The northern edge of Tring is known as Dundale. It is bounded by Dundale Road and the Icknield Way (B488). John Oliver was a map-maker who drew one of the earliest maps of Hertfordshire. His map of about 1695 shows a hamlet of Tring, very simply, with a church and three roads. North of the village is the word “DUNSDELL”. A map of 1725, by John Warburton, shows “DUN DELL”.
In the book The Landscape of Place Names Gelling and Cole write:
"DUN is a hill or upland expanse, or, an uninhabited hill adjacent to a settlement. DAEL means ‘pit’ or ‘hollow’ and its related word DELL is found referring to very small ‘valleys’, and for natural or artificial hollows."
Miswell Farm, about 2 kilometres to the east, was once a moated property with a spring which fed the ‘moat’, now a substantial lake. This, and ‘Dundell’ are on the spring line, and both were exploited in 19th Century by a man who was important in Tring’s history - William Kay.
He started up a silk mill in the town in 1824. Although there was already a supply of water in the town, the enterprise needed a great deal more so Kay augmented his supplies by drawing water from the lake at Miswell. He had a tunnel dug from below the surface of the Miswell water, into the hollow at Dundale. The work was carried out manually by men with pickaxes. One may assume that he made a substantial bund to dam the water at Dundale. Then another deep tunnel was dug from the Dundale lake through to the silk mill in Brook Street. The two lakes, at Miswell and Dundale, were called ‘balancing ponds’, and the water in both was maintained at the same level, which is what still happens today. Since the developments at Dundale in 2001, British Waterways has the responsibility for maintaining the water supply as it feeds the Wendover Arm Canal.
William Kay’s Estate in Tring was extensive, covering about 3000 acres. Among the properties was Tring Park which was let to the Rothschild family in the 1830s, and sold to Nathan Rothschild in 1872. The latter became closely involved with the life of the town, and when the Silk Mill closed in 1898, he purchased it from Kay. The lake at Dundale was part of the property.
The site was soon developed as a ‘pleasure garden’. Dundale Lodge, on the northern edge of the land was designed by the architect William Huckvale, in the traditional Rothschild local style, and was completed in 1891. This house was built as a base for entertaining the boating and fishing parties on the lake. A little later a boathouse was built on the edge of the lake.
The site was planted with trees along the border of the property and around the lake. An orchard of mixed fruit trees was established, as well as lawns and shrubbery. The lake was filled with brown trout and game birds. Subsequently an avenue connected it to the Tring Park Mansion. Many of these trees are still there.
The prospectus, prepared by the auctioneers when it was put up for sale in 1938, provides us some details. The “picturesque property known as Dundale” comprised a chalet-style house of brick, half-timbered and rough cast with tiled roof. The accommodation was: a large Garden Room with a cloakroom, a WC and a separate entrance, plus a Sitting Room, a Living Room, a Scullery, fuel barns, washhouse and WC and a Veranda along the whole length of the Garden Front. The Grounds included “Lawns, Shrubberies, Ornamental Water, Valuable Orchard and extensive kitchen Gardens and the area of the whole is about 11.259 acres.” The schedule for Dundale Cottage and Land was £1,500.
The slightly curious, separated ‘large Garden Room’may be explained by the local rumours of important figures (perhaps from the London aristocracy and royalty who frequented Tring Park at that time) using it for clandestine meetings, where they were provisioned from Tring Park house.
It has been noted that Nathaniel (Natty) Rothschild assembled a fine worldwide collection of conifers at Tring, some planted at Dundale.
The Home Guard was active in Tring in the early years of the war. Noting that the Icknield Way was a major route, a number of young men constructed large, circular concrete road blocks with iron pipes through the centre. These were positioned within the wood, adjacent to their defence post, behind the chestnut paling boundary. The plan was that if the enemy approached in light tanks, the Home Guard would roll the blocks along the ground into the middle of the road, and attack the enemy.
In about 1950 the land was bought by Joseph Eggleton, a local man who loved nature and the sound of birdsong. He called it his wildlife garden and left the area unmanaged for his own private enjoyment. This is how the once carefully managed pleasure garden of planted trees and ornamental shrubs became a secondary wood.
The site was identified and adopted as a Wildlife Site in Dacorum’s Local Plan, a local designation which triggers protection policies. A Tree Preservation Order covers the whole site.
In 2001, it was bought by a development company which carried out an ecological survey, and plans were put forward for development of a relatively small section of the land, with the remainder being given to the local authority as a wildlife site. This was accepted, with restoration of the lake and some basic management of the wood, plus an endowment for its continued care. The eastern section is fenced off from the public.
Current woodland management means that trees which are felled, or die, are left in situ to decay and provide a rich wildlife habitat. Wildlife includes muntjac and an abundance of grey squirrels. It is possible that Edible Dormouse were responsible for damage to the swamp cypresses. There are a number of badger setts and bats use the site for foraging. The ivy clinging abundantly to the trees provides an especially good micro-climate for bats. Twenty-seven species of birds have been recorded during the breeding bird surveys, with over 50 species recorded at the site over a period. A good number of common frog, common toad and smooth newt are found.
Considerable work has been carried out on the site during and since the development. There is a path around the lake and public access to the area is from Nathaniel Walk and the Icknield Way. The lake still has large fish in it, sometimes visible. The trees especially worth noting are the fine Swamp Cypresses alongside the lake and the tall Black Pines which can be seen from Tring Park House.
There are several access points for pedestrians
On the corner of Icknield Way and Dundale Road