About Stanley Hall

The History of Stanley Hall

The site of Stanley Hall has probably been inhabited from very ancient times. Deep ploughing just to the south and slightly east of the house in 1959 revealed traces of Roman occupation which were surveyed in 1962 revealing evidence of iron-working and a Roman road. Traces of another substantial building, probably also of Roman times, are visible from the air in one of the fields nearer Oxley wood.

Other features may pre-date even the Romans. The back drive, leading to the house from the direction of Pebmarsh is exactly aligned to the rising sun on mid-summer day. The path leading from the front door is exactly oriented to the setting sun at mid-winter.

The name Stanley Hall is said to derive from the Saxon words Stan and Leah, meaning stony clearing. The area would have been heavily wooded in early times and the ground is indeed full of flints. The former keeper’s house nearby is called “Stoneylands”.

The 2-acre site lies at 210 feet, one of the highest points around surrounded by a moat. Such moats are relatively common in this part of Essex/ Suffolk, though none are as large or as completely preserved. It is thought to date from the 12th century and its particular triangular shape with two intermediate bays suggests that there may have been an early motte and bailey type construction on the smaller area to the south east, which was later enlarged to provide an outer bailey on the larger western area where the present house stands.

Pebmarsh had four manors in medieval times, of which Stanley Hall was one. After the Norman conquest it was owned by the de Hanningfield family until 1438 when the last William de Haningfield’s eldest daughter Elizabeth married John Bassett. Their son, Gregory Bassett, died young in 1528 leaving an only daughter, Dorothy, who became Lady Anthony Maxey of Bradwell Hall near Braintree. It is thought that Lady Maxey may have been the builder of the present Stanley Hall, perhaps intending it as a dower house against the day when Bradwell Hall might be required by her stepson.

In 1588 the estate was sold to the Meriton family of Wimbish, who owned it until 1696 when it was bought by John Morley, the Halstead butcher and property developer, who also owned Bluebridge. There are some records of purchases and sales and tenancies over the years but nothing of great interest or distinction.

The present hall appears to have been built about 1570 on the L-shaped plan which was so popular in Tudor Essex. One leg of the L became ruinous and was taken down in 1871, its panelling being used to line the stables and pig-sty. The remainder was converted into two farm cottages.

In 1929 the property was bought by Percy Middleditch. He thoroughly restored the remains of the hall in a style influenced by the arts and crafts tradition, buying in additional panelling and other antique fittings to improve the house and employing Ernest Beckwith of Coggeshall to do further oak carving. The ironwork was done by Ed Rowland, the blacksmith in Coggeshall, and the timber came from the Marks Hall estate. Mr Middleditch made a number of discoveries during the course of the restoration including a fine 17th century carved overmantle, a bronze 15th century spoon and two silver coins, one dating from the time of Henry V, the other from the reign of Mary Tudor. Both are now set into the great post in the main hall.

Ean Stewart-Smith acquired the estate in 1938 but only took up residence after the war, following a period of occupation by the army. The rear additions to the house were added by Edmee, wife of Ean Stewart-Smith, in the 1950’s and further alterations were completed in 2006 to provide some ground-floor bedrooms and to improve the view of the house from the north-east. The Stewart-Smith family continue to live at Stanley Hall, farming the surrounding land.