Up and down the country there were many places like Hall Place, almost abandoned by their owners, for few could afford the upkeep of a big house. Some had been converted into flats, others had been taken for schools and institutions, but many were falling into decay, their ruin hastened by the gangs of lead stealers who were roving the country and stripping the valuable lead from the roofs, and by young hooligans who hurled a brick at the windows as they passed.
It was the 1940s, and attitudes to country houses was indifferent. Many thought that some of these houses weren’t worth saving, but many had been built with a care and skill in workmanship which couldn’t be found in post war Britain. Future generations may well have regretted the indifference of this one to the homes of England’s past.
Hall Place, in the parish of Hurley, between Henley and Maidenhead, had been built in 1728 and stood in its grounds and gardens of 14 acres on a deer park of 128 acres. With its farms and woodland, the whole estate was 484 acres – a landmark 300 feet above the Thames flowing in the valley below.
There had been a house here since 1234, replaced by a 14th century house by John Lovelace and finally the mansion constructed over a seven-year period by William East, a wealthy London lawyer. His son, another William, was born shortly after his death, and during his minority years the house was rented by the Duke of Buccleuch and then Lord Folkstone. On his death in 1819 it passed to Sir William East’s eldest son, Gilbert, but he died just nine years later. Hall Place was inherited by George Clayton, a nephew. Descending the family line until the extinction of the baronetcy in 1932, Hall Place was bought by Lady Frances Clayton East who lived in the south wing until the outbreak of World War Two. Hall Place was requisitioned by the Government and in 1943, 1,025 acres of the estate were purchased under a Compulsory Order by the Ministry of Agriculture.
The house had remained empty but in November 1949, through the Berkshire Education Committee, the house had come to life again. Berkshire County Council had bought Hall Place, Home (now Top) Farm and 148 acres for use as the Berkshire Institute of Agriculture (the remaining 541 acres were used for the relocation of the Grassland Research Institute). At Hall Place, farmers’ sons, sons of agricultural workers, and recruits into agriculture, all of whom had at least one year’s experience of farming, would spend a year in the practical application of scientific knowledge and modern methods of farming designed for those who intended to make the land their livelihood.
Thirty-seven students had just started the first term of their year at the new Institute, though its departments were no way complete. Governors, staff and students were combining in a planning effort in every direction, the fertility of the land had to be improved – livestock raised, trees to be lopped, scrubland reclaimed, field water supplies extended, and buildings renovated and modified to meet the modern standards of livestock husbandry.
The Berkshire undertaking was a big one, but undoubtedly constructive – an English heritage was being preserved, and a band of young men were being equipped to meet the problems of the land.
In 1968 the Institute was re-named as a College by which time a substantial programme of extension and development was in progress and which is continuing to the present day.
When coal ruled the north-east. Once the home of ‘Old King Coal’ – one of England’s wealthiest men
This imposing country house is enjoying a renaissance after a spell in the doldrums. Longhirst Hall, at Morpeth, has been reinvented as four luxury properties alongside several new-builds in its grounds. The centrepiece of the development is Longhirst Hall itself, boasting the original main entrance, a pedimented portico suspended on giant Corinthian columns which opens into an ashlar-faced central hall with Ionic columns, and a central glazed dome. The sweeping Imperial staircase to one end has a wrought-iron balustrade with an anthemion frieze, which wraps around the galleried first-floor landing. Above, the coffered dome is a direct replica of the Roman Pantheon. The property is on sale at Sanderson Young with a guide price of £1.25 million.
Longhirst Hall was built between 1824-1828 for William Lawson, a local landowner and member of a prosperous Northumberland farming family. The architect was John Dobson (1787-1865), born at Chirton, North Shields, who spent most of his life in Newcastle working on numerous private and public projects. One of his most influential creations was Newcastle Central Station and the iconic Grey Street. He was the ‘real author’ of Gothic Revival having built some of the earliest churches in this style. Dobson moved to Longhirst after completing Mitford Hall, also near Morpeth.
William Lawson (1775-1855) remained until his death and the property passed to his eldest son, William John Lawson (1822-1859), who died at Pau, in the south of France, after a lingering illness. He had been custodian of Longhirst Hall for a brief period of four years.
By the death of his eldest brother, the Reverend Edward Lawson (1824-1882), succeeded to the family estates. He was a man educated for the church and for two years was the rector of Bothal. Edward qualified as a magistrate in 1861 and was responsible for working the coal found underneath the estate. He created the nearby model colliery village, built schools and had genuine regard for its inhabitants.
Following his death in 1882, Longhirst Hall was inherited by his son, William Edward Lawson (1855-1944), who turned out to be the last of the family to live here.
He appears not to have had much interest in the house and it was briefly let to Charles E. Hunter (1852-1917), a man well-known through his association with the coal trade, as well as his political work and an active interest in sport.
Longhirst Hall and its 740 acres had fallen into disarray and in 1887 was put up for sale. After a spirited competition it was bought by James Joicey, the MP for Chester-Le-Street, for the sum of £53,000.
James Joicey had married firstly Elizabeth Amy Robinson (d.1881) and secondly, Margaret Smyles Drever (d.1911). He was created 1st Baronet Joicey of Chester-Le-Street in 1893 and was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Law by Durham University. He became a JP for County Durham, a Deputy Lieutenant of the same county, and in 1906 was created 1st Baron Joicey of Chester-Le-Street.
James Joicey (1846-1936) had risen from a clerk’s position at his uncle’s coal office on Quayside, Newcastle, to become one of the largest coal-owners in the country, and one of the biggest individual employers in the world. Nicknamed ‘Old King Coal’, he was the chairman and managing director of James Joicey and Company and the Lambton Collieries, the two largest colliery companies in County Durham.
Joicey was an active Parliamentarian and sat for an unbroken 21 years. It ended in 1906 when the Liberal Government came into office and he was given a peerage to strengthen the Liberal Party in the Upper House. In 1931 he switched to the Conservatives ‘in an independent’ capacity.
Always a fierce and outspoken critic, Joicey made no secret of his belief that politicians “had let us down badly”. Speaking in 1935 he said, “A dictator who could keep a firm hand on politicians, as Mussolini has done in Italy, would be the saviour of our land.”
Joicey might well have been one of those autocratic coal-owners often featured on the pages of Catherine Cookson novels. He didn’t endear himself to women and strongly opposed the idea of them becoming MPs, believing it too premature. Despite his political career, he feared for the future of the coal industry and blamed his colleagues. “Today, the most harm done to the coal trade is by the constant interference of politicians and the Government.”
Lord Joicey made several additions to Longhirst Hall, but in 1907 looked elsewhere to expand his estates. He purchased Ford Castle in north Northumberland and added the adjacent Etal estate a year later. Resident at Ford Castle he put the Longhirst and Ulgham estates near Morpeth up for auction in 1921. They failed to find a buyer and Longhirst Hall was occupied by his two sons – James Arthur Joicey and Hugh Edward Joicey .
When Lord Joicey died in 1936, his eldest son, James Arthur Joicey (1880-1940), moved to Ford Castle and his brother Hugh to Etal Manor. These were troubling times. In 1929 the 2nd Lord Joicey’s son, also James, an officer in the 17th/20th Hussars had been killed while taking part in a horse race at Folkstone. By the late 1930s the coal industry was struggling and incomes from the agricultural estates were in decline. James Arthur Joicey had been shell-shocked in 1915 and suffered from depression as a result. His elevation to the peerage proved too much and in July 1940, after leaving a letter to his wife, his ‘brain in a storm’, was found shot dead on Ford Castle’s lawns.
Longhirst Hall had long fallen out of favour with the Joicey family. In 1937 it had been sold to alderman William Strafford Sanderson (1880-1973), the deputy mayor of Morpeth. It was an interesting purchase for the councillor and one that might be questioned today. Sanderson remained a couple of years and was responsible for gifting a gymnasium from the grounds of Longhirst Hall for use as a pavilion in Proctor’s Field in Morpeth.
In 1939 the house was offered as a Joint Infectious Disease Hospital, a scheme involving Newbiggin, Ashington and Bedlington Urban Councils, and Morpeth Borough and Morpeth Rural Councils. It was the favoured property and it might have provided Sanderson with a tidy sum of money. However, the Ministry of Health was concerned about the large amount of land involved in the purchase, and the sale fell through.
Longhirst was quickly sold to Mr G. Moore of Kenton Hall who took up residence in September. Better known as Harry Moore, the son of William Moore, who founded Moore’s Stores of Sunderland in 1907, he had taken over the family business in 1930. The grocers and provisions merchants eventually had 114 branches across north-east England. (In modern times the stores were taken over and incorporated into the Lipton’s and Presto supermarket chains). Harry Moore lived here with his wife Maud and was later honoured when his racehorse won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1958.
During World War Two the house was requisitioned by the Army as a billet for officers, while the troops camped in the grounds.
After the war, some of the Nissen huts in the parkland were taken over by several families who had moved here from Pegswood. They were effectively squatters, the 27 people living here had no water or light and carried water from the main house.
Undoubtedly damaged by wartime occupation the house was vacant, and the Moore family eventually sold it to the Home Office in 1948. It was used as an approved school accommodating up to 72 boys, aged below 13, at the date of their admission. In 1973 it became a Community Home with Education under the control of the Northumberland County Council.
The community home closed in 1982 and suffered at the hands of vandals. The house was being considered as a school for children with learning problems, but an inspection revealed the house had rotting roof timbers and the emergency repair bill would cost about £9,000. The county architect had warned that the lack of heating might cause considerable damage but Longhirst Hall remained empty.
In poor condition the mansion was left to decay for ten years. In 1992 it was bought by a private investment company who completed extensive renovations, combined with new-build facilities, to become a management training and conference centre. It was let to Northumbria University who used the house until 1992 before it was sold to become a 77-bedroom country house hotel, popular as a wedding venue.
The hotel closed in March 2014 after its parent company went into receivership. It was an unfortunate turn of events but one that heralded a new future for Longhirst Hall.
It went on sale with Strutt & Parker for £1.65 million and in 2015 was acquired by Durham-based De Vere Homes; within 12 months work had started to convert the estate into 28 luxury homes.
According to Sanderson Young, the main reception rooms are adorned with ornate plasterwork and have full-height windows. The drawing room is especially stately, with semi-circular bow windows and views across the Capability Brown-style garden with its ha-ha overlooking the paddock.
The breakfasting kitchen has three sets of full-height shuttered French windows and a baronial tiled fireplace. It has a new bespoke kitchen and the same approach will apply to all bathrooms and en-suites.
It also includes a library and study, as well as a back staircase and cavernous cellars.
There are seven bedrooms split over two floors with the four bedrooms on the first floor opening off the galleried first-floor landing which is illuminated during the day by three glazed roof lanterns, each set within its own ceiling dome – and at night by concealed lighting.
This house’s ownership reflects the changing demographic of wealth over the past century
A social history of our country is often reflected in the country house. A good example is Oakley Hall where the Chetwode family held seat from the 13th century. The baronetcy of Oakley was created in April 1700 for John Chetwode of Oakley Hall, then surrounded by a 300-acre park, with a generous annual income coming in from the surrounding estate. By the turn of the 20th century, the riches from agriculture were diminishing, and somewhere like Oakley Park was an unaffordable luxury. The Chetwodes sold up, and subsequent occupants included a chemical manufacturer, a cotton merchant, a ship-owner and subsequently an investment banker. Now that the Queen Anne/Georgian stately home is back on the market, with a guide price of £3.5 million, it is intriguing to see what the occupation of its next owner might be.
Before reading any further, let’s clear up the confusion as to which county Oakley Hall sits in. The house straddles the border of Shropshire and Staffordshire, the River Tern runs next to the 3½-acre lake and forms the county boundary. Oakley Hall sits on the Shropshire side, near Mucklestone, but continues to confuse interested observers.
The Grade II* listed mansion was built in 1710 to replace an older manor house by Sir John Chetwode, a two-storey mansion constructed of brick on a sandstone plinth, with a severe east entrance front of 11 bays, the first three pedimented, with two sphinx-like figures with female heads flanking the front door. It has two differing facades overlooking the lake to the north and parkland to the south.
According to Historic England, subsequent Chetwode baronets improved the estate, with the addition of walled gardens, a large farm and stable block. The plain south front previously had a four-bay veranda that was removed in modern times and replaced with a conservatory.
The last of the family to live at Oakley Hall was Sir George Chetwode (1823-1905), 6th Baronet, the son of the Rev. George Chetwode of Chilton House, Buckinghamshire, who succeeded his uncle in 1873. He was a military man, serving in the Crimean War in the battles of Alma, Balaclava and Inkerman and the Siege of Sevastopol; he also fought in the Indian Mutiny and was wounded at the Battle of Sindwaho.
Sir George died in 1905 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Major (later Field-Marshall) Philip Walhouse Chetwode, D.S.O., another military man, of the 19th Hussars.
The Chetwodes, meanwhile, remained loyal to their ancestral seat, and spent most of their time at Chetwode Manor, Buckinghamshire.
The house was let to Mr Arthur Reginald Midwood (1863-1936), the Managing Director of Alfred H. Midwood and Co, cotton merchants, Manchester, and a director of the Dennis Motor Company. He later invested in the Lancashire Automatic Glass Manufacturing Company, pioneers in the production of glass-machine made bottles that became extremely popular during the new century. After he left Oakley Hall, Midwood went to live at Oakmere Hall in Cheshire, and died in Sydney, New South Wales, in 1937.
In 1920, the Chetwode family sold Oakley Hall to Charles Cyril Dennis (1881-1964), an Oxford M.A. and chairman of James H. Dennis and Co Ltd, copper and chemical manufacturers of Widnes and London. A member of the North Staffordshire Hunt, he was a keen fisherman and enjoyed shooting on the estate. He had married Mary Scott MacFie, daughter of Mr J.W. MacFie of Rowton Hall, Chester, in 1911, and came from a very old Scottish family. Her grandfather lived at Dreghorn Castle, Edinburgh, and was one of the founders of MacFie and Son, who made a fortune in sugar refining. The Dennis family moved from Broxton Old Hall, and after his wife’s death in 1939, remained at Oakley Hall until 1949. Cyril Dennis moved to nearby Park House in the same year he was appointed High Sheriff of Staffordshire.
During the 1950s, Oakley Hall was used for a time as a boarding school, before being bought by Major Paul Baker Lawson in the sixties. Born in Dresden, he was the son of Francis Richard Lawson, a noted North Staffordshire ecclesiastical architect who had practised in the Potteries for over 40 years. Major Lawson had been associated with Johnson Bros, potters of Hanley.
Oakley Hall was sold to the Crosthwaite shipping family in the 1970s, who ‘considerably altered’ the interior, as did its current owner, Mr Freddie G. Fisher III, who moved here in 1982.
Fisher is a graduate of Harvard University and gained his M.A. at Oxford University and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. With a long career in mergers and acquisitions, he is an international investment banker, particularly in the banking sector. His son, Freddie Fisher IV, gained celebrity status when he appeared as a housemate in television’s Big Brother.
While principally a private house, Oakley Hall has a civil licence for ceremonies, and has hosted up to twelve weddings a year. The stable block has been converted into offices, the main portion occupied by a specialist engineering business, as has the Brew House, which is presently vacant.
Thirty-six years after buying Oakley Hall, considered to be one of the finest stately homes in Shropshire, it is available to buy once again.
The house is approached past the entrance lodge down a long tree-lined private drive that sweeps in front of the house.
According to Savills, the principal reception rooms flow off the main hall with the formality and elegance of the ballroom and dining room, with the library and morning room being less formal. The kitchen overlooks the lake.
An elegant classic Georgian staircase sweeps up to the first floor, with a beautiful principal bedroom suite with curved windows overlooking the terrace and lake. The main house provides eight bedrooms with en-suite, together with a further three bedrooms and a bathroom.
There is a substantial cellar with wine cellar, steam room, walk-in safe and boiler-room. At the side of the house is a private courtyard which leads on to The Brew House.
Oakley Hall sits in about 95-acres of beautiful parkland and grassland, with about 22-acres of mature woodland. The lake is the centrepiece and was restored to celebrate the new millennium. The house also comes with a walled garden, separate tennis court, and gardens made up of mature trees and shrubs.