Heritage: The colourful characters of Cranham Hall through the ages

Cranham Hall

A view of Cranham Hall - Credit: From the collection of Andy Grant

In the first part of a series, historian Andy Grant takes a look at the colourful and varied characters who owned and lived in Cranham Hall.

At the end of The Chase - a narrow, secluded country lane leading off St Mary’s Lane in Cranham - there is a typical Essex arrangement of a parish church with its adjoining manor house.

Such a complex existed at this location since at least the 13th century and the demesne is recorded in the Domesday Book, although the buildings have been rebuilt on numerous occasions.

The earliest recorded iteration of Cranham Hall stood to the west of the present building, a representation of its façade depicted on a map from 1596 as a half-H plan, medieval timber hall.

Sir William Petre, the Catholic recusant of Ingatestone Hall, had bought the manor in 1571 and conferred it upon his son.

Sometime around 1600, Lord Petre built a new hall to the east of the previous one. An estate plan of 1663 shows both old and new buildings co-existing on the site.

Cranham Hall

A map showing Cranham Hall in 1596 and 1663. - Credit: Andy Grant

In 1648, Nathan Wright, a wealthy merchant, bought the hall and his descendants were to hold it for nearly two centuries.

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Among these was Elizabeth Wright, who married General James Edward Oglethorpe in 1744. Mr Oglethorpe founded the 13th American colony (now the state of Georgia), becoming the hall’s most notable occupant.

He died in 1785 and Elizabeth in 1787, whereupon the hall was bequeathed to her nephew, Sir Thomas Hussey Apreece.

On November 19, 1789, the hall was offered for sale with a condition that it “is to be taken down by the purchaser, and the premises cleared by June 1, 1790”.

The building of the present hall was evidently completed by then, as from June 6, 1790 it was occupied by Lord Callan (George Agar).

Lord Callan appears to have let the house to a tenant, Robert Sewell esq., from 1798 until 1803.

By 1805 the sale of the hall’s lease was advertised. In David Hughson’s London Vol IV (1809), he writes that “the old hall was a stately structure during the lives of General Oglethorpe and his lady, but was completely destroyed by the next possessor; some of the remaining old wall and portals are sufficient indications of its grandeur".

It continues: "Cranham Hall, since it has been given up by Lord Callan, was inhabited by its proprietor and present resident Sir Thomas Apreece."

From 1816 Sir Thomas rented the hall to Thomas Boyd, who resided there until his death in 1846.

Upon the death of Sir Thomas in 1833, the manor was inherited by his son, Sir Thomas George Apreece.

Unfortunately, he never married, became known for his eccentric behaviour and took his own life on December 30, 1842. He bequeathed his estates to St George's Hospital, London.

His sister, Amelia Peacock, contested the will but was unsuccessful.

However, the case dragged on and by 1848 a settlement was agreed whereby the estate would be sold and shared between the hospital and Mrs Peacock.

The manor was put up for auction on August 20, 1852 and sold to Samuel Gurney. Upon his death in 1856 it was inherited by his son, also named Samuel Gurney.

He was a partner in a merchant bank, Overend, Gurney & Co, which failed in 1866, necessitating the liquidation of his estate.

The estate was offered for sale on June 7, 1867, divided into eight lots. Cranham Hall and Broadfields were offered as Lot One and the manorial rights as Lot Eight

Although Richard Benyon purchased the bulk of the lots, George Rastrick purchased the manorial rights.

When Mr Benyon died on July 27, 1897, he bequeathed his estate to his nephew, James Herbert Fellowes, on condition he assume the name Benyon

 With the death of James Herbert Benyon in 1935, the 4,000-acre Benyon estate was auctioned in lots in 1937.

The Grade II-listed Georgian Cranham Hall was purchased by the Southend Estate Company and in 1974 was sold as a private residence.

  • More Andy Grant articles can be found on the Romford History Facebook group.