Brocket Hall is a Grade I-listed classical country house set in a large park at the western side of the urban area of Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire, England. The estate is equipped with two golf courses and seven smaller listed buildings, apart from the main house.
The freehold on the estate is held by The 3rd Baron Brocket. The Club Corporation of Asia (CCA) held the property on a long lease, but, after a series of financial irregularities, it is unknown who is currently holding the lease .
Sir Matthew Lamb, 1st Baronet, purchased the estate in 1746, complete with Brocket Lea, the older house on the south side of the upper course of the river visible from almost all of the estate. He built the hall as it is seen today around 1760 to the designs of the architect Sir James Paine.
Brocket Hall is a tall red brick neoclassical house in a fine landscape setting with a Palladian bridge across the River Lea. The interior of the house is mostly not on a grand scale but the exceptions are the main staircase and the Grand Saloon that was decorated specifically for entertaining royalty. The walls are lined with silk, the original furniture was made by Chippendale, the ceiling was painted by Francis Wheatley and the state banqueting table seats eighty people. The cost of this one room is recorded as £1,500 which equated to more than the cost of a substantial mansion at the time.
Paine also built the Temple with an Adam-style plaster ceiling, elliptical porch that has niches either side of Victorian period half glazed door and a pediment above its eastern entrance, typical of the finest garden temples of the era.
Among these other buildings are an early 17th-century house, which now incorporates a fine-dining restaurant called "Auberge du Lac", Brocket Lea and The Temple built by Paine later that century.
The pleasure grounds were laid out initially in the mid-18th century as parkland with many clumps of trees and singles, being remodelled as a pleasure circuit with a waterside walk as part of Woods' campaign of the 1770s.
The park surrounds the hall which is set in open parkland with the remains of scattered parkland trees. The parkland is since the mid-1990s largely overlain by golf courses and is bounded by substantial woodland belts.
One of these was built about 1430; whereas in 1413 John Mortimer held Waterships it is known in 1477 Thomas Brockett held both manors. The family continued to occupy both — being in 1553 home to Sir John Brocket, a wealthy spice importer and Captain of Queen Elizabeth’s personal guard. His daughter Mary was the heiress to the estate who married Thomas Reade.
The next owner was The 2nd Viscount Melbourne, who was Queen Victoria's first Prime Minister 1835–41, when she regularly visited. His wife, Lady Caroline Lamb, infamously had an affair with Lord Byron causing Lord Melbourne much embarrassment. For one of his birthdays she held a state banquet in the Saloon, at which she had herself served from a large silver dish, naked.
On Emily's death, the hall then passed to Emily's grandson by her first marriage, The 7th Earl Cowper, though it was his younger brother, Henry (d.1887), who lived at Brocket.
In 1893, The 1st Baron Mount Stephen, President of the Bank of Montreal and the first Canadian to be elevated to the Peerage of the United Kingdom, leased Brocket Hall from the 7th Earl for the remainder of his lifetime. For the next three years guests included the Queen's children: The Prince and Princess of Wales, The Duke and Duchess of Connaught and the Princess Mary, Duchess of Teck. In 1897, one year after his first wife died in 1896, Lord Mount Stephen married Georgina Mary (known as Gian) Tufnell, the Lady-in-Waiting to Princess Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck, who encouraged the match. Gian was a lifelong friend and confidant of the Duchess's daughter, Mary of Teck, the wife of King George V, and the Mount Stephenses regularly entertained the Royal couple. Gian preferred life at Brocket Hall to the social life that surrounded their London residence at Carlton House Terrace. Lady Mount Stephen was a close friend of Georgina, Marchioness of Salisbury, who lived on the neighbouring estate, Hatfield House. She was said to have been exceedingly popular around Hatfield, and her many benefactions endeared her to hundreds.
After the death of The 7th Earl Cowper (1905), the underlying future reversion was left to his niece, but she died only a year after him (1906) and the estate passed to her husband, Admiral Lord Walter Kerr, who lived at Melbourne Hall. When the life tenant Lord Mount Stephen died in 1921, Kerr put the estate up for sale and in 1923 it was purchased by Sir Charles Nall-Cain, who co-ran the brewing company Walker Cain Ltd; he was created Baron Brocket in 1933. His son, The 2nd Baron Brocket, was a Nazi sympathiser and, when he was interned during the Second World War, his property was sequestrated and put to use as a maternity hospital.
In the late 20th century The 3rd Baron Brocket (often styled as Charlie Brocket), while serving two and a half years in prison for insurance fraud, let the whole estate for a minimum of 60 years to CCA (Club Corporation of Asia) based in Hong Kong; he has since gone on to present television programmes such as Bad Lads Army and Scream! If You Want to Get Off. The company converted Brocket Hall into a hotel and conference centre and built a second eighteen-hole golf course (Palmerston Course). Further facilities include a Palmerston Golf Academy, and a restaurant called Auberge du Lac which was formerly associated with celebrity chef Jean-Christophe Novelli and once held a Michelin Star.
Brocket Hall has also been used as filming location for a number of large-scale film and television productions, including Night of the Demon (1957), Murder with Mirrors, Johnny English Reborn, The Queen, Willow and Pride and Prejudice featuring Colin Firth. It also features as the home of character Paul Eirl in the Inspector Morse episode, "Who Killed Harry Field?" (1991) and can be seen in the Agatha Christie's Poirot episode "The Labours of Hercules" (2013). It was also used in EastEnders on 1 January 2017 when characters Ronnie Mitchell and Jack Branning got married and Ronnie and Roxy Mitchell died. Brocket Hall was also in Holby City for a wedding. The same venue was used in the Shakin' Stevens Video of "You Drive Me Crazy" in 1980. The British pop group Steps used it as the location for their 2001 music video for "It's The Way You Make Me Feel". Queen Victoria is seen visiting Lord Melbourne at Brocket Hall in several scenes of the ITV drama Victoria. Brocket Hall has also been used as filming location for an Asian drama series «Meteor Garden 2018 ».
The estate almost touches the A1(M) motorway near Welwyn Garden City which is on the opposite side of the motorway; administratively and historically it lies at the extreme northern end of the civil parish of Hatfield which is run as a very large town council.
References and notes
- Brocket Lea, Grade II listing Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1100993)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 11 August 2013.
- (Garden) Temple Grade II* listing Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1100988)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 11 August 2013.
- Park and Garden mentioning all buildings and structures in overview - Grade II listing Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1000540)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 11 August 2013.
- William Page (editor) (1912). "Parishes: Hatfield". A History of the County of Hertford: volume 3. Institute of Historical Research. Retrieved 11 August 2013.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
- "Scandalous stately homes". Telegraph. Retrieved 11 September 2017.
- Lady Mount Stephen in Every Woman's Encyclopedia
- Brocket Lea Grade II listing Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1100993)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 11 August 2013.
- "Johnny English and his links to Hertfordshire - News", Welwyn Hatfield Times, 15 October 2011. Retrieved 19 November 2012.
- "Brocket Hall - Location". Brocket-hall.brocket-hall.co.uk. Archived from the original on 4 April 2012. Retrieved 26 June 2012.
- Grid square map Ordnance survey website
- The expression "held of" is frequently seen in local histories of all parishes of England and much of Western Europe and means held on a lease, which could be forfeited through for example attainder or non-payment of the agreed rent.
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