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Haileybury's grounds

Haileybury's grounds offer a fascinating insight into a much more ancient landscape than first appears. From the original estate of the East India Company to its estate of ancient woodlands, heathland and individual specimen trees, the College has a rich and varied landscape of enormous diversity and scientific interest.

Haileybury's grounds

An ancient story

Although today Haileybury is closer to Hertford Heath than to the hamlet of Hailey from which it takes its name, it is Hailey which has a fundamental and indelible link with the College. Hertford Heath, indeed, is a product of the College itself.

Haileybury can accurately be said to be on the outskirts of the ancient hamlet. By 1560 a large house, Hailey Bushes, had appeared at the top of Hailey Lane; by 1782 it had become known as the Hailey Bury (a "bury" is a Hertfordshire name usually describing the largest house in a village).

Parts of Hailey Bury still stand today in the form of Hailey House. By the 1780s, it had been acquired by a Dr Walker, an employee of the East India Company, who in 1805 eventually sold it and its accompanying estate for the sum of £5,900 to the Company's directors.

The story of modern Haileybury had begun - but the estate today still has a wealth of secrets to reveal...

The Haileybury environs in earliest times

In its earliest days, the land around Haileybury was a mixture of woodland and heathland but it was not without history.

Just before the arrival of the Romans, the ancient British Catuvellauni had a settlement on this heath; a Belgic grave was unearthed in 1956, the finds from which are displayed in the British Museum.

With Ceasar's arrival, Roman influence on the landscape became pronounced. Ermine Street passed by here on its way to Cambridge, its route still being visible as a long, straight footpath through Broxbourne Woods and, to the north, as the modern day A10.

By the time of the Domesday Book, we learn that the nearby hamlet of Hailey was of little taxable value. Held by Geoffrey de Bec, it was home to 2 villagers, 2 smallholders, 1 slave, 3 cottagers and 50 pigs.

The human imprint

While Hailey itself scarcely changed in the following centuries, man's impact on the landscape was not quite so constrained.

Recent research has shown that in the middle ages, large areas of land around Hailey were being used either for farmland or for timber; wood being the main source of fuel and building in this part of Hertfordshire and East Anglia until at least the late 1700s.

As part of this process, the local landscape began to acquire its own personality. Fields and land either assumed the names of their owners or were described by their agricultural use. Hence, while "Dellys", which adjoined an area of land called Shads, reflected proprietorial ownership, Cow Leas and Hyckys (or Hicks) Leys also described pastoral function.

Quitchells and the Haileybury story

Of these ancient names, perhaps the most famous in terms of Haileybury is Quitchells. First referred to in 1560 and forming a great triangular slice of land between Quitchells Way and Goldings Wood, Quitchells has dominated local tithe maps since the 16th Century, and is most likely older still.

The etymology of the name is obscure although it is likely that it is a derivation of the name Quitch Hill, a slice of land stretching up from the hamlet of Hailey towards the heath; quitch being a form of fast-growing grass common in heathland and waste.

Whatever its origin, the name Quitchells is still in common use at Haileybury. Today, these same fields are home to football, athletics and rugby; sport having long ago replaced the trudging of the plough in marking the passing of the seasons.

Manors and wastes

Central to the history of the Haileybury site is its position near open heath land - the Great Heath - at the junction of three ancient parishes, Great Amwell, Geddings and Thele (now St Margarets).

Each parish maintained its own historic grazing rights over common land. These included their own designated areas of the Great Heath, known as manorial, or lord's, wastes.

Although these days much of this land has been built upon to form the village of Hertford Heath, two sections still remain: The Roundings, and a significant swathe of the original Great Heath itself.

The College leases out both these areas to the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust. This ensures not only a rich habitat for local wildlife and a superb asset for the community but also offers a tantalising glimpse of the ancient Great Heath which once stretched in bleak embrace over all these isolated uplands.

Woodland around Haileybury

Woodland formed a key part of the mediaeval economy; since the Second World War, much of Britain's ancient woodland has disappeared so that, nationwide, perhaps only 2% remains.

According to the Woodland Trust, ancient woodland in England is described as Woodland existing since 1600. At Haileybury, we are blessed with three ancient woods which retain more or less their historic boundaries.

The biggest wood, Goldings (or Goldingtons Wood), is referred to from the early 1300s; Hailey (or Dixon's) Wood is known in 1601, and Dells (or Dellys) Wood dates back at least to the 1460s.

Today, these ancient woodlands - in addition to parts of the fifteenth century High Wood - are managed by the College; preserving these beautiful and fascinating natural assets for future generations.

Some remarkable trees

In addition to helping maintain a wonderful and ancient landscape, Haileybury is also a custodian to some remarkable individual trees. Three trees in particular, known to generations of Haileyburians, are worthy of attention.

Lightning Oak, situated on Terrace Field, is a fine example of how an oak tree can grow when unencumbered by surviving woodland - even though it took a direct strike from a bolt of lightning in 1898. With a height of over seventy feet and a span of over 100, it has recently been dated to the year 1470 and is perhaps only half way through its life.

The Dumb-bell Oak at the south end of Terrace nearest Hailey Lane, is difficult to date because of a distinctive shape caused by pollarding and the subsequent thickening of its trunk. However, its appearance gives every sign of being once part of a hedge bank tree and we know that the current grounds of Haileybury were extended by land acquisition at this point.

Quitchells' Oak, situated at the corner of Quitchells nearest the College, is an astonishing survival in that its position was actually recorded in 1634 as the boundary corner of Thele parish. We can conclude that the tree is at least 400 years old but that is was standing long before this date. An iron plaque mounted to the tree celebrates this wonderful story.

If any of these trees could talk, they would each tell a fascinating story of this delightful corner of Britain. But their story is not over. As we pass our busy lives in their rustling foliate shadows, they record our actions still in the silence of their ways.

The Repton Landscape

One of the lesser-known facets of Haileybury's long story is the role played by Humphry Repton, a brilliant landscape gardener who is often described as the successor to Capability Brown.

Even though his own success was somewhat modest compared to Brown, Repton was nonetheless a landscape visionary. His particular genius was in the creation of his before-and-after "Red Books" which showed potential clients how their site would look once work was completed.

At Haileybury, Repton's contribution was temperate but stately notwithstanding. His main work was focused on the south west corner of the College estate near the Master's Lodge; tying in the elegance of the Terrace with a landscaped area of trees and roses.

A central feature of the plan, which still charms and excites in equal measure, is the sinuous pool which forms the centrepiece of this design. Starting with three disused brick pits, Repton skilfully adapted an earlier plan to make one large pool by instead creating "two irregular shaped pools to have the appearance of one piece of water".

His results are exceptionally pleasing and give the impression of a wide, meandering river journeying through a woodland landscape of great tranquility.

The Haileybury estate today

When the East India Company bought the land from Dr Walker, the estate comprised approximately 60 acres and included the immediate area around Hailey Bushes and land to the west on which the College was to be built. It was a relatively small estate.

Over the following two centuries, the College expanded to embrace Qutichells and Goldings Woods to the North, large parts of the Heath to the west and areas of farmland to the south and east. Today, the College is responsible for over 500 acres of land,.

Although much has changed since the College was first built in 1809, Haileybury's gradual yet sympathetic expansion has - almost by accident - left us a legacy of considerable riches. Retaining ancient woodland, preserving historic field boundaries and creating in its Repton gardens a new landscape in its own right, Haileybury has of itself given something back to society: an intimate footprint of a world long forgotten.

Learn more about Haileybury

You can learn more about the fascinating history of the College elsewhere on this website. Please do click on any of the links below to find out more.

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