Hall Place

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For other uses, see Hall Place (disambiguation).
This picture clearly shows the contrast between the 16th-century stone half of Hall Place, and the 17th-century brick half

Hall Place is a former stately home, today a Grade I listed building and Scheduled Ancient Monument, beside the River Cray on the outskirts of Crayford, south-east of Bexleyheath and north-east of Old Bexley. It is in the London Borough of Bexley in south-east London.

It is situated just off the A223, Bourne Road, south of Watling Street (A207) and north of the 'Black Prince' interchange of the A2 Rochester Way with the A220.

History[edit]

Early history[edit]

The house dates back to around 1540 when wealthy merchant Sir John Champneys, Lord Mayor of the City of London in 1534, used stone recycled from a nearby former monastery, Lesnes Abbey, to build himself a country house on a site where a manor house was recorded some 300 years earlier in 1241.

Alterations to Champneys' house were made in 1560. In 1649, the house was sold to another wealthy City merchant, Sir Robert Austen (1587–1666), who added a second wing built of red bricks, doubling the size of the house but without trying to harmonise the two halves built in highly contrasting architectural styles. He was created 1st Baronet, of Hall Place in Bexley, on 10 July 1660 and briefly held the office of High Sheriff of Kent.

Dashwood tenants[edit]

The house remained in the Austen family until the mid 18th century when Robert Austen (1697–1743), the 4th baronet (Sheriff of Kent in 1724 and MP for New Romney from April 1728 to 1734), died and the estate was eventually purchased (c. 1772) by his brother-in-law Sir Francis Dashwood, a member of the notorious Hellfire Club. It remained in the Dashwood family until 1926, but was used as a boarding school for much of the 19th century.

In about 1870, Maitland Dashwood returned to Hall Place, restored the building and leased it to various tenants. These included, in the early 20th century, Lord Churston and his wife music hall singer and actress Denise Orme, and, from 1917, the Countess of Limerick. A major figure in early 20th century social society, Lady Limerick's social gatherings included the future King George VI.

Council ownership[edit]

A view of Hall Place showing the topiary garden

Although the Municipal Borough of Bexley took ownership of the Hall Place house and grounds in 1935, Lady Limerick remained a tenant until her death in 1943, making alterations and beginning the house’s topiary garden of traditional heraldic figures, the Queen's Beasts — later completed and made open to the public by the Council to mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

The house was used as an American army communications centre in World War II in 1944 (intercepting German signals for later decoding at Bletchley Park). Post-war, after again being used as an annex to the local technical school for girls, the building was restored in 1968 to became the headquarters of Bexley’s Libraries and Museums service, until 1995.

Today[edit]

Owing to the work of Bexley Heritage Trust (a charitable organisation which runs Hall Place and nearby Danson House), Hall Place has been restored to its original Tudor and later 17th century designs. Among the best-known of Hall Place’s rooms are the Great Hall (where medieval visitors to the house would have dined while being serenaded with the sound of lyres from the Minstrels' Gallery) and the Tudor kitchen where haunches of venison would have been spit-roasted on the hearth (the current fireplace is a latter day replica installed by Lady Limerick in the 1920s). The Lady Limerick Gallery combines different styles of interior decoration (ranging from the very ornate and ostentatious 18th century floral motifs on the ceiling to the plain stone mock-Medieval fireplace) and has views of the rose gardens and the Queen's Beasts topiary display. The Long Gallery displays objects from the Bexley Museum collection, such as a woolly mammoth tooth unearthed in Erith, to trace the history of the borough from pre-historic times to the Blitz. The Chapel Gallery also houses interactive displays for the benefit of children.

Recently Bexley Heritage Trust received a £2 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to develop and improve the site for the benefit of visitors. This grant enabled the construction of the new Riverside Cafe alongside the River Cray, and a new visitor centre. Attached to the visitor centre is the Stables Gallery, another building funded by the grant, which displays works by local artists.

Hall Place also has 65 hectares of landscaped gardens and grounds including a topiary lawn, herb garden, tropical garden and long herbaceous cottage garden-styled borders. The gardens also feature the Queen's Beasts topiary display. The former walled gardens includes a tropical house and a large vegetable garden. Model gardens have been created to show visitors how to make use of space in small urban gardens. Specimen trees in the grounds include an Indian Bean Tree (Catalpa bignonioides), a Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), and a Black Poplar (Populus nigra) - planted to commemorate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 2012 by the local Mayor and the Deputy Lieutenant Of Bexley.[1]

Three ghosts allegedly inhabit the building, including Edward, the Black Prince.[2]

The site has achieved a Green Flag Award for excellence for park and gardens every year since the awards were introduced in 1996.[3]

The Hall Place playing fields are home of Old St Marys FC and Kingfisher JFC/Colts.

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Hall Place plants one of Britain's rarest trees in a very green celebration of the Diamond Jubilee". NewsShopper. 1 June 2012. Retrieved 19 December 2014. 
  2. ^ "Hall Place". Mysterious Britain & Ireland. 19 December 2014. Retrieved 19 December 2014. 
  3. ^ "Hall Place topiary a cut above". Bexley Times. 19 July 2012. Retrieved 19 December 2014. 

Coordinates: 51°26′52.51″N 00°09′33.53″E / 51.4479194°N 0.1593139°E / 51.4479194; 0.1593139