Highfield House was a large 18th-century villa which stood to the east of Rectory Lane Cemetery. It stood at the top of the hill above of what is now Highfield Road. It featured plum and red chequered brickwork and a welsh slate roof. The extensive landscaped grounds bordered on Three Close Lane and contained a conservatory and detached service buildings to the north. A surviving plan from 1867 shows an impressive property which had the benefit of cottages, coach house, Stables lawn, vinery and large kitchen gardens.
The lost lane
The main entrance to the estate was on Three Close Lane. When Rectory Lane Cemetery opened in 1842, it incorporated a lane running parallel with the High Street which may have existed before the Cemetery. This route, marked on Victorian maps as Green Lane, cut through from Chesham Road, via the St Peter’s Rectory to Three Close Lane at the Highfield House entrance. It was retained as a walkway through the Cemetery along its southern edge and was tastefully planted out with a row of 12 Irish Yew trees on either side, possibly symbolic of the 12 Apostles in the New Testament. When the Cemetery was extended in 1894, the boundary moved further up the hill, and this path was now running through the middle of the Cemetery.
At some point this thoroughfare was closed off when the gates at either end were walled off. The different colour of brickwork in the wall on the western side is the only evidence of the former gate through to Rectory Lane. A right of way for the Rector of St Peter’s does still exist from the Rectory through to Chesham Road.
In 2015, volunteers on the Cemetery project uncovered evidence of a lost path, and hidden under soil and weeds was evidence of an old set of steps, blocked off by the wall with Three Close Lane. During the renovation works 2017-20, the original Victorian paths were relaid, and the locations of the former Rectory Gate and Highfield House Gate have been recalled by inlaid stone markers.
Highfield House had a succession of wealthy owners. In 1841, John Hyde, a surveyor of taxes, moved to Berkhamsted from Lincolnshire and took up residence in Highfield House. He and his family lived here in some style, and on the 1851 census John and Mary had five resident servants. In the October 1953 edition of The Berkhamsted Review, Percy Birtchnell (writing as “Beorcham”) noted that these servants hailed from towns and villages such as Flaunden, Thame, Aylesbury and Chenies. John Hyde had a colourful life and had a history of embezzlement and alleged sexual assault. He left had Highfield House by 1861. John died in 1868, Mary in 1878, and both were buried in Rectory Lane Cemetery.
In the early 1860s, a Mr E. W. Fernie resided at Highfield House, who entertained Lord Brownlow’s hunting parties here. The house was auctioned off in 1863. Alfred and Catherine Compigne were resident at Highfield House in 1871. Alfred was a Surveyor of the Highways and Catherine a pianist. Catherine died in 1873 and Alfred remarried Louisa Collins. Alfred and Catherine both lie buried in Rectory Lane Cemetery.
By the 1870s, Highfield House overlooked new terraced houses in two short streets that had been built adjoining the High Street, Highfield Road (originally Prospect Street) and Victoria Road. Both were short cul-de-sacs. The tradesmen’s entrance to Highfield House was at the top end of Highfield Road.
Another burial linked to Highfield House was James Timson, who it is thought worked there as a gardener. According to the 1871 census, he and his wife Emma lived in Highfield Road together with a lodger, Thomas Stokes, who worked in the Highfield House stables. Highfield House was also occupied at this time by a widower, Benjamin Hamilton, a retired H. M. Indian Navy captain and his children.
In 1888 a Mr. W.H. Hobson resided here. In 1908 Highfield House was the residence of Mrs. Steward. The last resident of Highfield House was a Mr J. Whittal – possibly James Whittall (d.1937) who is buried at plot 290.
Highfield House was demolished sometime around 1930 and Highfield Road and Victoria Road were extended to make way for new local authority housing. All trace of this grand villa has now gone, apart from the memorials in Rectory Lane Cemetery.
Then and now
Drag the slider button below left and right to compare the two maps 130 years apart:
Discover the memorials in Rectory Lane Cemetery with historical links to Highfield House
4 burials are found — click on a burial below to find out more: