The History of Hatfield Heath
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Hatfield Broad Oak is a very large parish, full of woods and streams, and including Hatfield Heath, Bush End, Greenhill, Wood Row, Taveners Green, Needham Green and Broad Street. Earlier it was known as Hatfield Regis, but got its present name from the massive Doodle Oak in Hatfield Forest. A former market town, its development was linked to a Benedictine priory founded here in the 12th century by the de Vere family: little remains of the buildings today, just a few fragments of walls and fish ponds, but the nave of the priory church still forms part of the present parish church.
Apart from this, St Mary’s church is mostly 15th century, with some Norman and other earlier work. Most noticeable is the very tall embattled west tower, 80 feet high, added in the 15th century. It was restored in Victorian times. Inside are many interesting features, such as the 14th century effigy, 15th century screen, 18th century reredos, box pews and various monuments. To the south of the church is an 18th century parish library which contains a fascinating collection of antiquarian books given to the church in 1690. The hamlet of Bush End has its own little Victorian church, St John the Evangelist.
The parish is full of fascinating houses, ranging from the 14th century Old Court house to the 18th century Barrington Hall, formerly seat of the Barringtons, a leading Essex family. The former moated manor of Broomshawbury is now a farmhouse.
HATFIELD FOREST: there is a prehistoric site at Portingbury Hills within Hatfield Forest, revealing an area settled in Iron Age times or earlier. About 100 feet in diameter, it is a low mound surrounded by a ditch. The Forest itself is a rare survival, but severely threatened by proposed expansion of Stansted Airport nearby. Its 1,049 acres have been looked after by the National Trust since 1924, when it was donated by Edward North Buxton, a man of wealth but also of foresight, understanding the importance of the Forest in historic and conservation terms – he was also involved in the preservation of Epping Forest. Commercial timber exploitation was removing the ancient oak trees and Hatfield Forest was in grave danger of disappearing completely. Buxton bought it just in time – this was the last cheque he wrote before he died. Another interesting owner was Jacob Houblon of Great Hallingbury, who owned it in the 18th century and it was he who had the lake constructed, later improved by Capability Brown. The Shell House is also 18th century.
The Forest is open to the public and managed as a medieval wood pasture, with coppices, pollard hornbeams, oak trees, grazed by deer and cattle. As the remnant of a royal medieval chase and a survivor of the ancient Royal Forest of Essex, it is both historically and ecologically a precious gem, virtually unchanged over centuries, unique and very beautiful with its woods and water. The warrener’s house and a 17th century rabbit warren site also survive. Hatfield Forest was made into an SSSI in 1956, its character and a wide range of wildlife supported by traditional management of coppicing, pollarding and grazing. It’s also a great place for a day out, for walking, fishing or just relaxing beside the lake.
Further information: Hatfield Broad Oak has a village website at www.hatfield-broad-oak.net