Bayley Hall, Hertford
On May 22nd, 1952, writing about the dwelling adjoining his own in West Street, Gordon Moodey recorded in his diary: ‘Great works at No. 25 this week. New wooden gates…massive new oak posts. Creeper cleared…A plain heavy early Victorian house, but a handsome front door, eight-panelled, the lower pair with shaped heads – obviously Georgian re-used.’
Eight years later he dined at Mangrove House in the company of fellow historian Harry Forrester. Mr. Moodey was ‘shown a drawing of Bayley Hall door’ and recognized the design as identical to that of his neighbour’s. Notes were compared, measurements taken (7ft. 9ins. x 3ft. 3ins.), the two chaps agreed and the entry for No. 25 West Street in The Schedule of Listed Buildings now describes that door as ‘reputedly brought from Bayley Hall and re-set.’
The likelihood that work was being carried out on both properties within the same twelve months gives credence to this odd occurrence. Samuel Andrews, senior, purchased No. 25 in 1822 and enlarged it. In 1867, and using much recycled material, he doubled its size and, turning the house round so that the main entrance was now from the street, he needed a new front door.
The Andrews’ family of that generation were principally builders and carpenters. They may well have been employed to carry out repairs and refurbishments at Bayley Hall, which in 1866 reverted from institutional to private use when it was bought by William Armstrong, solicitor and twice Mayor of Hertford. Since 1849 the mansion had been used by Thomas Bays as ‘a preparatory school for young gentlemen’, with nearly thirty pupils coming from as far afield as America and Australia. Young gentlemen they may have been but, like the lower orders, they would have left evidence of their nearly twenty years’ occupation upon the premises. These scars, together with a handsome fielded and panelled front door, may well have been removed by Samuel Andrews.
As the (part) owner of that front door and the ‘plain heavy early Victorian house’ to which it is now attached, I was curious about the Bayley Hall connection and after forty years of inaction have nearly completed a story which begins in the eleventh or early twelfth century when the Manor and Liberty of Bayley Hall are thought (by Gordon Davies) to have been created on land given by the Crown to Peter de Valognes, the first Governor of Hertford Castle, or his son Roger.
The house seen today is at least the third on the site. The earliest known appears on Speed’s 1612 pictorial map as the south side of a square stockade, a two-storeyed, substantial dwelling dwarfing every building in the town apart from the Castle and the churches of St Andrew and All Hallows (All Saints}. The Manor court rolls record that in 1650 this was replaced by a ‘faire new house’, which itself was substantially rebuilt at the end of the seventeenth century.
R.T. Andrews notes that a lead cistern marked ‘T.C.1699’ was found in the grounds of the present house. These are the initials of Thomas Clarke, son of Sir Edward Clarke of Brickendonbury, for whom the house was built.
Gordon Moodey thought the mansion ‘the finest building in Hertford’ but also ‘a neglected gem’. Ignored by county historians in the past, Bayley Hall turns its back on the town and the town repays the compliment. Thomas Green writing in 1775, has this to say:
‘Few houses in the town we find
That’s Elegant, and well design’d,
But some there are – and Bailey Hall
Is much the neatest of them all:
The Architect has shewn his taste,
Although the House is oddly plac’d.
Towards the Town there’s little seen,
The neighbring Houses intervene:
The front (which stands towards the fields)
A most agreeable prospect yields.’
For centuries the manor house stood at the end of ‘a certaine private lane’ (now Bell Lane but known also as Cow Lane, One Bell Street and Bayliehall Street} outside the boundary and the jurisdiction of the Borough of Hertford. It has always been both isolated and lacking in privacy. Motorists on Gascoyne Way now pass within feet of the fine facade but, until the creation of Queens Road, a public footpath linking Castle Street to All Saints’ Church cut across the garden only yards from the drawing-room window.
Bayley Hall has yielded some of its secrets to research but has the question that began the investigation – how did a door from Queen Anne mansion end up on an early Victorian House in West Street? – Been Answered? The mansion has twelve heavy interior doors which fit the description. The evidence is only circumstantial but Samuel Andrews had the motive, the means and the opportunity.