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Stepping back through history Weald Hall

PUBLISHED: 11:23 27 February 2017 | UPDATED: 11:23 27 February 2017

The core of Weald Hall was a red-brick 16th century building, built in an H plan. The house was extensively remodelled by Samuel Smith in the early 18th century, when he added the neoclassical frontage shown in this print

The core of Weald Hall was a red-brick 16th century building, built in an H plan. The house was extensively remodelled by Samuel Smith in the early 18th century, when he added the neoclassical frontage shown in this print

Archant

Hannah Salisbury from the Essex Record Office reveals the hidden history of Weald Hall and the tales of tragedy and debauchery that taunted many of its past owners

The back of the hall retained more of its original characterThe back of the hall retained more of its original character

In 1950, Weald Hall became one of the county’s country house casualties of the post-war period. Having been used by the military during World War II and badly damaged by fire, the house was pulled down. Soon afterwards the estate was purchased by Essex County Council and is today South Weald Country Park.

Portions of the house dated back to the 16th century, although it had been substantially added to and remodelled over time. From the 11th century until 1540, the manor of South Weald was in the possession of Waltham Abbey. When the abbey was dissolved under Henry VIII, the manor was sold to Sir Brian Tuke. The Tuke family only owned the estate for eight years and in 1548 it was sold to Sir Antony Browne, who is the most likely candidate to have built the core of the 16th century property, about 100 metres northwest of the church.

Photograph of Weald Hall, probably from the early 20th century. The house was owned by the Tower family at this point, before being sold in 1946 and demolished in 1950Photograph of Weald Hall, probably from the early 20th century. The house was owned by the Tower family at this point, before being sold in 1946 and demolished in 1950

Browne was a regular at the court of Henry VIII and founder of Brentwood School. He assisted Thomas Cromwell in engineering the downfall of Anne Boleyn and during the reign of Mary Tudor assisted with the persecution of Protestants. He had a busy personal life too; with his wife Alice he had seven sons and three daughters, as well as two illegitimate children and two children, who died in infancy, with his second wife, whom he married when he was about 42 and she was 15.

The estate remained in the Browne family for more than 100 years, but was sold in 1668 to Sir William Scroggs. Scroggs fought for the Royalists during the Civil War, and went on to have a long legal career, including as a lord chief justice. According to his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, he had ‘a reputation for debauchery, loose living and love of drink’.

A somewhat fantastical view of the neoclassical frontage added to the hall in the early 18th centuryA somewhat fantastical view of the neoclassical frontage added to the hall in the early 18th century

Less than 20 years later, in 1685, the property was sold again, this time to a merchant, Erasmus Smith. The Smiths made substantial improvements to the house and grounds, and a map commissioned in 1738 shows a plan of the house surrounded by formal walled gardens and an extensive landscaped park.

The property next changed hands in 1752 when it was purchased by Thomas Tower. His son Christopher purchased more land to extend the park and softened the formal lines of the garden to keep up with 18th century fashions. He also commissioned Robert Adam to make changes to the hall’s interiors.

An extract from a plan of 1738 showing designs for a formal garden. It is not known exactly how much of this plan was actually carried out, but elements of it certainly were, such as the belvedere tower marked by a small pink circle in the centre of the gardensAn extract from a plan of 1738 showing designs for a formal garden. It is not known exactly how much of this plan was actually carried out, but elements of it certainly were, such as the belvedere tower marked by a small pink circle in the centre of the gardens

The estate passed through several generations of the Tower family, the last of whom to own it was Christopher John Hume Tower. Census records provide an interesting snapshot of his life at Weald Hall; in 1901 the family were attended by 15 live-in servants.

CJH Tower was to experience much tragedy in his life. His first wife died in childbirth and their daughter died a month later. He remarried and had two sons, Christopher Cecil and Hugh Christopher, who were both killed during World War I. Christopher was killed in action near Loos in France on October 2, 1915, and Hugh was killed while serving with the Royal Flying Corps in 1916.

Today the park is open to all. Little trace of the house remains, but visitors can spy remnants of garden buildings and the shape of the 18th century informal landscaping, and meet the park’s resident herd of fallow deer. Find out more at www.visitparks.co.uk

ERO Events

Lost Landscapes: Reconstructing medieval Essex

Saturday, March 18

10.30am to 3.30pm

Essex Record Office

Wharf Road

Chelmsford

CM2 6YT

Tickets: £20 including refreshments and lunch, please book in advance on 033301 32500

Medieval Essex was a land of rich variety, including estuaries and marshland, coastline and rivers, royal forests and ancient countryside. The landscape around us can seem like a fixed and permanent thing but it is, in fact, ever-changing, shaped by both natural and human forces.

This one-day conference will bring together expert speakers to explore how the landscape of medieval Essex shaped the lives of the people who lived there, and how they in turn shaped the environment around them. This event is in partnership with the Essex Place Names Project and the Essex Society for Archaeology and History

Bookbinding Taster Day

Tuesday, March 28

10am to 3pm (including one hour for lunch)

Essex Record Office

Wharf Road

Chelmsford

CM2 6YT

Tickets: £35. Please make your own arrangements for lunch.

Book in advance on 033301 32500

This taster session is the perfect introduction to the world of bookbinding. You will make a simple pamphlet binding, and be introduced to some of the materials, equipment and techniques of basic craft bookbinding.

For more information oin these and more events, visit www.essexrecordoffice.co.uk/events

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