Chequered history of Victorian home on Roman site

Boxmoor House
Boxmoor House

Boxmoor House is a building on a site with a wealth of history – much of it lost in the mists of time where a Roman villa is believed to have once stood.

The eventual Victorian mansion was once the home of aristocracy and later – in less enlightened times than today – became a boarding school for the ‘Imbecile Children of Gentlefolk.’

Today its modern name of Roman Fields Provision (School) reflects the Roman Villa excavations of 1851-2, 1966 and 1969.

The school is the latest occupant of the buildings, the main house of which dates back to the 1840s.

The site was bought by Hertfordshire County Council in 1942 and has been used as a base for pupils with varying special needs ever since.

The present school is far removed from original anti-social ideas and presents a positive and highly individualised approach to young people whose autistic spectrum difficulties have made an ordinary school curriculum and environment unrealistic.

Many Victorian features inside the house have disappeared, but on the exterior walls some of the original plaques and gargoyles remain.

It is believed that Thomas Davis, a surgeon to the Life Guards and a surgeon-extraordinary to William IV, reused these ornamental elements from the demolished castellated palace at Kew, built during the reign of George III but never inhabited.

Thomas Davis, who came from a family of four generations of Oxfordshire surgeons, bought the estate in c.1835 and built his gothic-style Boxmoor House on the east side of Box Lane. He died there, aged 85, in 1863 and his son, George Augustus Davis, inherited the estate.

The house became home to the Blackwood family from 1873 and Lady Alicia Blackwood stayed there until her death in 1911 at the ripe old age of 93 – it then passed to her Bouwens relations. During the First World War, it served as a convalescent home for injured officers.

In the 1930s, the Misses Isbister turned it into a boarding school for the ‘Imbecile Children of Gentlefolk’ and some of the late Queen Mother’s close relatives (Katherine and Nerissa Bowes-Lyon and the Fane sisters) were housed there as children.

In those days, such unfortunates were often hidden away from society.

The young people of today are brought daily from all parts of Hertfordshire, which is fortunate to have such a much-needed provision.

A recent community day was an opportunity for the local population, as well as parents, to have an insight into the school’s far-ranging activities. The current resident of Dr Thomas Davis’s former home, The Grange in Steeple Aston, Oxfordshire, was present, as well as Allan Lawson, deputy mayor of Dacorum and Roger Hands, chairman of Dacorum Heritage Trust.

New light has been shed on the building’s history after recent research by Joan Hands and Daniel Chamberlain, who is a student at the present school and also took the pictures on this page.

Research into the Boxmoor House estate is still on-going and if you have any further information, the trust would like to hear from you. www.dacorumheritage.org.uk