There are two buildings that are of particular historic interest on this site: Hertford Town Granary and Chapel Mill. These are the two oldest buildings on the site and date from around 1899/1901. The contract for the building work was drawn up in 1899, which is also the date of an extant architectural plan showing the location of the ‘Messrs. Gilbertson & Page New Game Food factory’. The first documentary evidence (trade directory) of Messrs. Gilbertson and Page occupying the site is 1902 onwards, although the land was leased by the Marquis of Townshend to Gilbertson and Page in 1894, so it seems likely that parts of the business moved to the Tamworth Road site in the late 1800s. Both buildings are shown on the 1911 Inland Revenue annotated map.
Hertford Town Granary
The original factory, now called Hertford Town Granary, is an attractive brick building of four storeys and some considerable length, with what appear to be the original windows and other period detail. In recent years the building appears to have been neglected to some extent. It is an attractive and substantial industrial building typical of its time and purpose and is of the type typically now considered appropriate for conversion into modern high end ‘industrial-style’ apartments.
Chapel Mill is a two-storey building with charming decorative brickwork which can still be seen on the partially concealed back of the building. The front of the building is clearly the same style as the back, with decorative brickwork and similar brick piers but the brickwork detail has been concealed by paint, and a small section of the decorative brickwork has been removed to accommodate a functional wider doorway. However, the building appears to remain substantially as it would have been around 1900. It is likely that this building was used for the publishing arm of the company and in fact it continued to be used for publishing and distribution of published material until as late as 2018. Gilbertson and Page published a monthly journal ‘The Gamekeeper’ from the late 1800s and also several books on the subject of game keeping, poaching and other related pursuits.
The Chapel Mill building is of a size and style that would lend itself to conversion to a modern detached house or alternatively to a small museum documenting the history of the area, site and buildings.
Messrs. Gilbertson and Page was a nationally important company which received the royal warrant for the manufacture of game food. They were also innovators and inventors of equipment for game keeping and animal rearing, such as a new-style poultry feeder and were at the forefront of their industry in their publication of a monthly journal and several books on the subject. During the first world war they were involved in the ‘important government work’ of manufacturing biscuits for soldiers in the trenches and this arm of the company was known as the Chadwell Biscuit Works, as can be seen on the OS Map of 1922/3.
Gilbertson and Page’s move to the Tamworth Road site from existing buildings in Hertford may be connected with the relocation of Hertford East railway station in 1881 and the subsequent sale of the nearby fields for development adjacent to the railway line, by the Marquis of Townshend. This position allowed Gilbertson and Page to incorporate their own sidings into the factory site so that the raw materials and manufactured goods and periodicals could be transported by rail direct to and from the site. An illustration (c 1930s) from the firm’s own monthly magazine ‘The Gamekeeper’ shows the steam trains in the background of the drawing of the factory and the sidings can be seen on the 1923/3 OS map. The position of the ‘Granary’ adjacent to the railway line where trains currently make their slow approach to Hertford East Railway Station is a significant one and presents a first view of historic Hertford to train travellers as they approach the town today.
Gilbertson & Page were an important element of social history, involved in providing for a way of life that no longer exists: large households employed a gamekeeper who provided game for the table in the same way that the gardener provided vegetables. The lower classes kept chickens; ate rabbits and game birds. They needed all the paraphernalia and advice that goes with that vanished way of life and Gilbertson & Page produced it: game and other animal feed; feeding implements; devices for dealing with pests; a monthly journal; etc etc – and when the time called for it, they carried out the ‘important Government work’ of manufacturing biscuits for soldiers in the trenches of the Great War.
Sir Walter Lawrence
The Hertford Town Granary building is the work of Walter Lawrence and Sons. Walter Lawrence & Sons was a substantial company and very well respected in the building industry. They were engaged in many prestigious building projects such as hospitals, large schools, town halls and other public buildings of merit e.g. the Masonic Grand Lodge in Great Queen Street, London and the Sir John Cass Primary School in London, which is now Grade 2 listed. Walter Lawrence was eventually knighted and also became High Sheriff of Hertfordshire in 1932.
© Jan Robinson 2020