Hall Place

Hall Place lies within the beautiful landscaped grounds of BCA, situated on the edge of the Chilterns and overlooking the Thames Valley.

Whether you are planning a conference or function, you can rest assured our staff will afford you the warmest of welcomes and take care of your every need.

The mansion house holds several exquisite rooms that are ideal for seminars, meetings and functions whilst the purpose built conference centre can be used for larger events and exhibitions.

Click here for more information about hiring our facilities.

The History of Hall Place

Edward the Confessor, King of England from 1042 to 1066 and son of Aethelred II the Unready and Emma, daughter of Richard I, was born at Islip, Oxfordshire, between 1002 and 1005. During the 10th Century, the manor house of Hurley was owned by Aegar, a Saxon who was Master of the Horse to Edward the Confessor. After the Norman Conquest, William the Conqueror granted the manor to Geoffrey de Mandeville who founded Hurley Priory in 1086 as a cell for monks of the Benedictine Abbery of St. Peter’s, Westminster.

The history of Hall Place, originally known as La Halle and then as Hall, is associated with that of the village of Hurley. The earliest records show that La Halle was in existence in 1234, as the manor house of Hurley, owned by John de Hurley, the largest landowner in Hurley at that time. A succession of de Hurley’s owned La Halle until 1372 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.

After the dissolution, the changes in ownership of the Manor of Hurley, excluding The Hall led to its acquisition by John Lovelace who built a new manor house at Hurley on the site of the partially ruined Priory, between 1545 and 1558. The new manor house built by Lovelace was named Lady Place, in honour of the Blessed Virgin. Some remains of the Priory can still be seen today in the vicinity of Hurley Parish Church and it is at this Church that many of the owners of Hall Place are buried. During the period after the dissolution, the old manor house, The Hall, never appears to have been in the possession of one family for very long. In 1536, it was in the possession of Katherine Burgess and her son, William. Andrew Newberry also owned the house and it eventually passed to Newbury’s son in 1557. In 1609, it was owned by Sir Richard Mullparsons and by 1623, ownership had passed to Henry Alford, son of John Alford of Fawley. He died in 1645 and a long gap then occurs during which time the Alford’s may have continued to own the house.

The next owner of the Hall, probably in 1690, was Jacob Bancks, who came to London from Stockholm in 1681, as secretary to the Swedish Embassy. Bancks settled in England and served with distinction in the British Navy. He was elected M.P. for Minehead and was knight in 1699. It was Bancks who erected the statue of Diana the Huntress at the end of the North Drive and also the two brick and flint pillars located between the existing swimming pool and the Warden’s house. Originally, these two pillars hung two ornamental metal gates and the area between the gates and The Hall was a walled enclosure. Bancks died in 1724 and was succeeded by a son of the same name. It was he who sold The Hall to Richard Pennel in the year after his father’s death.

In 1728 the estate was purchased by the young, wealthy London Lawyer, William East. He was then already leasing the Duchy of Cornwall’s Manor of Kennington. Curiously enough, some ten years after his death, Kennington was leased to William Clayton of Harleyford, whose son, Sir William Clayton; the IV baronet married William East’s grand-daughter, Mary, through whom Hall Place was eventually to come to the Clayton family.

It was East who demolished the old hall and built the existing, smaller, early Georgian mansion – Hall Place. Its construction lasted seven years and was completed in 1735. The new mansion occupied the site of the old building and nothing of the latter remained. However, underground passages have been discovered, leading from the manor, under the Thames to Hurleyford House, to enable monks to escape during the dissolution of the monasteries.

The interior of Hall Place was as austere as the extension, with explosions of detail in the Drawing Room, which is now the college library, and the two chimney-pieces, one in the Dining Room, now the student’s common- room and the others in the Library, now the Reception office.

The work in the Drawing Room (the existing library) provided one of the earliest English examples of Scagliola work (imitation marble) and must have given a striking background effect to the white and gold of the stucco (plaster) decoration. The two small panel insets on the walls either side of the fireplace in the Dining Room (student common-room) are also of scagliola, and were sent to East as examples of Italian craftsmanship. The work was almost certainly carried out by these Italian craftsmen, although which architect East used, is unclear.

Tradition records that the decoration in the Drawing Room symbolises the inspired but unsuccessful 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, with William, Prince of Orange. However, the rebellion to overthrow the unpopular George II and place William and Anne on the throne was unsuccessful. It is said that 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 depicted to be mourning the loss of her daughter to William, the Dutch Prince, whom she found repulsive, as he was a hunchback. Princess Anne, however, was no beauty; she was short and fat and disfigured by smallpox. She was, tho’, ambitious and informed the Queen that she was resolved, ‘’….if it was a monkey, I would marry him.’’

The baroque splendour of the two chimney-pieces are a notable feature of Hall Place. The overmantel of the Reception office fireplace depicts the ‘Sacrifice of Iphigemia’. It is presumed to be symbolic of Princess Anne being led to the alter as a martyr for her country’s good, as seen in the eyes of the Queen and others, in a manner similar to Iphigmia being led to the sacrifice. The sumptuous fireplace in the student’s common-room is recorded by historians as a monstrous flight of flattery. Here the Royal couple, Anne and William, are represented as Alexander and Campespe. The scene is the painting of Campespe’s portrait of Appelles. The Phoenix, flanked by two lions, refers to the ‘Glorious Revolution’ (the arrival of William and Mary) and England’s subsequent re-birth.

William and Anne fled the country not long after their marriage and eventually succeeded to the Dutch Throne, where they were to rule as King and Queen for many years, much loved by their people. Additionally, the entwined Dolphins, surmounted by cupids, also symbolises the alliance of the two maritime nations.

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 who 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 coming of age, married and was created a Baronet in 1766. During his long ownership he scarcely made any alteration to the house, although the Gothic arch across the main drive was attributed to him. This was demolished in 1967 due to its unsafe construction and the fact that it contrasted rather unfavourably with the Georgian architecture of the mansion. He jealously preserved the stately Lime avenues which were, until recently, attributed to the Bancks’ name. In the early 1970’s at the start of a 25 year programme to replant some of the older trees in the main drive, the estimated age of the Limes indicated that some of them may have been planted before Bancks’ time.

On his death in 1819, Sir William East’s eldest son, Gilbert, succeeded him, but he died childless, nine years later and the baronetcy became extinct. Hall Place then passed to George Clayton, Sir Gilbert East’s nephew. The Clayton’s were descendants of Sir Robert Clayton of Bletchingley, the wealthy merchant and Lord Mayor of London, who practically ruled the City in the latter half of Charles II reign. George Clayton added the name of East to his own and in 1838, was given a Baronetcy. In the Early part the 19th. Century, a large doric porticco was built onto the front entrance of the mansion, but due to its unsafe condition and its incompatibility with the architecture of Hall Place, it was demolished in 1953. Sir George Clayton East is reputed to have planted Oak Trees in the deer park, depicting the arrangement of the Fleet of the Battle of the Nile. Today, only one tree remains, a Turkish Oak, Lord Admiral Nelson’s battle ship. He also placed a statue of Admiral Lord Nelson in an elevated position, visible from the mansion. Only the statue’s stone plinth remains today.

Sir George Clayton died in 1851, and was succeeded by his son, Sir Gilbert, who drowned accidentally while yachting in the Isle of Wight, in 1866. Hall Place then passed to his son, Sir Gilbert Augustus Clayton East, who became a double Baronet upon inheriting the Clayton Baronetcy in 1914. On his death in 1925, Hall Place was passed to his son, Sir Robert Clayton East, who died in 1932, having only been married for six months and having borne no heirs. It was believed that Sir Gilbert was a member of the party that discovered Tutankhamun in 1922.

With the extinction of the Baronetcy, Sir Robert’s mother, Lady Frances Clayton East, purchased Hall Place and lived in the South Wing of the Mansion until the outbreak of war in 1939. Hall place was then requisitioned by the Government.

In 1948, the estate and 1,024 acres were sold to the Ministry of Agriculture. Subsequently, Hall Place, Top Farm and 484 acres were acquired by Berkshire County Council for the establishment of the Berkshire Institute of Agriculture in 1949. The remaining acres were utilised by the Grassland Research Institute and the Forestry Commission.

Since 1948, there has been a substantial programme of restoration extension and development of the Berkshire College of Agriculture, re-named as such in 1968. Over the years that Hall Place has been a college, efforts have been made to preserve the character of Hall Place, while fulfilling the educational needs and requirements of the College.