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  Grovehill, Piccotts End, Woodhall Farm and Phoenix

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Peter Stanbridge:


'Squire' Shadrach Godwin lived in Grovehill House and owned and farmed much of the land around St Agnells by 1862.


Jeremiah Stanbridge born 1861, was the Bailiff for Shadrach Godwin at St Agnells Farm and lived in a house there. A bailiff is a legal officer with a degree of authority and is the steward or agent of a landowner.

Jeremiah was Peter's grand-father, he passed the scholarship to go to Dunstable Grammar but was not allowed to go because he must work on the farm. He studied at evening class. He was one of thirteen children. He and his wife had four children.

 He was a good farmer and farm manager and was the farm Bailiff at Bury Farm near Bovingdon. His employer told him, 'If you don't attend my place of worship, the Church of England, you won't be employed  by me'. Grandfather was staunch Wesleyan Methodist and this shows the power that employers had over their workers. He wouldn't change his religion and so he came to Agnells Farm as Bailiff for Shadrach Godwin. The front room was always kept especially for the visits from the 'Squire' when he came from time to time to look at the books and discuss the estate.


As far as I know, a Mr Mead bought St Agnells and Eastbrook Hay from Squire' Shadrach Godwin and gave Jeremiah Stanbridge the first offer to buy St Agnells Farm on his death.


Jeremiah then bought St Agnells Farm and Eastbrook Hay and later on, houses in St Albans and Apsley, a farm in Bovingdon and owned fields behind Cupid Green and Woodhall Woods (170 acres). There were 6 houses in St Agnell's Lane already and he built 15 more houses. He also gave the land and caused Cupid Green Church to be built. The houses opposite Astley Cooper School were built long before.


Initially water for the farms was obtained by wells. The wells were operated manually by dropping a bucket on a rope into the well and winding a handle on a winch to draw the water up. Much later a three flow Davis and Bailey pump (made at the Davis and Bailey foundry which was where Bank Court is now) was installed at St Agnells Farm by Godwin in 1880 to supply water to taps in the six houses on the farm. He installed a tap near one of the houses for general use but the Council banned him from making this water freely available.


Jeremiah was a Councillor and was on the Board of Guardians to do with the workhouse which was at St Pauls (later the hospital).


Jeremiah's eldest son then owned much land around St Agnells Farm. The farm workers all called their employer 'Master' and would not ever even think of calling him by his Christian name.


Some people built their own crystal sets to receive the radio broadcasts and used a lot of car batteries and a petrol engine turning a dynamo to make electricity. That was just before the war. When we finally had electricity mains we threw all the paraffin lamps away and then when we had the first power cuts we wanted them all back.


When Peter's father, Henry Stanbridge (b1897) came into Eastbrookhay Farm in 1921 they recalled the especially dry summer in 1921 when the water table sank below the bottom level of the wells and water had to be brought in 40 ton water barrels on horse drawn carts with iron wheels. In 1935 he had the well bored to 90 foot below the level of the well, then drawing water from 200 ft below and pumped up the water with a 2hp engine.


Initially water was piped into a tank for general use where it often froze, but in 1934 Henry found that by installing the tank over the stable and insulating it with straw it was kept warm by the horses and never froze, even in the coldest winters.


The Dutch barn at St Agnells Farm was built in 1890. It was built of corrugated iron and had a corrugated iron roof and was unusually large for a barn. This barn was demolished when the house was taken over. The Dutch barn at Eastbrook Hay has lasted 75 years and is only now having a new roof.


The soil is rated as some of the best corn growing soil and Hertfordshire was known as the breadbasket of Britain.


A Mr Finch owned Lovetts End Farm and Henry bought the 93 acres of Little Lovetts End Farm.


Tithes still had to be paid and Henry redeemed his tithe at 92 times the annual value. Betty spoke of how much her father disliked having to pay tithes.


Betty Dunbar nee Stanbridge b 1917 St Agnell's Farm, Peter's cousin



Peter Stanbridge b1931 Eastbrookhay Farm recalls:

Apsley seemed as far away in my mind as Birmingham. In those days your family all kept within ten miles so you could all go and see mother and grandpa. Now many families are spread over a much greater distance.

Many of farm machines are computerised now, the fellows who work them are very skilled, totally different skills from those that we had, but we could turn our hands to many skills.


In 1914 Death Duties were introduced. Property went from father to son but if both father and son died the inheritance could be lost.  After WW1 so many men had been killed that labour was scarce and labourers could demand more money and better working conditions.


# In 1917 Ford developed tractors.


#I n 1939 the farmer with two men employed over the year could farm 130 acres. The last working horses were sold in 1950.


# 5 acres used to take a week to for a horse and plough whereas 150 acres can be ploughed in a week by one 240 horsepower tractor.


# In 1939 as part of the Dig for Victory campaign we were told to grow potatoes. We were not equipped to do this and so my uncle made a machine to do it.


# On some farms Italian prisoners of war dug trenches to lay mains water.


# In the mid thirties Henry had the wells dug deeper and 200 ft and 2" bore pipes were put in.


# Some of the farms still draw their water from boreholes.


We had something happening at Cupid Green Church one day and electricity was needed for it and so we ran a cable from the nearest house in the valley right up into the church to show a cinema film.  I was about ten years old at the time and had to help to lay it out and gather it up at the end of each day.


Mother had 60 children at the church. She used to get up concerts and all sorts of things. When I was about 10 years old I was to be a pussy cat in a pantomime. Mother hired a cat costume from the theatre in Watford. These small children really thought it was a big cat, I used to Meow. She used to use a lot of crepe paper!


In 1939 my cousin loved coming to stay with us because her house had electricity and she felt that that staying at the farm 'was the real life' with big old fashioned beds and candles to light the way to bed. We used to go into the dell and my cousin used to make tea in a little play house.


Soldiers were stationed in Cupid Green in barracks to service the searchlight at Holtsmere End. We were afraid the Enemy planes would shoot down the searchlight beam and hit our farm. In the war we were worried about all the explosives stored at Brocks and went round to see the manager but he said, 'Don't worry, they are dug into the ground, the blast would go up in the air.'


Some of our relations worked the watercress beds which were where Gadebridge Park is now and at the trout farm. There were watercress beds at Apsley, Alma Road and Bury Road.

Only the gentry rode horses and many rode with the hunt.


Peter's son, David Stanbridge now farms Eastbrookhay with Peter's help.


In my lifetime I have seen so much happen with the loss of some farms to the New Town. I've got used to what they call progress and accepted it but what would really upset me would be a repeat of what happened before, if they wanted to build on my fields.

Four Generations of Local Farmers

Betty Dunbar