More Hall, Brookmans Park/North Mymms, Hertfordshire
In the early 1980s I worked for a year as a German assistant at two schools in Hertfordshire, one in Hatfield and the other Chancellor’s School to the east of the village of Brookmans Park.
The school opened its doors to students in September 1964, so anyone expecting medieval looking buildings will be disappointed – it’s rather run of the mill sixties’ style functionality. However, the name reflects the connection to Richard III. The school owes its name to “the fact that the house which stood on part of the site some 400 to 500 years ago was occupied by the Lord Chancellor of England in the reign of Henry VIII” .
And which chancellor of Henry VIII springs to mind when thinking of Richard III – of course, Sir Thomas More, who left us with his unfinished History of King Richard III, which had such a lasting impact in blackening the name of a king. Unfortunately too many people seem to think that because More later on was declared a saint, he had to be serious and tell the absolute truth – always. We do not know why he wrote his History, or why he didn’t finish it for that matter, it is, however, highly doubtful that he intended to write historical facts as we would understand the term. For me the first line “King Edward, of that name the Fourth, after that he had lived fifty-three years, seven months, and six days”  is a dead give-away – this is a work of fiction, not fact. Edward IV was actually only 40 years and 11 months old when he died.
However, this is not about More’s novel, but about the house associated to him, which stood on the site of the present day school. This is the manor of More Hall in Hertfordshire (also known as Gobions or Gubbins), one of four manors in the North Mymms area, the others being Brookmans, from which the name of the village is derived, North Mymms and Potterells .
The area seems to have largely escaped the Black Death and the population was increasing. Three of the battles of the Wars of the roses were fought not far away – the two Battles of St Albans (1455 and 1461) and the Battle of Barnet (1471). There is a legend that the mounds in Church Field are the graves of some who died while fleeing from the Battle of Barnet.
As was the case in much of Hertfordshire, More Hall was one of those estates which had been bought by a Londoner, who had “made …, usually as a merchant or banker and sometimes as a lawyer, a large or modest fortune which has enabled him to come to our parish and settle in it as a country gentleman” . This would apply to Thomas More, whose father, John, was a judge and the son of a baker and his maternal grandfather a brewer .
The estate of More Hall was situated approx. 2 km north of the centre of Potters Bar and 4 km south-east of Hatfield. Its eastern boundary was the Great North Road (today the A1000), to the north was the estate of Brookmans Park, on the other sides the estate was bound by Hawkshead Road and Swanley Bar Lane .
The first authentic mention we have of the Moor Hall is in 1300, when a Roger de Bachesworth retired to a manor of the Hospitallers called Morehall. It seems to have been held by the More family since at least 1390 .
However, the sources differ as to which branch of the More family and the connection to Thomas and whether he ever owned the place at all. According to the entry of John More, Thomas’ father, in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, John inherited it from his mother, Joanna Joye . According to Cresacre More’s biography of his great-grandfather Thomas More, however, it belonged to John’s third wife Alice, “one of the Mores of Surry”. She outlived Thomas and was “a little before her death thrust out of all by King Henry’s fury”, when Thomas lost his head in 1535 .
Whatever the association Thomas More had to More Hall – he is said to have written Utopia there . We also learn that “the Mores were deeply attached to their country home, spending in it whatever time they could spare from their duties in London”. Henry VIII apparently visited Thomas at More Hall in 1530 .
After Thomas’ execution, Henry VIII confiscated the manor and kept it for 11 years, then granted it to a William Honynges. Edward VI gave it to his sister Elizabeth in 1550, who leased it in 1586 to Margaret Knolles. In 1553 Queen Mary granted the reversion of the manor after the expiry of the leases to the More family and it eventually was restored to the already mentioned Cresacre More in 1607 .
The estate went through several generations of the family and was sold several times, it went then by the name of Gobions, until it was bought in 1836 by Robert William Gaussen, the owner of the Brookmans Park to the north. Soon after, the house was demolished and the grounds were incorporated into those of Brookmans Park . Though there is still a Gobions Wood.
The only visual remainder of More Hall, though of a later date, is the Folly Arch. It is the former south entrance to the combined Brookmans and More Hall estate. It is built out of red brick and has a large rounded arch with a square turret on each side. It was erected in c. 1740 . Several stories surround this building: according to one a farthing was placed under each brick. According to another it was built to commemorate the visit by Henry VIII to Thomas More . Another story says it was erected to commemorate the connection to Elizabeth I .
Today Brookmans Park is mainly known for its radio transmitter, which is not far from Chancellor’s School and was the bus stop I used to get to the school. The school does remember its connection to Sir Thomas more and while I was there we all went to see a production of A Man for All Seasons at the Campus West in Welwyn Garden City.
1 Recommendation by the County’s Education Urgency Sub-Committee on 30th July 1963 to give the school the name “Chancellor’s Secondary School”, quoted on Chancellor’s School
2 Thomas More, p.3
4 Colville, Chapter 1
6 English Heritage Register
9 Cresacre More, pp.13-14
11 Colville, Chapter 20
14 British Listed Building
British Listed Building – “The Folly Arch, North Mymms”. URL: http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-158526-the-folly-arch-north-mymms Date accessed: 17 May 2010
Chancellor’s School – “School History”. URL: http://www.chancellors.herts.sch.uk/about-the-school/school-history/chapter-one.php Date accessed: 19 November 2010
Dorothy Colville, North Mymms – Parish and People, Chapter 1 – The Parish. 1971. URL: http://www.brookmans.com/history/colville/chone.shtml Date accessed: 1 December 2010
Dorothy Colville, North Mymms – Parish and People, Chapter 20 – Three Famous Writers. 1971. URL: http://www.brookmans.com/history/colville/chtwenty.shtml Date accessed: 1 December 2010
English Heritage Register – Gobions, Hertfordshire, Welwyn Hatfield, North Mymms, TL2503, Gobions (Gubbins), GD1471 II. URL: http://www.brookmans.com/environment/heritage00.shtml Date accessed: 19 November 2010
E. W. Ives, “More, Sir John (c.1451–1530)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008. (accessed online: 16 November 2010)
Linda Jonas, A History of Gobions, Chapter Four – The Gardens at Gubbins Today. URL: http://www.brookmans.com/environment/gobions/ch4.shtml Date accessed: 17 May 2010
Cresacre More, The Life of Sir Thomas More with a Biographical Preface, Notes and other Illustrations by the Rev. Joseph Hunter. William Pickering, London, 1828
Sir Thomas More, The History of King Richard III. Hesperus Classics, London GB, 2005. ISBN 1 84391 107 8
Victoria County History – British History Online (VCH), “Parishes: North Mimms”, A History of the County of Hertford: volume 2 (1908), pp. 251-261. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/herts/vol2/pp251-261 Date accessed: 06 June 2010.