Chesham Rd, Berkhamsted
The country estate of Haresfoot was located to the south of Berkhamsted, adjoining the estate of of Ashlyns Hall. For 150 years, Haresfoot was associated with the Dorrien family — later the Smith-Dorrien family — who played a prominent role in Berkhamsted’s history. Haresfoot was demolished in the 1960s.
A medieval farmstead called Harefordshende existed on this site. On 18th-century maps, the site was recorded as Harrats Foot End.
In 1787 a new mansion was built here, and it was rebuilt sometime in the early 19th century.
Haresfoot was given a brief mention by the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner, who in 1953 described a “Late Georgian five-bay two-storey house with stuccoed frontages.” He states that Haresfoot was built 1817-19 by the architect John Buonarotti Papworth (1775–1847).
Haresfoot was purchased by John Dorrien (c.1714-1784) as a family home. He was a wealthy London merchant banker of German extraction, a partner in Dorrien, Rucker and Carlton Bank and chairman of the East India Company. His son George later became Governor of the Bank of England (1818-1819).
In 1845, John Dorrien’s grand-daughter, Mary Anne Drever, married Robert Algernon Smith, a member of the Nottinghamshire banking family and the younger brother of Augustus Smith of Ashlyns Hall. Robert changed his surname to Smith-Dorrien. Together they had a total of fifteen children (six boys and nine girls). Their eldest son, Thomas Algernon Smith-Dorrien, served as Lord Proprietor of the Scilly Isles (1872–1918).
Three of their other sons became distinguished military officers; Lieut. Commander Henry Theophilus Smith-Dorrien (1850–1931) and Rear Admiral Arthur Hale Smith-Dorrien (1856–1933) both commanded in the Royal Navy, while their brother, General Sir Horace Lockwood Smith-Dorrien (1858–1930), was an army general who served in the Second Boer War and World War I, and was later Governor of Gibraltar.
Haresfoot became a busy household, and the 1851 census records 12 domestic staff employed at Haresfoot. There is an entertaining story from this time about the butler, Mardell, told by local historian Percy Birtchnell in his column in the parish magazine:
“Mardell was in the billiards room when a paraffin lamp crashed down onto the table. He tried to blow out to the flames, thereby sitting his whiskers on fire. The whiskers were his pride and joy, and their value was recognised by the insurance company. Not only was current Colonel Smith Dorrien’s billiards table replaced, but the butter was given £5 compensation for the partial destruction of his whiskers!”
“Beorcham” — In and around Berkhamsted
The Berkhamsted Review, November 1984
Birtchnell also records an unexpected royal visit to Haresfoot. The Prince of Wales (and future King Edward VII) had become thrown out from his hunting party and sought a friendly house in the area. When informed that Colonel “Algy” Smith-Dorrien of the 10th Hussars lived nearby, the prince sent his equerry to make enquiries. When the equerry called at Haresfoot, Mardell refused to believe him and was about to send him away. When it became apparent that the equerry’s request was not some elaborate hoax, the butler very quickly made arrangements to welcome His Royal Highness into the house! The Colonel and Mrs Smith Dorrien were not at home, and so their daughter, Marion Smith-Dorrien, had to act as hostess to the royal visitor!
Colonel Smith-Dorrien took a keen interest in agriculture and bred sheep on the Haresfoot estate. He is known for establishing a crossbreed of Southdown sheep with Leicesters.
For some years, summer fêtes were held in the grounds of Haresfoot, allowing the Berkhamsted townsfolk to come and admire the mansion.
After the Smith-Dorriens
After the death of General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien in a car crash in 1930, the estate was broken up and sold. The Smith-Dorrien family had left Berkhamsted, and today the family resides on Tresco in the Isles of Scilly.
After the Smith-Dorriens, Haresfoot was home to another wealthy Hertfordshire landowner, Geoffrey Blackwell of the Blackwell family, who made their fortune in the food production industry, notably of Crosse & Blackwell Soup.
During World War Two, Haresfoot was used to store valuable artworks from London art galleries to protect them from enemy bombing. It was later occupied by the Tollit family.
Hockeridge and Pancake Woods, formerly part of the Haresfoot estate, were bought by the Foundling Hospital at Ashlyns in 1944 to save the woods from housing development. The woods were sold in 1952 to Mary Wellesley, great-great-granddaughter of the famous Duke of Wellington. She planted a large avenue of Wellingtonia (Giant Redwood) trees in his memory. She donated the woods to the Royal Forestry Society in 1986.
The Haresfoot legacy
Throughout its history, Haresfoot suffered a series of fires — not least the one that incinerated the butler’s whiskers — and so in 1962 it was demolished and another new house built on the site. In 1985 the house was converted into the Haresfoot School. Today this is the Berkhamsted School Nursery and Pre-Prep School.
Although the original house has gone, the Haresfoot name persists today: the neighbouring Haresfoot Farm continues as a working farm; and Haresfoot has given its name to a brand of local ale. The Smith-Dorrien family name, too, has left Berkhamsted, but the name can be found all over St Peter’s Church, inscribed on memorials and the numerous fittings and stained-glass windows generously donated by the family during the years of Victorian renovations.
Prior to the inception of Rectory Lane Cemetery, members of the Smith-Dorrien family were interred in the family vault inside St Peter’s Church. Outside in the churchyard, a large stone cross commemorates Mary-Anne Smith Dorrien:
To the glory of God and the dear and honoured memory of his servant
Mary Ann Smith Dorrien (of Haresfoot)
Her friends and fellow parishioners placed this cross MCMIX.
Among the flattened grave stones, we also find the burial of another butler, presumably Mardell’s predecessor:
Sacred to the memory of Mr John Cook
many years butler at Haresfoot
There he died 13th January 1837 aged 66 years.
In Rectory Lane Cemetery, five members of the Smith-Dorrien family are buried here. The graves of Mary Ann and Robert Algernon have sadly been lost to decay and vandalism, but the graves of their three military sons, Horace Lockwood, Henry Theophilus and Arthur Hale Smith Dorrien are all intact.
Discover the memorials in Rectory Lane Cemetery with historical links to Haresfoot
7 burials are found — click on a burial below to find out more: