Eladeham, the ‘old home’, ‘Ealda’s Home or Elder’s home’. King Offa’s Common circa 785 AD. In the 9th century annexed by the Danes then later reclaimed by King Alfred. So it’s said.
Following the Norman Conquest the Abbey of St Alban leased the Common to the Abbey of Westminster for 20 years on condition of clearing woodland and keeping the roads. Westminster, in favour at court, refused to relinquish the land. A 200 year dispute.
A palimpsest of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. In 1539 the land was confiscated by the Crown, and sold on. A political pawn in the politics of popularity.
Two country houses developed on either side of Grubb’s Lane in the southern part of the Common. These were united under the Coghill family in the early to mid C17. The preferred residence of the family Penn’s Place to the north of the Lane, a substantial brick house surrounded by a moat, became known as Aldenham Hall. The adjacent Wigbournes to the south of the Lane became known as Aldenham House.
In 1793, 68 acres of the Aldenham Estate was sold to the Grand Junction (later Grand Union) Canal Company for £2,051. A reservoir was dug by French prisoners from the revolutionary wars in order to maintain the water levels in local rivers after the canal had depleted local water supplies. A punishment. A flooded common. A water store. A holding back. Work finished in 1797. The dam was badly constructed; subsidence and cracking still occur, despite the best efforts of James Barnes of Banbury, an engineer who in 1802 strengthened and raised the dam wall. A thumb in the dyke.
The land where the reservoir lies was the last part of Aldenham Common to be enclosed under the 1801 Enclosure Act. Another holding back.
Henry Hucks Gibbs (1819-1907, cr first Lord Aldenham 1896) moved with his family to Aldenham in 1869, developing the park and gardens with his son Vicary Gibbs (1853-1932). A virtuoso garden. In the mid C20 Aldenham House became the centre of the Haberdashers’ Aske’s School.
In the 1930’s the Grand Union Canal Company made the reservoir available for boating, bathing and fishing with car parking and informal refreshment facilities. A private open space.
In 1938 Hertfordshire County Council, London County Council, Barnet Rural District Council, Bushey Urban District Council and Watford Rural District Council purchased 38 hectares of the land adjoining the reservoir. A public open space.
They also entered into an agreement with the Grand Union Canal Company to preserve the reservoir as a part of the London Green Belt. A breathing space. In 1940 with wartime pressure for British self sufficiency, the land was let for agricultural use. A farm until 1973.
From 1967 and as a result of the passing of the Countryside Act in 1968 (stating that areas of countryside should be made available for the public to relieve pressures of trespassing and crop damage on farmers and rural dwellers) Hertfordshire County Council and British Waterways worked to develop a country park. It opened in 1972 after construction of the car park, toilet block and bungalows for wardens was completed.
In the following years footpaths, bridges and a playground were built. A green space, fishery, sailing base and lung.
Oh, and a Hundred Aker Wood (a la Winnie the Pooh).