The Dell – A dramatic place in the woods
In the early days of Welwyn Garden City, the residents used a natural swallow hole in Sherrardspark Wood as a theatre, this became known as the Dell. A number of plays (mainly Shakespeare), choral, music and other events took place until 1951. Since then, The Dell has been left to nature and lost to the public.
This Signature Event was to work with the Local Authority and the Sherrardspark Wood Wardens to restore The Dell as a place accessible for all which could be enjoyed once more for community activities for which there has been much public enthusiasm.
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Following discussions with the Local Authority (Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council and land owner) and the Sherrardspark Wood Wardens, the Centenary Foundation has decided to withdrawn the Project ‘Restoring the Dell’ from the list of Signature Projects with immediate effect. This decision has been taken reluctantly and with great disappointment.
For the last 50 years, the Sherrardspark Wood Wardens, a volunteer group working on behalf of the Local Authority, have looked after and managed the wood. They are therefore an essential part of the on going long term maintenance of the wood working for the benefit of the Community. Following discussions with the Local Authority and the Wood Wardens in particular, it has been decided that Restoring the Dell such that it would be opened up to a large number of visitors who may be keen to learn about the history and experience the Dell is counter to the health of that area of the wood. It is the opinion that a large number of people visiting the Dell would be detrimental to the local environment and ecology affecting plant and animal life. Consequently, it has now been decided not to pursue any work in the Dell which would open it up for public access. The Wood Wardens will however continue with their Woodland Management Plan in the Reddings Plantation area, which includes the Dell, resulting in controlled coppicing, removal of undergrowth and dead trees together with the planting of new trees.
Considering the importance in the history of Welwyn Garden City with use of the Dell by the residents as a place for leisure, music and drama, this is an unfortunate but understandable loss to the community.
The Dell is a natural hollow which pre 1858 was in a field to the south of the boundary of Sherrardspark Woods, part of Upper Handside farm. Originally it was never part of the wood. The original wood’s boundary is still visible to the north of the Dell and follows the old Digswell Parish boundary. In 1858, the railway to Luton and Dunstable was built which cut through the field leaving the Dell isolated though accessible, via a farm track over the railway (now the bridleway between Bridge Road and Roundwood Drive).
In 1901, Lord Cowper (the owner of the wood and farm land) planted Larch trees in the isolated field, to be known as Reddings Plantation, thus effectively expanding Sherrardspark Woods to the railway line. By 1925 when construction of WGC was underway, the Dell was a young wood with grassy floor which is when, among others, Sir Theodore Chambers (Chairman of the WGC Company) suggested using the Dell as a place for drama and music.
The first production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream took place in 1925.