Heritage: A bumpy 250 years for Hare Hall, Gidea Park, but worth celebrating

Hare Hall is now the Royal Liberty School. Picture: Archant archive

Hare Hall is now the Royal Liberty School. Picture: Archant archive - Credit: Archant

Hare Hall, Gidea Park, was a mansion which eventually became the Royal Liberty School. Prof Ged Martin looks at its history

Havering has few remaining mansions. Gidea Park’s Hare Hall survived because it became the home of the Royal Liberty School in 1921.

2018 marks the 250th anniversary of its construction. (It was completed for occupation in 1769.)

Hare Hall replaced a farmhouse called Goodwins, perhaps named after Godwin of Doe, Keeper of Havering Park in 1217.

The house was built by John Arnold Wallinger, a merchant who traded in Portland stone.

Gentry looked down on “old Wallinger the stone mason”. Hare Hall was his way of gate-crashing the elite.

Most stately homes faced south, to catch the sun. Wallinger’s mansion faced north, to be seen from the main highway.

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Of course, its frontage was built from white Portland stone.

James Paine, the architect, was building the much grander Thorndon Hall near Brentwood for Lord Petre at the same time.

Employing an architect who worked for aristocrats was another coup for the social-climbing tradesman.

I doubt if Paine took much trouble over Hare Hall. It resembles an earlier project, Belford Hall in Northumberland (now apartments).

It’s also very small.

Paine’s standard design was an oblong central box with two square wings. The squire’s family lived in the three-storey main block. The smaller “pavilions” provided kitchens, a laundry, and servants’ bedrooms.

The high-ceilinged first floor was the main block’s living area, reached through a vestibule and an oval staircase, lit by a skylight two floors above.

A butler’s pantry, housekeeper’s room and storage space were crowded into the ground floor. A high water table made it impossible to dig cellars.

The attic-like second floor of the central block provided bedrooms, dressing rooms and two “closets”. There was no indoor plumbing until 1897.

The layout was inconvenient. The kitchen was in the west pavilion, the dining room on the east side of the first floor. Food had to be carried through an open colonnade – cold in winter – and up a steep back staircase.

Hare Hall was very small. The main frontage was only 60 feet. It was the Portland stone, with its Roman columns and topknot pediment, that made the house seem imposing.

The first floor contained just four rooms – a drawing room (now a conference room), a small breakfast room (headteacher’s office), and a dining room, with a small boudoir, rooms since combined to form the school office.

On the second floor were four bedrooms.

Four beds, four receps – a des. res. no doubt, but hardly a stately home.

One owner, Benjamin Severn (1813-29), combined an extravagant lifestyle with cattle farming.

Robert Pemberton (1852-95) described himself in census returns as “farmer” or “yeoman”.

The mansion became a giant farmhouse, and was very run down when he died.

Hare Hall had another problem. In 1753, the deeds had been destroyed in a fire in Fulham.

With the death in 1805 of the second owner, the wonderfully named John Wallinger Arnold Wallinger, it proved hard to sell the property, because potential buyers were deterred by the uncertain title.

In 1811, his widow secured a special Act of Parliament to validate the Wallinger claim to Hare Hall.

Even so, there were lengthy periods in the 19th century when buyers were scarce.

In 1897, Edward and Lucy Castellan purchased Hare Hall. He was a wealthy investor in bank shares. They spent much of their time travelling in Europe.

The Catellans remodelled the house. They preferred to live on the ground floor, adding two handsome rooms at the back of the house (one later the school staff room), plus a pimple-like porch at the front.

The Army occupied Hare Hall from 1915. Enrolments quickly soared at the Royal Liberty School. In 1927 work began on a three-sided classroom extension at the rear.

Hare Hall has experienced some bumpy history over 250 years. It’s not just its anniversary that should be celebrated, but its survival.