The estate at Hall Place lies some four miles to the West of Maidenhead, a similar distance south of Marlow and east of Henley. At 100 metres above sea level, on high ground overlooking the south bank of the river Thames, the estate lies at the southern boundary of the chalk lands of the Chiltern Hills.
Heavy clay soils and a clay, flint and chalk mix allow for moderately productive farming with a dominance of oak, ash, beech and sycamore as the re-generating tree species. In an area of relatively low rainfall surface water rapidly disappears underground through a series of swallow holes into the underlying chalk.
The estate is recorded from at least the eleventh century, and was most likely farmed as it is located on a level terrace above the river valley. During the eighteenth century Hall Place supported a deer park. Mixed farming and woodland are the modern farming practice.
The Berkshire Archaeological survey reports prehistoric, Roman and medieval pottery scatter across the estate and an earthwork enclosure in High Wood overlooking the Thames Valley, indicating occupation over pre-historic and historic times.
Twelfth Century to the mid-sixteenth Century
There has been at least one previous house on the site of the present Hall Place. Earliest records show that in 1234, La Halle as it was then known, was the manor house of Hurley and owned by John de Hurley. Prior to this, during the 10th century, the manor of Hurley bordering the river, was owned by Aegar, a Saxon Master of the Horse to Edward the Confessor. It is not known where the manor house was actually located at that time, possibly on the higher ground where the present Hall Place is located. After the Norman Conquest, William the Conqueror granted the manor to Geoffrey de Mandeville, who founded Hurley Priory in 1086 within the area of today’s village of Hurley.
The history of Hall Place, originally known as La Halle and then as The Hall, is closely associated with that of the village. After John de Hurley, La Halle remained in the possession of the de Hurley family until 1372, when the land and The Hall, respectively, were acquired by Hurley Priory. In 1540, during the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, Hurley Priory, its lands and The Hall, were surrendered to the crown.
Tudor to the Hanoverian Period
In 1544, the manor of Hurley, excluding the Hall, was acquired by John Lovelace. Between 1545 and 1558 Lovelace built a new manor house named Lady Place, in honour of the Blessed Virgin, on the site of the partially ruined Priory in Hurley, thus shifting the focal point of the manor away from The Hall. Remains of the Priory lie in the vicinity of Hurley Parish Church where monuments to the families of Hall Place testify to their status within the community.
The Hall, never appears to have been in the ownership of one family for very long during this period. In 1536, it was in the possession of Katherine Burgess and her son, William; an Andrew Newberry also owned the house eventually passing to Newberry’s son in 1557. In 1609, it was owned by Sir Richard Mompesson and by 1623, ownership passed to Henry Alford, son of John Alford of Fawley. He died in 1645, a long gap then occurs during which time the Alford family may have continued to own Hall Place.
In the 1690’s, Hall Place came into the possession of Jacob Bancks, secretary to the Swedish Embassy, who came to London from Stockholm in 1681. Bancks settled in England and served with distinction in the Royal Navy. He was elected MP for Minehead and was knighted in 1699.
It was Bancks who erected the statue of Diana the Huntress at the end of the North Drive and possibly the two brick and flint pillars located within the current students’ hostel area. Bancks died in 1724 and was succeeded by a son of the same name. Within a year, however, the Hall had been sold to Richard Pennel.
A further legacy of Joseph Bancks is that it is likely that it was he who planted the original lime tree avenues to the east, north and, possibly at the time, the south of the estate.
1728 – The East Family and the Building of the Present Hall Place, The Mansion
In 1728, the estate was purchased by William East, a London lawyer, who held the lease of the Manor of Kennington, London. East demolished the old Hall and built the existing, early Georgian building – Hall Place – The Mansion. Its construction lasted seven years and was completed in 1735. Nothing substantial remains of the earlier building, which it is believed was much larger than the present one; reference to foundations occur in the 1950’s listing of the current building. Legend has it that there are underground passages, leading from the manor towards the Thames, possibly exiting on a now filled in chalk quarry to the north of the Mansion.
William East died in 1737, only two years after the completion of Hall Place. In the following February, his wife gave birth to a son, who was christened after his father and was destined to own the property for no less than eighty-one years. During his minority the house was let – from 1738 to 1752 to the Duke of Buccleuch, and from 1752 to 1758 to Lord Folkestone, later to become First Earl of Radnor.
After visiting France and Italy, the young William East returned to England on his coming of age, married, and was created a Baronet in 1766. During his long ownership he made scarcely any alterations to the house. On his death in 1819, Sir William East’s eldest son, Gilbert, succeeded him, but he died childless, nine years later and the baronetcy lapsed.
The Rocque Survey of 1761 shows the main avenue (east) leading to a forecourt in front of the Mansion; the north avenue leading to a rectangular space enclosed by trees; formal plantations to the south and kitchen gardens to the west of the house.
Thomas Gardner’s 1719 road map ‘London to Bath’ notes turnings to Hurley Town, Hurley Ferry and Hurley Place (Hall Place?) although the Hall is not specifically marked. The 1814 road map, London to Bath (Edward Mogg), however clearly shows a large estate belonging to Sir. G. East at Hall Place to the west of Maidenhead Thicket and Stubbings Heath. This series marks ‘Gentlemen’s Estates’ at points of interest along the way; Hall Place estate was of some 1200 acres in extent in 1828.
The Clayton East Family
The Clayton East family were lords of the manor of Hurley for over 120 years. After the death of Sir Gilbert East, Hall Place passed to George Clayton, Sir Gilbert’s nephew. The Claytons were descendants of Sir Robert Clayton of Bletchingley, a wealthy merchant and Lord Mayor of London in Charles II’s reign. George Clayton added the name of East to his own and in 1838 was granted a Baronetcy. In 1841 he purchased the lordship of the manor and once again Hall Place became the manor house of Hurley.
The 1843 tithe map shows the manor house with formal gardens to the west surrounded by two ranges of kitchen gardens. Land to the east and south are retained as parkland with the northern avenue leading to arable land.
Sir East George Clayton-East died in 1851, and was succeeded by his son, Sir Gilbert who was a keen yachtsman. In 1866, aged only 42, he was tragically drowned one rainy Saturday night during the yachting season, off Ryde pier on the Isle of Wight. Late one night he was returning to his boat with his lady companion after an evening spent in Ryde, when he fell from the pier into the water. Those in the pier tollhouse ‘suddenly heard the lady companion screaming, and a man’s voice was heard shouting from the water’. In spite of being a strong swimmer he had drowned by the time the pier watchman reached him. An account of this tragedy can be found in the ‘Times of London’, dated 13 August 1866.
Within ten days, Gilbert’s only surviving brother, Charles also died, and a double funeral was held at Hurley church. An interesting monument was erected in the church to the memory of Sir Gilbert, depicting the sail and symbolic broken mast of his yacht, together with an anchor, and other nautical symbols.
Hall Place then passed to Gilbert’s son, Sir Gilbert Augustus Clayton East, aged 20, who became a double baronet upon inheriting the Clayton Baronetcy in 1914. Sir Gilbert Augustus and his wife Dame Theresa gave Hurley parish church its clock in 1887 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.
On his death in 1925, Hall Place passed to his son, Sir George Clayton East, who died only six months later. His eighteen year old son, Robert inherited Hall Place; Robert a naval officer attached to the RAF married Dorothy Durrant in February 1932.
Sir Robert tragically died later that year; he was struck down by what appears to have been a form of polio and, despite specialist attention, died within the week, intestate and without an heir. It is likely that he initially contracted the illness during an expedition earlier that year in the Libyan desert. A year later his young widow was killed in an aviation accident. [Dorothy was an experienced pilot and at Brooklands, during take off, the throttle of her Spartan Arrow jammed. Dorothy attempted to leave the aircraft at a speed in excess of 50mph, she died from her injuries].
The young couple were associated with Count Ladislas D’Almasy, a well known character in his day, and the search during the 1930’s to find the fabled Lost Oasis of Zerrura in Libya. Sir Robert Clayton joined Almasy’s 1932 expedition into the desert flying a De Havilland Gypsy Moth I to survey the desert plateau. The fictional story ‘The English Patient’ is based around the recollections of Count D’Almasy, represented by the badly burnt ‘patient’ in the film. The young aristocratic couple who form the core of the key emotional theme of the story, interwoven with that of the fictional ‘patient’, are alleged to be this young adventurous couple and their association with the real life Count. Dorothy in fact returned to the desert on another expedition after her husband’s death. Newspaper articles from the 1970’s and website research form the basis of the link between Almasy, The English Patient and the tragic young couple from Hall Place.
During the last years of their ownership the Clayton East’s’ were therefore shadowed by tragedy. After one hundred and twenty years at Hall Place, the family lost the last three baronets in a space of seven years, a factor which ultimately led to the sale of the house in 1949.
Sir Robert’s mother, Lady Frances Clayton East, continued to live in the south wing of the Mansion. During the war years the Mansion was used as office accommodation by a large company from central London, and in 1943 over 1,000 acres were farmed under a compulsory order by the Ministry of Agriculture.
In 1948, the estate and 1,024 acres were sold, and Hall Place, Hall Place Farm and 484 acres were acquired by Berkshire County Council for the establishment of the Berkshire Institute of Agriculture in 1949 as integral to Government policies towards improving the efficiency and productivity of farming after the trials of the Second World War. The remaining acres were purchased for the Grassland Research Institute and Forestry Commission.
The Mansion – Hall Place
The interior of Hall Place is as symmetrical as the exterior. The William East Room, and the two chimney-pieces, one in the Jacob Bancks Room and the other in what is now the Clayton-East Room, celebrate the East family’s wealth and status in flamboyant style.
The William East Room
The finest room in the house (the Drawing Room) with superb examples of Italian craftsmanship in plaster. The room also originally provided one of the earliest English examples of imitation marble, scagliola, a mottled painted effect in a rich rose as the base colour of the wall panels, a striking background effect to the white and gold of the stucco (plaster) decoration.
The stucco work on walls and ceiling is complex and ornate throughout. Intricate detail, as in the expanding symmetrical fan shapes in the ceiling, and monumental figures as in the dolphins, combine to make this a ‘busy’ but not overpowering display.
Tradition records that the decoration symbolises the alliance of the then two great sea powers, England and Holland. The alliance was to have been achieved partly through the marriage in 1734 of Anne, daughter of George II and Queen Caroline, to William, Prince of Orange. William East was in favour of this alliance as judged by the stucco portraits of William and Anne on the east wall of the Drawing Room and the bust profile of Queen Caroline over the mantelpiece. The Queen is looking away from the couple, mourning the loss of her daughter to William, the Dutch Prince. Neither couple was apparently attractive, Princess Anne was sadly disfigured by smallpox, however she was ambitious, and informed the Queen that she was resolved, “… if it was a monkey, I would marry him.”. The entwined dolphins, surmounted by cupids, also symbolize the alliance of the two maritime nations. On a panel on the west side of the ceiling are the arms of East, a chevron between three horses’ heads, and on the opposite side the monogram W. E.
The Italian craftsmen’s work is a major factor contributing to the Grade I listing and a
testament to their outstanding skill and attention to detail.
The Salter Chalker Room is an annexe to the William East Room, a rectangular space dominated by the twin eagles atop the large fireplace. The plaster central ceiling rose and woodwork outlined in gold between walls and ceiling are of note.
The Jacob Bancks Room
The Jacob Bancks Room (Dining Room) is a fine, light and airy room with plain painted panelling and ornate chimney piece, (described below). On either side of the fireplace are two ‘scagliola’ panels set into the wall by L. C. Gori depicting Italian workmen. The younger East may have ordered these on his European Tour as one of the men depicted is shouldering a large box with the works ‘A Monsieur East London’; from certain positions the panels give the planned for ‘3D’ effect to the figures.
There is a good example of stencil work from the Victorian era in the form of a ceiling frieze depicting fruits underlined with scroll work in papier maché.
The roof above and ceiling were restored following a partial collapse in 1997.
The Clayton-East Room and Principal’s Office
Both relatively small rooms in wood panelling, the former painted and the latter in an untreated state. In the Principal’s office the panels are plain timber, probably Deal; age has given a warm glow to this room originally the ‘morning room’ facing the rising sun. The mirror above the plain fireplace and those set into the wall of the William East Room are all that remain of the family fittings.
The Clayton-East Room is dominated by an ornate fireplace and fine marble mantle with a lion’s head and acanthus leaves in relief.
The detailing within and around many of the doorways on the ground floor representing twisted scrolls and entwined acanthus leaves can be found in other houses of this period; identical examples surround the doorways in the 1740’s Room at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
The upper floors continue the plain symmetry of the house, false doors ensuring a balance to the eye. Rooms lead off a central corridor running north/south on the first floor and second floor. A large high ceilinged room with an ornate fireplace and windows to the north and west lies at the end of the first floor corridor, originally the main bedroom for the house. The remaining first floor family bedrooms each have a dressing room with inter-connecting doors.
Top floor bedrooms are smaller, without dressing rooms and were likely children’s and servants bedrooms. The large room above the main bedroom accommodates the high ceiling, making the roof beams visible; probably dormitory accommodation for servants.
The main staircase itself is not grand; the original servants’ stairs (now removed) lie behind the main staircase; doors on the half landings betray their presence.
Lower Ground Floor
A range of both large and small rooms for use by servants run the length of the lower ground floor with what was originally the kitchen area directly below the Jacob Bancks Room (original Dining Room). The building itself is supported at this level on a series of arches which can be seen in the old underground beer cellars, as can the pipe work from the late 19th Century gas lighting, the plant for which was located where the Learning Centre now stands.
When the Berkshire County Council took ownership, in the early 1950’s a number of buildings to the north of the Mansion were demolished. Judging by Victorian plans these included a range of utility areas such as sculleries and storage. The range led out into a yard surrounded by stabling and carriage sheds, (The Courtyard).
To the front of the main building gratings at ground level betray the presence of substantial coal cellars and a glass circular dome an underground pantry to the front of the kitchen.
The Mansion, South and North Wings
The South Wing of the Mansion is designed as family living accommodation. Entered by a short flight of steps, across a wide flagged terrace with an arched covered seating area, a loggia with Victorian tiling, into a spacious hallway with tall windows looking out on to the main entrance. The hallway has Gothic overtones in its design and leads to a staircase and a series of bedrooms, probably staff accommodation in the west end of that wing.
In front of South Wing is an enclosed space, currently occupied by student hostels, with two brick and flint pillars alternating in bands, at its further end. The space between the house and pillars served as a tennis court in the 1920’s and 30’s.
Originally there were two ornamental metal gates between these pillars, a wrought iron clairvoyee with the open space between the gates and the south wing of the main house a walled enclosure. The gates led out onto the deer park to the south.
North Wing has been much altered and is currently the college Dining Hall and adjacent kitchens with staff and student accommodation above.
The baroque splendour of the chimney-pieces is a notable feature of Hall Place. The over mantel of the Clayton-East Room fireplace depicts the ‘sacrifice of Iphigenia’. It is presumed to be symbolic of the marriage of Princess Anne, (depicted as Iphigenia), who was regarded by the Queen, her sisters, and others, as a martyr used for the country’s good.
The unusual fireplace in the Jacob Bancks Room is recorded by historians as a monstrous flight of flattery. Here the royal couple, Anne and William, are represented as Alexander and Campsape, the scene being the painting of Campaspe’s portrait by Appelles. The phoenix, flanked by two lions, refers to the ‘Glorious Revolution’ (the arrival of William and Mary) and England’s subsequent re-birth.
There are tile additions to all the fireplaces most likely introduced in Victoria’s reign.
The chimney piece in the Salter Chalker Room dominates a high but narrow space. The twin eagles are ready to overpower dissent; there is a very fine plaster ‘meringue’ moulding surrounding the central lighting point.
The Grounds of Hall Place
When William East built the house, the avenues of lime trees probably existed as young trees together with the statue of Diana at the top of the North Drive overlooking the valley of the Thames, (reference to Jacob Bancks). According to an article written in Country Life in 1938, there were originally four avenues of lime trees, only three of which remain today.
In Victorian times a pillared portico stood above the steps at the main entrance, which in the context of the original design concept must have appeared incompatible; it was removed in the 1950’s for reasons of safety.
Up until the early 1800’s the main drive ran from the house to a point midway down the current drive, then struck off in a southerly direction along the edge of the wood towards Burchetts Green village. In the early 1800’s a Gothic archway was built where the drive turned towards the village, at the top of the rise where it could have been seen from the main road below. A new driveway was then struck directly down to the road, and the old section of the drive to Burchetts Green fell into disuse. The place where the old drive entered the village is now marked by Hall Place Lane. It is easy to see that the lime trees in the lower section of the drive are considerably younger than the ones nearer the house. The archway was demolished in 1967.
A deer park to the south of the Mansion had long been a feature of the estate. In the early 1800’s oak trees were planted in the park depicting the arrangement of the English and French fleets at one of Nelson’s greatest victories, the Battle of the Nile. Recent research into contemporary maps of the grounds, comparing them to maps of the formation of the fleets at the Battle, supports this story. A statue of Nelson was placed in an elevated position visible from the Mansion in the field now known as Pyramid Field – what became of it is not known; only the stone plinth is visible. A cast iron plaque with the words ‘Erected by Sir Gilbert East Bart 1826’ has been discovered in one of the fields. Its origins are unclear, but one possible theory is that it used to be on the plinth of the statue, or upon one of three original brick pyramids.
In the early 1990’s the college re-planted the battle lines in English oak in time for the 200th Anniversary of the battle marking each as a ship of the line, her guns and in the case of the French line, her fate.
Brick pyramids were also erected along a spring line within the deer park; only one of these pyramids remains today. The spring water was fed down copper pipes to a large tank in the South Garden and pumped into a water tank in the roof space of the Mansion, thus providing the house with running water long before this became the norm, the wooden framework of the tanks remain in the roof today.
Marking a later but additional ‘modern’ convenience the estate also had its own gasworks, shown on a 1912 Ordnance Survey map. The Learning Centre now occupies the site.
At it’s height Hall Place estate is reputed to have covered around 3,000 acres (1214 hectares) including Ashley Hill (descendants of the deer from the original park can still be found in the Forestry Commission’s woodland); running down to the village at Hurley and towards Stubbings.
Around 1870, the unusual beehouse to the north of the back lawn was constructed. The ten sided building has been restored and is probably the finest example of a Victorian beehouse in England. At one stage there was also a peacock house which stood on the site of one of the teaching buildings.
The extensive lawn to the west of the Mansion leads off an impressive gravel terrace and terminates in a ha-ha. This is in the form of a walled ditch designed to keep livestock out of the gardens whilst forming an invisible boundary between the garden and the fields beyond. From the house it looks as if the garden stretches to the woodland on the horizon.
A grass amphitheatre close to the bee house, with old brick walling and remnants of stone steps, is allegedly a cock fighting pit from Georgian times.
Grounds and Gardens
The half mile drive to the Mansion retains the initial impact that one imagines William East intended to create. The open vista of the house and lawn with its circular carriage driveway still convey an aura of solidity and style.
The landscaped grounds and gardens to the west of the house have an uninterrupted view of fields and woods beyond. The wide and deep lawn is bordered by mature trees, a number planted in Victoria’s reign. The college maintains a fine collection of trees dating from the Victorian era to modern plantings to maintain continuity in the natural framework to the Mansion and to provide interest for students and visitors.
Garden borders will vary, planted as they are to provide colour throughout the seasons and to act as a demonstration and practical resource for horticultural students.
In managing safety, from time to time, the old lime trees along the three drives require felling. A policy of renewal is in place using a cultivar of Tilia Europea (European lime) most similar to that which was originally planted, ‘Pallida’.
The estate is farmed as mixed farming to support the college curriculum and demonstrate good practice. Arable crops; bio-mass; pasture for sheep and cattle, and paddocks for exercising and training horses, there are today probably far more horses on the estate than in earlier times. Woodland and conservation management are important factors within overall estate management. Woodland areas have been increased and a one acre stretch of open water created below the spring line at the south end at the estate puddled with naturally occurring clay.
A proportion of the ‘wetter’ areas have recently been planted with willow to be harvested (coppiced) as a bio-mass for wood chip boilers as a sustainable energy crop. Old stools in High Wood are testament to hazel coppicing carried out on the estate many years ago.
A proportion of the estate is on the Register of Parks and Gardens of special historic interest.
Completed by Sir Gilbert in 1870, his initials are inscribed under the horse’s head over the entrance arch. This was most likely the ostlers’ quarters standing at the entrance to the stable yard, and to the servants’ working area, probably the goods delivery point. The estate clock sits atop the building and its bell continues to accurately chime the hours today.
The term describes a range of what were originally brick farm buildings dating from the Victorian era to the north of Clock Cottage, originally open fronted yards with a barn in one corner. The name recalls previous use as a centre for a Dairy Herd of Jersey cows.
Completely refurbished in 1996 the yard today forms a modern and attractive environment, teaching base for children’s nurses.
The core of Garden Cottage pre-dates the Mansion, a Georgian style brick and flint front were added in the 1700’s. Probably an Estate Manager’s house at some time or small farm (brick foundations of out buildings have been found in the area). The property was modernised in 1995 and is now private accommodation.
Internally the cottage reflects two building eras; timbered walls with brick infill in the original section; two comfortable wood panelled rooms in the 1700’s additions.
At the ‘new’ entrance to the estate the Lodge is a typical gatehouse of its era built in 1873 marking the date at which the main drive was cut due east to the Hurley Road. A small originally two up, two down early Victorian estate lodge.
A pair of semi-detached cottages of similar size and of the same period lie at the south boundary of the current estate.
Another lodge at the entrance to a now little used drive leading down into the Thames valley via the Henley Road was sold in the 1970’s.
BCA – A College of Further and Higher Education
(Berkshire College of Agriculture)
Since 1948, there has been a continuous programme of restoration, extension and development of the Berkshire College of Agriculture, renamed as such in 1968 and now operating as BCA. Over the years that Hall Place has been a college efforts have been made to preserve the character of the estate whilst fulfilling the educational needs and requirements of generations of students.
A programme of refurbishment, conversion, introduction of new practical resources and a building renewal programme was undertaken during the 1970’s and 1990’s. Teaching and hostel accommodation were added in the ‘70’s; the building of extensive equestrian facilities, the Vaughan Morgan sports and social centre and re-modelling of the Jersey Yard being examples of investment in the 90’s.
The college has been successful in being able to refurbish and revitalise many of the old buildings and rooms in the Mansion and surrounding Victorian buildings. The original buildings continue to make a valuable contribution towards supporting a young and thriving community, often far removed from their original purpose and design.
As the college curriculum evolved during the 1990’s and with an expanding range of work there was an urgent necessity to invest in new resources. The Victorian and post 1950’s farm buildings at Top Farm, to the west of the estate were sold and re-invested through a major capital building programme at the centre of the campus. The Learning Centre with teaching accommodation for Higher Education, and incorporating a new college Reception, and an Animal Management Centre, on the site of the old pig units, the focus for teaching and practical training for all animal related programmes, are the impressive results of that investment. The buildings are designed to meet criteria for up-to-date learning styles and practical training within the aesthetic setting created by the Mansion, thus creating an imposing, modern and welcoming campus for students and visitors.
This initial phase of a planned building programme completed in 2006, creates an up-to-date learning environment with capacity to evolve and take advantage of new technologies; new buildings with new purpose, a theme that would be recognised and applauded by the lawyer from Kennington as he built his house celebrating a new political and economic era of his own time.
The college maintains traditions and an ethos that would be familiar to the East family, the management of the land, animals, plants and people. Modern approaches applied to management, utilising new technologies within an ever expanding knowledge base integrated with traditional skills and values.
The family community of Victorian times is now an exciting and vibrant student community making full use of the legacy and assets of the estate at Hall Place, the home of BCA a regional specialist college of Further and Higher Education.
The estate of Hall Place has never seen important historical events take place on its soil; however it has provided an uninterrupted background of stability for generations of the local community, contributing to British rural and social life. It is intended that future developments continue the tradition of care for this living piece of the British countryside.