When it comes to local history, we owe a debt of thanks to local historian, Viviane J. M. Bryant whose seminal book “A History of Potten End” published in 1986 has contributed a great deal to our understanding of the area and is available on this website with the kind permission of her daughter.
Historically, Frithsden is perhaps the earliest settlement although it was never a parish in its own right. It is of Anglo-Saxon origin, the name meaning the “valley on the edge of the wood”. Frithsden has connections to Roman Britain through its link to the archaeological site around Frithsden Beeches with its temple and burial complex reached by a Roman track from Boxmoor. And before that time there were even earlier burial mounds near the present day Frithsden Copse.
The hamlet grew up around the tenant farmers and workers for the Ashridge estate and then the Bridgewater/Brownlow families. It also became famous for the quantities of black “caroon” cherry trees which grew in abundance in the area. The hamlet decreased in size and importance during the 19th century, when there was a chapel, a tiny school and an alehouse called the Tyrants Arms. The remaining buildings are part of a unique conservation area. More information on this can be found in the Character Appraisal and Management Proposals for Frithsden.
“Little Manor” was perhaps one of the oldest buildings in Frithsden dating from 1515 and refurbished in the late 1870s under the auspices of Lady Marion Alford. On the spot where the “Alford Arms” pub & restaurant now stand was a rather more infamous beer house called the “Tyrants Arms”. This suffered a fire sometime in the 1860s but was rebuilt and renamed “The Alford Arms” in the late 1870s. This photograph, long lost to the residents, has now re-emerged and appears to show the “Tyrants Arms” with some damage to the roof before it was rebuilt and perhaps before “Little Manor” has its pargetting replaced – therefore dating from the late 1860s or early 1870s.
Nettleden is another early part of the present parish. Until 1894 it was a parish in its own right and was once part of Buckinghamshire. The name, of Anglo-Saxon origin, means the “valley where the nettles grow”. The church of St. Lawrence was first mentioned in 1285, was rebuilt in 1470 and connected to the religious house at Ashridge. Some of the yew trees still growing in its churchyard may date from that time. Agriculture and a brick kiln added to its importance. It remains a small and picturesque hamlet. See the Character Appraisal and Management Proposals for Nettleden.
The village of Potten End was the “late-comer” to this trio of settlements, although now it is far larger and with a much higher density of population than the other two. The community began life split between three other parishes: the area north of Martins Pond was part of Berkhamsted St. Peter while the area to the south belonged to Northchurch St. Mary. Northchurch was the burial place of the 18C Peter the Wild Boy who lived for many years on a farm in Little Heath Lane. The eastern side of what is now Potten End formed part of the parish of Great Gaddesden.
The centre of the old or Little Potten End lay near the Fox Inn (now Fox Cottage), the site of the old bakery and Elmtree Cottages and stretched towards Southall also known as Gaddesden Hall at the edge of the river Gade. The name, Potten End or Potters End was first mentioned in a history of the county in 1728 although Frithsden and Nettleden appeared on much earlier maps. Later in the 18C Potten End was definitely set much closer to Southall and Water End. An early OS map of 1830 shows the village based on the site of “Little Potten End” in the parish of Gt. Gaddesden as do the 1841 and 1851 censuses.
Maps did not show Potten End based on The Front, The Back, Nursery Terrace and the old Chapel until 1899, long after the village school and Holy Trinity Church were established. However, some old maps have recently been found dating from 1766. Of course Nettleden and Great Gaddesden are there as are Fields End, Water End and Haxters End. Potten End appeared as Potters End – near where the old bakery building still stands. One of the main roads to Nettleden roughly followed the line of the footpath which starts opposite the Stevens Farm, whilst the road called The Common was just a track. The pond is situated where this tracks leads into what is now Hempstead Lane is named Marsons Pond – not Martins. This was probably another drovers pond like the Horseshoe Pond near the junction of Vicarage Road and Nettleden Road. Many drovers’ ponds were clay-lined but Marson’s Pond, like the Horseshoe Pond, was probably one of the ones that filled naturally from an underground spring.
How Potten End actually acquired its name is also not clear-cut. The surname of Potton or Potten was used from the 14th century but was not recorded in any of the parishes until 1611 in Gt. Gaddeden. There is, inevitably, some confusion between Potters and Potten. Viviane Bryant suggested that the original name was Pottern (connected to the brick kilns) and that Potten and Potters were variants.
The village school buildings were established with the help of Lt. Gen. The Hon. John Finch near the present centre in 1856. In the mid-19C there was no main church and some of the villagers used St. Lawrence’s in Nettleden. But with financial help from Earl Brownlow and many other local patrons Holy Trinity was constructed in 1868. In the 1890s the Earl of Bridgewater united Nettleden with Potten End alongside St. Margaret’s and Frithsden. The plan became a reality after 1895. Since then there have been minor variations until they became the parish boundaries we have today, some 120 years later.
Lanes Nursery owned huge areas of Potten End and provided much employment in the village. They were pioneers in propagating Rhododendrons which were first introduced into the UK in 1847. In 1910 Lanes provided a huge display of Rhododendrons in Regents Park, and following this, their next catalogue featured 137 varieties. The Rhododendrons were grown in a basic triangle from what is now Vicarage Road, and the Common (called Hedgeside in those days). There were no buildings on this area until the church, just a huge area of Rhododendrons. The scent was over whelming and apparently the the village looked like a rainbow. Villagers would walk among the shrubs all week and at weekends people came from far and wide, returning year after year to see the spectacle.
Work days were long – 6am until 6pm. When trees were sold they would be packed in ferns for protection and then delivered by horse and cart, up to a 40 mile trip at times, the driver having to see to the horses before he ate when he finally arrived home. He lived at Stonehouse in Vicarage Road, the stabling was where the garage now stands (stables still exist beyond garage) and the stone water trough still stands in the garden of Orchard Croft next door.
The Parish Council
The civil parish of Berkhamsted St Peter existed from 1894 to 1898. In 1895 the parish of Nettleden was transferred from Buckinghamshire to Hertfordshire and only had an annual parish meeting. In 1898 by an order of the Local Government Board, Berkhamsted St Peter was divided to form two new parishes – Great Berkhamsted Urban and Great Berkhamsted Rural. The parish of Great Berkhamsted Rural was abolished by the County of Hertford (Berkhamsted Rural District Parishes) Order 1936 (effective from April 1937) and part of it, together with part of the parish of Northchurch and the parish of Nettleden, was formed into a new parish called Nettleden with Potten End. In 1985 Little Potten End became part of the parish and St Margaret’s became part of Great Gaddesden Parish.