Hall Place is a Grade I listed house on the banks of the River Cray. It was built in two stages, the first in the middle 1500s by the Lord Mayor of London who used grey flint and white stone. The second phase took place in the mid 1600s and added ranges around a courtyard in red brickwork (now gutted and modernized) with bands of stone and windows under half-circle arches. There is a tower turret with a cupola on top.
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On view for todayís visitors are a panelled Tudor great hall, a minstrel gallery, and a long gallery. A few pieces of English furniture remain from the early 20th century owner. Two upper rooms have molded plaster ceilings. They have been gutted and made into a modern gallery. There are displays on the history of the house, local history and industry.
In the 9th century the manor of Bexley, including the Hall Place site, were given by the crown to the Archbishop of Canterbury. In the 13th century the At-Hall family were here, giving the place its name. Thomas Shelley bought the estate in 1367, beginning a 200 year occupation by the family. John Champneys, a former lord mayor of London, bought the estate in. It was he who had the Tudor building constructed between 1537-40 recycling masonry from Londonís monasteries. He built a tower on to the house to survey the surrounding landscape. The family owned the estate until 1649.
In the 1650s Robert Austen added three wings, a central courtyard, and a lantern room to the turret. Ghosts are said to haunt the turret. The bell dates from 1649 and was cast in the Whitechapel foundry (the same place as Big Ben and the Liberty Bell). He also added servantsí quarter, private spaces, and more bedrooms. Six other generations of Austens inherited the property.
In the 1770s the Dashwood family inherited through marriage and owned the property for the ensuing 150 years. In the 1870s the building was modernized with running water and other up-to-date conveniences by the Dashwood owner at the time, who intended to rent it out. He also added the front gates and lodge building at this time.
From 1795 to 1869 it was an ĎAcademy for Gentlemení. From 1883 until the 20th century the house was empty. In 1901 a former mistress of Edward VII rented the house. During WWI the house was used as accommodation for refugees. In 1917 the last private tenant, May, Countess of Limerick, rented the house. She remained in it for 26 years adding beams, timbers, and wood panelling.
The grounds are replete with trees. The gardens are Grade II listed. On show are topiary, an herb garden, an Italianate garden, a rose garden, flower borders, a walled garden and a subtropical plant house.
Hall Place and Gardens
East Bourne Rd, Bexley, Greater London
On the A2 near junction 2 of the M25, near Dartford crossing area
Nearest mainline is Bexley
Tel. 01322 526 574
Open: house and visitor centre: April-Oct, daily, 10am-5pm; parkland and gardens, daily, year round, 9am-dusk
Shop; plant nursery; modern cafeteria; pub; visitor centre; special events; parking
Web: Hall Place and Gardens
All photos © by Barbara Ballard