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A History and Description of the College Estate

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 Chilterns Hills.

Heavy clay soils and clay, flint and chalk mix allows 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 practices.

The Berkshire Archaeological survey reports prehistoric, Roman and medieval pottery scattered across the estate and an earthwork enclosure over prehistoric 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 Jon de Hurley. Prior to this, during the 10th century, the manor of Hurley bordered 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.

Tudor to the Hanoverian Period

In 1544, the manor of Hurley, excluding The Hall, was acquired by John Lovelace. Between 1545 and 1558 Lovelance built a new manor house named Laby Place, in honor 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 Andrey 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 occurring 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. Banks settled in England and served with distinction in the Royal Navy. He was elected MP for Minehead and was knighted in 1699.

It was Banks who erected the statue of Diana the Huntress at the end of the North Drive and possibly the two bright and flint pillars located within the current student’s hostel area. Banks died in 1724 and was succeeded by a son of the same name. Within a year, however, the Hall was sold to Richard Pennel. A further legacy of Joseph Bancks is that it is likely that it was he who planted the original lime trees avenues to the east, north and, possibly at the time, the south of the estate.

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 Gerogian 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 passengers, leading from the manor towards the Thames, possibly exiting on a now filled 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 him 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 Willian 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 turns 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 ‘Gentleman’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 Calyton, 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 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 avenues leading to arable land.

Sir 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 White. 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 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 Clayon 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. There is strong evidence to suggest that he also planted the circle of five trees on Kidney Hill to mark the occasion.

On his death in 1925, Hall Place passed to his son, Sir Geroge Clayson East, who died only six months later. His 18 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 a week, intestate and without an heir. It is likely that he initially contracted the illness during an expedition earlier that year in the Libyana 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 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 their ownership the Clayton East’s were therefore shadowed by tragedy. After one husband 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 Far, and 484 acres were acquired by Berkshire County Council for the establishment of the Berkshire Institute of Agriculture in 1949 as 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.