Cross Oak (or Crossoak) was a large Victorian mansion that stood at the corner of Denny’s Lane and Shootersway. Gilham’s Lane, the continuation of Denny’s Lane down the High Street, was later renamed Cross Oak Road.
The Cross Oak name is thought to have ancient origins, linked to the name of a Robert de Cruce (Robert of the Cross) who lived here in the 14th century. The oak probably derives from a local legend of a large oak tree that once grew on this corner which was said to have magical powers, notably the ability to cure ague (fever). A farmhouse stood on this site possibly since the 17th century.
In the late 19th century, a large and opulent house appeared here. The man who built it was a Jewish surgeon from London named Alfred Keyser (1816–1879). Alfred and Ellen Keyser and their family liked to spend their summers in Berkhamsted, and they moved in the respectable circles of middle-class Berkhamsted society, being acquainted with local families such as the Smith-Dorriens. The Keysers had a country house at nearby Kings Hill, but Alfred hoped to take the tenancy of Berkhamsted Place on the other side of town. He lost out to the Marquis of Hamilton (later the Duke of Abercorn), and this was probably when he decided to build a new property at Cross Oak.
Cross Oak was designed for Keyser by the architect Frank E. Thicke in an romantic, ornate Gothic Revival style, with tall brick chimney stacks and timber gable ends. It was built 1874-75 and to celebrate the covering in of the building, Alfred held a special dinner party for the construction workers at the King’s Arms on 8 August 1874. In drawings and photographs, we see how beautiful Cross Oak looked in its expansive gardens.
Alfred only enjoyed the house at Cross Oak for four years, as he died in 1879. He was buried in the family tomb in Rectory Lane Cemetery. The widowed Ellen moved back to London and lived at 91 Eaton Place in Belgravia. When she died in 1894, she was buried alongside Alfred in Berkhamsted.
After the Keysers, the house changed hands several times. In the 1900s, another notable Jewish family came to live here: Julius and Elizabeth Berlein. Julius was a German Jew, born in Rotenburg an der Fulda, Hessen. Julius made his fortune in the stock market and in dealing gold and diamonds, and he eventually went to live in South Africa. Julius and Elizabeth lost two sons in the First World War – Charles Maurice and Leslie Herman Berlein. Both were educated at Charterhouse School and Berkhamsted School, and both were killed in action in 1915. This is why we see two German names on the Berkhamsted War Memorial outside St Peter’s Church. Julius Berlein died in 1931 in Witbank, near Johannesburg.
Cross Oak was demolished in the 1970s. Today, the site is occupied by the houses of Oak Wood and The Spinney, and no trace remains of this grand old house.
Discover the memorials in Rectory Lane Cemetery with historical links to Cross Oak
2 burials are found — click on a burial below to find out more: