Lemsford is situated in the parish of Bishops Hatfield and the only Entry under the parish in the Doomsday book, which was made in1085, is that land was held by the Abbot of Ely, assessed at 40 hides or 4800 acres. It is possible that the reserve was part of this land, as the boundaries of the manor are not known within the parish which consists of 12.884 acres.
“The free fishery of the Bishop in the river extended in 1277 from Hatfield Mills to the Bridge of Stanberue(Stanborough), and from there to the mill of Simon Fitz Adam (Lemsford Mill) where the latter had joint rights of fishery with the Bishop.” The free fishery means that the sole and exclusive right of fishing was held by the Bishop, in 1538 the same fishery rights and extent existed.
In 1619 there was a petition presented to the first Earl of Salisbury as the Lord of the Manor by 12 residents of Hatfield. Their complaint was that Battermeades, Stokemeade Dobscrostmeade, Symonsmeade and Stanborough Meades were flooded and unprofitable due to the stopping up of the river Lea by the Mill that was in the Earls grounds (probably Cecil Mill). They were worried also by the fact that the mill was to become a corn mill which needed more water and therefore the banks were to be raised and cause more flooding.
The proprietors of the lands and tenements upon the banks of the water course were responsible for the condition of the river, and in 1693 there was a presentment of “Sir John Read and William Bethal of the Parish of Hatfield” brought before the sessions “for not scouring the watercourse from Lemsford Mill to Standberry in the said parish.
1700 – 1800
In 1714 the co-heirs of Sir John Read of Brocket hall’s estate leased to William Thorpe “a message of tenement together with the Barnes and Stables and outhouse and yard and garden, place backside and orchard theranto belonging now standing lying or being near the queens highway leading from Stanbarrows to a place called Lemsford Mills and also the arable meadow and pasture.” This amounted to approximately 107 acres. This land could have been Stanborough farm as on the 1809 survey the farm had about 130 acres on the East of Brocket road with more fields on the west which could have been a later addition. This is however slightly south of the reserve, but it is possible that as Brocket Hall owned this farm, it may have owned the surrounding land including the reserve.
From a rent ledger, dated 1755, from Panshanger Manuscripts, there were 2 farms at Lemsford Mills, one had a Smithy shop (Roebuck Farm) which was rented by Thomas Goodman while the other farm (Lemsford mill Farm) was rented by Thomas Westwood. However the two farms were united at Michaelmas 1756 and the tenant for the one large farm was Thomas Goodman. William Henion was the tenant of a farm at Hanside. These farms stayed with these tenants until at least 1764 when the rent ledger was last used. It doesn’t mention who the owner of the land was.
In 1776 a valuation of Lord Melbourne’s estate was carried out and it mentions that Hanside was in the possession of Thomas Burges and that three pieces of land on the east side of the turnpike road between Brocket Hall and Hatfield whose tenant was George Basill. As before if land at Stanborough and Hanside was owned by the Brocket Estate, then it is now probable that the surrounding land (i.e. Lemsford) was owned by the same estate. This valuation was contained in papers relating to the exchange of property between Lord Melbourne and Lord Cowper in 1827 which also contained a letter concerning land tax which was due, dated 17th August 1799 giving the tenants, farms, acreage and land tax due:-Edmund Fearnly, Hanside farm (upper Hanside) 240 acres Tax due: £13.17s.1d
William Cox, Hanside farm (In pencil Stanborough farm is written) 276 acres. Tax due: £19.15s. 10d
Mrs Perkins, Hanside (Lower Hanside), 240 acres. Tax due £10.13s.9d
William Baldock, Roebuck, Lemsford Mills, Land tax due £8.10s.2d
These land taxes were paid Lord Melbourne, who therefore must have owned these properties.
1800 - 1850
In 1809/10 there was a survey carried out of the estates of the right honourable Peter Leopold Louis Francis Nassau Clavering in the county of Hertford, this is the first definite identification of land ownership. From this survey it is found that the reserve consisted of 5 fields:Chalk Dell Meadow
The former 2 fields were part of upper Hanside farm, rented the Sarah Fearnley the other fields were part of Roebuck Farm, rented to Sarah Tarbox. Therefore between 1799 and 1809 Upper Hanside farm remained in Fearnley family while Roebuck farm changed tenancy from William Baldock to Sarah Tarbox.
There is no further information until 1827 when a rent ledger from the Cowper Estate includes rent paid for Hanside Farm by Mrs Fearnley and by Dan Tarbox for land at Lemsford Mills, indicating no change in the family tenancy. Stanborough Farm was rented to James Simkins. Viscount Melbourne rented land at Lemsford Mills fro the Cowper Estate this could possibly have been part of Roebuck farm that became included into the Melbourne Estate, in exchange for Half Field, bassells Meadow and coarse Mead as well as other land. This is supported by the fact that rent paid by Melbourne to Cowper ended on Lady day 1828, and the exchange took place 1827/28. These three pieces of land probably were pieces in the 1776 valuation of Lord Melbourne’s estate as the acreage are similar.
On Lady day 1830 Lemsford Mills had a new tenant, John Chesher who paid rent until at least 1854, while tenant of Stanborough farm, paid rent from 1827 until 1848.
Lord Cowper had another survey of his estates carried out in 1833 which showed little change since the 1809 survey. Two commons, Coalgrove and Bull Attimore had been enclosed. Roebuck farm had become smaller due to the exchange of land with Lord Melbourne and its osier bed was now part of Stanborough Farm.
In 1838 the tithe award was made giving information about owners, occupiers, names of land, quantities and rent that was payable to the rector. From the award it can be deduced that there was no charge as far as the reserve was concerned, the landowner was Earl Cowper, the land to the East of the river Lea was part of Stanborough Farm, tenanted to James Simkins and the land to the west was part of Roebuck Farm tenanted to James Chesher. The field known as first Coarse mead (late coarse mead) had now been restored back to Coarse Mead. Census reports had been made from 1801 and thereafter every 10 years although the first decent census available to the public is the 1841 census. John Chesher was described as a 25 year old farmer living at Lemsford Mills with two relatives and four agricultural labours. Meanwhile at Stanborough Farm there lived along with the other people James Webb who is described as an agricultural labourer, James Simkins who according to the rent ledgers is the tenant of Stanborough Farm, has no mention in the census. It was not until Ladyday 1848 that Stanborough farm changed tenancy to James Webb after 21 years with James Simpkins.
Roebuck Farm on the 13th October 1848 was used as part of a marriage settlement which provided Cowper with ‘Ready cash’ while the farm remained in the hands of the trustees. The census in 1951 included some useful information; James Chesher of Lemsford Mills is a 73 year old farmer of 114 acres who employed 3 subs. One of his family John Chesher is recorded in the 1841 census. Also at Lemsford Mill is a 38 year old greengrocer called George Timms who is the head of a five-member family.
1850 – 1900
Stanborough Farm was conveyed on the 31st December 1853 for the use of a marriage settlement, included in the schedule are the names of the fields and its cultivation:
The rent ledgers referred to so far have been from the Panshanger Manuscripts, the first entry in the rent Ledgers from Hatfield House concerns the “Right of Ploughing the Stream below Lemsford Mills” the tenant for this was James White who took tenancy at Michaelmas 1855 for a rent of £1. The first evidence of watercress beds in the area comes to light at Michaelmas 1859 when “Watercress Beds, Hatfield, late of Langton & Townsend” Which amounted to 1a 0r 30p was rented to George Tims. These watercress beds are now part of the Stanborough Reed Marsh, a Trust nature reserve close to Lemsford springs there is a possibility that he began cultivating watercress at the same time at Lemsford.
In 1861 a census was again carried out; at Stanborough lived George Tims aged 48 a widower and a greengrocer, in the previous census he had lived at Lemsford Mills. John Chesher a publican and a farmer lived at the The Roebuck, Farming 100 acres and employing 4 men and 3 boys including a ploughman and horse keeper, indicating that arable cultivation took place, the acreage differs from that in the Cowper Estate records although it is possible that Chesher rented land from somewhere (eg. Brocket or Hatfield). James Webb lived at Stanborough, a farmer of 430 acres and employing 16 men and 4 boys including a ploughman, horse keeper, and two shephards were needed.
At Michaelmas 1861, according to a rent ledger from Hatfield House the right of plouging the stream below Lemsford Mills transferred from James White to G.Garrett.
On the 26th of December 1862 a lease of right of fishing in certain parts of the old river Lea in the county of Hertford extending to Lemsford Mills to Stanborough Bridge” was signed by the Marquis of Salisbury and Mr William James Webb. Included in the lease was a map indicating the river as well as the surrounding land, in the schedule was a list of the properties their landowners and occupiers. The watercress bed on the reserve was owned by Viscount Palserston and the occupier was George Tims, the watercress bed was very much narrower than it is today. Chalk dell Meadow was owned by Earl Cowper and occupied by William James Webb. The garden (or meadow as it is known today) was owned by William Clarke, the occupier is not mentioned, but probably the owner. Coarse mead was owned by Earl Cowper and occupied by James Chesher. There was also a watercress bed to the west of the river Lea which was owned by Chennelles and occupied by George Tims. According to this lease, George Tims lived in Lemsford which contradicts the census of 1861 and 1871 which says Stanborough. This lease provides evidence that watercress beds were present at least by 1862. The puzzle is that all the previous evidence had indicated that Chalk Dell Mead and Osier Bed had belonged to Earl Cowper and in the 1870 survey of the Cowper estate the land was owned by Earl Cowper not William Clarke and Viscount Melbourne as in the lease. There are three possible explanations for this discrepancy the land changed hands only to return to Cowper between 1853 and 1870 (which is possible) the lease is inaccurate (which is unlikely) or the agent based in the , 1870 survey on the previous survey of the 1838 Tithe award (which is probable). Mr William James Webb paid a rent of £5 to the Marquis of Salisbury which authorised him or his appointees to fishing with a rod and line from Lemsford Mill to Stanborough Bridge, but if he fished using nets, instruments, engine or machine other than rod and line, he had an additional rent of £10 to pay. From the rent ledgers W. Webb started paying the rent for fishing from 1st September 1862 although the lease was signed on 26thDecember 1862.
The 1862 fishing lease map showed various changes since the previous maps in 1853 and 1848. The field boundary between chalk dell mead and Floodgate field had been removed to leave Chalk Dell meadow, the osier bed was now part of the garden . The boundry for coarse Mead had been changed and two new watercress beds are shown.
The 1862 plan of Earl Cowpers Estates had Brocket Hall estate added in 1871 this showed that generally a lot of field boundaries had been removed including the boundary between straw field and little Attimore field. The watercress bed on the reserve is also marked but not the one on the Bog on the other side of the river Lea. Houses had been built on the N.E. corner of Straw field and a Chalk pit is marked.
Two cottages, garden and Meadow at Lemsford Mill was purchased by the Salisbury Estate from Chennell, which included the watercress bed to the west of the river Lea, at approximately Michaelmas 1867 as George Tims started paying rent to the estate at that date. The survey of the Cowper Estate in Hertfordshire which was made by the agent in 1870 shows little change from the 1833 survey, the land to the East of the river Lea was part of Stanborough farm (William J Webb) and to the east part of Roebuck farm (John Chesher)
This survey conflicts with the 1862 lease of fishing rights as previously explained George Tims still lived at Stanborough as a greengrocer, his son John is also a greengrocer. John Chesher was still a publican and farmer at the Roebuck with 100 acres and now employing only 6 people, 2 men, 2 women and 2 boys, there is no mention of W.J. Webb. Kelly’s directories were published from 1850 onwards, but they didn’t contain any relevant information until 1874 edition. Included under the heading of watercress growers was George Tims of Stanborough, Hatfield, this probably refers to the watercress bed at Stanborough. From the rent ledgers of the Salisbury Estate the tenant of the watercress beds at Stanborough and Lemsford as well as “Two Cottages and gardens and meadows” was Robert Tims who at the age of 20 took over the tenancy from his father on Michaelmas 1877. At the same time the tenancy for “the right of ploughing the stream below Lemsford Mills” changed from the late G.Garrett to C.Hill & Son, the rent staying the same, at £1
In the 1878 edition of Kelly’s Directory Robert Tims had replaced his father as the watercress grower at Stanborough. A notebook written in March 1882 contains details of properties, owners and occupiers within the parish of Lemsford. It includes 2 cottages that were owned by Tims which were occupied by Hy & Mercy Fox (a baker) and 5 children, and a w& Lilian Rhodes with 1 child. These were probably the two cottages that were owned by the Salisbury estate but leased to Tims, who it appears from the notebook to sublet them. This supports the census in that the Tims did not live in Lemsford. The ”right of fishing from Lemsford Mills to Stanborough bridge” tenancy agreement changed hands at Michaelmas 1883 from Webb to Edward Smith Hanbury, the new rent being £25. The Kelly directory in its 1886 edition had expanded the Robert Tims entry to include Lemsford as well as Stanborough why at such a late date is not known. The two cottages and gardens that were the property of the Marquis of Salisbury and rented to R.J. Tims, along with other land, were sold to Mr Horn on Ladyday 1889 for £275. It is possible that this is the same Horn family that lived at Stanborough farm according to information contained in a W.E.A publication about Hatfield.
In Kellys Directory of 1895 Mrs. Bessie Tims had become The watercress grower in the family although this conflicts with the 1898/9 rent ledger (Salisbury) in which the date of entry for the rent of £7 0s 6d for watercress beds and meadows at Lemsford paid by Mrs Tims was Michaelmas 1896. Incidentally a Robert Tims is recorded on the war memorial at Lemsford church as having died in the 1914-19 war in the London I.R.R; it could be the watercress grower or possibly his son. The 1898 edition of the 25” to 1 mile O.S. map shows that a new boundary is present dividing Chalk Dell Meadow into two.
1900 – 2007
Until 1902 (from 1886 to 1902) the Kelly directory had included Mrs Bessie Tims at Lemsford and Stanborough, now it dropped the Stanborough entry In the 1906 directory there are 2 watercress growers in Lemsford, Mrs B. Tims and Arthur Eagles, whether they had different beds or the same is not known.
On the 1st of June 1906 there was a Panshanger Estate valuation for Estate duty. The occupier of Stanborough farm an area of 265,540 Acres was Henry Thomas Boome, the annual rent or schedule assessment for income tax is £200, the tithe rent charge being £31 16s 2d and insurance £1 10s 0d. John Proctor occupied Roebuck Farm consisting of 39,384 acres, the annual rent or schedule assessment for income tax £43 2s 0d and tithe rent £5 4s 2d. The Kellys Directory had replaced Arthur Eagles with Benjamen Eagles, in the 1871 census a Benjaman Eagles is recorded as being born in 1852, it could be the same name. On the war memorial at Lemsford church is included an Arthur Eagles who died with the Royal Artillery in the 1939-45 war. In the 1910 Kelly directory George Tims had taken over from Mrs B Tims growing the watercress. On the 23rd March 1913 Countess Cowper died and a Valuation of the Estate was carried out for the agent Mr Turner. Stanborough farm was occupied by Herbert Titmuss, the acreage was 265,540 Acres, the net annual rent was £197 14s 4d and the principal value was £5931. Roebuck farm (37,096 acres) was occupied by Sherrif and Sons Ltd, the annual rent was £29 16s 6d with the principal value being £1014. The Hatfield house has a terrier(i.e. a register or roll of a landed estate or an inventory) dated 6thDecember 1915 which says that for land plot 1093 which is land in the watercress beds at Lemsford amounting to 1,219 acres was rented to GW Tims. This land was the land called the bog that had been owned by Chennels but sold to the Estate in 1867.
On the 30th May 1919 a large part of the outlaying land belonging to Panshanger estate was sold by Auction at the public hall, Hatfield by order of the right Honourable Lord Desborough K.C.V.O. According to the sale catalogue, Stanborough farm (lot 3) was occupied by Mr Herbert Titmuss and the acreage was 123 acres . This was sold for £6100 to the tenant. Roebuck farm (lot 5) was being auctioned as a total of 98 acres (86 arable and 28 acres of pasture and valuable cress beds) the land west of the river Lea including the farmhouse was occupied by Messrs. Sherriff & Sons, while the land to the East was occupied by Mr Herbert Titmuss. This farm was purchased by Mr E.J. Tingey of Hatfield for £4100. According to the catalogue the fishing rights were claimed by the Marquis of Salisbury and the Shooting rights is mainly in the hands of Mr H. Titmuss. The sale organised by Messers Danial Smith, Oakley and Carrard. In the 1923 25” map a footpath is marked going across Strawfield. The back channel has been made longer. In 1929 Benjamin Eagles has been dropped from Kelly’s Directory as being a watercress grower. In 1936 the Salisbury Estate had another terrier made and the tenant for the watercress beds at Lemsford was still G.W.Tims.
On the 24th May 1946 an article was published in the Welwyn Times.
On the 8th July 1947 the land and watercress beds at Lemsford was sold by the Salisbury Estate to E Higgs. On a gravestone in Lemsford Churchyard is the name of George William Tims who died April 5th 1948 aged 68 years. On the 16thApril 1948, the Welwyn Times carried an article called “Knew the secret of water cress” as a type of obituary. Scan article or link. Mr E Higgs sold the reserve land to a Mr Ashby, no date recorded.
On the 1960 502 map te watercress beds have become wider the marsh has coniferous woodlands marked, buildings on the reserve are also marked. By 1968 one of the huts had been removed and trees have been planted along the banks of the river Lea. The coniferous trees are no longer there.At a meeting of the Welwyn Garden City urban district council Recreation Committee on the 10th June 1969 it was stated that the council was purchasing the Lemsford watercress beds from the owner Mr Ashby so that they could use the water as it is independent of the river Lea to supply the Stanborough Lakes they also said that they were interested in the site being sold to the Trust and becoming a nature reserve. A Short report was presented to the trust by P. Moxey in July 1969 assessing the site so they could decide weather to purchase the site when it became available.
The Trust finally purchased Lemsford Watercress beds in May 1970 at a price the district valuer set, £2500. The money was all donated, £500 by the world Wildlife Fund and Cadbury fund with the rest being private gifts. A management committee was immediately formed to look after the reserve and improve it ecologically and with regards to conservation. The warden at Lemsford Springs is Barry Trevis a well known figure around Lemsford. He lives close to the reserve and every first Sunday of the month organises a working party to maintain the reserve.
With thanks to sources:Stephen Williams