House History

Ravens Lane

My MSc dissertation focused on a period of transition (1760-1825) when Berkhamsted emerged from its medieval market origin and its canal and turnpike enabled the changes required for a rapidly industrialising nation. One local industry was destined, with the invention of sheep dip, to “take [the Cooper] name and that of Berkhamsted, wherever there were sheep, across the world” (L. Mitchell, Chronicle, vol.IV, 2007).

Little remains of William Cooper’s original chemical factory that once spanned the area within the High Street, Manor Street, Chapel Street and Ravens Lane. In the mid 20th century, chemical production was transferred elsewhere, but the offices and printing works were retained until 1999. Town Councillor Ian Johnston wrote Arsenic and Old Buildings about that time when owners of the site Glaxo/Wellcome decided to leave Berkhamsted. The site was demolished, ostensibly due to dangerous levels of contamination. Certainly there are many testimonies of the harm done to chemical workers by the all-pervading yellow dust of sheep dip. The site was later redeveloped into the flats of Clunbury Court in the image of the old chemical works to comply with Conservation Area rules.

One of Johnston’s arguments against demolition was that other buildings on the site, such as Manor Street Surgery, only needed limited decontamination. Another one was “Cooper House [which] had already been converted to flats [and] had been occupied for some time.” Still remaining deep under the house are the fortified steel doors that guarded the company strong rooms, with sump pump to protect against flooding. There are several pictures of Cooper House and the employees that kept the company’s affairs in order through the many incarnations of William Cooper’s descendants and associates.

Footage from Wellcome Library of Cooper House in 1934 can be found here.

Upper Ashlyns Road

When looking through the title deeds of our previous house, it is clear that the land to the south east of Kings Road up the hill from the “Girls School” once belonged to the Dorrien Smith family as part of the Haresfoot Estate in Berkhamsted.

The land was purchased by David Pike, a retired wholesale confectioner who was born in 1851 in St Albans. In 1901, he ran a shop at 180 High Street, shown here in about 1960, being run by David’s son Leonard Alfred Pike.

LA Pike_bk11945_696
L.A. Pike & Son, Fruiterers & Florists
Source: BLH&MS collection (Ref: bk11945.696)

IT WAS WITNESSED in 1920 that £1800 was paid and the Vendor (Arthur Algernon Smith Dorrien Smith) conveyed unto the Purchaser (David Pike):

1. ALL THAT piece or parcel of pasture land situate lying and being in the parish of Great Berkhamsted in the County of Hertford in the occupation of John Ayres containing an area of 9 acres 3 roods and 30 poles having a frontage of 690 feet or thereabouts to Kings Road (pink)
2. ALL THAT piece or parcel of arable land adjoining the above also in the occupation of J. Ayres and containing an area of 6 acres and 17 poles and having a frontage to Kings Road of 430 feet (yellow)
3. ALL THAT piece of parcel of arable land adjoining the land secondly described in the occupation of the Managers of Victoria Schools and containing an area of 6 acres one rood and 9 poles and having a frontage to Kings Road of 400 feet (blue) all which said premises were part of the Haresfoot Estate and comprised Lots 11 12 and 13 at a recent sale by auction at the Kings Arms Hotel Great Berkhamsted.

John Ayres mentioned above was a dairyman in Gossoms End between 1901 and 1911 and presumably used the arable land for cultivation and pasture for his cows.

Title deeds 1920 and 1921
Title deeds 1920 and 1921

By indentures in 1921, David Pike sold parcels of land to builders Sydney and Robert Gillbert, then in 1922 to Charles Harrowell. So began the development of properties in Kings Road, Ashlyns Road and Upper Ashlyns Road.

Smith Dorrien Smith

The land was shared between the members of the family from 1875 through to the beginning of building work in the mid-1920s. The Rt. Hon. Arthur Annesley, the 10th Viscount Valentia was related via Mary Sophia’s marriage to Townshend Evelyn Boscawen.

Dorrien Smith family tree highlighting names shown in the schedule of our house deeds
Dorrien Smith family tree highlighting names shown in the schedule of our house deeds