John Corfield

It was the duty of a County to provide the housing for the permanent staff and their families, and the other buildings required for the proper running of the Militia. Thus as County Surveyor, Thomas Smith became involved with both the design and building of the Militia headquarters at Hatfield in 1853. Documentation relating to this work is scant and none of the buildings exist today. The only surviving drawings are four small pieces of tracing paper showing the layout of the Militia stores and the Magazine.

The original intention had been to site the headquarters in Hertford when the Lord Lieutenant (the military representative of the reigning monarch in a county) issued an order to raise 477 men for the militia in 1852.  However, this decision was rescinded and the headquarters were located at Hatfield. The choice of Hatfield proved to be somewhat controversial since not only was it some miles away from the county town but also the site belonged to the Marquess of Salisbury. This resulted in both the Marquess and Thomas Smith receiving adverse comment from various parts of the County.

In 1853 Smith had produced a plan for an arms store and one of the magistrate inquired as to why the building could not be built at Hertford. Smith thought that this was impossible giving the following reason:

“There was not an inch of ground that could be so appropriated. An extensive area was required for the storehouse for arms and for the magazine which would be attached; and it would also be exceedingly expensive to procure the requisite space in the locality.”

The Marquess, during the ensuing discussion, suggested that the magazine should be made movable so that if ever the headquarters were relocated, it might be moved with facility. The Marquess also reminded his fellow Magistrates that he would require a rent of £50 per annum for the ground upon which the headquarters were to be built.

Smith’s comment about no site being available in Hertford and the rent required by the Marquess set off a flurry of letters to the “Hertford Mercury”. “Hertfordiensis” was particularly critical of both the Marquess and Thomas Smith. He referred to “the unblushing assurance with which the County Surveyor asserted that not an inch of ground was procurable for such a purpose in the County town of Hertford which would seem to ordinary purposes the most fitting locale for such a depository.” He described Smith as being ”the officious surveyor” and suggested that “Rat’s Castle” and “Tinder Box Alley” off Old Cross, occupied at the time by six cottages with one lavatory between them, as places which he felt could be rented for less than the £50.

“A. Ratepayer” protested at the choice of Hatfield and so did a guardian from Hemel Hempstead while another writer vented his feelings in a letter to the paper’s editor in which he said that:

“Misled by the pretty plans which the County Surveyor laid before them they voted away the County money to be applied in a manner not beneficial to the County but decidedly beneficial to someone else”. (A scarcely concealed dig at the Marquess).

The Marquess of Salisbury claimed that ”the Justices had acted as they were bound to do, on the evidence of their own surveyor”. To which “Hertfordiensis” commented that it would have been more pertinent for his lordship to have said ”my own surveyor” for ”I believe Mr Smith is now the private surveyor and architect of the noble Colonel of Militia, and I hope that this recent revelation has not led him to overlook the interests of the County.” However the building of the militia stores and magazine went ahead at Hatfield.

Criticism of the siting at Hatfield of the headquarters broke out again in January 1859. The “Hertford Mercury” printed a letter from one “Domi Militaeque” who noted that not only was the Marquess of Salisbury the landlord of the property upon which the stores had been built but that also he was the Colonel of the Militia who had chosen the site and, in addition, the Chairman of the Quarter Sessions who had approved his choice. He added ”I would also appeal to their noble chairman, colonel and landlord whether from his experience in some of his other characters, as Lord President of the Council or Lord Lieutenant of Middlesex, he still considers a country village the proper headquarters for a Regiment of Militia, a service which is now of so much importance as a feeder to our Regular Army.”

By 1860, the original staff of sixteen non-commissioned officers had increased considerably resulting in the need for more housing and storage space for the additional ”fatigue clothing and free kits.” Provision of a small windlass with rope and blocks for raising stores into the upper rooms was also asked for. The Quarter Master Sergeant got his extra storage and another five houses were provided for which Smith would have prepared the drawings.

There is evidence of Smith carrying out other work at the headquarters about 1867 and again in 1868 but there is no evidence that Thomas Smith was involved once the Militia headquarters were eventually moved to Hertford.

This page was added on 22/07/2022.

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