Ingatestone Hall is open to the public. It represented the exterior of Bleak House in the 2005 television adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel, and also appeared in an episode of the TV series Lovejoy.
The Hall is approximately ½ mile southeast of the village of Ingatestone and the old London Road, now the B1002. The nearest towns are Chelmsford (northeast) and Brentwood (southwest). The 10 hectare site has been in continuous ownership of the Petre family since 1539. It comprises farm building, outhouses and associated land, semi-natural woodland area and ornamental gardens enclosed by brick walls. The house is a Grade I listed 16th century manor house with many-gabled elevations of old rose brick with mullioned windows and ornamental chimneys. It stands on the site of a manorial hall or ‘mansyon place’ owned by Barking Abbey, which had an estate at Ingatestone from before the Norman Conquest.
Ingatestone Hall is a beautiful and interesting house like all other large Tudor houses an expression of wealth and status and still retains many of the features of a 16th century knightly residence. This is in spite of many alterations over time. The idea of a possessing a manor meant that, as part of the land owning gentry, you had power. Land was power, unlike today when power is often invisible and can be lost and gained overnight. Perhaps the greatest history lesson to be taught is that human nature has not changed over the centuries even though history is meant to teach us the mistakes of the past so that they may be never repeated. People will ‘sell their grandmothers’ to gain power, and those same people when they have power go to enormous lengths to display that power. The house does not contain anything in the way of spectacular treasures, nor does it attempt to reproduce a perfectly in period Tudor mansion. What you see is a house which has been lived in for many years by the Petre family and is consequently filled with furniture and objects gathered over time from many different periods; if articles from the 1950s seem out of place beside those from the 1590s, it is the taste of successive proprietors which is to blame! In the 1550s, the records show that there was an average of at least forty ‘strangers’ eating in the Great Hall every day, besides the thirty or so members of the resident household. It is therefore always a particular pleasure to welcome visitors to the house and hence restore something of the bustle of yesteryear.
In about 950 AD, King Edgar granted to the Abbey of Our Lady & St. Ethelburga at Barking the manor of Yenge-atte-Stone (whence we get the modern name of Ingatestone). As one of the principal manors held by the nuns of Barking, it subsequently also became known as Gynge Abbes. Barking Abbey paid the king £15 a year for the “rent” of their Essex lands consisting of some and seven farms. Most of the ancient religious establishments had manorial houses, called Granges, or farmhouses, on their estates, in their own occupation, from which they derived the food and wool consumed in the parent establishment. They were provided with barns, frequently large and substantial buildings. In 1220, Abbess Mabel leased Ingatestone to Sir Thomas de Folking for eight pounds of silver a year; the cost of entertaining the Abbess when she visited the manor was to be deducted from the rent. Thomas himself had to maintain the buildings that consisted of a hall and chamber, an ox-house, a stable, a kitchen, and a windmill – the Abbess supplying the timber for repairs. By 1470, local affairs were being settled in the manor court, probably held in the Hall itself. The heading of the record of the court held in 1470 shows one of the Latin names for the manor, ‘Gynge Abbatisse’. The columns below give the names of the ‘chief pledges’, or more important tenants, among them is John Fynche, the tiller, whose family name survives in Finches Spring Wood.
In 1535, the Abbot of Glastonbury built a huge kitchen at his monastery, the size and cost of which enraged Henry VIII with jealousy. Fearing the King’s anger the Abbot sent a large pie to London and under the crust were the title deeds of twelve manors. John Horner was steward to the Abbot and was entrusted with the pie’s delivery to the King. The story goes that on the way John Horner pulled out the title deeds to the manor of Mells and kept them. On his return to Glastonbury, he told the Abbot that the King had given him the manor as reward for the safe delivery of the pie. The Abbot believed him, as it was practice to reward messengers.
In 1539, the abbey surrendered was dissolved and the Abbot hung, drawn and quartered. Dr (later Sir) William Petre obtained the manor of Ingatestone in a very different way! In 1535, Henry VIII ordered his chief Secretary, Thomas Cromwell, to put in train the process that was to lead to the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Cromwell’s Proctor, or assistant, a young lawyer from Devon called William Petre, had the job of visiting the monastic houses of Southern England to draw up a record of their possessions and to persuade them to surrender to the King. Among the abbeys he visited was that of Barking and he was immediately attracted by its manor at Yenge-atte-Stone. William Petre chose to spell his name differently to his father and the Devon Petres early in his professional life. His action may have been an attempt to make his name more French (similar to the Bullens becoming the Boleyns); and although there must have been many good reasons for buying the manor of Ingatestone (marriage, land and London), there is a touch of irony and indeed a hint of social ‘naffness’ (similar to someone today acquiring a personalised car number plate) at this coincidence because the manor’s Latinised name is Ginge ad Petram which made it sound as though it had belonged to the family for centuries. Throughout the middle ages, such forms as Ginge, Gynge Abbes, and Ginge Abbatisse alternate with Ging ad Petram, Gynge de Petra, or in English Yenge-atte-Stone. The form Ging Petre does not occur, as far as is known, until after the estate came into the hands of the Petre family. In 1538, the abbey seal was affixed to a final lease of ‘Gyng Abbes called Abbes Hall’ to one ‘Wyllyam Peter of London Gentilman’ for 40 years at £15 a year (about £6,700 today). The ‘mansyon place’ was included in the lease, but not the windmill or the right to hold the manor court, for the tenant was to provide ‘honest lodggyng, sufficient mannysmete & horsemete & lytter for ther horses’ for the abbey’s steward, receiver and servants for two days and nights a year when they came to hold the court. Dr. Petre considered the old steward’s house at Ingatestone “scant mete for a fermor to dwell on” and so he demolished it, building instead, on the same site, substantially the house we see today – “very fair, large and stately, made of brick and embattled”. This house was in the form of a hollow square of red Tudor brick in English Bond with stepped roof gables and windows with brick mullions and transoms. An outer court surrounded by all the workshops and offices necessary to a virtually self-sufficient community:
It is often assumed that, because of Sir William’s contacts with monasteries, for which all the most able architects worked, highly skilled monastic architects were used. There is little evidence for this, no architect is named and although, in some respects the hall was of very advanced design for the time, the basic construction was simple with very narrow spans and no use of arches. Using brick from the estate brickworks at Ingatestone & East Horndon reveals its status; all but the grandest house were timber-framed lathe and plaster. It also has vestigial battlements and a licence was required to “embattle”. It is one of the very earliest domestic buildings to have had a piped water supply and flushing drains, fed from springs, although it was hardly modern plumbing by today’s standards.
Construction started in 1540 and took four years or so using piecemeal construction one wing was built at a time and it is possible to see where one wing was completed and a succeeding on tacked onto it. Though the main structure must have been complete by 1548 when he twice entertained ‘My Lady Manes Grace with hir trayne’, at the time, the glazier was still busy on the ‘new byldinges’, and work on the interior was to be spread over many subsequent years. In 1550 masons were being paid 8d per day for ‘setting 2 halfe faceis of chimnes, the one in the galary, the other in the great chambre, and for making white the stayer that goethe upp into the dyning chambre’; in 1555 joiners were making a portal in the inner great chamber ‘and seling the galary’ and in 1559 a London mason provided the ‘apparel of four chymnes containing in wydnes a pece’.
When completed the house occupied four sides of an inner court nearly square approached through a base court and a ‘myddel courte’. This original quadrangular pattern of the house was typical of its time in design, the use of building materials and the presence of the certain rooms, although by the 1560s it would have been out of fashion. Few courtyard houses exist today simply because they were pulled down or incorporated into more fashionable designs and styles. Ingatestone Hall has survived because Thorndon became the primary Petre seat in the 1570s until this century.
A gala day perhaps for the Hall, but one that must have caused much searching of heart and trepidation to her host and his friends. Some eight years later, Mary’s sad life ended.
In 1555, two years before his retirement from the Secretaryship, and to provide for the peace and indemnity of him and his heirs William sought Papal confirmation of his purchases of monastic property, including his ‘Manor of Ging ad Petram alias Ging Abbatisse otherwise Ingatestone’. This he obtained by a Bull of Pope Paul IV addressed to our well-beloved son, William Petre, knight. Referring to the deeds and public documents relating to the purchase, and quoting the price paid and annual value of £46. The Bull closed with the firm admonition ‘to no man shall it he lawful to infringe or rashly go against this document of our absolution’. It also absolves him from the Interdict of Excommunication imposed on Henry VIII provided he endow an almshouse foundation for the poor. The almshouses he accordingly founded may still be seen (though not on their original site) in Ingatestone High Street.
Elizabeth, Queen Mary’s more cheerful sister, came here on her summer progress through Essex and Suffolk. She arrived on 19th July 1561 and had the wisdom as well as the magnanimity to over-look his former inimical proceedings in the times of her adversity. She remained at his house two days, and then passed on to Newhall, where Henry VIII had oft times visited and wooed her ill-fated mother during the fervour of his passion.
The Long Gallery is the finest room in Ingatestone Hall and is the one with which most visitors end their tour. Described in Thomas Larke’s 1566 survey as “fayr and stately”, four centuries have altered it little except to add the portraits of a dozen generations of Petres (some painted by such artists as Romney and Raeburn) to the portrait of Sir William Petre, the first ‘man of honour’ to walk his Long Gallery with its wide and now uneven floorboards. Here is the place to linger, and to remember, for there is a family intimacy in these portraits that warms the cold facts of history.
The 1566 survey of the house says all the main bedrooms contain a “little room within” equipped with a “close stool”. It also notes the springs and streams on the site and that there was an elaborate system of Barrel drains to keep it dry. It shows that there were two main garden areas; the first was a walled private garden to the northwest of the house with a formal layout of six rectangular beds and wide paths. The second was the walled orchard with its bowling alley, fowl-coop, banqueting house and hop yard beyond. Sir William Petre also received a licence to impark surrounding the grounds; but there is doubt as to whether this was ever implemented. If it was, the deer park was short-lived and de-parked by 1605.
When William Petre died in 1572, his widow continued to reside at Ingatestone Hall until her death in 1582 and so his son, John, bought Thorndon Hall, near Brentwood, which, for the next 300 years or so, between the 1570s and 1919, was to become the principal family seat. Ingatestone Hall remained in the family and continued to be used by the from time to time as a holiday retreat or a residence for the dowager or married heir.
By 1605, the walled private garden had four rectangular beds and a garden building in the northwest corner. The hop yard is labelled as orchard close. The walled orchard is shown as being divided in to four by wide paths.
An inventory of 1685, lists a collection of citrus trees belonging to the ‘old Lady Petre’ (It is presumed to be the probate valuation of the widow of the 3rd Lord Petre) and which were housed in a greenhouse at the Hall. The exact site of this greenhouse has not been located but it is likely that it was sited in similar location to later glasshouses. The site slopes gently from north to south; in order to maximise light levels, warmth and shelter, such structures were sited at the north end of the walled private garden.
In the early part of the 18th century, Ingatestone Hall was the Dower House for Mary, Lady Petre, widow of the 6th Lord Petre. In March 1712, her son, Robert (7th Lord Petre), married Catherine Walmesley, heiress to Dunkenhalgh, but soon died in 1713. Catherine and her son Robert James (later 8th Lord Petre) then lived at Ingatestone Hall. Robert James developed an interest in plants and in garden design.
He was noted at the time as a great botanist; in his record of his tour of the Eastern Counties in December 1737, Lord Oxford writes of the 8th Lord Petre: “This Lord is a great lover of exotic plants, and raises a good many, and he is said by those who understand it that he is one of the botanists in England”.
Robert James’ collaboration with Peter Collinson of London and John Bartram of Philadelphia has been recorded in Hilda Grieve’s book ‘A Transatlantic Friendship’. His horticultural interest first began at Ingatestone Hall. Alterations were made to his grandmother’s gardens, which by this time were regarded as old-fashioned, being little changed since their creation. His work seems to have included the canal and the grass walk on the south side of the wall beyond the Lime Walk. However, after his marriage, little more was done at Ingatestone as Robert moved to Thorndon Hall where he planned improvements to both house and grounds. This included the building of a conservatory that housed the first Camellia to flower in England. Four nurseries, one of which was at Ingatestone Hall, supported his interest in plant collecting. Robert died soon shortly after and the plans at Thorndon Hall were not completed.
Although the exact date of planting is unknown, the Lime Walk was an established feature by this time. From 1733 – 1758, Bishop Benjamin Petre who was Vicar Apostolic of London District lived at Ingatestone Hall. He was attacked whilst walking in the Lime Walk. His dog intervened so saving his life; an oil painting of the dog survives, and has an inscription regarding the dog’s role in the incident. The dog’s ghost is reputed to haunt the Lime Walk.
The centre portion of the transverse building was converted into a chapel, and the remainder of it thrown into the respective tenements on either side; the upper portion to the north of the chapel still remains a long corridor, with fragments of old glass in some of the windows. During the years that followed, it became the custom for the priest engaged as tutor to the younger Petres also to act as chaplain there. This informal arrangement received official recognition with the establishment in 1732 of a Catholic Mission centred on the chapel at the Hall to minister to the Catholics of Ingatestone and surrounding districts.
This noble example of ancient domestic architecture must have been comparatively perfect and in good condition when occupied by the Peters. It is therefore to be regretted that upon their change of residence much of its ancient grandeur should have been demolished. We gather from Morant that the scarcity of building materials in Essex is supposed to have been the cause of the destruction of so many architectural antiquities in this county.
The Hall was long regarded as the Dower House, but the last Dowager Lady Petre to reside here was Mary, widow of the 8th baron, and daughter of the unfortunate Earl of Derwentwater. She died in January 1760, and was buried in the vault of Ingatestone Church, where her father already lay.
The 9th Lord Petre then moved in and resided at Ingatestone Hall during the six years (1764 – 1770) it took to build grandiose new Thorndon Hall to a Palladian design by James Paine. Soon after the 9th Lord moved back to Thorndon, Ingatestone was remodelled.
As we leave the Hall, the beautiful old Barn with its glorious red bricks must not pass unnoticed, within whose Shelter many little infants first saw the light, and where memory still lingers of the weary travellers who rested there in the old days some of them only to make one more short journey, and that to the churchyard.
The turkeys that were driven up to London before Christmas must not be forgotten, with their own independent ideas upon the correct hours of travel; if dusk came on before they reached the shelter of their appointed destination, they would themselves select a tree in the neighbourhood of the road, and with one great flight suddenly ascend into it, and there roost for the night and decline to descend, despite the imprecations and blandishments of their drivers.
All this traffic of vehicles, quadrupeds, bipeds, could not pass along the road without raising a mighty cloud of dust, and those old enough to remember it have told me that though we complain to-day of the dust of the motors, it does not equal that of the old days before the railway took possession of the London traffic, leaving only the scanty relic that we have to-day, of cattle on a Friday going to the Chelmsford local market, and the poultry in their baskets on Wednesday going to Romford. The last ten years have also seen the decay and almost entire disappearance of the annual Fair on 1st December which was such a feature in the life of the village, when Welsh cattle and ponies were driven to our Fairfield, together with hundreds of cattle from other places, and the booths and the merrymakers filled the village, amused the inhabitants, and brought profit to the innkeepers. The old saying, “Harlow Fair and Ingatestone, Then the Welshman may go home” will soon be amongst the things forgotten, This saying must date from 1752, when the New Style was introduced. Harlow fair remained on 28th November, but Ingatestone, like many other places, was advanced 11 days. The change did not take place at once; the livestock traffic remained on the road after the stagecoaches had departed, and only gradually disappeared.
The frequent notice of the burial of vagrants and travellers dying at Ingatestone Hall barn or stable would point to there having been some recognized refuge for wayfarers. The site of Ingatestone Hall, the Park and much surrounding land, was in the possession of the Abbess of St. Mary Barking until the time of Henry VIII, but though she would be an ordinary absentee landlord she may have made some provision for doles and alms; and possibly Sir William Petre, when founding the almshouses for natives, provided also a refuge and a dole for the numerous wayfarers who so constantly used the road, for the large barn at the Hall was evidently used by poor travellers and served the purpose of the modern casual ward. Moreover, as they passed to and fro on their business and pleasure some of those rough drovers, those fashionable travellers, the weary woman, the home-returning soldier, came here to go hence no more. The old registers have sprinkled through their pages such entries as these.
1663 Was buried a vagrant youth from Ingatestone Hall
1676 17th December, Lucy, dd. of John Dunn, a piper of Stepney, delivered Tuesday in the 2nd great snow in Ingatestone Hall Stable.
1680 Katherine, dd. of Abraham Bannister, a wandering broom-man, delivered at Ingatestone Hall Barn.
1683 Was buried March, the body of … from Ingatestone Hall, a vagrant
1701 Robert Jones of Sputtle, bordering on Carnarvon or Denbighshire. Drover from Charles Standon’s.
1725 John, the son of a traveller, born in a barn at Ingatestone Hall.
1758 A poor woman found near expiring in a Barn by Ingatestone Hall, of a natural Death as the Inquest gave verdict, whose name we could not discover
1769 Patrick Sword, an infant who died in the Barn at the Hall
1805 Joseph Huskinskey, late a German Soldier, died on his way to Harwich, was buried 4th May
They lie under the shadow of the old church, side by side with the natives, sleeping their last sleep in our quiet churchyard. Gone from our road are the gay coaches and the jovial drovers and the Welsh Militia uniform. The ‘daily breeders’ hurrying to the train in the morning and returning by the ‘slip’ at night take their places.
These alterations also included the subdivision of the house into four separate apartments. Some of the Hall’s are well known and the names of many others will be found in the Registers. Happily, the days of persecution are over, and neither Romanist nor Protestant needs the secret hiding-place any more. Some of the tenants were:
Lived in “the old place”.
A novelist, the Barbara Cartland of her day, whose best-known book, ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’ published in 1861 is set at Audley Court, “amidst the green pastures and the shady hedgerows of Essex” which is probably based on Ingatestone Hall. A postmark on a manuscript Braddon sent to George Sala indicates that she was at Ingatestone on 14th June 1861 and she was said to be a tenant at Ingatestone Hall although she is not listed in the Post Office Directories of the time. However, a John Maxwell is listed as being resident in the area of Ingatestone in the 1859 and 1862 Directories. Mary Braddon lived with a John Maxwell, a publisher, from 1861 and later marrying him in 1874.
Her description of Audley Court is, in the main, a correct description of the Hall, though she is in error in stating that the place had at one time been a convent. She reproduces in it a very good picture of the neighbourhood. Braddon told the writer Percy Fitzgerald that people often asked her to identify the real house in Lady Audley’s Secret and that her answer was:
Well there never was, save in the novelist’s imagination. The murderous element in the landscape had to be supplied from the “scene-dock” of fiction. But there was a long, narrow avenue of limes, very quiet, very secluded, and aloof from the garden of a dear old oak-panelled grange in Essex, and it seemed to me one summer evening, walking with the master of the house, that this lime-walk suggested something uncanny in the history of domestic crime. So I said to my host, “If I were to take this house of yours as the scene of a novel, would you mind very much if I made the inhabitants a rather bad set of people?” “Mind! People it with fiends if you like, my dear!” said he. Now, that is a verbatim report of a brief question and answer spoken thirty years ago. The story was begun soon afterwards, and I think when it had become widely known as a story, my kind old friend took a fanciful pleasure in identifying his handsome head and patriarchal white beard with the Sir Michael Audley of my first three volume novel. Many years afterwards, when the house had passed into other hands, my valued friend Mr. Edward Duncan, the well-known water-colour painter sat for some hours on a rainy evening under the arched gate, in order to gratify me with a sketch of Audley Court.
The gate under which Edward Duncan sat is described on the first page of Lady Audley’s Secret.
At the end of this avenue there was an old arch and a clock-tower, with a stupid, bewildering clock, which had only one hand; and which jumped straight from one hour to the next, and was therefore always in extremes. Through this arch you walked straight into the gardens of Audley Court.
The house faced the arch and occupied three sides of a quadrangle. It was very old and very irregular and rambling. The windows were uneven – some small, some large, some with heavy stone mullions and rich stained glass, others with frail lattices which rattled in every breeze, others so modern that they might have been added only yesterday. Great piles of chimneys rose up here and there behind the pointed gables and seemed as though they were so broken down by age and long service that they must have fallen but for the straggling ivy which, crawling up the walls and trailing even over the roof, wound itself about them and supported them.
Some of the more dramatic details were added from Braddon’s imagination, although perhaps the scene in the lime walk was suggested to her by the story of William 11th baron Petre, and his wonderful escape from a tragic death under that same avenue.
He was born at Ingatestone on 26th February 1805. His godmother, a Roman Catholic refugee nun, Sister Duffield, living at Ingatestone Hall, took considerable interest in young Coller, her intention being to have him educated for a priest. Here in the days of his youth he received an excellent classical education from Father John Clarkson, but Sister Duffield’s death interfered with the boy’s prospects, or perhaps he had no desire himself for the priesthood; in any case he was apprenticed to a tailor in the village.
So uncongenial proved this occupation that he ran away. In 1821, he was again apprenticed, this time for three years, to a shoemaker at Rayleigh, but again he broke his bonds. From his earliest days his inclination was for literary pursuits, and whilst tailoring at Ingatestone he had often sent short poems to the local papers, some of which were printed; ‘June’, ‘The age of Tutors’, ‘Vagrants’. In 1827, George Meggy and Thomas Chalk took him on to the staff of the Chelmsford Chronicle, and he continued with them until 1869. Once in their office he insisted upon being apprenticed, and went through the whole routine of the office, at the same time contributing to the journal.
In 1858 he commenced the issue of a popular history of Essex, brought out in 39 monthly parts, price 3d. Calling it “The people’s History of Essex”, he says in his preface:
The book was quite a success in the county, but is not very widely known. Before the days of bicycles, he explored the whole county in search of correct and recent information about the parishes. ‘The volume is trustworthy and useful, containing a certain amount of information not to be found in the older histories’.
Besides his journalistic work and his history, Coller wrote many articles in local magazines. In his later years he was editor of the ‘Essex Weekly News’. He was twice married, first to a daughter of Mr. Turnedge, builder, of Ingatestone; she is buried in Fryerning churchyard. His second wife was a daughter of Sam Akerman, a London solicitor. He passed away on the 18th May 1884, in his house in the new London Road, Chelmsford. Three verses of an early poem, ‘Magnetism of a Newspaper’:
Few major alterations had been made to the property up to this time, Muilman in his ‘History of Essex 1769 – 1772’ describes Ingatestone Hall as a “venerable stately pile of building having within a spacious court; and before it is another, round which are the offices. It lies very low, but upon that account is well supplied with waters, and stored with fish ponds: the gardens are laid out in an elegant manner; and considering the disadvantage of being situated in a valley, command a pleasing prospect towards Danbury. The whole was formerly surrounded by a park”. An engraving shows the Hall with the inner, middle and base courts, it also depicts to the right of the Hall, a pair of gates in the wall leading from the orchard to another garden area. The wall still exists but the gateway has been bricked up; the state of the brickwork would suggest that this was done some time ago, possibly using bricks from when the west range was demolished.
The house was originally built in the form of a double square, having outer and inner courts, with a stately tower gateway to the main building. Shortly after 1777, the gateway and most outer court were demolished. Of the inner court the West Wing, which housed the Great Hall and Dining Chamber, was also demolished so opening up the inner courtyard area (to leave the three sided U-shaped plan we see today).
The different arrangement of these wing buildings and the designs of the outer facades are worthy of particular notice. On the one side the apartments are smaller, with attics or rooms in the roof; and on the other, the rooms are of more stately proportions without the attics. The south front, exposed to the heat of the sun, is broken up by projections, which are picturesquely gabled; they give variety of form to the outline; cast deep shadows; and in summer impart an agreeable coolness to the rooms; at the same time they afford convenient appendages, and form boudoirs for ladies, or apartments for the children. On the other hand, the north front presents a nearly unbroken line, affording greater scope for state accommodation, and the rooms open to the lawn and the garden.
A prominent feature of the building is an octagonal staircase turret in the southeast corner of the quadrangle, at the base of which an entrance door has been made. The turret, originally roofed flat and terminated with an embattled parapet, has had another story added, and was covered with a conical roof. The Residence to which this Turret belongs comprises half the South wing and a third of the transverse building to the East; portions of the Ancient Grange that have undergone fewer alterations than the rest.
The remaining U shaped portion always formed the principal part of the house. Of this, the family and domestics occupied the right or south wing, and the guests and visitors the left or north wing; the great hall connecting them on the east. The temporary abatement in anti-Catholic feeling, which took place during the reign of James II, had given the family sufficient confidence to build a new chapel at the Hall.
What was left after the demolition afforded ample residences for several families but nevertheless a new wing was added to the existing north wing and the buildings around the outer court were rebuilt, complete with the one-handed clock above the arch. The rest of the house “modernised”, including replacement of many of the mullioned casements by sash windows and the internal layout changed to give rooms of a more convenient size and provide for passage-ways, a feature unknown in earlier houses where one room leads directly into the next. Oak floors and panelling replaced by pine.
The Hall was divided in to separate apartments and by 1781, several families are known to be living in separate portions of the Hall. A description of the grounds in 1794 says: ‘the house is situated very low, so as not to be seen at a small distance. It is a large irregular building, and the gardens are old; though there were many alterations made in them for the better by the late Lord before he came of age; but, as this was not the seat where he intended to reside, his Lordship did not employ his fine genius in modelling of these gardens; but his whole thoughts were bent to embellish his noble seat at Thorndon’.
Ingatestone Hall continued to be let to tenants throughout the 19th century. The tithe map of 1839 shows how the grounds around the hall are divided between three tenants. Mr. Coverdale, steward to Lord Petre, occupies the largest part. The Coverdale family remained at the Hall until the early 1920s.
Two engravings show the Hall in the early part of the century. The original inner and middle courtyard areas are treated as one with an encircling driveway around an island with a central flowerbed; the plantings look immature. Two trees are shown rising at the back of the building; these are two London planes, one of which survives today; the other was lost in the Great Storm of 1987. A description of the Hall in 1842 includes the following statement: ‘Part of this building has been pulled down, and the rest is inhabited by some catholic families dependant of the noble proprietor’. The alterations to the house were not extended to the grounds.
There is little written material regarding the gardens behind the Hall. A description published in 1848 in William White’s History, Gazetteer; and Directory of the County of Essex states: ‘Mr. Coverdale, steward to Lord Petre, occupies one of the wings, and attached to his residence, is a beautiful garden, with a terrace, one furlong in extent. In the grounds are four large fishponds. The park, which extended northwards to the town, and was nearly encompassed by the small River Wid and one of its tributary streams, has long been cultivated as a farm, and part of the offices at the stables have been converted in to a farm house’. The Post Office Directories of the 1850s all carry a similar description: ‘Ingatestone Hall, once a seat of the Petre family, is a very ancient pile, with interesting grounds well stocked with fish ponds’. Later Directories concentrate on descriptions of the Hall itself with the exception of 1899 that mentions there being ‘grounds of ten acres’.
The Coverdale picture of circa 1862 shows a similar view of the front of the Hall. One alteration to the Hall itself is evident; a turret has been added to the roof of the octagonal tower. The plantings of the earlier engravings are now shown as much larger plants. The courtyard is divided into two main areas by a hedge and gate. The steady increase in the size of the congregation made it necessary twice (1852 & 1863) to rebuild and extend the chapel.
A pear tree was planted on the south wall of the inner courtyard early in the 19th century; it can be seen on both the engravings and Coverdale picture. It is seen as a mature tree in early 20th photographs and finally died in 1973. It is possible that the pear tree had its origins with the 8th Lord Petre and John Bartram.
The 1st edition OS map of 1873 and the 2nd edition of 1895 give an indication as to the layout of other garden areas. Some of the tenants in the 19th century had objected to tradesmen and their carts entering the courtyard area. A second entrance driveway can be seen to the south of the Lime Avenue; this led to the side of the Hall so creating a tradesman’s entrance. To the north of the Hall there are glasshouses and possibly some form of kitchen garden. A walk leads along the northern boundary to a feature in the northeast corner. The orchard area still exists in outline although the fruit trees are not shown. The northwest comer of the outer courtyard is fenced so creating a separate garden. Two fishponds are evident as is the Lime Walk and Lime Avenue. A canal is shown to the south of the Lime Walk extending the whole length of that boundary.
The 20th century was one the greatest periods of activity in the history of Ingatestone Hall. This was due to a combination of events. In 1876, the bulk of Thorndon Hall was destroyed by fire and as a result, the family were living in one wing of Thorndon Hall. The 2nd edition OS map (1895) shows the area to the east of Ingatestone Hall to be more divided than on the 1873 map; these divisions were small gardens for the individual tenants, other than the Coverdales who continued to occupy the garden areas as shown on the tithe map. Plans for the repair and rebuilding of Thorndon Hall were brought to an abrupt end by the outbreak of World War I.
In 1919, following the death of the 16th Lord Petre in the Great War, and Thorndon Hall being commandeered by the War Office, his widow and young family moved back to Ingatestone Hall, occupying the south wing. Lady Petre later remarried and became Lady Rasch. Over the centuries, Ingatestone Hall had been altered and suffered inappropriate additions, and plans were made to restore the Hall to its original Tudor appearance. These could only be partially implemented as parts of the Hall were still occupied by tenants and the Coverdales. The work attracted much attention including that of Ernest Law, Keeper at Hampton Court.
Under Lady Rasch’s close supervision, with retired architect, W.T. Wood as Clerk of the Works, the local building firm of F.J. French immediately set about restoring the house to its original Tudor appearance and layout. It was a mammoth task taking some 20 years – not only was the house somewhat dilapidated but it was also disfigured by a large number of ill-considered and poorly executed alterations and small extensions which had been carried out to facilitate its subdivision into apartments. Replacing anything irretrievably lost with reproduction work of the highest quality. Only close inspection, for example, reveals the difference between the ‘new’ mullioned windows on the ground floor of the central West facade from the original ones in the Gallery above. The replacement of the old brick-mullioned casements by timber sashes had overlooked the significant supporting function of the mullions and the lintels had begun to sag badly.
The family commissioned a well-known local photographer, F. Spalding and Son, to record the work; details of payment can be found in the accounts for example 15th April 1921 ‘To cash Spalding and Co. Photographs of Thorndon Hall and Ingatestone Hall 50s’ There are photographs of before, during and after various phases of work. Unfortunately, the photographs are not precisely dated although dates can be estimated by comparing with dates of site activity for example the removal of the turret roof of the octagonal tower and the demolition of the chapel.
Attention was not just confined to the buildings. The gardens too were improved and photographed. Work on the gardens began in 1919 and continued until the mid 1930s. The number of garden staff had to be increased; two under-gardeners lived in the Clock Tower.
The earlier 19th century plantings and division into garden areas were removed so that the whole courtyard area could be treated as one unit. There were surviving mature fruit trees in the northern half of the orchard growing in rough grass previously maintained by scything once a year. New fruit trees were added. The lower orchard area lies to the south of a track that runs eastwards from the house to the boundary. Two mature plane trees flanked this track (only one survives today). Part of this area had been used for garden areas for individual tenants.
The Broad walk ran the length of the north wall with space for an herbaceous border at the base of the wall. It is not clear from Lady Rasch’s account if she implemented this border or if it had been created in the time of the Coverdales. Her reference to ‘the remainder of the orchard and all other parts of the area surrounding the house and within the outer walls had reverted to rough grass and weeds’ would seem to imply that Lady Rasch created this border on the site of an early one that had been allowed to become overgrown. The Broad Walk terminated in the northeast corner where a statue of the Madonna was inserted in to the wall. The corner itself showed signs of alteration and remains of a former structure. This pre-dates Lady Rasch.
Once the contractors had finished building work, the land was graded up to a new terrace created on the south and east sides of the house. An entry in the account book states that in May 1923 Joseph Coverdale was paid £81 5s 6d for ‘the cost of a new lawn’ (about £2,900 today), and a further £92 6s 2d for ‘work in the orchard to the south and southeast of hall’ (about £3,300 today). Shrubs were planted on the walls particularly on south-facing walls to maximise the favourable microclimate; these included ‘Magnolia grandiflora’ and ‘Chimonanthus fragrans’, both of which are still growing there today.
Once the tenants moved away from Ingatestone Hall, the grounds could be reunited. The remaining part of the area was overgrown. The area in the southeast corner was found to be too damp for fruit growing and so more willows were planted to join the two mature weeping willows growing by the lake (more plants with a reputed connections with the 8th Lord Petre). Most of the lawn area was established in 1919 although former flowerbed areas required treatment. Two clumps of ‘Gunnera manicata’ were added on the northern bank of the lake; these are still there today. A small weeping elm was already growing on the island of the lake. There were a few specimen trees already planted in the lawn near the house and these were retained.
The Lime Walk and Lime Avenue was a mature feature when the family returned to Ingatestone Hall so this was not altered apart from the addition of a gateway into the walled flower garden. Replacement trees have been planted in the Lime Walk and pollarding has been undertaken.
The pathway from the Grass Walk continued into the Nut Walk; the path surface at this point became brick. The nut trees on either side of the path were established long before 1919; Lady Rasch refers to them as ‘ancient nut trees’, which have been coppiced once again in recent years and are responding well; the path led into the paddock field, now a woodland area.
Originally the rose garden was the site of the banqueting house and later the site of a large fishpond. Over time, this became known to the Petre family as the bathing pool. Wooden ‘camp shedding’ contained the banks. There were borders to the north and west side of the pool. In 1919, two decorative iron gates were purchased and inserted into the east wall so providing an entrance from the Lime Walk into the garden under an archway of yew.
The grass walk was thought to have been the work of the 8th Lord Petre in the early 18th century. An embankment ‘walkway’ running east west with the stream on one side and an artificial watercourse on the other, it had over time become overgrown. Four large yew trees remained from earlier plantings. In 1919, work began to create a sunken garden with flowering shrubs with a raised grass pathway on the embankment, however the presence of rampant pernicious weeds meant that this garden was not initially successful and was replanted in 1936. By the time the Royal Wansted School was at Ingatestone Hall in the 1940s, this garden was established and known to the schoolgirls as the Secret Garden. They remember it as an attractive part of the garden.
A gateway leads from the courtyard to the area shown on early plans as the ‘garden of pleasure’. In 1919, this area was still occupied by Mr. Coverdale but he moved away shortly afterwards. Later but before the Second World War, a tennis court was constructed on the eastern side of the path and protected by a perimeter planting of shrubs. Beyond the beech hedge, was an area that was dissected by broad walk, which led northwards from a door in the north wing to join the Broad Walk. This path is still present today. The main area was then turned into a rose garden, bordered to the east by a beech hedge planted in 1923. The greenhouse at the northern end of the garden was retained and an area in front was used for growing strawberries and early vegetables; a bed of Delphiniums screened this productive area from the house.
An area outside of the main walled garden, to the north of the Garden of Pleasure and orchard, was turned into a vegetable garden in 1920. This site was chosen because no alternative location could be found within the main grounds, and because a doorway had been previously inserted into the wall. It was not the most suitable location and only lasted for a time; the doorway has since been bricked up.
The first phase of these works was completed in 1922 Kelly’s Directory for that year lists Ingatestone Hall as the principal seat of the family. A masque to celebrate their completion was performed in the Gallery, in which the eight-year-old Lord Petre played his ancestor, Sir William, with his younger sister as Cupid, but further extensive works were carried out in the mid-thirties.
In 1923, three mulberry trees (‘Moms nigra’) were planted in the southwest corner and a yew hedge (‘Taxus baccata’) planted along the site of earlier buildings on the southern boundary of the outer court. This hedge screened an earlier cart track that was upgraded to form the back drive.
A postcard from the early 20th century shows the main entrance marked by a wooden fence. In later pictures, a semi-circular brick wall and a pair of decorative iron gates have replaced this. Entry in the accounts of 1924 and 1925 refer to payments to J. Gowers for work on the garden wall, and to H. Bird for inspecting said wall although the location of this work within the garden is not given. The avenue of lime leading from the entrance to the Clock Tower is visible as established trees in the early 20th century photographs.
By 1933, Ingatestone Hall once more became a family home, and the family were the sole occupants. The 17th Lord Petre was not yet of age and so trustees undertook the work. An Ingatestone Hall Improvement Account was established; the account books detail the work undertaken. The gardens were reaching their peak in the 1930s but the outbreak of war was about to change everything.
Ingatestone Hall was requisitioned during the Second World War. The Petre family moved into cottages around the outer court, and the Royal Wanstead School moved in to the Hall. The pupils from this time have maintained links with Ingatestone Hall, and have provided vivid memories of their time there. They recall that parts of the grounds were out of bounds to the girls unless an adult accompanied them. This however proved too tempting for some. Girls would dare each other to go in to these areas and bring back a trophy as proof that entry to a forbidden had been achieved. The Grass Walk was one such area and known to the girls as the Secret Garden; entry was by scaling the tall brick wall by the Lime Walk and the trophy was a peach or apricot (usually unripe). Little evidence of this trained fruit now survives on site; there is some evidence of training wires/nails in the wall and there are large trees that may be overgrown fruit rootstocks. No mention is made in Lady Rasch’s account of trained fruit trees on this south-facing wall, although she does mention some on the south-facing wall of the North outer wall (site of the Broad Walk).
Another dare involved climbing to the top of one of the mature willows by the lake until a head appeared above the top branches; this same willow provided a regular fresh source of canes for the headmistress. The willow branches swept over the water and provided a good source of fun: ‘walking the plank’. Only one mature willow survives today and is much reduced in height owing to damage in the 1987 Storm. A water maze was created around the base of the tree in the early 1990s. Recent shrub planting flanks the water source to the water maze.
The Red Cedar Walk on the eastern boundary was still in its infancy at the time of the War. A gravel path ran between the trees. Today the gravel path has become a rough grass path and the trees a stately avenue feature.
Teatime for the nursery children was often taken outside in the summer. A wooden seat encircled one of the London plane trees providing a shady place to sit. Other trees in this area obviously had branches sweeping down to the ground; the children called them the ‘fairy trees’. One could have been the weeping elm that Lady Rasch refers to in her account and no longer there due to Dutch elm disease. There was a large Cedar tree no longer there, growing in the lawn to the south of the Hall.
The school needed facilities for recreation and playtime. A grass hockey pitch was established between the walled flower garden and back drive. Part of the terrace and east house surrounds were asphalted. A tennis court already existed between the garden of pleasure and the orchard; this is no longer present.
Other more informal games centred around two half-moon shaped shrub beds in the east lawn and which were ideal for chasing around or for playing hide-and-seek. The planting date of these borders is not known.
Pamela Francom (nee Jones) recalls:
I remember arriving at Ingatestone hall in February 1940 and the excitement of finding our way around our new home. The wood panelling, stone flagged floors and mullioned windows were so different to Wanstead. The oak refectory tables in the Stone Hall gave a certain elegance to our dining room even if the piles of “doorsteps” and individual pats of margarine were more austere. It reminded us that butter was rationed and that this was wartime fare. Prunes and custard were not everyone’s favourite pudding but if one sat next to someone who liked prunes these could be surreptitiously transferred to their plate when staff on the top table were not looking.
The Picture Gallery became our playroom on wet days, our hall for assembly and morning prayers and where we had singing lessons. The grand piano was in a recess where a window gave a view into the chapel below: some of Lord Petre’s furniture was stored there.
Sleeping in an oak-panelled bedroom was a new experience after the long dormitories of Wanstead. I shared a room with four, or was it five, other girls and we had great fun hiding in the secret wardrobe or using the washbasin hidden behind the panelling. There was an adjoining bathroom with a magnificent loo; a large wooden chair on a raised platform, which we called “the throne”. Queen Mary had used the suite prior to the outbreak of war, which gave it added prestige. Later I moved across to a small green room in the other wing that had only four beds. It was a glorious summer term when we slept with the windows wide open and the magnolia underneath the window in bloom. We often heard Miss Edmed and Miss Shaw playing the piano and singing in the Picture Gallery. “Come into the garden Maud” was one of their favourites and on the few occasions that I’ve since heard that song I’m reminded of those idyllic days when the war meant little to us.
Alas, that state did not last for long. A land mine exploded a few fields away from the Hall and changes were made. It was then thought prudent that we all sleep downstairs and for my last days at school I moved down into the Ballroom – at least that is what we called it then. Mattresses were laid in rows across the floor and girls slept head to toe to prevent the spread of coughs and colds. This did not, however, stop talking after “lights out”. Being in charge of that dormitory with another prefect, who slept at the other end of the room, it was our job to pile up the mattresses along one wall and put them out again at night. The polished, light wood floor was perfect for sliding on in stockinged feet! I was privileged to have a bed as I slept at the foot of the staircase and opposite the door to the subterranean passage, where draughts from the outside whistled through.
The only classroom that I remember was at the top of these stairs and overlooked the courtyard. Miss Barkell’s rooms were nearby. As her senior “gals”, the Oxford School Certificate overshadowed our days, but we were lucky to still have most of the teachers from Wanstead. To listen to Miss Edmed read a passage from a novel, or even Shakespeare, was a real inspiration and meant that English lessons were always popular. Miss McDowell taught Maths and Geography and Miss Shaw did her best to help us with Cookery and Needlework. My school certificate shows that I passed in Cookery Theory and Needlework, as I expect my colleagues did also, so her teaching must have been good. Miss Smallbone encouraged us with swimming at The Chase in the village and we played tennis and rounders. The Wanstead gym was sorely missed. We no longer took Latin and had a new teacher, Miss Lisa Whitehead, for French, with whom I actually learned some of the language.
Life at Ingatestone seemed more relaxed than previously and we had more independence. As the term started late in 1940 we did not go home for Easter but had a ten day holiday without lessons. The 6th form were allowed to take a picnic and explore the surrounding fields. We found a stream swollen by recent rain and played on a plank bridge, daring each other to cross while others jumped up and down on the plank. We may have been seniors but we were very unsophisticated in those days. I don’t recall anyone actually falling in but we returned with very wet feet. It was during this holiday that we 6th formers put on an entertainment for the rest of the school. I recall reciting with others and with props and actions A A Milne’s “Three Little Foxes”. Did they really applaud us?
Other relaxations of rules that I remember include walking to Ingatestone Church for confirmation classes without a chaperone. Sometimes we helped to put the Nursery children to bed, and as prefects we had our own room. On Sundays we had a coal fire there on which we made toast. Although often burnt, it tasted good. We collected our rations from the kitchen via the subterranean passage – whether this was the permitted route I am unsure – but I definitely recollect the feeling of excitement at using this way.
Some of us had gardening experience from our Wanstead days but helping to “Dig for Victory” was another break from the classroom. Miss Barkell was very enthusiastic and looked so funny shuffling her feet along the row to cover the seeds. We all had to copy her. I wonder if the seeds ever germinated.
We had more contact with the Nursery children as we all walked around to our respective sites at the rear of the Hall. The babies had the orchard as their territory and the girls had the ground on the other side of the path that was bordered by the lake. I remember the willow trees and the Lime Walk and the summers that seemed to go on forever. In those early days we did not explore further than the field at the end of the path – the escapades of Wanstead were not repeated by us here.
Although I was only at Ingatestone for the first two years, memories of those days remain vivid. A recent visit to the Hall was quite an emotional experience and I look forward to going there again and perhaps meeting some of the girls I knew 60 years ago.
After the war, it soon became apparent that the days of keeping a house of this size fully staffed and utilised were past and the former scale of the gardens could not be maintained. Labour intensive and expensive features such as summer bedding had to be curtailed. The large areas of grass mowing were reduced.
In the 1950s, the North wing was let to Essex County Council for use by the Record Office. This arrangement continued until the end of the 1970s and, during this time, many thousands of Essex schoolchildren visited the annual exhibitions that were mounted there. With the Record Office’s departure, the North wing was re-let to David Ruffle & Co., architects and more recently to a small selection of tenants.
In the 1960s, the grass immediately around the house was mown but the area further out to the east of the house was fenced off and used for grazing. This must have entailed the removal of the two half moon shrub beds. In more recent years, the lower orchard area has been brought back in to a more regular mowing regime. The half moon shrub beds are now the sites for ornamental tree planting.
In 1968, the grass bank to the terrace was replaced with a low brick wall. The Walled flower garden underwent changes in the 1960s when the 17th Lord Petre reduced the size of the bathing pool and constructed a concrete and tiled pool. The ground water pressure caused problems and this feature was never very successful. Today it is used as a lily pool. Aerial photographs show how the planting has been changed over the years, mainly to simplify and reduce maintenance.
The orchard was much damaged in the 1987 Storm and there are plans to create an arboretum in this area. A few fruit trees remain around the cistern building. The Grass Walk also suffered much damage in the 1987 Storm but some of the plants have become over mature and out grown their location. Some new planting has been undertaken. There is much rabbit damage at the base of the wall.
The Broad Walk and associated herbaceous border was certainly still in existence and maintained at the time that Lady Rasch wrote her account of the Hall circa 1975. However the only evidence of this feature today are the earthworks indicating the edge of the terrace walk, and a slight difference in vegetation along the wall indicating the presence of a more fertile soil along this area. ‘Narcissus sp.’ line the boundary of this feature and the orchard. Today this area is maintained by rough mowing, as is the orchard.
When the 17th Lord Petre died in 1989 work was started to allow the house to be opened to the public in 1992. The opportunity was taken to carry out some major repairs (not least complete electrical rewiring, using some 26 kilometres of cable) and 1994 saw new boilers in the house and the re-facing of the North and East ranges of the Outer Court with the repainting of them in 1995.