Hatfield Forest lies in an almost forgotten corner of Essex, and yet stands not so many miles distant from London Stansted Airport and the M11 motorway.
Hatfield which was once part of the huge Epping Forest, is the last Norman royal hunting forest to survive almost intact, and today is in the care of the National Trust.
It`s present shape and form lies mainly to the work of the the Protestant Huguenots Houblon family who fled from Flanders, moving to England in the 16th century to avoid religious persecution from the Catholics.
Sir John Houblon
Over time the family prospered well in the City of London. Sir John Houblon was possibly the most famous, becoming a Lord of the Admiralty in 1694, and Lord Mayor of London in 1695. He was also the first active Governor of the Bank of England along with three of his brothers on the board.
Sir John was buried in the adjoining church to the bank in 1712. Later the church was destroyed and the ruins were incorporated into a major extension of the Bank of England, so Sir John’s grave now lies beneath the bank. A large portrait of him still hangs in the bank chamber.
Jacob Houblon III, as a trustee of the family fortune, was directed to find a suitable estate for the young male heir. The family purchased Hallingbury Estate including Hatfield Forest. Jacob moved into his new country house, Hallingbury Place, on the Hallingbury estate in 1737, after finishing his education at Cambridge. Hallingbury had a park of its own which backed on to the forest and Jacob began to re-landscape this park treating the forest as an extension of the same.
Shell House and lake
Jacob’s first major alteration to the forest was to create a lake on the marshland fed by the Shermore Brook. The brook was straightened and a dam built at the far end. The lake was approximately 8 acres and possibly larger than it is today, being well stocked with fish. The lake was altered later with the introduction of two fashionable curves and the enlargement of the dam. Capability Brown may have influenced this
|The Shell House|
Jacob’s daughter Laetitia decorated the interior and exterior with exotic and colourful shells, (mostly from the West Indies as they were used as ballast in the holds of slave ships) split flints, blue glass, coral and sands. The designer of the building is unknown, but it was of Italian influence. Similar designs were around at this classical time, for instance The Duchess of Richmond and her daughters built a shell grotto along similar lines at Goodwood in the 1740s.
The forest is reputedly haunted by horsemen, and sometimes the sound of horses in full flight have been heard from the nightly still of the forest. Some believe the rider might be the 18th century `Highwayman` Dick Turpin using the cover of the forest to travel to and from Epping where he committed a series of robberies on stagecoaches.
Others believe them to be the spirits of ancient horsemen from the days of the Royal Hunting Forest.
The Shell House has it`s own ghostly history, and it is rumoured that Laetitia who decorated the building is seen sometimes in and around the property late at night.
Either way, Hatfield Forest has it`s own Halloween Ghost Night Walks, with the possibility that these hauntings might again occur, or indeed any one of other ghostly legends attached to this beautiful forest.