Treasures of the Essex Record Office: Thorndon Hall

PUBLISHED: 11:41 04 July 2016 | UPDATED: 11:41 04 July 2016

Old Thorndon Hall

Old Thorndon Hall


Hannah Salisbury from the Essex Record Office traces the history of Thorndon Hall near Brentwood and reveals the former glory of this fabulous estate

John Walker's map of 1598John Walker's map of 1598

Thorndon Hall is situated in Ingrave, about 2 miles south of Brentwood. The present building is a grand neo-classical mansion in the Palladian style, completed in 1770. It was designed by the eminent architect James Paine, with interiors by Samuel Wyatt. The gardens were later landscaped by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.

This was not, however, the first grand house to grace the estate. Lewis John, a Welsh merchant who had moved to London, acquired the manor in the early 1400s and in 1414 Henry V granted him a licence to augment his existing house with crenellations, and to build a wall enclosing 300 acres of land and wood.

This house was later extended, before the property was sold to Sir John Petre in 1573. Sir John’s father, Sir William Petre, had held high office under Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I. He had established the family at Ingatestone Hall, which he had left to his wife after his death. Sir John, therefore, was looking for a property of his own.

Over the next 20 years, Sir John made extensive alterations and additions to Thorndon Hall, turning it into a classic Elizabethan red-brick mansion. This is the house we see on a map of 1598 made by the skilled cartographer John Walker, with the 270-foot long mansion, detached L-shaped bakehouse and clocktower, stable block, pleasure gardens, orchard and gatehouse.

New Thorndon HallNew Thorndon Hall

Just over a 100 years later, the 8th Baron Petre, Robert, made grand plans to redesign the hall with the help of Venetian architect Giacomo Leoni. The extensive plans included re-facing the hall in a symmetrical, neo-classical style, covering over the Elizabethan exterior.

Petre was also a keen botanist and in 1733 he engaged Sieur Bourginioni to draw up plans to re-landscape the estate, including designing a water garden. He also imported many foreign plants and built hot houses, successfully cultivating exotic species such as pineapples and bananas.

Robert Petre died suddenly, aged just 29, before his plans were completed. His son and heir was just a few months old and all further work was put on hold until he reached maturity. As an adult, the 9th Baron decided to build a brand new house, a mile away from the old hall. This is the Palladian mansion which we see today.

The new house cost more than £250,000 and took six years to build. Between 1766 and 1772, Capability Brown was employed to reshape the formal gardens into a more ‘natural’ looking landscape.

The main house and west wing were gutted by fire in 1878 and family finances did not permit a wholesale renovation. Eventually the property was sold. Today the house has been converted into apartments and the grounds contain golf courses. Much of the park is managed by Essex County Council as Thorndon Country Park.

ERO events

Halstead on the Map (Saturday, July 2, 10.30am to 3pm)

Queen’s Hall, Chipping Hill, Halstead, Essex CO9 2BY

Trace the development of one of the county’s ancient market towns through this display of historic maps and images. The display will include the ERO’s oldest map of Halstead, dating from c1625, and the Halstead tithe map from c1841. Free entry, suggested £2 donation In association with Halstead and District Local History Society

Battle of the Somme film screening (Saturday, July 16, 1.30pm to 4pm)

Essex Record Office, Wharf Road, Chelmsford CM2 6YT

This year, Imperial War Museums (IWM) and members of the First World War Centenary Partnership are working together to show the UNESCO listed film The Battle of the Somme, to audiences across the world. Shot and screened in 1916, it was the first feature length documentary about war and changed the way both cinema and film was perceived by the public. In the year of its release around 20 million people, almost half the population of Britain at the time, watched The Battle of the Somme, many hoping to see the image of a loved-one or friend captured on film. 100 years later, this unique film from IWM’s collection, is being shown to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The screening at Essex Record Office will be framed by a talk from Ian Hook, Keeper of the Essex Regiment Museum, on the Essex Regiment’s experiences at the Somme. Free, please book in advance on 033301 32500

Trace your history

Each month the Essex Record Office helps Essex Life trace the history of a particular aspect of county life. For more information about the Essex Record Office, call 033301 32500 or visit

Leaflets explaining how to begin to research your family or house history are available free of charge on receipt of a SAE. Write to: Essex Record Office, Wharf Road, Chelsmford CM2 6YT

Latest from the Essex Life