mostly perished. The Western Red Cedar, Thuja plicata, is really a typical member of the cypress family, and no relation of the cedars. Bordering Mead’s plantation are blocks of various other conifers.

The path passes near the lost hamlet of Mappleden (to the north-east side) and opens out near the bottom of Ivinghoe Beacon where you can find lines of Box hedges which border some sheltered pastures favoured by both sheep and rabbits. This layout can be seen in an 18th century estate map kept in the Hertford County Records Office. A photocopy is kept at Little Gaddesden Church. The sheltered area may well have been a warren deliberately cultivated for the breeding of rabbits, and the Box hedges may have been cropped to provide box wood for the printing trade. High quality woodcuts were made from boxwood blocks because of its hardness and fine grain. If you have tended a box hedge you will know how long it takes to grow. Pieces thick enough to make blocks must take very many years, and are very valuable.

Our return walk made a circle of it by climbing up to the Beacon Road and following the track past Clipper Down Cottage Kennels and through the woods.


Born Pitstone in the County of Buckinghamshire 1788. Died Ringshall, Hertfordshire 1875 at the age of 87.

A long life, but one that has been quite difficult to trace, for the life of the common man was not well documented in those days. This is as much as I have been able to establish:

Thomas was born in Pitstone in 1788 the son of Hannah and Joseph Cox. The next written evidence of him is on 20 July 1803, he was 14 years old. He is listed in the Naval Records as joining the crew of the Colossus at Greenhithe, in the position of volunteer landsman. The term volunteer can be misleading because a man caught by a press gang might be given the option of ‘volunteering’ so that he could receive bounty, this amounted to two months wage.

We do not know how Thomas came to join the navy. He could have seen or heard tell of the widespread recruiting campaign in 1803 with patriotic posters such as the one we saw displayed at the Maritime Museum Greenwich, declaring:



God Save the King

“Let us, who are Englishmen, protect and defend our good KING and COUNTRY against the Attempts of all Republicans and Levellers, and against the Designs of our NATURAL ENEMIES, who intend in this Year to invade OLD ENGLAND our happy country, to murder our gracious KING as they have done their own; to make WHORES of our Wives and Daughters; to rob us of our Property, and teach us nothing but the damn’d art of murdering one another.


If you love your COUNTRY, and your LIBERTY, now is the Time to show your Love,


All who have good Hearts, love their KING, Their COUNTRY, and RELIGION, who hate the FRENCH and damn the POPE,

Lieut. W.J. Stephens

At his Rendezvous, SHOREHAM Where they will be allowed to Enter for any SHIP of WAR, and the following BOUNTIES will be given by his MAJESTY in Addition to Two Months Advance.

To Able Seamen: Five Pounds

To Ordinary Seamen: Two Pounds Ten Shillings

To Landsmen: Thirty Shillings.

Conduct Money paid to go by Land, and their Chests and Bedding for Carriage free.”

In 1803 the Ashridge Estate was in an uncertain state following the death of the Third Duke and arguments over inheritance. At fourteen the patriotic furore, the excitement and promise of regular pay could have wooed the young Thomas or he could have been unfortunate and been caught up by a press gang and had little choice. Pressed men were captured by the Impress Service - (Press Gang). Technically he should have been a man ‘using the sea’ but this term was often widely interpreted. Press Gangs operated on land and at sea intercepting merchant ships

The Colossus was a brand new ship, the old Colossus having gone aground at Cadiz in 1798. Captain James Nicholl Morris got his crew out and set fire to his ship whilst under attack from Spanish batteries and gunboats. He was court marshalled, found justified in his action and awarded command of the new Colossus.

The Colossus was launched in April 1803 at Deptford. She was classified as a Third Rate Ship with 74 guns, 108 feet long by 49 feet wide and weighing 1889 Tuns. Details of the crew as follows:

Officers 8
Able Seamen 113
Ord. Seamen 122
Boys 25
Bowswains & asst. 7
Carpenter & asst. 12
Gunner & asst. 21
Purser & asst. 2
Quartermaster & asst. 10
Surgeon & asst. 3
Sailmaker & asst 3

There were three hundred and twenty-six in all. I was curious to know where Thomas got to in his years at sea, perhaps he joined the navy to see the world. I went to the National Archive at Kew to find out, imagining trips to the Mediterranean and the West Indies. The Captains Log of the Colossus shows that they spent their entire time cruising between the south coast ports of Devon and Cornwall and patrolling the North west coast of France. Some accounts sound rather like piracy “28 May 1805, Cape Roxeut, Boarded two Danish Brigs. Received guns and articles of war” More often the noon time report reads “Off Ushant” “Off Belle Isle” By summer 1805 they are travelling further down, through the bay of Biscay to southern Spain, Cape St. Vincent, Cape Trafalgar, Cadiz before returning to the west country to take on “Fourteen bullocks and vegetables. Stores from dockyard, beer, water” as well as housekeeping “Washed lower decks” Other insights to life on board include “Killed two bullocks, weight 1402, Suet 48, Tallow 72” Any livestock on board before a battle were put overboard, a panic stricken bullock could cause havoc.

By October 1805 they had been at sea on average for 705 days each so I guess Thomas and his shipmates had their sea legs.

At the Battle of Trafalgar the Colossus is listed as having:

Crew at Battle: 538 Seamen and Officers, 80 Marines

Casualties: Killed - 41 Seamen and Officers, 10 Marines

Wounded: 122 Seamen and Officers, 30 Marines

Naval General Service Medals with Trafalgar Clasp
47 Seamen and Officers, 7 Marines

Colossus suffered most wounded and third highest deaths at the Battle.

At the Battle of Trafalgar she was the sixth ship in Collingwood’s lee column. As she approached she received the fire of several enemy ships. She engaged the French Swiftsure (74 guns) and the Spanish Bahama (74 guns) and forced both of them to strike (surrender). Both ships were captured and sent to Gibraltar. Colossus lost her mizzen mast in the action and had to cut away her main mast during the storms of the ensuing night. The Agamemnon took Colossus in tow after the battle. Captain Morris received a shot in the leg and, was landed at Gibraltar a few days later, he recovered and continued to command Colossus

After the battle each man was entitled to a share of the Prize money which was eventually distributed after the valuation, sale or taking into Royal Navy service of the captured ships. How much more it would have been had all the 17 prize ships made it back instead of only eight. In addition, Parliament authorised the sum of 300,000 to be distributed in the same proportions as prize money. Captains received about 15 times the reward of Lieutenants and well over 500 times that of a Seaman. Thomas Cox received 1.17s.6d. and government grant of 4.12s 6d: total 6.

We do not know when Thomas left the Navy, but there was plenty of work back on the Ashridge Estate for a young man and perhaps after his experiences of battle and two years at sea he was pleased to get back to solid ground.

The Ashridge Estate was in a state of upheaval. The 3rd Duke of Bridgewater had been at Ashridge infrequently; he was busy building and investing all his money in canals. Vicars Bell writes of Ashridge House “There was not a room left that had a whole roof to cover it, the Picture Gallery was hung with frames from which the pictures had rotted, and with canvasses whose frames were dropping from them. The cloisters were damp and rotten, and of the forty mural paintings which had been there in the days of the Bonhommes, only twenty-six remained, and those in a sorry state”. In the late 1700’s the Duke decided to demolish the remaining uninhabitable buildings at Ashridge. An immense sale of building materials, timber and old furniture was organised; the whole undertaking extended from 1800 to 1802 and even followed the Duke’s death in 1803.

After some legal wrangling John William Egerton, 7th Earl of Bridgewater and son of John Egerton, Bishop of Durham, inherited the Ashridge estate and set about the creation of a grandiose mansion. From 1808 to 1813 James Wyatt (fashionable architect of the time) constructed a sprawling building; he was killed in a carriage accident and the completion was overseen first by his son Benjamin and then his nephew Wyatville for the next 20 years.

There was much work to be done, Vicars Bell mentions that 800 men worked on the site. I wonder if that was all at one time? Where did they all live, how were they fed, there are few details. In the 1861 Census Thomas Cox’s occupations was listed as a ‘Brickmaker’. He lived for many years in Aldbury and could have worked at the brick kiln at the top of Toms Hill behind the current National Trust Volunteer cabin. I would like to think that our Thomas had a hand in the Ashridge House we see today.

I am skipping ahead, our next firm record is back at Pitstone Church in October 1815 when Thomas Cox married Dorothy Rolfe. I could find no record of Dorothy’ s death, or of any children of this marriage, however on 10 February 1828 Thomas Cox, widower and Fanny Swayby marry in Ivinghoe Church. Lady Marion Alford’s Tenant book 1850/51 shows Thomas Cox living in Aldbury, tenant for 24 years, rent 4, married, one child, religion - Church.

The Census information I have been able to obtain is rather confusing. The first Census was carried out in 1841, it is apparently very sketchy and not at present available for this area. The next Census was in 1851 unfortunately I could not get Ringshall at Herts Archive being on the Herts/Bucks boarder, however I did find Aldbury:

Census 1851

Aldbury 48

The number merely refers to the 48th home visited in Aldbury by the man carrying out the census and bears no relation to the address.

John Cox Head Aged 22 Labourer Born Aldbury
Bethyah Wife Aged 24
Emma Daughter Aged 2 yrs
Thomas Son 8 Months

By the time of the 1861 Census I recognise the handwriting, it is carried out by Little Gaddesden Headmaster, John Worral, and is signed by him. This time Ringshall is available and we can deduce that Fanny and Thomas had one son John who in turn married Bethyah, sadly by 1861 John is living with his parents with his two children Thomas Jr and little Jane - there is no mention of Emma the first child or Bethyah his wife.

Census 1861

Ringshall 19

Thomas Cox, Head of household Aged 72 Occupation Brickmaker Born: Pitstone Bucks
Fanny, Wife Aged 53 Occupation Straw Plaiter Born Aldbury
John, Son Aged 32 Agricultural Labourer Born Aldbury
Thomas, Grandson Aged 10 Scholar Born Aldbury
Jane, Granddaughter Aged 8 Scholar Born Aldbury

Census 1871

19 Ringshall

Thomas, Head Aged 83 Labourer
Fanny, Wife Aged 64 Plait Trader
Jane, Granddaughter Aged 18 Straw Plaiter

We cannot be sure that Thomas and his family lived at No.19 Ringshall, much depends on where Mr Worral started his task, and whether all the cottages were occupied. I spoke to Janet Stinton (nee Cocks) enquiring if Thomas was a relative of her father (the answer was no, different spelling and her father was from Kent). Janet mentioned that when they had looked at old records all the families who they knew had ‘always’ lived in the same cottage were listed at the wrong number - she thought that the numbering had at sometime been changed.

I have since been in contact with a local history student who has a personal interest in the Cox family via her Waterton cousins. Thomas Jr was married to Elizabeth Waterton daughter of David Waterton who lived at 20 Lt Gaddesden, on 10th January 1868 by licence at St. Mary’s Ivinghoe. The witnesses were Mark Simmons and Jane Fenn. Thomas was 17 and Elizabeth 16. Thomas was a carpenter and Elizabeth a straw plaiter. It would seem that their young age at marriage was due to Elizabeth being pregnant at the time of marriage, their son was William was aged 3 in the 1871 Census returns and his younger brother Henry aged 1. The family were still living in Ringshall. In 1881 the family had moved to Hemel Hempstead. Thomas was still working as a carpenter and he and Elizabeth had another son, David aged 9.

I did enquire of Don Cox who owns so much of the local farmland if he was by any chance related, but he assures me his family come from another part of the country.

In 1875 Thomas died, he was 87 years old. His family were not well off so where did that carved wooden cross come from? I clearly remember being told it was made of English Oak from a ship at the Battle of Trafalgar (which of course I assumed to be the Victory). I thought Mr Bell told us but having checked with my village school contemporaries they don’t have this recollection. I assume then that it must have been my father who had the story from his father and grandfather as my cousin Sandra shares this ‘fact’. Our Gt. Grandfather John moved from Dagnall to No.1 LG in 1882 when he took the job of coachman and gardener to the Rev Charlton Lane. He also served as Sexton to the Church, almost until his death in 1925. It is likely that he would have remembered old Mr Cox and told a tale to his grandsons (my father John and Uncle Steve) about the carved cross.

I would like to think that Lady Marion Alford commissioned the work, it has some very fine relief carving and although it is hard to distinguish now, when I was a little girl it had a wonderful ship with all its rigging in a circle at the base of the cross. It reads:


According to Burial Register at Little Gaddesden Church, Thomas Cox died on 11 December 1875 aged 87 years.

At the Parish Council Meeting in March 2005 I was handed the 24 page booklet which was sent to all Town and Parish Councils about the national celebration of the bi-centenary of the Battle of Trafalgar. My first thought was that LG is about as far from the sea as you can get and there was little relevance. Then I recalled the old cross at the back of the Church that mentioned Trafalgar. In a burst of enthusiasm I chatted to a few people about putting on a village celebration then, with problems of hall bookings and Drama Club Revue rehearsals, I was somewhat deterred. However Anne Isherwood and Virginia Westmacott got carried away and we ended up with a splendid evening entitled ‘A Night with Nelson’. I wonder what the old chap would have thought of our celebrations in the Village Hall on 23 October 2005. He would certainly been amazed at the terrific sum of 1,226.80 raised for the Lifeboats - I hope he would have been pleased.

Lyn Hyde


The broadcaster and chef gives the Prime Minister a grilling

In the beginning when Tony Blair was bouncing around like a jack-in-the-box whose lid had just been removed, he mooted two things that instantly made him my food villain

First, at the Labour Party conference following the election, he and his Government make it apparent that it was their intention to do to the farmers what the Tories had done to the miners. I predicted that they wanted to turn the countryside into a theme park and shift food production abroad. After eight years he’s well on the way.

Unless you are a farmer, you might wonder what is so villainous about this. Well, a country that controls the manner in which its food is produced knows that its crops and livestock are healthy, properly reared and fed and fit for its people to eat. Hold that thought.

Second, and especially ironic given the way our Tone has cosied up to Jamie Oliver after being shamed by the television programmes, he originally considered handing some school catering over to McDonald’s in exchange for computers in schools.

Blair started on food as he meant to go on and his catalogue of crimes has got fatter as the nation’s waistline has expanded. He inherited BSE but, by deciding the Army should be fed on beef imported from Africa, showed an appalling lack of support for British farmers. It is possible Mr Blair didn’t know that African beef is riddled with foot-and-mouth disease but, if I, a simple cook, knew it, I find it hard to believe that someone in what was then the Ministry of Agriculture didn’t know or say so. British beef farming subsequently went into freefall.

Then remember how badly Mr Blair and his Government handled the foot-and-mouth horror. Three-quarters of the beasts slaughtered weren’t infected. At least their owners were compensated. The poor souls who couldn’t move their beasts off the farm to sell them lost most of their income and many fled the land. During the outbreak Mr Blair had many meetings with supermarket heads, very few with farmers and none, curiously, with the Butcher’s Livery, which speaks for the non-supermarket side of butchery.

His Government operates hand in glove with the supermarkets. More and more shoppers choose to buy their food direct from butchers, farmers’ markets and farm shops, but it’s no thanks to him that these popular alternatives are thriving. As a patron of the Farmers’ Market Association I know the frustration the markets face as they battle against the odds, sometimes refused permission even to put up a sign to show where they are. Small producers operating outside the orbit of the supermarkets face draconian regulations and struggle to survive, while everything possible is done to ease the expansion of supermarkets. One north-of-England livestock rearer I know is allowed a licence to butcher his meat only in London, so it must travel the length of the country, making a mockery of the lip service the government pays to being green and sustainable.

Meanwhile, the damage that supermarkets do to the country is that of a monopolist. They treat their native farmers and suppliers appallingly, pushing prices down and holding the threat of cheap imports over their heads if they don’t comply. If they can buy cheaper abroad, as with blackcurrants from central Europe, they drop their British suppliers overnight. Who dares sue a multinational for breach of contract? Even where they buy British, the supermarkets abuse food miles by driving cattle from Scotland for slaughter in Cornwall then back again. Mr Blair talks of social justice, but where is the justice when so much power lies in the supermarkets’ hands.

Finally, the government disregards the terrifying scams going on in food importing. Blair has not restricted the import of pork stuffed with growth promoters from Poland, and, more worrying still, has not stepped in to close the gap that allows meat and poultry reared abroad to be repackaged in Britain or the EU as if it originates from here. The threat of Asian bird flue is imminent and there are already disturbing links between antibiotic-resistant bacteria, such as MRSA, and intensively reared, antibiotic-pumped poultry, much of which comes from south-east Asia. Yet still we are allowed to import chicken fed on human excrement in appalling conditions.

Britain could be self-supporting in food if our farming had been managed and supported. Any shortfall could be taken up from those EU countries which do impose health restrictions more or less in keeping with ours. But not in Blair’s world, where only the vote-winning cheapness of food seems to matter.

‘A Greener Life’ by Clarissa Dickson Wright and Johnny Scott is published by Kyle Cathie at 25

This article appeared in The Independent Magazine of 12 November 2005

5. ODE TO THE B4506

As twilight marks the knell of Ringshall’s day

The motorist speeds swiftly o’er the lea,

The cottager from the postbox plods his way,

And leaves the world quite unexpectedly!

With half-hearted apologies to Thomas Gray

Gerald Humphreys and John Leonhardt


Born in Yorkshire in 1928, John Wilson began his career as a trainee forester on the estates at King's College, Cambridge. In 1957 he was appointed Head Ranger for the Trust's Ashridge Estate in Hertfordshire; he retired in 1991 after 34 years service.

I always say that Anglo-Saxons don't like trees; all they want to do is sit down and have a farm and clear ail the forest land around the farm. But all my life I've liked trees; it was all I ever wanted to do. My mother wanted me to be a land agent, but I didn't like office work; in all my time I've done as little of that as I could possibly get away with. And there again I've always been a bit of a loner; I've never lived next door to anyone in my life. That's part of the gamekeeper's lifestyle, that you can come and go and no one knows your movements.

The thing about the Ashridge Estate is the variety; I had everything I wanted here. There's roughly 1,000 acres of woodland dedicated to growing timber for the nation, about another 1,000 acres which is not dedicated, like wooded commons, another 1,000 acres of heathland or downland and another 1,000 acres of farmland, but out of the 4,000 acres there's literally 3,000 acres with limber on it.

Ashridge is also special because it was bought for the Trust by local people; it was always run as a country estate with its own management committee, and the public had access to it and the houses on it were lived in by estate workers or people connected with the countryside.

I've always thought that if you're celling men to do a job you should be able to do that job yourself. If I send the men to fell a tree, I should know how to fell that tree properly; if I send the men to put up a fence, I should know how to put that fence up and how the job should be done. You need a damned good training on various private estates before you come into a job like this; I had my forestry but I'd also done gamckecping, deer management and building work. Certainly you need qualifications, but I don't think a qualified forester need be a university man; a lot of it is passed on by word of mouth.

Working for the Trust I never did less than 54 hours a week, and then there was the paperwork on top of that. I'd get up at haifpast five and go out round the estate looking at jobs I wanted to do for the rest of the day before I saw the men at eight o'clock. In early spring I'd be finishing off my plantings and then I'd get into my nursery work; in the summer I'd be going round doing fencing jobs and cleaning the plantations; and in autumn I'd prepare my plantations for planting again in the winter. Year round I'd go during the morning to see the three gangs working on the estate and make sure they were all right, and I'd go again in the afternoon.

Thundcrdcll Lodge, where we lived for 14 years, was the centre of operations. During the day when I was out Barbara would take all the calls for orders at the sawmill, she had people at the door constantly and she'd have to deal with all sorts of problems: road accidents, suicides, injuries to the men. We were on call 14 hours a day, which did mean that the days got awfully long. It was part of my job to know every hook and rogue in the district, and I had a good network of informers, a lot of whom arc now little old ladies and little old men. They'd ring me up at three in the morning - "John, John, there's shots on the common" - and I'd be out right away. We've always had poaching problems on the estate, but we've always caught them as well.

I've always been a hardwood forester rather than a softwood forester, which is why I came to the National Trust. I wasn't terribly interested in going to the Forestry Commission because I didn't want to deal with large-scale pine; I thought it was bloody boring, to be quite honest. Not to say I haven't planted softwoods, yes I have, but hardwoods were my line, good old English trees. That's what I'm really going to miss, looking after my plantations. I've always tried to get the best possible tree on a given area of ground, aiming for a good sound oak for timber. By planting oaks with conifers growing around them you get the oaks growing upwards to the light instead of ending up with a tree looking like an umbrella. In 100 years' time you'll have a tree that's got a perfect bole, that goes up for 30 foot without any branches on, a beautiful tree for timber. You've got to be able to look at them and imagine what they're going to be like a century from now.

Whatever job I went to do at Ashridge there was always something beyond the forestry: it could be birds, it could be flowers, it could be local history or archaeology, or providing picnic areas for the public or access for the disabled. I've always liked flowers, and I've always enjoyed birds, but where 1 went to school you didn't go around shouting to your mates "I love flowers". In 1963 1 did a Field Studies course ai London University, and before that I helped Phyllis Hagcr from the Hertfordshire Natural History Society set up a nature trail on the estate. It was the first nature trail on National Trust land and I think it was only the second in the country.

I see it as a way of life: the trees arc grown, the trees are felled, and you replant them. I think life's got to go on. If the trees arc felled, that's fine; you're having their beauty for the time being and then they're felled and you start again. I've always thought that whatever trees I'm looking at, and there were beautiful trees I was looking at when I came here, they were planted by some chap before my time, and he was looking at somebody else's beautiful trees. It's a cycle. When you get to my age, of course, you're reaping your own benefits: some of the trees I've planted arc 70 foot tall now. And that doesn't half make you feel old?

Interview by Sarah-jane Forder

The above interview is reproduced from the National Trust Magazine.


Chairman George Godar The Old Rectory 842274

Vice-Chairman Anne Wooster Vine Cottage 842469

Treasurer George Godar

Secretary Gerald Humphreys 28 Ringshall 842228

Minutes Secretary Lyn Hyde 22 Little Gaddesden 842267

Local Development Officer Mary Fletcher Beverley House 843462

Publicity Peter Grainger 265694

Gaddesden Diary Reporter Anne Wooster

Footpaths John Leonhardt 21 Little Gaddesden 843550

Membership Secretary Lyn Hyde

Newsletter Editor Anne Wooster

The views expressed within all RHS Newsletters are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the Committee

8. Subscriptions

As ever, a plea for prompt payment of subscriptions - 2 per person. Please drop at least two pounds (cheques are quite acceptable!!!) into Lyn Hyde at 22 Little Gaddesden (or your nearest committee member). If you are not yet a member and would like to join please do the same. Very many thanks

e-mail addresses

The Society is compiling a list of residents’ e-mail addresses (naturally complying with the Data Protection Act) in order to facilitate the dissemination of information around the village without the necessity of hand-delivery. We would very much appreciate your views on this. If you have any and/or would be prepared to let us know your address, perhaps you would like to advise me on

Anne Wooster

If you have not yet purchased ‘a century remembered’ - the Society’s book about the village in the 20th century, the Village Shop has copies or a committee member will be delighted to sell you one for 15. Information about the book can be seen on our website: uk


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