Memories of Bill Horn
Part Three - Reminiscences of Welwyn Garden and area
By Roger Filler
Reminiscences of pre Welwyn Garden City and area Transcript of tape recording by William Harvey Cooper Horn, 1901-1987.
Made August 1976. Part 3
Mentioning Lower Handside Farm reminds me, of course, that was one big house. It’s still in existence, I think it’s a hostel, or something now (see picture). The old silo, of course, which stands near the farm buildings, was not there in those days. That was built in the early twenties, after my people had given up the farms. My old grandfather W J Horn was born in Lower Handside Farm, and when he married, Upper Handside Farm was built, and he moved there after he had married Miss Sarah Cox. That was in 1860 that happened. In Lower Handside at the time that I am thinking of, just after the war, it was occupied, half of it by old Tom Lines, who was a foreman, and his family, and the other half by Fred Line , the head cowman, and, of course, it remained that way until the coming of the Garden City.
Upper Handside Farm
Upper Handside Farm is no longer in existence, sad to say. It use to stand at the head of what is now known as the Old Drive, and there was a big rhododendron bed in front of the house, and the drive used to divide and go around it in a circle, and that circle is still there today, where the road coming from the old drive goes round the bend. I don’t know what’s in it now. On the left there used to be two huge great horse chestnut trees, and they provided a tremendous amount of shade, and there were tennis and croquet courts in the garden. The house was originally a plain, square building, but as the Horn family increased in size, a further wing was built on at the back, and that was a large dining room, with three bedrooms above it, and also extra kitchen and pantry space at the back. I can never understand really why that old house was pulled down. I should have thought some use could have been made of it, but probably it didn’t fit in with the general planning scheme of things. One always hates to see old landmarks go. And the farm building there used to be a number of cowsheds and there were two large barns, and there was an old cart shed adjoining, which was converted into what is now known as the Backhouse Room. As those who have been in the Backhouse Room will know, it contains some marvellous timbers, and it’s good they have been preserved.
Brickwall Farm, of course, is still there, and the house, from the exterior anyway, I haven’t been inside it for many years, is much as it always was. But the buildings are different now, there used to be a large barn and stabling. Much of those were destroyed during the last war by a land mine, I believe, which fell in the vicinity (see picture).
Getting around the area
The A1, which was then called the Great North Road, ran where it still does in front of the house, but it was a very narrow road, about 15 feet wide, a single track road, and it was the Great North Road, which ran from London to Edinburgh in the old days. The road in the old days used to branch off from the existing road at Stanborough, go past Lemsford Church, through the village and up the old road, through a sort of gully-dell place opposite Brickwall, and join the existing road slightly above Brickwall. A new road was constructed in the early part of the century from Stanborough up to the junction with the old road above Brickwall, and even in my time, years later, that road was still known as the new road. I’ve heard my grandfather say that in his young days there was no bridge over the river at Lemsford, and the coaches used to come tearing down the church hill as fast as they could gallop, through the ford, the river at the bottom, in order to gain as much momentum as possible, to carry them as far as they could up the steep hill, which is alongside the Long Arm and Short Arm pub. The Sun Inn, in those days, was a post house, I understand, where they kept additional teams of horse, in order to hitch on to the front of the coaches, the heavier ones, in order to help them up the steep hill, and these horses were called the fore-horses or foreses. I remember seeing as a young boy, the timber wagons drawn by horses and carrying great trunks of trees, when they got down to the village, extra horses would be brought, and they be hitched on it in front of these, in order to give extra strength to get them up the hill. And I’ve seen eight horses in line ahead pulling these big timber wagons with the great logs on them, in order to get them up the hill, and to the saw mills which were then near Old Welwyn.
What I think we miss a lot in these days are the lovely old hedges which used to line the fields, and provided wonderful sanctuary for the wild birds, etc. But, of course, these hedged wanted a tremendous amount of up-keep. In those days, of course, they were all done by hand. The man who was the expert, and looked after the hedges on our farm was old Alf Holme. He was a marvellous hedger and ditcher. He could get these hedges into the most wonderful shape, Also another technique was when a hedge got a bit too thin at the bottom, then it used to be allowed to grow up, and it was what they called “cut and laid”. They used to cut the saplings half through, and then bend them down, and tie them along, and so they formed a thicker hedge, down below, from which the new hedge was started off again. And this was done, of course, in the fields where cattle were kept to stop them getting out. But even with mechanical means the up-keep of hedges would be rather prohibitive, and also with your large farm machinery, combines and what not, you need much bigger fields, so there again hedges had to go. All very sad though.
The farms go up for sale
Well, life went on in this quiet way, year after year, then, and there seemed no reason why it shouldn’t continue in this steady way, with the sort of mild improvement and progress. And then suddenly the change came. The rumour went round that Lord Desborough wanted to sell his land. And this, of course, immediately set worries going. What was going to happen? Who would buy? Who the new landlord would be? And our own family had much consultation. We couldn’t afford to put up the money for all the farms, but at one stage we had thought of trying to buy Upper Handside and Lower Handside Farms, and just farm those. But agriculture being in the way it was then, just before the nineteen twenties, 1919 in fact, and my family were always rather cautious in taking big steps ahead, it was decided that we would not try to buy the farms, but to take a chance and to see who bought them, and hope that we would be able to stay on there. Well the day came, and the auction was held, and there was much bidding, and a man named Howard figured very prominently in it. And then there were certain people who were acting for him who approached my father and asked him if he’d mind if they did buy the farm, whether they built a road across it. And we, of course, not expecting what was coming, said that it was nothing to do with us, and, of course, there would be no objection. But there it was, and it was knocked down to Howard, Ebenezer Howard , as we found out afterwards, and that was the start of the acquisition of the Garden City. Very shortly afterwards, the officials of the new company contacted our people, and plans were made that they would begin to do the preliminary survey for roads and what not, over the land, and that we should carry on farming it in the meanwhile and see how things went.
The Garden City arrives
Well the people began to arrive. The officials, the surveyors, and began to stick pegs all over the place, and to make places for roads. Wonderful new plans appeared of what the city was going to be eventually. We all welcomed this as a family. Welcomed this in many ways, this new coming, new interest, new individuals. I gather since that some people have been rather surprised at our attitude, thinking that we would resent the coming of the new town. I don’t think that we ever did really. My father threw himself into the public work of the place, although he still kept up his connection with Lemsford, where he remained church warden and school manager, but he took an interest in the public work of the new town. He went on, was one of the first members of the Parish Council when it was formed, and then he progressed from there to the Urban District Council, and he was actually the first chairman of the newly created Urban District Council, and he remained on that for many years until his final retirement. Uncle Jack, never took much part in the public life. He stuck to Lemsford, and so did my Aunt Mit. They carried on with their public work in Lemsford, but they always did their best to welcome newcomers to the town, and everybody was always welcome at Handside, and they went up there, and they used to come up for tennis parties, etc, as I remember. My mother threw herself into the work of the place in the early days. And she tried her best to start with, to call on all the new people as they came, but she unfortunately had a nervous breakdown after about two years, and had to retire from public life. I naturally, as far as I was concerned, as a young man, just on twenty, it meant a great alteration in my life. There were a whole lot of new people coming in, and I made a wonderful lot of new friends, and I took an active part in forming the hockey club and the tennis club. I also became one of the first church wardens of the church, and I can look back on those early days in Welwyn Garden City with very great joy.
New Town Trust & Agricultural Guild
After a time, however, the land which was left to us on the farm became too small really to be economic, and it was decided then that we would give up farming, and that my father and my uncle would retire. And also at that time there was a new company that came along – the New Town Trust, which was going to amalgamate the Welwyn Garden City Company, and wanted some agricultural land to start farming operations, and it was decided that when we gave up the farms they should take over, as the first stage of the Agricultural Guild as it was called, the New Town Agricultural Guild. The Guild was an interesting experiment. It was really supposed to be run on guild lines. It had a Director of Agriculture. In this position a man named Henry Henshawe was engaged, who had had big experience of both dairy and arable farming with Chivers and Sons and also with Ministry of Agriculture, and there was an advisory committee to which my father was appointed to give expert advice, and there was a representative of the management staff, and also a representative of the labourers. As I say, my father went on the advisory staff of it, and I was given a job with the New Town Agricultural Guild, under the Director of Agriculture, to take charge of the dairying side and the arable part of it. And thus we carried on until finally things didn’t go according to plan. Agriculture was bad during that time. I wouldn’t say that the guild experiment was a great success, but anyway the New Town Agricultural Guild finally had to pack it in, and their operations were taken over by the company.
How I will be remembered
There seemed to be very little chance of a future there, and so I seized the opportunity, and managed to get a job as a rubber planter in Malaya, and that was in 1925 when I personally left the Garden City, and I went off to Malaya where I lived for the next 30 odd years, but that is another story. In those early years of the Welwyn Garden City we had what we called Welwyn Garden City News, to which local people used to contribute, and one of the features of it was sort of limericks on topical matters which were made up by Frederic Osborn, Sir Fred as he now is, and William Ravenscroft-Hughes, who was connected with the New Town Trust, and one of these limericks I remember ran as follows:
Three generations of Horn,
Handside Lane on fine mornings adorn
County Alderman Grand-dad
Parish Councillor man-dad
And young motor bicycle Horn
Well, I was the young motor bicycle Horn, and I sometimes think rather with amusement that although in after days in the Garden City I assisted as I said in forming the hockey club, the tennis club, and I was also church warden and took part in many other activities, my name only goes down in posterity as the fact that I rode a motor cycle.