Joan Hands put the Her into our Heritage

Joan died aged 74 on March 17, just shy of her 75th birthday
Joan died aged 74 on March 17, just shy of her 75th birthday
  • Manuscript emerges from an interview with Gazette Heritage columnist and former teacher Joan Hands
  • Joan, a well known figure in Dacorum, died on March 17 aged 74
  • Interview delves into their love of history, family and their surroundings in Boxmoor

In the wake of the sad passing of former teacher and Gazette columnist Joan Hands, a manuscript from an interview with the woman who very much put the Her into our borough’s Heritage has emerged.

Titled ‘An Interview With Joan and Roger Hands’ the interviewer said they were directed to Joan and her husband when looking into the history of Boxmoor.

Their lives reminded me of the Dacorum Heritage Trust’s Mission Statement: ‘To collect and record the History of the Borough of Dacorum. To interpret and display the collection to encourage interest and appreciation of the heritage of Dacorum’.

Extract from ‘An Interview with Joan and Roger Hands’

The interview begins: 
“Although there is evidence of Roman, Bronze Age and even earlier settlements in the area, Boxmoor’s ‘modern’ story really started in 1594, when, after a complicated series of transactions, land in Hemel Hempstead, which originally had been a gift from Elizabeth 1st to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, was conveyed to 67 local inhabitants (Feoffees).

“This land was to be held in trust for the current and future inhabitants of the town and the neighbouring hamlet of Bovingdon.

“The 500 acres of Trust land today is still held in common ownership and one of the Box Moor Trust’s purposes now is to maintain the varied natural habitat of the Estate, including chalkland, woodland, water meadows, old pastures and rivers, all providing wildlife habitats.

“The history of Boxmoor is complicated and to understand its ramifications you really need to read the Hands’ books: The Book of Boxmoor or Royalty to Commoners - 400 Years of the Box Moor Trust, but preferably both.

“I was delighted when I had the opportunity to meet them and learn a little about what had inspired them to become so involved in local history.

“In 1964. Roger and Joan Hands moved from a caravan near Radlett to Boxmoor. Joan recalls walking across the bridge in Fishery Road for the first time and suddenly seeing the canal, the water meadows and cattle grazing on green pastures.

“She says that her instant reaction was that this would be a good place to live and to bring up children.

“Now over 40 years later they have done just that, having two sons and five grandchildren, but they have also become experts on the history of Boxmoor and written several books about it. In spite of working - Joan as a primary school teacher for 43 years and Roger on his Landscape Gardening business for over 45 years, (during which time he won medals at Chelsea, including a Chelsea Gold Medal) - they also found time to immerse themselves in village life. Joan has been Chairman of the Friends of Dacorum Museum and also of the Hertfordshire Dyslexia Association, and is currently a committee member of Hemel Hempstead Local History and Records Society, the Apsley Paper Trail and the Dacorum Heritage Trust.

Roger has always been interested in Environmental and Historical matters. He became a Boxmoor Trustee in 1979, was a founding member of the Dacorum Museum Advisory Committee and is currently Chairman of the Dacorum Heritage Trust (DHT), as well as chairing the Dacorum Environmental Forum’s, Water Group.

Sitting in their comfortable Edwardian house, I asked them how they found the time to write their books.

They laughed and said: “We work when and where we have the time.”

But Joan said: “Roger can get up at 3am or 5am to send emails or write memos if he has an idea in the night.”

I then asked them how their work was divided, and Roger said that he usually did the research and located illustrations whilst Joan, who has been interested in writing since she was a child, did the collating, writing up and proof reading as well as helping with the research.

In addition to writing their books, Roger has staged local history exhibitions, and they have both contributed to DHT publications. Joan established the Harlequin Children’s Theatre group in 1964 and has also performed with the Hemel Hempstead Operatic and Dramatic Society. They have recently written a popular book about papermaking and local paper mills, Paper Pioneers, and hope to have one coming out in the Autumn about Boxmoor Ironworks. Now they intend to take some time off to travel and spend more time with their family.

Finally, I asked them what they most enjoyed about living here. They answered that it was the green spaces, although they felt that the changes in Boxmoor have not been altogether sympathetic. They said that Boxmoor has lost many shops and that the village used to have a greengrocer’s, two butcher’s shops and a hardware store.

Their lives reminded me of the Dacorum Heritage Trust’s Mission Statement: To collect and record the History of the Borough of Dacorum. To interpret and display the collection to encourage interest and appreciation of the heritage of Dacorum.

I thought how lucky we who live in Boxmoor were to have these people, who recorded its history and worked so hard to rescue such knowledge before it all vanished.