The history of the Halseys is synonymous with that of the Gaddesden Estate, the family having looked after the land since before the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII in the mid 16th century. Today the Estate is run by Nicholas and Guy Halsey.
Gaddesden Estate | Family History

The Halsey Family

  • 1300s – earliest records

    The Halsey family are recorded as living in the local area by the 1300s. The earliest legal document in the family archives dates from 1458 and records that Richard Halsey, with other parishioners, covenanted with the Prior of King’s Langley (a Dominican friary) to pay 10 shillings (50p) to the poor of Great Gaddesden, a sum believed to be still incorporated in the payment which is made annually to the Vicar.
  • 1544 – ownership after the Dissolution of the Monasteries

    By the time of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-1541) John Halsey was the agricultural tenant of the estate. The Prior of King’s Langley was the rector, employing a vicar to look after the parish. In 1544 John’s son, William, bought the Rectory, including the Golden Parsonage, the Home Farm and the advowson (the duty to appoint the vicar, which is still held by the family) from the Crown, which had appropriated it following the dissolution. Over the following centuries the estate grew to its present size.
  • 1588 – Armada

    The family continued to farm and grow in confidence as Tudor ‘new men’. They played their part in local affairs, and helped Hemel Hempstead to be granted its first Royal Charter by Henry VIII. During the invasion scare of 1588, caused by the Spanish Armada, William Halsey contributed – voluntarily or otherwise – £25 towards the defence of the realm.
  • 1637 – Coat of Arms

    Having married into the family of Bishop William of Wykeham, founder of Winchester and New College, Oxford, the third William Halsey felt the Halsey family had ‘arrived’. He was confident enough to apply for the grant of a Coat of Arms, regularising the arms he had been recorded as using. The Halsey Coat of Arms is described, in heraldic terms, as ‘argent on a pile sable three griffins heads erased of the field, the crest a dexter forearm proper, sleeved gules, cuffed argent holding a griffin’s claw erased or.’
  • Mid-1600s – Civil Wars 

    Being founder’s kin of William of Wykeham, John Halsey, went to school at Winchester and on to New College. Going into the law, he became a member of Lincoln’s Inn. During the Civil War (1642-1651), when King Charles I based his headquarters at Oxford, the colleges of the university were encouraged to donate their silver to the royalist cause, to be minted into shillings and half-crowns to pay the cavalier forces. Though New College largely escaped this, Parliament imposed a new Warden in 1649, the year of the King’s execution. To save it from being sequestered the College Fellows entrusted their silver to John Halsey. It was probably hidden at the Golden Parsonage, and was returned in a ‘truncke’ in 1657 when a ‘true and legall’ warden was appointed. To this day New College retains uniquely a good collection of pre-Civil War plate. As a lawyer, John Halsey acted as land agent to Lord Bridgewater at Ashridge, a neighbouring estate. He became a Master in Chancery, a junior Judge, and was knighted by King Charles II. The fine portrait bust on his memorial in Great Gaddesden Church looks benignly down upon the congregation. It is to Sir John that we owe the first map of the estate, which he surveyed in 1657, and which shows that the original Rectory lands had tripled in size over the previous century.
  • 1688 – Glorious revolution

    In 1688 another Tom Halsey became a Member of Parliament for Hertfordshire, a position his descendants often held until 1906. Although a Tory, he supported the deposition of James II by William of Orange, and was painted twice by the Dutch artist Sir Godfrey Kneller. It is to him that the building of the Golden Parsonage, as we know it now, is credited.
    Tom married Anne, Daughter of Thomas Henshaw, Charles II’s envoy to Denmark and one of the founders of the Royal Society, who brought with her the Pulham Estate in Dorset - together with the only ‘Halsey Arms’ pub in existence - and the advowson, which still remains.
  • The Lime Avenue

    In 1717 Tom’s eldest son, Henshaw, planted the Great Lime Avenue (through part of which the Gaddesden Ride runs today); his pocket diary of that year is our earliest record of felling trees for timber.
  • 1750s – Hamburg Traders and the Seven Years War (known in the USA as the French Indian War)

    Henshaw’s brother, Charles, in partnership with the Hanbury family, established a trading business in Hamburg. They were members of the English congregation (established in 1622) at the Church of St Thomas a Becket in the Zeughausmarkt, where his family were baptised. The church, rebuilt in 1838, still stands, surviving the bombing in 1943. Charles began recording family births, marriages and deaths in the Family Bible, which, as a most treasured heirloom, is kept at the Golden Parsonage and is still in use today. Charles inherited from Henshaw, and his two sons served as Commissaries General to the British forces in Germany during the worldwide Seven Years War. Frederick was appointed  ADC to the Prince of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel and died in Hesse Darmstadt. The two brothers’ problems with overcoming the corruption of contractors and suppliers to the army are well documented in correspondence in the Hertfordshire Record Office.
  • 1730 – a new burial place

    Since the Dissolution, the family had been buried in the chancel of Great Gaddesden Church, and by 1715 the floor was full. That year, the one in which he died, Thomas Halsey obtained a faculty to build a mortuary chapel adjoining the church. His son, Henshaw, did not begin construction of this modest red brick addition until c1730. The Halsey Chapel conceals an interior of beautiful family monuments attributed to Rysbrack, Guelfi and by John Flaxman, as well as a contemporary one by Richard Kindersley. The Grade 1 Listed church is well worth a visit.
  • 1768 – Gaddesden Place

    With profits from the Hamburg trading, in 1768 Thomas Halsey employed James Wyatt, a young architect just back from the Grand Tour, to build a great Palladian villa overlooking parkland looking down to the River Gade. Although gutted by fire in 1905, Gaddesden Place remained the principal mansion house until Sir Thomas Halsey returned to the Golden Parsonage in 1950. It is interesting to note that the last house on which James Wyatt was working when he was killed in a coaching accident was Ashridge House for the Duke of Bridgewater, an enormous Gothick pile built some 40 years later across the Gade Valley in Little Gaddesden, and visible from the house.
  • 1802 - Lord of the Manor

    Thomas Halsey leased the Lordship of the Manor of Hemel Hempstead from the Crown in 1702 and a century later Joseph and Sarah Halsey were able to buy it outright. The manor includes the villages of Bovingdon and Flaunden. In 1928 Sir Walter Halsey acquired from Earl Brownlow, the heir to the Dukes of Bridgewater, the Lordship of the Manor of Great Gaddesden. These titles are a pleasant hangover from mediaeval times, though they have little but historical significance now; however certain land rights remain, including the ownership of some roadside verges
  • 1854 - Disaster at Sea

    In 1854, Thomas Frederick Halsey was a 14 year old schoolboy at Eton when he was caught smoking! Hauled up in front of the Headmaster, history does not relate whether he was beaten, but he was ‘gated’ and refused leave to join his parents and younger brother on a holiday in the Mediterranean. Disaster struck when a mystery ship collided in the dark, off Cape Antibes, with their Italian steamship, ‘Ercolano’. All the family was drowned and poor Frederick had to be brought up by his maternal grandfather General Frederick Johnston of Hilton, the last of the ancient Scottish family. Frederick’s letters and diaries still show the smudges of the tears he shed when he lost all his loved ones.
  • 1869 Father of the House – and of building works at Gaddesden

    Frederick entered the House of Commons in 1875. He had inherited the estate from his grandmother, Sarah Moore Halsey, in 1869, and immediately invested heavily in new farm buildings, houses and cottages. He built the billiard room at the Golden Parsonage and the conservatory at Gaddesden Place. He had a long parliamentary career, becoming Father of the House of Commons by the time he lost his seat in 1906. He ended his days in 1927 as a baronet and member of the Privy Council, the Rt. Hon. Sir T. F. Halsey, Bt.
  • 1899 – 1902 – Halseys at Ladysmith

    Of Sir Frederick’s seven sons, two joined the Royal Navy, Arthur and Lionel, two went into the law, Walter and Gavin, two became clergymen, Frederick and Gerald and one a land agent and Lloyd’s underwriter, Reginald. The sailors served with distinction in one of the most memorable episodes of the South African War, 1899-1902, the Relief of Ladysmith. Lionel commanded a battery of naval guns from the cruiser HMS Powerful, besieged for 118 days in the town, by encircling Boers, while Arthur, serving in HMS Philomel brought a naval gun detachment with General Sir Redvers Buller’s relief column. Lionel’s letters, to his parents, brothers and sisters, which naturally could not be despatched because of the siege, were typed and bound for the family. On his return, bearded, to London, he is reported to have doffed his hat to his father, who did not recognise him. That evening, clean shaven, he heard his father say at dinner ‘the young these days are not nearly so bad as people make out, a very polite young man took his hat off to me in the street this afternoon’!
  • 1913-19 - Dogger Bank and the PiuPiu

    In 1913 Captain Lionel Halsey took command of HMS New Zealand, a brand new battlecruiser paid for by the people of that Dominion. On her commissioning cruise he was presented, on behalf of the ship, with a ‘PiuPiu’, or Maori grass skirt, by the chief at Rotaroa, with the invocation that should the captain wear it whenever the ship was in battle, no harm would come to her. At the battle of Heligoland Bight, the captain appeared on the bridge wearing the piupiu over his uniform, and sure enough the ship came through unscathed. HMS New Zealand survived the battles of Jutland and Dogger Bank, coming though the Great War unharmed, with only three casualties. Admiral Sir Lionel Halsey became Second Sea Lord and was nominated to command the Royal Australian Navy in 1918-1919. He was Comptroller to HRH The Prince of Wales, retiring when the latter succeeded as King Edward VIII.
  • Another Pair of Horses

    Sir Frederick’s third son, Canon Frederick Halsey, served as parish priest at Cartmel, then in Lancashire, and in several parishes in Hertfordshire, including King’s Langley and Great Gaddesden. His younger son, Guy, recalled that, on Christmas Day, his grandfather would send a carriage and pair to collect them from their vicarage for the family tea party. When they reached the ‘Red Lion’ at Water End, a second pair of horses would be waiting in the yard to help draw the carriage, with the family of six, up the steep White Hill to Gaddesden Place.
  • 1920s – 40s - Sarawak and Dunkirk

    Sir Lionel accompanied the Prince on his eastern tour in HMS Renown, with two flag lieutenants, Lord Louis Mountbatten and Lieutenant Tom Halsey, son of Lionel’s eldest brother Sir Walter, the second baronet. Tom met and fell in love with Dayang Jean Brooke of Sarawak, and after a whirlwind courtship they were married in 1925. Jean’s father was Captain Bertram Brooke, Tuan Muda of Sarawak and brother of Vyner Brooke, the last of the famous White Rajas. Their romantic story began in 1842 when James Brooke, having defeated a rebellion in Borneo was granted the state of Sarawak by the Sultan of Brunai. The Brookes ruled this jungle country inhabited by headhunters for over a century until the British government annexed it in 1946. The third baronet, Captain Sir Thomas Halsey, served in the Royal Yacht HMY Victoria and Albert.  He took a distinguished part in the Dunkirk evacuation in May-June 1940, also being involved with the evacuation of the Dutch Royal Family as Captain (D) in HMS Malcolm, and later commanded the battleship HMS King George V in the Far East.
  • 1930 to 2000

    Sir Thomas Halsey returned from the Royal Navy and moved to the Golden Parsonage with his wife, Jean, and two children: John and Margaret Anne. They lived there and cared for the estate until both parents died in 1970. The following year Tom’s cousin Guy Marsden Halsey, who had served during the Second World War as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Hertfordshire Regiment and later as a Justice of the Peace, and his wife, Juliet, moved to the Golden Parsonage, with their sons Nicholas and Robin, with Nicholas taking over the running of the estate in the mid 1970s.  The last years of the twentieth century saw some major changes to the farming of the estate, with the sale of the dairy herd at the home farm, followed by the contracting out of all arable farming operations in 2000.  It also saw the beginnings of the diversification of the estate into other land uses beyond farming, including the start of the Gaddesden Ride. 
  • 2000 to the Present Day

    The new millennium has seen some fundamental changes to the rural economy and rural life.  To meet these challenges, investment in infrastructure and the conversion of traditional farm buildings into commercial units, particularly offices, has allowed previously redundant sites to become flourishing business centres. The arable farming has also been taken back in hand, following the return in 2013 of Guy Halsey, son of Nicholas, and his wife Susannah.  This is run with an eye firmly on the future, with constant experiments and developments in farming techniques and technology to ensure the long-term sustainability of agricultural production at the same time as enhancing the environment. Recent years have also seen an increase in the provision of locations for film and television work, as well as the improvement and development of the Gaddesden Ride.  Renewable energy also plays its part, with solar panels now on the grainstore roof, and both public and private events of various forms have become part of life.  Overall, the family tries to act as responsible guardians to Estate to continue five centuries of custodianship and be ready for the challenges of the future. 

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