First built in the 16th Century
Hall Place is a fine Grade I listed country house built in 1537 for Sir John Champneys a wealthy merchant and former Lord Mayor of London. A rare example of its type, much of the house that Sir John built still survives today.
Sir John’s house consisted of a splendid central Great Hall crossed at one end by a service wing and at the other by high status family accommodation including a parlour and great chamber. The outer walls are a distinctive checkerboard pattern made of flint and rubble, a beautiful example of the masonry style popular in the late 15th and 16th century.
A change of direction in the 17th Century
In 1649, the year of Charles I’s execution, Richard Champneys, Sir John’s grandson, sold Hall Place to Robert Austen, a merchant from Tenterden in Kent. Austen set about renovating his new property. Among his additions are some of Hall Place’s most beautiful architectural features.
The 17th century red brick courtyard includes a staircase tower and in about 1650 the spectacular plaster ceiling in the Great Chamber was added.
The 18th & 19th Century
In the 18th century Hall Place came into the ownership of the Dashwood family. Sir Francis Dashwood was a politician and Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1762–1763, but he was also a known rake and founder of the secret and immoral Hellfire Club. Hall Place was one of a number of properties owned and managed by the Dashwood family, whose principal home was West Wycombe Park in Buckinghamshire. From 1795 Hall Place was leased as a school for young gentlemen.
It was Maitland Dashwood, grandson of Sir Francis, who made the next set of significant changes to the fabric of Hall Place beginning in the 1870s. Maitland and his architect Robert William Edis added the lodge, linked the house to the water mains and altered the interior by adding much of the fine wood panelling and parquet flooring. These improvements were made to prepare the house for lease.
The 19th and early 20th century saw a series of short-term leases to the aristocratic and the fashionable. The tenants during this period reflected a new glamorous pre-war elite and included Baron Emile D’Erlanger and his American wife Matilda, a former gaiety girl.
The last tenant of Hall Place was Lady Limerick who lived here alone from 1917 – 1943, she added a number of mock-Tudor features including beams and fireplaces. Lady Limerick and the house appeared in a 1922 edition of County Life Magazine. (see picture, left).
The Second World War
In January 1944 the U.S Army’s Signal Corps 6811th Signal Service Detachment arrived at Hall Place to operate an intercept station, code named Santa Fe. The station was set up in a new spirit of co-operation between British and American intelligence services.
The Signal Corps were to participate in the Enigma code breaking operation, Ultra. The Santa Fe station intercepted encoded Morse signals mostly from the German Air Force and the Luftwaffe. Radio aerial wires were strung over the rooftops and the Tudor Kitchen and Great Hall were converted into a ‘set rooms’ with banks of Hallicrafters radio receivers lined up on wood-plank tables. The Great Parlour became the soldier’s dormitory.
The gardens at Hall Place surround the house and extend some 65 hectares. Parts of the garden wall retain a distinctive black diaper brickwork pattern and date from the 16th century. Other historic features include a Jacobean barn and 17th Century stables. A highly fashionable pleasure garden called the Bowling Green Mead was positioned alongside the house in the 1760s. While the remains of a 19th century watermill can be found by the river Cray.
The gardens at Hall Place were first opened to the public in 1952 by HRH The Duchess of Kent (-see photograph left.) The famous topiary at Hall Place, the Queen’s Beasts, were planted in 1953 in celebration of the coronation of HM Queen Elizabeth II.
The gardens at Hall Place continue to be maintained and cultivated to a very high standard. The glasshouse was opened in 1987 to house tropical plants and the Hall Place Gardeners have been presented with a Green Flag Award for 20 consecutive years.
What Our Visitors Say
“A very interesting house and beautiful grounds.”
“Very good value for money, well kept, five stars.”
“Well presented, clear and educational.”
“A beautiful house with a fascinating history. Visiting the gardens next!”