St Albans' Own East End

Beaumonts Manor


Maps courtesy of HALS.

There is now no surviving evidence of the structures of the manor, farm or former estate, other than the cottages at the north end of Beaumont Avenue.  The final obliteration of evidence came in 1938 with preparations for the building of houses in Woodland Drive, when the 1831 farm house was demolished.

The earliest structure surviving up to that date was the remains of a moat.  Even on a 19th century ordnance survey map the moat, though visible, is clearly incomplete, but photographs taken in the 1930s indicate that what remained was still water-filled and looking like a long, narrow tree and shrub-lined pond or small lake.   Maybe, with the future of the farm becoming uncertain in 1909 a report was commissioned by the National Monuments Commission (now English Heritage) to investigate the possible historical importance of the moat, within which there was no sign of any surviving building.

The moat was rectangular in shape, measuring roughly 240 by 170 feet externally, with the ditch estimated at 35 feet on the surface.  Two of its sides lie underneath Central Drive and Woodland Drive south with the entire internal ground surface lying within properties in Woodland Drive south, Hazlewood Drive south and the south side of Central Drive.

The only moats which are known to have existed and which do not enclose buildings are those which may have stockaded animals, but this is unlikely in the case of Beaumonts as it was not a recognised stock-rearing area.  Early buildings may have been protected by a moat for practical defensive reasons.  Some later buildings may still have possessed moats, even if the threat of attack had largely disappeared.  In these cases they would have been excavated for show; as a symbol of status.   Without the building it is impossible to know into which category Beaumonts manor fell.  But what IS certain is that it would have contained a building, and serious expense would not have been incurred on a building of lower status than the manor itself.  So it seems almost certain that the site of the first manor house at Beaumonts was within the moat to the south of Central Drive.

A filled-in section on the northern short side may have been for rather a different purpose than other sections of the moat.  A building within a moat presumed there must also have been a drawbridge of some kind.   Such a mechanism would have required maintenance, and there may have come a time when this was considered unnecessary, and was replaced by a breach – an infill of earth to provide a pathway between inside and outside.  Indeed this bund may always have been there if the original function of the moat had been ornamental.  The opening on the north side was also logical since it was adjacent to the lowest land in this little valley, and the track to the outside world (later Beaumont Avenue).

The three farm labourers' cottages at the north end of Beaumont Avenue were constructed shortly before the building of the farm house; probably as a pair first of all, with an additional cottage added later to the left end.

But it is the name of the hamlet in which they are built which is intriguing.  This is Hall Heath.  The "Heath" part of the name is clear: between the two hills in Sandpit Lane (one west of The Dell and the other east of Damson Way) was the former upland heath land, which describes the natural vegetation which might have been expected before settlement.

"The Hall" part of the name, however, offers us the possibility that this referred to a medieval hall house.  There appears to be no direct evidence but the hall in question was probably an early Beaumonts Manor.  As such there may have been a building on the site before the earliest 14th century records.

In two nearby locations evidence has been noted of human occupation of the landscape as early as the first century AD: at the Wick and at a house in Salisbury Avenue.  Both are within a short distance of a spring and stream which seemed to flow from the higher ground above the Wick, following the line of Woodstock Road north, Eaton Road, Sutton Road, then Campfield Road towards the river Ver.

Dury and Andrews' 1766 map is the earliest to plot Beaumonts Farm (Bemonds) and Hall Heath, where there were two properties which are no longer extant.

Bryant's 1822 map is the last to document the second manor house, but the track leading to it is more diagrammatic than actual.

Beaumont Avenue, Salisbury Avenue and the farm track of the 1924 OS map.  Circled is the farm complex, and the remains of a former moat (see also inset).

We have no idea what the manor inside the moat looked like.  Here is one possibility.  This is at Bisham.  The one at Beaumonts, however, may have been of brick, or even timber framed.

Jane Marten drew the second, Jacobean-style, manor house, which was located across the present Central Drive.  But by the 1820s its structural state was poor.  It was replaced by a tenant farm house (below) c1831.  This was finally demolished in 1938.

The three farm labourers' cottages, how private homes, at the Sandpit Lane end of Beaumont Avenue, Hall Heath.

Gates once barred both ends of the lane (Beaumont Avenue).  This is the north gate.  The cottages can just be seen on the left,

Beaumont Avenue as it was until the 1930s.  It hardly seems possible that this is the same wide carriageway we use today.

Near this point in Salisbury Avenue were found fragments of a first century amphora (for carrying and storing water).  A stream flowed nearby, at the foot of the hill with Eaton Road. 1500 years later the name Beamondes (Beaumonts) was printed onto William Kip's 1610 map (right).  We shall probably never know whether or not occupation had been continuous during that long period.

Among the medieval manors which once governed all of life on the east side of St Albans, was Beaumonts.  Its jurisdiction probably extended much further than the boundaries of the 19th century farm on which the modern estate – and much of Camp north of Camp Road – have been subsequently built.

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Evidence of a medieval moated manor

No document so far discovered has mentioned more than one manor, or a manor and a separate farm building.  It must therefore be assumed that the moated manor was simply replaced.  Any replacement may have been necessitated by the limited size of the moated site and the fact that access to it was limited.  We know nothing about its structure but presume it to be timber frame with simple plaster infills.  This was a simple building designed for local control rather than a building of strategic importance over a larger area.  Although bricks were in use in the early medieval period, and could have been used at Beaumonts, proof could only come from archaeology, which is now almost impossible to undertake on this site.

There arises the question of why the building did not survive to be referred to in later documents or maps.  Two obvious reasons come to mind.  First, that a catastrophic fire may have made its replacement urgent and inevitable, leaving little behind.  Second, timbers – and maybe bricks, if used – from the manor may have been transferred to the new site.   This having been done, the residual work of clearing the site would not have been insurmountable, and the restrored rectangle would have made a suitable paddock with or without fencing, even though that would not have been its original function.

The building which Jane Marten drew in in 1828 was probably erected somewhere between 1600 and 1700.  It was typical of late Tudor or Jacobean styles which became popular.  Two substantial chimney stacks suggest that heating was widespread throughout the house, including on the first floor.  Small diamond-paned windows are shown throughout, with one of the ground floor windows shuttered.  A cantilevered second floor with exposed decorated floor brackets indicate a substabtial structure.  Exposed beams are at first floor level and the facing appears to be plaster, hiding an internal brick skin.  It is therefore possible that bricks were recovered from the manor. 

The artist gives an impression of the worn age of the house, which may have been in existence for over two hundred years at the time of being drawn.  This clearly is not the house built for a tenant farmer but, as with the former manor, by its owner.  Whether this building was called a manor house or a farm house is a moot point.

From around 1750 the house had been owned and lived in by Thomas Kinder, the second husband of Elizabeth Cole (see Chronology of the owners of Beaumonts).  He appeared to be the last owner who lived here.  His son lived at Sandridgebury House.

The design of the Victorian farm house is difficult to date, but we must assume a connection with the above-mentioned Thomas not wishing to live in the Jacobean house as his father had done.  The date of the Victorian house may therefore correspond with the date of Thomas senior’s death, which was DATE.  It must also be presumed that one importnt reason for Thomas junior’s change of domicile was the condition of the old house.  His financial circumstances may also have enabled him to live in a more substantial house than his father.  Thus the re-build is in a plainer, smaller, style, more suited to tenant occupancy.  The new tenant to look after the farm had arrived by 1840: George Pocock and his wife Charlotte.

Hall Heath

The roads of the modern Beaumonts estate portrayed over the map of the old manor and farm buildings.  Hall Heath is circled top left of the map.

St Albans' Own East End