Bernard O'Connor 2000
Although not in the parish of Everton-cum-Tetworth, Hasells Hall has played a very important role in the village’s history. The estate is situated in the northern part of Sandy. It employed many local residents and, even today, former employees live in what were its “tied” cottages. Should you leave their employ or be sacked, then you had to vacate the cottage.
The date of the first building on the site is uncertain. According to Victoria County History of Bedfordshire, a “Grange of Hayseles”, sometimes spelt “Heysseles”, is mentioned in 1291 among the possessions of the Gilbertine Priory of Chicksands, Bedfordshire. It was described as one of their outlying farms with a farmhouse and outbuildings worth £1 15s. 0d. (Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.) 49b) There was no mention of the occupants but the tenant in 1316, as others before him, was required to do feudal service. (Feud. Aids, i, 19) This was any work demanded by the Lord of the Manor.
When Chicksands Priory was closed down in 1537, their possessions in Sandy were valued at £6. (Valor Eccl.(Rec. Com.), iv. 194) They went to Henry VIII. Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Manor of Haleles, alias Haselles, was granted to Francis Pygott in 1542 who, in the same year, alienated it to John Burgoyne of Sutton. (Pat. 33 Hen. VIII, pt. 2, m. 1) In 1630 he sold it to Ephraim Hunt who, in 1634 sold it to Robert Brittain, sometimes spelt Britten. He was a yeoman from Waresley, in Huntingdonshire. According to Victoria County History for Bedfordshire, John Burgoyne, probably a grandson, transferred it to William Brittain in 1635. At that time it covered 150 acres with 10 acres of meadow, 40 acres of pasture and 15 acres of woods. Its rent was 4s. and was held of the king in chief by knight’s service and rent of 13s. 51/2 d. (Feet of F. Beds. Trin. 11 Chas. I; Chan. Inq. p.m. (Ser. 2), cccclxxxi, no. 166)
In 1712 it was sold by Baron Brittain, John’s grandson, to Heylock Kingsley. (Feet of F. Beds. Mich. 8 Geo. I; Lysons, Mag. Brit. i, 168) Whether anything survived of the medieval farm is not clear, but a legal case of 1722 suggests the Baron had started a new house 24 years earlier, about 1698. One source states that Kingsley had Hasells Hall constructed in 1736. In 1741, he added the Manor of Girtford to the estate when he bought it from Robert Pulleyn of St. Neots. (Add. MSS. 9408) When he died in 1749, his daughter and heiress took over the estate. She married William Pym of Radwell in 1748, which started that family‘s ownership of the Hasells. Although it has been leased over the centuries, for the last one hundred years it has been their principal residence. (Beds. N & Q. ii, 152; Ibid. i, 168; Recov. R. Mich. 29 Geo. III; Trin. 56 Geo. III)
Each generation has made substantial extensions or improvements to the house and garden, and to the estate. On the death of William Pym at the end of the 1700s, his son Francis put in place major reconstruction at the Hazells. In Hon. John Byng's “Torrington Diaries” he wrote that “Mr Pym has employed a large sum of money in building a new house.” The house was completely remodelled with new east and west wings. A new drawing room was created by making two rooms into one and extending it into the east wing. Removing the internal walls created a new dining room, the size of the original ground floor. Service quarters were added on the west wing in a three-storey extension with the kitchen making up the first two floors. New fireplaces were added to the bedrooms and new matching twelve-paned sash windows were installed on the south and east fronts. It was finished in 1790. (Pym, F. 'Sentimental Journey, pp.29-30)
Francis' attention was then turned to the gardens and grounds. He engaged the services of Humphrey Repton (1752 – 1815), the famous English landscape gardener. Repton prepared Red Books for his clients which, in words, described the properties with sketches and water-coloured drawings which showed the buildings and grounds before and after his modifications. They were under the headings of Character, Situation, The House, Walls, Drives (approaches), Water and Kitchen Gardens. He promoted all year round interest in the gardens, incorporating cast ironwork, a product of the Industrial Revolution, in his decorations, as well as stone terraces, gravel walks, trellis screens, pergolas, orangeries, piers, vases and flower beds. Grazing cattle and sheep were encouraged to give life to the landscape. He commented that “I always distinguish by the name of the Park that portion of wood and lawn which is seen from the windows of a mansion. With respect to its size, there is one invariable rule, it must appear to have no boundary.” To achieve this he removed hedges and fences, screened nearby farms with plantations of coniferous trees and felt that “cornfields were incongruous with the site and character of the landscape to be viewed from an elegant mansion.” His Red Book for Moggerhanger for Godfrey Thornton was done in 1782. (Humphry Repton, Moggerhanger House Preservation Trust)
In the Pym’s Red Book, a prized family possession, he described, the approach to Everton after climbing onto the long ridge from Sandy as “...rough windswept country. After ascending the naked hills from the village of Sandy the eye is disgusted by the vast expanse of flat uninteresting rabbit warren.“ Quoted in Binney, M. and Collett White, J. 'Rescue of the Hasells, Bedfordshire', Country Life, July 4th 1985, p.16)
He proposed the enlargement of the park towards the east and a new road between Sandy and Everton further away from the house. Drives were to be relayed to take advantage of the undulating ground and the “beautiful features of the park”. He suggested the erection of lodges by the new road. One was to be a “mere cottage perhaps rudely built of sandstone and thatched might be made a very picturesque Lodge at the entrance.” by the road to draw visitors' attention away from the dreary waste.
What has become known as Crimea Lodge was erected at the entrance to the Hall. The bricks, windows and roofing materials were said to have been brought over from the Crimea. Some trees were recommended removing to “give light and cheerfulness to the scene”. The terraces to the rear of the Hall impressed him.
“I consider it in its present position merely as a frame for an elegant picture, and the view from hence is so fine, so varied and so interesting that the spectator must be very fastidious who could turn away disgusted because it is seen over a clipt hedge…”
(Pym, F. op.cit. p.30)
A secluded and alluring long walk 350 yards long and eight feet wide was laid in a wide curve to run from the terrace to the summer house in Lord’s Wood. It was called the Serpentine Walk. Yew trees were planted on either side and it ended at the pavilion. This had two pillars, a pair of columns and a new cornice. “I advise the whole addition to be in wood - sanded and painted.” On his drawing he wrote that
“The back of the alcove to be built of sandstone with moss in the joints - covered with …the whole to be concealed by Ivy or creeping plants - and lined inside with moss. The door into the alcove should also be covered with Moss as not to be visible: thus the whole will appear rather the termination of the walk than the entrance to new scenery, but on the side next the terrace the door will have the exact contrary effect.”
(Pym, F. p.31)
Francis had a keen interest in farming. There were enormous profits being made by landowning agriculturalists who saw the growing demand for food in the industrial towns and cities. There was a great migration of rural labourers to find better paid work and once in the traditional two-up-two-down terraced house there was no garden, no orchard, no pig sty. They had to buy their provisions from the corner shop or the street market. In 1837 to capitalise on the ever-growing demand for food from the expanding urban settlements Francis Pym erected Park Farm. It consisted of a south-facing house with two rows of single-storey farm buildings and a barn behind. Together they formed a large square. Its name was later changed to Hazells Farm. (Pym, F. pp.76, 180)
Within fifty miles of London he saw the potential profits to be made in getting fresh vegetables onto the market. He became a director of the Great Northern Railway and welcomed its construction through Sandy in 1847. He was probably instrumental in the 1851 sale of 5a. 0r. 37p. of Sandy Townlands to the company for the station and track. Getting heavy goods like coal and iron to local businesses would help the industrial development of the area.
“Travelling on the Great Northern railway, may be noticed to the right of Sandy Station a fair estate, beautifully wooded, and remarkable for its Scotch firs and the comparatively hilly nature of the ground. This is the Hasells, one of the Pym family seats…”
(Pym, H.N. Pym, (1878), 'A Mother's Memoir', quoted in Pym, F. op.cit. p.217-8)
According to the 1851 census eighteen people lived in the Hazells. They included the widower, Francis Pym, his two unmarried daughters, one married daughter and her daughter, two of Francis' wards, a governess, housekeeper, cook, laundry maid, three housemaids, kitchen maid, butler, groom and a nurse. (BCRO. 1851 census)
Hazells was leased to Thomas de la Rue until his death in 1866. It was then taken over by General Thomas Pearson. During this time much of the light sandy soil on the top of the ridge was developed for market gardening. In 1864 there were 200 market gardens in Bedfordshire. By 1877 there were more than double that amount at 488 but by 1894 there were over 7,000. (Pym, F. op.cit. p. 110) Even today fields on the Hazells estate supply fresh vegetables to the London market.
When Francis Pym reached his majority in 1873 he appointed Charles Preedy of Hunstanton, Norfolk to manage the estate. He lived in The Elms where the estate office was located at the side. This Victorian detached house on Sandy Road was built in 18**. His correspondence and accounts were kept meticulously and can still be found in Bedford Record Office. Rents were immediately raised between £1 and £2 with an alternative notice to quit. The tenants' hostile response was that it was them who had produced the fertility of the fields by putting cartloads of London manure on it at their own expense. The Bedford Mercury reported on 3rd July 1875.
“The well-known honour of Mr. Pym's family and the consideration shown to good tenants for many years past, encouraged this system of cultivation and afforded reliable security to the tenants for their profits. It is therefore with general astonishment and disapproval that notice from a new agent… has been received in Sandy… It is greatly regretted that the former harmonious relations of landlord and tenant have been so rudely disturbed.”
(In Pym, F. op.cit. p.110)
The decision was rapidly reversed and the estate settled back to management on its more traditional lines which continues today. The bad feeling between Preedy and tenants must have continued for some time. The lodge in Lords Wood was built in 1877 and Mence, the estate bailiff moved in.
In the latter years of the 1870s there were four consecutive years of bad weather, heavy rain and poor harvests which badly affected farmers. Wet weather ruined crops. Economic problems were exacerbated by the then Tory government’s introduction of Free trade. Vast quantities of cheap meat and grain surpluses from the American Prairies were shipped into Great Britain. Home prices plummeted. Many farms were untenanted. The Agricultural Depression had set in. During this period wheat prices fell to half what they were in the 1860s. Over 10% of Bedfordshire farms went out of business. Even the Duke of Bedford’s estates went into the red. In Frank Pym's case revenue from London properties offset the losses on the Hazell's estate.
For details of the effect the Agricultural Depression had on the village see Everton - a Ruined Village.
Park Wood was planted at the turn of the century in the middle of the estate which made an additional drive. From 1858 until Frank Pym's marriage in 1891, the Hazells was leased to Alice, youngest daughter of Sir George Colthurst of Blarney Castle. They arranged the removal of stucco from the outside of the whole house which revealed the beautiful red brick. Central heating and oak panelling in the hall and dining room was installed. They lived in Caesar's Camp near Sandy until it was completed in 1893.
Frank Pym's game books show that large bags were obtained from the Hazells. 2,454 pheasants were shot over 1908-9. On one day the coverts in the park were emptied of 1,000! The annual bag of was about 500 partridges, 175 hares and 2,500 rabbits. (VCH, Vol. II p.197; Pym, F. op.cit. p.114)
In 1902 Frank Pym effectively doubled his landownership by purchasing the Everton Estate from the Astells of Woodbury but by 1915 there were “difficulties over the mortgages” (Pym, F. op.cit. p. 111) which led to the sale of small parcels of land around Sandy.
Charles Preedy's son Henry continued the careful management of the estate until the end of the war in 1945. During the Depression of the 1930s many of the farms on the estate suffered. The prospect of war and the need for airfields prompted the Air Ministry to approach Mr Pym. What became known as Tempsford Airfield was constructed on the low clay land at the foot of the hill. Details of the airfield and its role in Special Operations overseas can be found in Bernard O'Connor’s book ‘Tempsford Airfield – Now the Secret can be Told.’
During the occupation of the base Mr Pym received rental from the Air Ministry - £25 per annum for Gibraltar Farm and £67 per annum for Port Mahon. (BCRO. PM 2935/4/23) Grants from the Ministry are said to have been available to pay for the restoration of the base to agricultural use. Gibraltar Farm has been demolished. Two farms have been reinstated - Fernbury Farm (what was Waterloo Farm) and Tempsford Airfield Farm. Even today there are still sections of runway, old hangars, buildings and air raid shelters to be seen. Some artwork and graffiti on hangar walls recalls life on the base.
Henry Preedy, the Hazells estate manager died in March 1945 and Mr Laurie Perks, of J. R. Eve & Son of Bedford, took over for the next thirty years. There was the difficult job of catching up with all the repairs and general maintenance which the Army and R.A.F. had not done during their occupation.
In Francis Pym’s ‘A Sentimental Journey’ he shed light on life in Everton after the war. When the wartime coalition government collapsed. Winston Churchill resigned as Prime Minister and was reappointed the same day as head of a caretaker government. Leslie Pym became Comptroller of H. H. Household and stood for parliament in the July General Election. The tough and exhausting electioneering left him exhausted and he died of a heart attack a few days before the count was announced. He was one of the very few MPs who were elected posthumously.
On his father's death, 23-year old Francis inherited the estate. It was a difficult task ahead.
“The control of cottage rents imposed a limit of seven shillings (£0.35) a week or £18 a year, a sum well below the cost of looking after them; the general shortage of materials of all kinds; and the lack of skilled labour until servicemen were demobilised. Everyone understood these constraints, but I wanted to communicate with every tenant, to make contact with them and tell them how the estate was placed and what it would mean for the. So I decided to write to them and this is what I said.: -
From Hasells Hall
Captain F. L. Pym Sandy, Beds.
9th Queen's Royal Lancers 1st September , 1945
TO THE TENANTS OF THE SANDY, EVERTON AND ABBOTSLEY ESTATES.
One month ago today, I arrived home from the the 8th Army on leave. The circumstances were truly sad, but I know you all share with us our loss. So, as my father's successor, I want to introduce myself at once. I intended to visit you all in your homes, so that we may get to know each other as well and as quickly as we can. But you will understand how much I have to do at this time in London and South Wales as well as here, and my leave expires very shortly.
I much regret that a big party at the Hasells is not possible just yet, but we will arrange one next year, if possible, for I heard what an enjoyable day you had on 13th February, 1943, when I was near Benghazi.
It is the law of the land that when an estate passes from a landowner to his heir, a large tax must be paid. The effect of this as far as you and I are directly concerned, is to make it much more difficult to carry through all the repairs and improvements which 6 years of war has made almost universally necessary, and which my father was planning to carry out as soon as conditions permitted. Now you will realize that under present circumstances, there is bound to be a difficult period; but I want you to know that I shall do everything possible to surmount these difficulties, and help you in every way I can.
We are drawing near to the end of the farming year, and this brings you all my very best wishes for next year and every year in the future. Let's hope we can meet soon. Good luck and prosperity to you all.
(Pym. F. op.cit. pp.174-5)
The party for the tenants and their families was held in a 250-strong marquee in the park opposite Hazells Farm (formerly Park Farm) following his wedding. The Everton tenants gave them a silver tea caddy and a portable wireless, the Sandy tenants gave them a hotplate for the dining room and those from Abbotsley gave a large cut-glass bowl with six small dishes. A fireworks display finished the evening.
After the war it is said that much of the equipment down on the airfield that was not salvageable was bulldozed into pits and covered with earth. Locals with access to a tractor found them useful. Wicker armchairs and other household items were brought up the hill and used. Runways lights made good garden lighting it is said.
Pym’s financial difficulties led to the Hazells being rented out. Much of the contents were moved out, put in storage or sold. The first tenant was the Women's land Army. When they were disbanded in 1948 the government, as leaseholders, transferred the 21-year lease to the North West Metropolitan Hospital Board. Hazells became the annexe of Bromham Hospital, near Bedford. The patients were mentally deficient boys.
In April 1961 Francis Pym auctioned much of the airfield site and many of the original buildings were sold. The northern side of the road was bought in early 1963 by Mr Astell, who owned the Woodbury estate.
The shoot restarted in 1962 as a syndicate. It met initially on Hazells Farm and later at the stables at The Hazells. It was re-let in 1994. (Pym, F. op.cit. p.183)
When the hospital’s lease expired in 1968 the Hall was very run down. It was boarded up in 1969 and fell into disrepair. New accommodation was needed. Everton Park was started in the late-1960s in the grounds close to the Chestnut Avenue which marks the boundary with Everton parish. Mr Pym and his wife moved in in 1969. Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe designed the gardens in 1974. He is considered the greatest 20th century landscape gardener, and his wife Susan, an expert planstwoman.
“One feature of the design is the long path. At its north end we put a replica of a Kent urn which Geoffrey saw as connecting the new garden in thought with the Hazells garden. It was the same thought that had inspired us to plant a cedar at the time of building the new house in 1969, two hundred years after the planting of the original tree which is the focal point of the view across the park where I write. The new tree was six feet high and in the intervening years it has grown handsomely.“
In Michael Spens' book The Complete Landscape Designs and Gardens of Geoffrey Jellicoe (1994), Jellicoe gives his own view of the Everton garden: “…the feel of the garden is directed towards the mansion and its place in history. The design… is intended to balance classical order with natural disorder.“
In 1969 the field adjoining Everton Park, called Nursery Field where tree seedlings were grown, was worked in five lots. It was acquired by Pym's agents in 1972. Soon after that more tenants gave up as their children were not willing to continue the farming tradition. Pym then had several hundred acres of arable land and a good acreage of pasture so he took on a farm manager at Hazells Farm.
Throughout the 1970s the hall was untenanted and fell into disrepair. By 1978 permission was requested from Bedfordshire Planning Authority for its demolition. Public awareness of national heritage and conservation rather than wholesale demolition was growing and there was a lot of press coverage. The alternative was to convert it into flats. Kit Martin, an architect experienced in converting old properties, managed to convince Mr Pym and agreed its purchase in 1981 for £5,000. (Pym. op.cit. p.186-7) It was divided into eight houses and four flats. Each had the freehold and access to the grounds and garden maintained. Thus ended 230 years of the Pym's connection with Hazell's Hall.
The rising cost of manpower and machinery in the 1970s made the farming business less economic and in March 1982 Pym made the farm staff redundant. Jonathon and Francis farmed in partnership and made a share-farming arrangement with a contractor. This allowed the owner to provide the land, buildings and maintenance and the contractor to provide the labour and machinery. This practice worked satisfactorily as the inputs were spread over several farms.
In the 1990s the harvest was gathered by a team of combine harvesters over about five days. The ploughing takes about the same time and then the team moves on to the next contract. All the estate work is now put out to contract and even the sheep graze on rented pasture. The estate employed no one at the end of the century; all the work is put out to contract.
In the first half of the 20th century most families in Everton were involved on the land. There were about twenty-five separate holdings on the Pym estate between Sandy and Everton. By the 1990s there were only five. Most of the villagers today work away from the area in Bedford, Stevenage, Luton, St. Neots, Milton Keynes and London.