The following extracts are from 'A History of Redheath and York House School' by Patrick Moore - available to buy from the York House School Office.
Although there can be little doubt that Man has shaped this verdant corner of Hertfordshire since earliest times, little is known about Redheath’s earliest history. Given its elevated situation, water supply would have been a problem hindering the first attempts at settlement.
Nonetheless, there are records of the discovery of Paleolithic flint tools at sites in both Rickmansworth and Croxley Green, while remains of a Neolithic causewayed camp, in which was found a Bronze age axe, were also excavated in Rickmansworth. There appears to be little if any evidence of Roman occupation. Although there is no reference to Redheath in the DomesdayBook of 1086, Rickmansworth was a substantial settlement by then so there must be a strong possibility that medieval peasant farmers eked an existence from their fields and perhaps there was eventually a manor here, with lord’s house and demesne and peasants’ strip holdings.
Certainlywhen snow melts in the park it reveals the vestiges of ridging and ditching which characterised farming for so many centuries. We do know that by the nineteenth century the area had been turned over to wooded parkland.Whatever manor house was here would certainly have been altered or replaced in the fifteenth century, at which time several branches of the Baldwin (Baldyn) family are known to have settled in the Hertfordshire area.
REDHEATH AND THE BALDWINS
We know that the Baldwins lived at Redheath for over two hundred years although we have little concrete evidence of them. The 1525 register of baptisms at Watford parish church recorded the birth of “Henry Baldwin of Redheath”. John Baldwyn lived and died there in 1570. The almshouses in Sarratt, built by him and the Baldwin family in 1550, were rebuilt in 1821.
Thomas Baldwin died in 1639 and his monument in the Parish Church of St. Peter in Berkhamsted was described in 1923 as “now in a mutilated state at the west end of the south aisle. Originally erected in about 1642 in the south transept...”. In his will he left money to the poor of Berkhamsted and Watford, stating his bequests to “the parish of Watford, where I was born; to the parish of Berkhamsted where I was a scholar; to the parish of St. Martin’s in the Fields, where I now live”. The original benefactions were derived from “springs and waters in Hyde Park” from which adjacent districts were supplied with water. These waterworks were sold in 1730 to George III since they obstructed his plans to make improvements there, including the construction of the Serpentine.
Between 1659 and 1666 Henry Baldwin bought considerable amounts of land, in the Sarratt area and that of Micklefield Hall, so that the estate was over 500 acres. In 1666 he paid tax on six hearths.The Baldwins are still remembered locally by Baldwins Lane, running from Sarratt Road (which passes Redheath) to join the road between Rickmansworth and Watford.
REDHEATH AND THE FINCHES
In 1709 the last of the Baldwins, Thomas (son of Henry) died and left Redheath to his nephew, Charles Finch, who was the son of Charles Finch and Mary, Thomas’ sister. The Finches had been a prominent Watford family for longer than the Baldwins had been at Redheath so this marriage united two important local families. In 1655 Elizabeth Finch had married John White of Bushey
and her granddaughter Susannah was the mother of John Wesley, born 1703, founder of the Methodists.
The Finch family had a pew in St Mary’s Parish Church in Watford and one member of the family always served as a trustee for the Watford Free School from its foundation in 1709 until its closure in 1882.
In 1712 Charles Finch built the existing house facing west and attached to all or some of the north-facing Tudor house. The fireplace in the Entrance Hall used, as late as the turn of the century, to have “a curious old grate-back of iron. In the centre is Neptune, trident in hand, standing on a pedestal, ornamented with scallop shells. Around him are spouting dolphins and sea-monsters. Above is the date, 1724, with this inscription in Welsh...“translated into God is our strength” – we know nothing of what happened to it thereafter. The last of the Tudor building was demolished in the early fifties but the stables and barns, now converted to residential use, remain.
This fine building has been attributed to Sir Christopher Wren – it is perfectly possible that this was one of his last works since he died in 1723 aged over 90 ( although it has been suggested that he himself did not work outside London, so it may only have been the influence of his style). Opinions conflict on this point...
REDHEATH AFTER THE FINCHES
We know little of the first tenants, the Peto family, clearly here only a very short time. It was originally recorded that “in 1913 the house and 35 acres were leased to Mr Newall (both of whose sons were killed in the First World War) for £350 per annum, with 10 acres of agricultural land to Mr Parsons for £400 on which Mr Hickman had verbally-agreed shooting rights for £80 p.a. In addition “strips of land at Chandler’s Cross, 25 feet by 40 feet, being the site of an iron church” were let to Reverend Donnell, of the Vicarage, Croxley Green, for 2/6d p.a.! We know that these tenancies ended in 1923”.
In 1921 the third Lord Ebury died and his brother was forced by death duties to sell the family home, Moor Park mansion. He bought Redheath in 1922 for £27,000 including 475 acres (from Rousebarn Lane and Redhall Lane across Sarratt Road to Little Green Lane and Bell Wood). He attached an aviary to the kitchen garden. Some confusion surrounds what happened to the gates at this time. It is known that the rampant lions (or were they griffins? – the Finch coat of arms was “argent a chevron between three griffins passant sable”) on the columns of the gates were replaced by the Ebury dogs and a wrought iron working of the Grosvenor family sheaf of corn placed above the entrance but it seems that the actual gates were also replaced since the Finch family’s gates showed “a black boy being swallowed by a snake”.
In 1932 Lord Ebury died. Redheath passed in trust to Rt. Hon. Robert Egerton, Baron Ebury and was let to Mr Hutchinson until 1937 when the fifth Lord Ebury came of age and “promptly sold the estate to Mr C.H.Burne of Lincoln’s Inn for £49,000” – this figure must have included all 475 acres, since the house and 60 acres was sold for £16,000. Development into a high class residential estate was planned but this was abandoned when the area was zoned part of the Green Belt.
The caretaker in 1937 was Charles Cole, who had just retired after forty years as a City of London policeman. His granddaughter recalls happy times spent at Redheath: “We played in the. summer house and nearby we paddled in the fish pond and spent carefree days exploring the extensive grounds. My grandfather shot rabbits and pheasants on the estate and my grandmother prepared and baked them. She was an excellent cook so there was always the aroma of bread and cakes from the Aga. There was a high wall surrounding the kitchen garden from where we picked peaches. Oh, such halcyon days!”. Inside the house was perhaps not so pleasant: “There was no electricity so oil lamps were used and candles in holders for the long trek to bed, casting eerie
shadows! A large barn full of coal was found and used in all the living rooms and bedrooms in use”.
During building works in 2001 a large rectangular pit (27ft x 11ft) was discovered. It was lined with “semi-engineering bricks (waterproof)” with a concrete floor laid on brick rubble and a reinforced concrete roof entered by an unusually large manhole cover. It was clean and not smelly so cannot have been a soakaway. At the time various theories were put forward. It was felt to be too well constructed to be a holding water cistern for the kitchen garden or to be a cold store. It was thought possible that it might be an English Resistance bunker – we were told that Anthony Quayle, the actor, was a Major in the Royal Artillery and that he and his team had the job of going round the country setting up these bunkers (containing stores of ammunition etc.) in case of German invasion. More recent discovery of the 1937 sale brochure seems to indicate it may have been a store for fruit and vegetables. It is now under the Pre-Prep building, so we shall probably never know!
In 1966 the history of Redheath, “standing with poise and dignity at the end of a shady drive of spreading elms”, moves into another phase as part of the history of York House School.