John Wilson arrived at Ashridge in 1957 to take up the post of Head Ranger, and was to become the most influential National Trust manager during his thirty four years service. He was responsible for much of the new planting and was the man responsible for turning Frithsden Little Copse into a larch plantation – coniferous plantations were fashionable at that time – it has lain neglected for over fifty years. His team removed the scrub and scattered and degraded deciduous trees by hand using cross-cut saws and axes – before the arrival of the chain-saw. Frithsden Little Copse was originally part of the open common heathland considered as unproductive by the Bridgewaters, therefore enclosed and planted up with mixed deciduous trees in the early 1800’s.
Non native larch plantations are currently suffering a fungal disease attack which can quickly destroy all trees so the nineteen acres of conifers has now been clear-felled by Norfolk Contractors and removed for pulp, wood – chip bedding and fence posts – larch poles have very little commercial value. As part of the twenty year woodland management plan the copse will be reinstated with native broad-leaf trees, giving much more biodiversity.
nothing lasts forever
The village of Frithsden, first mentioned in 1291 as Frithesdene, has been a conservation area since 1968.
By the beginning of the C19th, the Ashridge Estate had acquired most of the holdings in the Frithsden valley and the farmers were all tenants – the Bridgewaters aspired to become landed gentry – living off rental income. The hamlet expanded and contracted according to the relative fortunes of the Estate. In the early C19th, work was plentiful and between 1821 and 1830 a total of eighty families lived in Frithsden. Farm buildings such as the yard formerly attached to Holly Bush Farm enshrine the ‘model farm’ principles adopted by estate landlords. Cottages also housed labourers who worked in the south facing walled kitchen gardens and orchards at the western end of the valley. This vast enterprise catered for more than just the needs of Ashridge House, with surplus produce being sent by train to Covent Garden in Victorian London. When the Estate was sold in the 1920’s the gardens became a prosperous family-run commercial nursery. The skills and expertise generated by the estate gardens no doubt spilt over into the rest of the hamlet. Relic fruit trees are reminders that Frithsden is reputedly the home of the cherry turnover, using only black cherries called caroon cherries – an important early agricultural product in this area of Hertfordshire. With the demise of the Estate in the C20th, the population of the hamlet dwindled drastically. Buildings now punctuate the valley bottom with generous spaces between them but the Tithe Map of 1840 shows as many as thirty six houses lining the road from the Alford Arms to Frithsden Gardens. These earlier cottages filled in many of the present gaps between Hollybush Farm and Bede Cottage where eight dwellings once stood – one of which was a beer-house. In the 1850’s three straw-thatched cottages burnt down. Other lost buildings include the group of cottages that stood on the strip of heath land known as Cherry Bounce, on the south side of the Green. Another building probably provided by the Estate but now lost, was a communal wash-house and a large brick oven, fired by gorse “fuzzen-sticks”, where housewives of the hamlet baked bread and cooked the Sunday joint at a cost of one penny. Wells for drinking water and an ice-house were also built by the Bridgewaters in the early days.
Many of the properties including the Alford Arms have now been gentrified to suit modern tastes with restrictions imposed by the conservation area status.