About Stanley Hall

The History of Stanley Hall

The site of Stanley Hall has 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. It was most probably originally part of the enormous estate of The Earls of Oxford that stretched over almost the whole of this part of Essex. Some time before 1418, it was acquired by Sir William Hanningfield, one of the trustees of Richard de Vere, the 11th Earl (We know Wm Hanningfield was also the mortgagee for two other of the Earl’s other Essex manors in 1412, when he needed to raise 500 Marks in cash).  He died in 1426, leaving three daughters of 4, 2 and 30 weeks. In 1438 the eldest daughter Elizabeth married John Bassett of Chishill, the son of one of his executors, and inherited Stanley Hall and also Bradwell Hall, near Braintree. Their son, Gregory Bassett, died young in 1528 leaving an only daughter, Dorothy, who married first Robert Bonham and then, later Sir Anthony Maxey of Saling Hall. It is these Maxeys who must have been the builders of the present Stanley Hall, in around 1570.

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

The present hall seems to have been built on the L-shaped plan which was so popular in Tudor Essex – two adjacent but separate buildings at least. In 1871, one leg of the L became ruinous (charring and smoke damage on the beams of the surviving part of the hall indicated there may have been a fire) and was taken down, 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, son of Sir Dudley Stewart-Smith, living in Paris before the war and with no property in the UK, acquired the estate in 1938 as insurance against the impending German invasion of France. On the outbreak of war, Stanley Hall was requestioned by the army and occupied until the Stewart-Smith family took back possession in 1945. The rear additions to the house were added by Edmée, 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.