William Saunders

Henry Moore: Sheep in Snow
Henry Moore ‘Sheep in Snow’

I am either seventy-four or seventy-five years of age and I live at The Anchor public house in Northchurch near the church.1 Sir John Seymour is my landlord.2 The Anchor is a freehold property. There is about an acre belonging to the house. I have lived in that house about forty-one or forty-two years. I was bred and born in the adjoining property which is only divided by a brick wall. I have lived in Northchurch all my life.

The Anchor public house has been built about sixty years. Before it was built there was an old house on the site occupied by Liddy Davis. She was there as long as I recollect. A man of the name of Henry Hanows bought the property and pulled the old house down and built the house which is now The Anchor. Hanows was a carpenter and occupied the house four or five years and then failed. After that, a man of the name of Joseph Norris rented it, and then for a few months a man named Warwick and after him a man named Walker, and he failed after about four or five years and I have occupied it ever since and I made a beerhouse of it after the Beer Act was passed which was four or five years after I went into the house.3

I have turned out sheep on the common. My brother and I have together turned out about fifty sheep.4 My brother lived at Rossway which is in the parish of Northchurch.5 Since my brother’s death about twelve years ago I have not turned any out. My brother was a shepherd and used to look after the sheep in the day time on the common and bring them back in the evening to my little meadows. My brother was shepherd to Mr Robert Sutton and used to look after his sheep as well.6 I rent one of the meadows. I then had still the other two. Sir John Seymour took [them] away nine or ten years ago and got me some more land instead of them which I rent of Mr John Bingham and of Mr John Loxley and Mrs Duncombe.7 All the lands I have mentioned are in Northchurch.8

I first rented the three little meadows I spoke of about thirty years ago after I had been at The Anchor about ten years. I put sheep on the common before I had these meadows, but they then lay on the common night and day.9 I had then about ten couple of my own. My brother had about forty couple. By couple, I mean ewes and their lambs. At that time people used to say we ought to leave the sheep on the common night and day because of the dressing but we used to take them on to the land of neighbouring farmers when we liked. Before I had the meadows I had no place to take the sheep to but the farmers used to give me something to fold them on their land. In the winter we used to put the sheep on the land of farmers who grew turnips, paying them so much a week. I did this because I had no ploughed land of my own. I have done this in the winter both before and since I had the meadows. I did not keep any sheep on the common after my brother’s death because I had nobody to attend them there. I had so few that it would not have paid to have hired a boy to look after them. Some of the sheep belonged to me and some to my brother. I was never interrupted from turning sheep out on the common. I know when the fences which were lately knocked down were put up the sheep used to go on that part of the common as much as on other parts.

I used to cut furze and fern on the common and have drawn many a thousand of fern and furze for other people.10 I used to use a good deal of the furze and fern myself in The Anchor and the premises. I used the furze in the ovens for baking the bread and for the bottoms of my ricks and for the bottoms of the cattle yards, to be trod into dressing. The fern also was used for litter when we were short of straw. I used to get the furze and fern from any part of the common where it grew best and among other parts from the part which was lately enclosed. I used to get the furze and fern twenty years before I went to The Anchor when I lived with my father in the adjoining house which belonged to my father. Sir John Seymour brought that house and he still owns it.

‘I thought Paxton was wrong in putting up the fence but I did not say it to Lord Brownlow.’

Walker, Warwick and Norris all used the furze and fern when they wanted it. Norris used to earn his living as I did by keeping a horse and drawing fern and furze off the common for other people but he kept what he wanted for his own use. There were bakers and other people in Berkhamsted and Northchurch who wanted the furze and fern and used to buy it from Norris and myself when we drew it off. They used to cut it themselves and paid us for drawing it. When we wanted it we cut it for ourselves or took it from that which we drew and deducted the value from the carriage. Old Mrs Liddy Davis used to use the furze for her ovens. I never saw her burn it but I know she used to bake her own bread and I have seen the furze lying at her door. I was quite a boy at this time. Mrs Davis’s oven held about half a bushel of bread. The oven would not have burnt coal and required either wood or furze. I never was interrupted in my life when I was cutting or drawing the furze or fern and I have cut it whenever I wanted it. I have had some within the last six months. I have been laid up by an accident nine weeks today.

I know Ashlyns Hall very well and worked for Mr Smith’s father there.11 I went first about forty-five years ago. My brother was there before me as a sawyer and when I was out of my time I went along with my brother and worked with him about seven years. We were not always at Mr Smith’s but we worked at Mr Smith’s the greater part of the time. My brother’s name is Holliday.12 I do not know that they ever used furze or fern from the common at Ashlyns. They had so much woodland that they did not want it and Mr Smith did not turn sheep on the common as he had so much park of his own but his tenants used to turn sheep out.

Mr Page who rented a farm of Mr Smith’s used to turn sheep on the common. He has three hundred on the common at a time. Page rented Marlins Farm.13 I knew him to turn sheep out thirty or forty years ago. Mr Page rented another farm as well as Marlins Farm. He held the other farm under Lord Bridgewater.14 One farm would not have supported so many as three hundred sheep. Page has been dead many years. Mr Redding now occupies Marlins Farm and it belongs now to Mr Smith-Dorrien.15 Mr Page turned out sheep on the common every year as long as I knew him hold the farm under Lord Bridgewater. Miss Page is alive now. Redding only occupies Marlins Farm. The farm Page had from Lord Bridgewater was called Wood Lane.16 Redding had sheep on the common the year before last and some colts. I knew that Page had furze and fern from the common for the bottom of his ricks because he lived in the right farm. I mean the farm under Lord Bridgewater. Redding has had furze from the common and I think he has had fern. When I was a boy there were two or three fields of furze on that farm. It is all grubbed up now.

I know that there is a Broad Green Drive over the common. In some places, there is room for one hundred people to ride and in others only for four or five. The drive I mean is from Aldbury to Hemel Hempstead and saves going round by the turnpike road.17 I cannot say that I have seen many people using this drive because I live in another direction. In going from Northchurch there is a new road to Dunstable made about forty-five years which goes over the common and enters the common about a mile from this green drive which it crosses. The fence was put up along this side of the Dunstable Road and crossed the Broad Green Drive which was thereby stopped. I was along the Broad Green Drive about a month before it was stopped up. I drove along in a light cart with my daughter who was sadly.18 I went along the Dunstable Road and got into the Broad Green drive from the common. I do not know that I got into the Broad Green Drive where it crosses the Dunstable Road as there are plenty of places where you can get on the common from the Dunstable Road and you can then cross the common onto the Broad Green Drive. I have not been often along this drive, but I have gone whenever I wanted, perhaps two or three times in a year, perhaps more, perhaps less. I have met ladies and gentlemen there both riding and walking. The Green Drive comes out at the Hemel Hempstead side in the Water End Road which goes through Potten End. I never went myself as far as Potten End on the last occasion I mentioned, I turned back and came out by the new road.

There are four of five roads leading to the Broad Green Drive in different directions. I used this Broad Green Drive forty years ago. I was then young and used to walk along it on a Sunday and on other occasions. I never knew anybody stopped going along this drive although I have seen many people on it but I cannot say who they were. I also know a road that went round Coldharbour Farm by Bow Field. This road existed before the Dunstable Road was made and I used to get into this road round Coldharbour Farm by going up Holliday’s Lane which leads to the common. This road leads to Little Gaddesden but is not used now except for pleasure as the Dunstable Road has taken all the traffic. The fence crossed and stopped up this road. Before the Dunstable Road was made people going to Dunstable used to go along this road.

I think I have rights over the common and when I took the house I was told I had rights. I thought Paxton was wrong in putting up the fence but I did not say it to Lord Brownlow.19 I was not one of the persons who authorised the fence to be taken down, but I may have done so. My house, The Anchor, is close to the church at Northchurch. The river, canal and railway are between my house and the common. I have nothing to do with Berkhamsted manor and am not a tenant of that manor. I took The Anchor public house from Mr Walker about forty or forty-one years ago. I took it with Mr Thorn. We were partners for about two years. I have now some property under Sir John Seymour. My rent is £25 but I do all the repairs. I also have about five acres and a half under Mrs Duncombe.

I first turned sheep out thirty-two or thirty-three years ago. My brother used to manage the sheep entirely. I looked after them at times. I turned mine out along with his and he attended to them. My brother lived at one of Sutton’s lodges. My brother neither had or rented any land his own. Mr Sutton’s land was pretty well all in Northchurch, but he had some in Wigginton and, I think, some in Berkhamsted parishes. I and my brother had about fifty sheep. When he died, he had fifty and I ten ewes. When I had the three little meadows, I had no other land. There were about three acres of land in the three meadows. My brother used to turn the sheep out sometimes in Broad Mead and South Mead but not in Chair Mead. Where he turned them out on the Broad Mead and South Mead was a nice place for sheep. Sheep were there eight months out of the twelve. I did make a claim in respect of Chair Mead, but I got nothing.20 I think Paxton behaved very badly about it. Some years ago, there was an interruption to turning out sheep on the common. Bridgewater drove the common and put the sheep on Coldharbour Farm. There was a great many sheep on the common at that time, but my brother and I had no sheep then on the common. This took place about thirty years ago. I will not say justly how long – it was from twenty to thirty years ago.21

MANORS of Berkhamstead & Northchurch, Parcel of the Duchy of Cornwall AND OF THE Honor of Berkhamstead.

NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN to the Tenants having right of Common of Estovers on the Commons and Waste Lands within the Manors, that no Person is entitled to cut or take the FERN and FURZE for the purpose of Sale, or to dispose of the same out of the Parish or Precinct through which such right of Common extends, or otherwise than for the proper use of the Tenants having such right of Common.
And it appearing that a contrary practice has lately prevailed, and that the same is cut and sold out of the Parish, as well by Tenants, as others, for burning bricks and lime, or otherwise, to the injury of the Commoners.
All Persons are hereby cautioned and warned not to infringe upon the Common right, or they will be deemed Wilful Trespassers, and prosecuted accordingly.
Dated this 11th day of September, 1843.
SMITH & GROVER–Hemel Hempsted,
Stewards of the said Manors.

F. MASON, Printer

Printed notice at HALS, DE/Ls/B175.

I remember Lord Bridgewater’s House being built.22 Lord Bridgewater made the brick kilns himself to make the bricks. He cleared the common of furze and wood to put into the kilns. There was no furze left afterwards until it got up again. The furze has often been burnt on the common. I believe it was set on fire by the farmers because it spoilt the grazing. I have heard people talk about persons being pulled up before the bench for cutting furze. The Norris I spoke of who occupied the house now The Anchor before me was Joseph Norris. I do not remember Norris being married. I can take my oath he never was married. There have been notices stuck up on the common, but I think not more than ten years ago. I worked at Ashlyns Hall as a sawyer and rough carpenter. Page was a good old tenant both of Lord Bridgewater and Mr Smith. Lord Bridgewater’s family now give Miss Page a house. Marlins Farm was about one hundred acres. Wood Lane Farm was about the same size. I said Page never was denied because he lived on the right farm, but I do not know that anybody was then denied. I did not know much about the common at that time.

When I first remember the common, the roads I have spoken of were not in existence. You could go where you liked. There was an old road leading on to or over the common, but there were some deep ruts in it and people did not keep to the road: you used to go wherever you could find the best road. The road I have last spoken of on to the common was not one of those stopped up by the enclosure. The road up to the common was Wood Lane, and Holliday’s Lane comes up to the common at the same place as Wood Lane, over the common. It was the old road that led to Dunstable and Gaddesden. Nobody went over this after the new road was made to Dunstable. I have seen people in the common going wherever they liked. I did not take notice where they were going to. I have been on the common scores of times. I kept to no particular road. There were three ways out onto the common from Northchurch. There are some nice rides where furze once grew. There are many hundred acres uncovered. Sheep will not feed where there is furze. When there is no furze, it makes good rides. Lady Bridgewater used to ride herself, and keep the rides in order.23

I never knew the common cleared but once. I think I should have heard of it, if it had been cleared again. The common was only cleared that the sheep might be counted and the sheep were turned out again on the common in the same evening. My brother’s sheep were sometimes put on my land after the common was cleared. I never turned my sheep on the common again, but since that time I have always had land of my own and never wanted to turn any onto the common.

  1. Between Bell Lane and The George & Dragon on the south side of the High Street.
  2. Rev Sir John Hobart Culme Seymour (1800-1880). Rector of St Mary’s Northchurch 1830-1880.
  3. The Beerhouse Act 1830 relaxed regulation of the drink trade allowing the rapid emergence of many small-scale beerhouses which ‘filled the cultural vacuum created by the gentrification of the public house’. ‘Taverns and alehouses’ in An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age. O.U.P.
  4. Thomas Saunders c.1800-1853 was shepherd for Robert Sutton of Rossway and lived for a time in one of the lodge houses on the Rossway estate. When Robert Sutton died in 1848, the Bucks Herald published a list of estate employees. Thomas was forty-eight years old and had been working for Sutton for twenty-five years.
    Bucks Herald – Saturday 16 December 1848
  5. The present house, one and a half miles south-west of Northchurch, was built for Charles Stanton Haddon, a Ceylon coffee planter, in 1867. Beorcham (Percy Birtchnell) recorded some unpublished reminiscences of a member of the Haddon family, recalling Sutton’s house with its ‘mixed collection of tall chimney pots, great walled garden, stables, bowling green and carriage drive skirting a moat-like pond’. Beorcham suggested that Haddon’s architect was a brother of the writer, George Eliot, but more recent research suggests that the architect, Robert Evans FRIBA (1832-1911), was the son of the writer’s half-brother, Robert Evans (1802-64).
    ‘Beorcham’ in ‘The Berkhamsted Gazette’, August 1963.
  6. Robert Sutton (?-1848) of Rossway, Northchurch was a ‘London stockbroker, apparently investing in estates and enslaved people in Jamaica before Emancipation and in estates in Jamaica after Emancipation’. Legacies of British Slave-ownership. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/ . He was a senior figure in the Mercers Company, the premier livery company in the City of London, and was Master of the company in 1817. He also had a house in Highgate where he was a neighbour of and friendly with the poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (see Sidelight).
  7. John Loxley of Norcott Court, Northchurch, born c.1815. John Loxley built the present manor house half a mile north of Dudswell Lock, in 1888 on the site of a sixteenth-century manor house. He married a niece of Lord Byron, according to The Gentleman’s Magazine, July 1845.
  8. Ann Duncombe born c.1793, of Lagley House, Northchurch. Tithe records c.1840 show that one of William’s meadows was rented from William Duncombe. The south-west field boundary is preserved in the modern landscape in the hedge line between the cricket club and recreation ground. The cricket club sits on three former meadows. The middle strip was glebe land, and the top meadow belonged to George Norris.
  9. William Saunders’s description of small scale sheep farming would have been instantly familiar to Pehr Kalm, a student of Linnaeus, who visited the Chilterns and observed similar practices in 1748.
  10. Furze, Ulex europæus, now more commonly known as gorse or whin. Gorse heathland characterised much of the common in the nineteenth century before it stopped being grazed in the twentieth and a secondary woodland grew up characterized by silver birch. It was the common’s most important plant resource: sheep could eat the young shoots, it could be used for fuel in domestic ovens and in brickmaking.
    Fern, Pteris aquilina. We would call this type of fern bracken.
  11. James Smith (1768-1843), landowner and scion of a Nottingham banking family (DNB). He was High Sheriff of Hertfordshire in 1808. Ashlyns Hall was built c1800.
  12. James Holliday (1787-1879). Bailiff to Augustus Smith & his father at Ashlyns Hall. Holliday is William Saunders’s half-brother – and the next witness for Smith in the original trial. See postscript ‘William Saunders and James Holliday’.
  13. Near Marlin Chapel Farm, south of Shootersway. Demolished in 1971: ‘Townsman'(Percy Birtchnell) noted its passing (by then known as Marlin Farm) in The Berkhamsted Review in April 1971.
  14. John William Egerton, the 7th Earl of Bridgewater, was a former cavalry officer and Tory politician when he inherited the Ashridge Estate on the death of ‘The Canal Duke’ (Francis Egerton, the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater) in 1803. It was the 7th Earl who built the present house at Ashridge, between 1808 and c1821. When he died in 1823, his wife, Charlotte Catharine Anne Egerton, Lady Bridgewater, lived at the house until her death in 1849.
  15. Thomas Redding in 1851 census: born c.1810. at Chingford, Essex. Farmer of one hundred and twenty acres employing ten labourers.

    Colonel Robert Algernon Smith-Dorrien (1814-1879). Colonel of the Hertfordshire Militia and a J.P. He lived at Haresfoot. ‘… I and my brother Lieut-Col. Smith-Dorrien, are after Lord Brownlow, the next principal landed Proprietors in the two Parishes of Great Berkhamstead.’ (From Augustus Smith’s Printed Statement 1866).
  16. I haven’t managed to locate Wood Lane Farm, but in September 1857 the unnamed proprietor left, prompting the sale of ‘Three useful cart-horses, the whole of the serviceable dead stock, two ricks of meadow and one rick of clover hay, &c., &c.’ Bucks Herald Saturday 12 September 1857.
  17. The turnpike road ran from 1762 between Sparrows Hearne, near Bushey, on the Hertfordshire/Middlesex border, and Aylesbury, in Buckinghamshire. I came across an interesting letter to The Sparrows Herne Turnpike Trust in a school history book. In it, Thomas Saunders of Berkhamsted is applying for the job of gatekeeper. It is difficult not to wonder about a connection with William – especially as William’s father’s name was Thomas and his brother’s name is Thomas. They are not uncommon names, however. The signatories are a snapshot of Berkhamsted’s ‘great and good’ at the end of the eighteenth century.
  18. Used predicatively: in bad health, ill, ‘poorly’. 1866 ‘G. Eliot’ Felix Holt II. xxvii. 167 Lyddy had said, ‘Miss, you look sadly; if you can’t take a walk, go and lie down’. “sadly, adv.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2020. Web. 24 June 2020.
  19. William Paxton (c1820-1888) was Lord Brownlow’s land agent. He was the nephew of Joseph Paxton (1803-1865), gardener and architect of The Crystal Palace.
  20. Meadows near Northchurch were mainly situated adjacent to the River Bulbourne. Broad Mead stretched from Dudswell to the Cow Roast, between the Tring road (A4251) and Wharf Road (Hollibush Lane on the tithe map). It was transected by the canal, & subdivided among several farmers. Sow Mead was at Dudswell between the river and the railway line. Chair Mead was to the north-east of Dudswell Lane.
  21. The drive took place in May 1835.
  22. Ashridge House (James Wyatt 1808-13, completed by Jeffry Wyatt (Sir Jeffry Wyatville after 1824) 1815-17. Completed c1821. Built for John William Egerton, the 7th Earl of Bridgewater (see note 14). When the estate was broken up in the 1920s, the National Trust acquired the park. Ashridge House today, is a business school and conference/wedding venue.
  23. When John William Egerton, the 7th Earl died in 1823 (see note 14), the estate passed to his brother, Francis Henry Egerton, the 8th Earl. Happily for the 7th Earl’s widow, the 8th Earl preferred Paris to the Home Counties. Lady Bridgewater lived at Ashridge House until her death in 1849.