The Box Moor Trust manages almost 500 acres of agricultural and amenity land on behalf of its beneficiaries, namely those living within the old Hemel Hempstead Borough and the parish of Bovingdon. The estate comprises a variety of different environments, including watermeadows, chalk downland, woods, pastures, chalk streams, old clay workings and recreational land. The majority of the Trust land is open access, with just over a quarter of it being common land.
A most obvious part of the Trust estate comprises land running along the valley floor between Two Waters and Bourne End following the route of the river Bulbourne and the Grand Union Canal. The land is now further bisected by the railway and the A41. Much of this area has been fenced to create a series of grazing fields. The Trust owns 27 residential properties along London Road and revenue is derived from the rents. In days gone by the rivers Gade and Bulbourne, which meander across the Moors, contributed to flourishing watercress businesses. The Trust leased ditches and grounds to the trade during the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. Cricket bat willows have been grown on the Moors along the banks of the canal. These fast-growing trees become ready for harvesting at the age of around fifteen years. Every five or six years, a number of trees become ready for cropping and are felled. New trees are planted to replace them, which can grow to between twelve and fifteen feet high within four years.
Two Waters Moor East is a small field that was cut off from the rest of the moor when duellising of the Two Waters Road took place. Impractical for grazing or hay making, it is now mostly used by dog walkers.
On the opposite side of the road is Two Waters Moor West, Bulbourne Meadow, Bulbourne Moor and Hardings Moor, a series of grazing fields with the river Bulbourne looping through them. This area has in the past been the site of ‘Music on the Moor’, a community music festival which was staged by the Trust at intervals between 2001 and 2011. It was on this parcel of land, as well as Station Moor, that a major river restoration project took place in 2017.
The original concrete bridge on Station Moor was constructed in 1906 and replaced in 1997. The avenue of horse chestnut trees was planted in 1902 to celebrate the coronation of Edward VII.
Fishery Moor is an old flood meadow that has been designated a ‘Heritage Site’. It is one of the last remaining obvious flood plain sites in the area flooding in the winter and producing a variety of flora, in some cases rare. This area is particularly notable for its former watercress beds.
Chaulden Meadow is owned by the Trust and used by the Hemel Hempstead (Camelot) Rugby Union Football Club.
The moors to the south of the A41 are divided into three grazing fields known as Herdsman’s, Snoxall’s and Snook’s Moors. The common thief James Snook (often called Robert Snook the highwayman) is buried on the moor. He was hanged at the scene of his crime (robbing a post boy) in March 1802, this was the last instance of a highwayman being hanged in the UK. The Trustees placed the original grave marker in 1904. It was moved to its current position on Snook’s Moor during the construction of the A41. The exact location of the grave itself is unknown.
There are three small areas of Trust land on the periphery of Bourne End separated from the main estate by the A41. These are known as Amen Corner and Bourne End Field, which are used for grazing, and the Memorial Orchard, which is accessible via a track from London Road in Bourne End and is planted with old species of fruit trees.
The Trust lands to the north east of the canal close to the town are primarily managed as amenity land. Hemel Hempstead Town Cricket Club is situated at Heath Park, and also makes use of Balderson’s Moor.
Plough Gardens and the land adjacent to St John’s Church where the war memorial is located are also owned by the Trust. They are managed by Dacorum Borough Council. Blackbirds Moor is an amenity area much used by the community. An avenue of horse chestnut trees was planted to celebrate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1897. Home of Boxmoor Cricket Club, cricket was first played officially on Blackbirds Moor in 1857. Boxmoor Wharf was once used for the bottling of port and whisky, and later for the shipping of raw lime juice. The site is now leased to the DIY retailers B&Q and the rent is the major revenue source for the Trust.
It was on 14th April 1886 that the Box Moor Trustees formally signed the conveyance of Shothanger, Dew Green and Roughdown Commons, purchased from the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s, London, for the sum of £100.
Shothanger (or Sheethanger) Common comprises over 30 acres of chalk grassland, once grazed with sheep. The area has been designated a Heritage Site and in the summer months the lower slopes demonstrate many varieties of chalkland plants, including cowslips and spotted orchids. Claiming to be one of the oldest golf clubs in the country, Boxmoor Golf Club was situated on the common until its demise in 2011. The club was inaugurated in 1890, four years after the purchase of the commons.
At one end of Sheethanger Common is Bury Wood, crossed by a footpath that forms part of the Trust’s Red Walk. On one side of the path is an ancient wood that contains a ditch, which is an old boundary with remnants of a layered hornbeam hedge. The much younger wood on the other side was once open chalk downland grazed by livestock.
Howe’s Retreat in Felden provides winter housing for the Belted Galloway stock and is the main estate workshop. The site has had a chequered history. Around the turn of the 19th century it was a pleasure ground, housing tea rooms and a funfair with visitors coming out from London. During and after the Second World War it was used as a prisoner of war/displaced persons camp. Before being taken over by the Trust, it used to be a pig farm. Dew Green is, nowadays, little more than a frontage onto Felden Lane. It is adjacent to the Trust’s holdings at Howe’s Retreat. In 1994 a fresh dew pond was created there by the Trust.
Roughdown Common has been classified as a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) by the Environment Agency (now Natural England). The Common, with its chalk grassland flora, boasts the only colony of regenerating juniper in the county and many species characteristic of former grazing land on chalk soils, such as Common Spotted Orchid, Southern Marsh Orchid, Pyramidal Orchid, Twayblade and Autumn Gentian.
On Lower Roughdown can be seen the chalk face with fine examples of juniper trees. A bat cave was created in the old chalk workings in 1994. Any work carried out on Lower Roughdown SSSI is under direction from Natural England and the Trust follows a set Management Plan designed to restore the chalk grassland once prominent on the common. Now severed from Lower Roughdown by the A41, Upper Roughdown has become a secluded wooded area with glades created to allow woodland chalk plants to develop and also to encourage birds back to the site.
The field known as Further Roughdown is part of the land given to the Trust in exchange for land taken for the construction of the A41 bypass. It was re-seeded with chalkland grass and plant species to recreate the chalk downland. Cowslips, snakeshead rattle and salad burnet are among the plants that flourish here.
In 1995 Dacorum Borough Council purchased 165 acres of mixed woodland and pasture known as Westbrook Hay Farm, which is all that remains of the Ryder family estate that once stretched from Bourne End to Bovingdon. The council leased the farm to the Box Moor Trust on a 125 year lease, to be managed as open access land in a similar manner to that of the original Trust lands. The Trust ultimately acquired the freehold in 2003.
The field now known as Bovingdon Reach was at one time parkland with smaller fields and copses appearing over the years. It is subject to minimal management to allow natural regeneration of a chalk downland slope with a rich diversity of plants. In the summer, there is a prolific display of butterflies, insects and birds, including the Marbled White butterfly and Skylarks.
Other fields were fenced and are now established grazing for the Trust’s Norfolk Horn sheep. The various pastures were named by the Trust for convenience in order to differentiate between areas of the estate. These include Box Hill (also known as Gee’s Meadow), Dellfield, Barnfield, Overbourne and Ryders (which boasts a splendid avenue of lime trees). There is a large pond on Preston Hill, which was dug and filled in 1997 to create a wet area on the otherwise dry landscape.
The four areas of woodland at Westbrook Hay are Ramacre, Gorsefield and Green Croft (all secondary woodland) and Hay Wood, which is in part ancient being the remnants of an old wooded field system. The various woodlands are managed in conjunction with the Forest Authority within the Woodland Grants Scheme and are subject to a general Tree Preservation Order. Ramacre is notable for a very old yew wood and also a specimen of a pollarded hornbeam, all that remains of what was probably old pollarded parkland dating back to the 1700s. Green Croft, too, has very old yew trees. The field between Hay Wood and Ramacre is known as Three Crofts. The most visible tree on the estate is the Giant Sequoia or Wellingtonia, standing sentry in Barnfield, just outside Westbrook Hay School. Standing some 140ft high, the tree was almost certainly planted in the late 1850s, probably as part of a lavish planting scheme.
The area is fundamental to the Trust’s expanding education programme. Most of its education provision is based around a converted cart shed known as the Old Barn, where there is an indoor classroom and an outdoor shelter. The surrounding woods and meadows are all an extension of the classroom and there are excellent pond dipping facilities and mini-beast hunting areas.
In the year 2000, the Trust’s own offices were established at Westbrook Hay Farm. A serious fire subsequently destroyed part of the building and in summer 2012 construction began on the Box Moor Trust Heritage Centre on this site, incorporating office space, meeting rooms and educational facilities.
The former Bovingdon Brickworks quarry, acquired in 2000 by the Trust, is an ecological treasury and is subject to a management plan to create a conservation area in keeping with the locale. The site is approximately 40 acres (25 hectares) and is an interesting mix of open grassland, woodland and scrub with temporarily and permanently wet ponds. Its undulating ground form is the result of the clay excavations and subsequent partial re-contouring. This variety of pits and slopes provides a valuable base for the developing habitats and their vegetation, and supports a wide range of wildlife.
This lake in Bourne End was bought by the Trust in 2003 and still operates under licence as a coarse fishery. Its aims are to provide good fishing for both able-bodied and disabled anglers, educational links for young people, bird watching facilities and protection for the existing wildlife.
Gadespring Watercress Beds
In 2011, the Trust was fortunate to be able to purchase the four acres of the former Gadespring cress beds in Old Fishery Lane, Boxmoor. The cress beds site is on the north side of the canal and extends westwards to the point where the River Bulbourne meets the canal. It has not been a working cress bed for some 20 years but the old processing shed remains, together with remnants of the pump houses and pumping equipment. The beds were fed by a series of boreholes and spring water was pumped to the surface to maintain good growing conditions within the divided bays filled with gravel where the cress was grown. It is planned to implement a programme for the sympathetic enhancement of the area for the benefit of wildlife and visitors, although due to the nature of the site it is unlikely to be opened for general public access. Instead, there will be organised visits and open days.
With the exception of Pixies Mere, Howe’s Retreat, Gadespring Cressbeds and some other small areas of operational land, the Box Moor Trust estate is open access for all members of the community to enjoy.