History of Down Hall Hotel, Spa & Estate in Essex

Edward the Confessor
Image Source: @Wikimedia Image Link

Edward the Confessor

The manor of Down Hall was in existence during the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066) and we know from Anglo Saxon records that during his reign, it belonged to Ulwin, Thegn of Edmund Ætheling. We also know from these records that Down Hall was one of ten medieval manors in the Parish of Hatfield Broad Oak that were already considered ancient at the time. We can safely surmise that the manor of Down Hall was most likely in existence during the 10th century as well.
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William the Conqueror

At one time a royal estate of Harold II, Hatfield fell into the possession of William the Conqueror after the battle of Hastings in 1066.  Immediately following the Norman Conquest, all land in England was claimed by King William as his absolute title.  The King later made grants of very large tracts of land to his leading nobles, generally in the form of feudal baronies.  He gave the manor of Hatfield Regis to Aubrey De Vere, and along with 14 more manors and lordships, included in the grant the manor of Down Hall.  In c1135, Aubrey de Vere’s son, the 1st Earl of Oxford, built a Benedictine monastery next to the small parish church in Hatfield.
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William the Conqueror and King Harold
Image Source: William the Conqueror and King Harold @Geograph Image Link
Down Hall Bridge
Image Source: Down Hall bridge over Pincey Brook @Hotel Archives

Down Hall after Domesday

There is little mention of Down Hall after Domesday and through the 12th and 13th centuries as a lot of the De Vere family records were destroyed in the 17th century, but we do find it in chronicles of the late 13th century.  Downhall (formerly Doune) bridge, which spans Pincey brook on the road from Hatfield Heath to Matching, was a well-known landmark by 1274.  The brook then, as it does now, forms the Northern boundary of the Down Hall Estate and the road to Matching, then, and as it does now, forms part of the Eastern boundary.  The upkeep of the bridge was the responsibility of Down (Doune) Hall manor; thereafter Hatfield priory, and later, other manorial lords up to 1650 but they all often defaulted.
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Robert Taper

Robert Taper is the first person we can name as having been in possession of the manor of Down Hall in the early 1300s.   Taper was more than likely involved in commerce, as his surname would suggest, most possibly as a candle maker, and was the most probable way his large surplus capital was built.  His wealth is indicated not only by his real estate but by his expenditure on renovations, enlargement, and beautification of the priory church. On 12 May, 1323, Taper had license to grant lands and rent in Hatfield to the prior and convent.   Included in this grant was the manor of Down Hall.  Research would indicate Down Hall was still in the possession of the De Vere family and that it was leased out to Taper for farming.
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Medieval Candle Makers
Image Source: Medieval Candle Maker @Dexter & Mason Image Link
St Mary the Virgin Parish Church
Image Source: Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin Hatfield Broad Oak @ Geograph Image Link

Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536

At the beginning of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, Hatfield priory was dissolved and all tithes and patronages, including that of Down Hall, were granted to Barking Abbey. On June 8th 1540, William Berners, Walter Farre, and William Glascock bought a lot of miscellaneous land, that included the manor of Down Hall as well as the manor of Minchins in Great Dunmow, for £630 8s 6d. On June 28th 1540, Berners and Farre received license to transfer ownership of Down Hall and Minchins to Glascock.
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Elizabeth Glascock

Down Hall passes down the Glascock male line until 1615 when Elizabeth Glascock is born. She is the only child born to her father Richard, William Glascock’s great grandson, and is now sole heir to Down Hall and the family estates. By 1630, she is married to John Ballett. They had two children; Richard, who was born at Down Hall c1635 and John II, born at Down Hall c1640. Parish records show that Elizabeth died at Down Hall in 1649 and that Richard succeeded his father John on his death in 1673. Sometime toward the end of the 17th century, Richard has passed away, and without issue, the estate has passed to John, the second son. On 9th June, 1720, John sells Down Hall to Mathew Prior for £2,800.
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Tudor Manor House
Image Source: Little Moreton Hall - an example of a fine timber-framed building @Wikipedia Image Link
Matthew Prior by Thomas Hudson
Image Source: @Wikipedia Image Link

Mathew Prior

Mathew Prior was a British poet, prominent not only as a literary figure but also as a member of Great Britain’s diplomatic service.  With the financial assistance of Lord Edward Harley, son of the 1st Earl of Oxford, he buys Down Hall which the poet was to enjoy during the remainder of his life and Harley after his decease.  Prior commissioned James Gibbs to design a new house and Charles Bridgeman to replan the gardens.  Planting to Bridgeman’s designs was in progress before the end of 1720, but the building of the spectacular Palladian villa Gibbs had designed had not been started by the time of Prior's death in 1721.   He died of tuberculosis whilst staying with Edward Harley at Wimpole Hall.
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Edward Harley

Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer, was an aesthete, a bibliophile, a dedicated collector and patron of the arts.   In 1713 he married Henrietta Cavendish-Holles, daughter of the Duke of Newcastle, and the wealthiest heiress in Britain.   His collections were extensive and extravagant as he passionately sourced the rarest and most beautiful things.  In his obsessive collecting, Harley bankrupted himself, having spent much of his wife’s fortune of some £500,000, and in 1741, was forced to sell Down Hall, as well as his family home of Wimpole Hall, along with his collections, to pay his debts.
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Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford byJona
Image Source: @Wikimedia Image Link
The Lyndhurst Suite
Image Source: The Lyndhurst Suite @Hotel Archives

William Selwin

Down Hall is bought by William Selwin, a successful skinner merchant in the City of London who was born in 1685.  He had acquired a considerable fortune in his profession and paid nearly £3,000 for Down Hall in 1741.  He was pre-deceased by his wife and eldest son so when William died in 1768, Down Hall and its neighbouring properties descended to his eldest surviving son Charles Selwin Esq., then a banker in Paris.   Charles didn’t take up residence immediately and decided on taking down the Tudor dwelling and rebuilding it in a handsome, substantial manner albeit in a plain classical style.   The total transformation of Down Hall was completed in 1777 though some original Tudor fireplace mantels and door surrounds from Prior’s dwelling were retained and which can still be found at the hotel today.   Charles Selwin died at Down Hall in 1794 and was succeeded by his brother Thomas as heir to the family estates.
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Lady Jane Ibbetson

Thomas was the last of the male Selwin line and had left a codicil in his will that the Down Hall estate was to pass down to the next male heir on condition they took the name of Selwin.  On Thomas’ death, Down Hall passed firstly to his sister Jane, who had married John Caygill, and then to their only child, another daughter named Jane, who had married Sir James Ibbetson, 2nd Baronet.  Down Hall then passed down through the Ibbetson male line with each subsequent heir taking the name of Selwin by Royal license.  In 1869, Henry John Selwin acceded to the Ibbetson title as 7th Baronet and resumed by Royal licence the original family surname of Ibbetson in addition to that of Selwin.  Sir Henry John Selwin-Ibbetson became a Conservative MP until his retirement from the House of Commons in 1892 where he was then raised to the peerage as Baron Rookwood of Rookwood Hall and Down Hall.
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Lady Jane Ibbetson by Hoppner (002)
Image Source: @Wikimedia Commons Image Link
Down Hall Lounge
Image Source: The Main Lounge at Down Hall @Hotel Archives

Lord Rookwood

Lord Rookwood derived his title from Rookwood Hall that Charles Selwin had bought in 1817 and subsumed into the large Selwin estates.  These and the Ibbetson estates were all administered from Down Hall.  To reflect the importance of Down Hall as being the administrative heart of his kingdom, in 1871, he commissioned Frederick Pepys Cockerell to replace the existing mansion with a sumptuous new one in the Italianate style.  Cockerell became a notable architect of country houses from the 1860s onwards but gained particular attention for his building of Down Hall.  The house is of chief architectural interest, and was revolutionary at the time, for it being constructed of poured and shuttered concrete, a method used predominantly for commercial buildings rather than domestic dwellings.   At the time of completion in 1873, Down Hall was a particularly striking example of the best concrete work of the period.
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Captain Horace Walter Calverley

Lord Rookwood was childless at the time of his death in January 1901 whereupon the Peerage and Baronetcy became extinct.   Down Hall, along with all the other entailed estates, was inherited by his nephew Captain Horace Walter Calverley, the second of three sons born to Edmund Calverley and Isabella Mary Selwin, Lord Rookwood’s sister.  He was born in 1862 at Oulton Hall, the Calverley family seat in West Yorkshire.  After Lord Rookwood’s death, Horace chose to reside at Down Hall rather than at Oulton Hall.   Whilst he made no alterations to the house, he and his wife did redesign the gardens.   We find little other information on the Calverley’s at Down Hall in the intervening years but do know that at the start of World War 1, the house became a Red Cross Auxiliary hospital.
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Horace Walter Calverley
Image Source: Hoarce Walter, standing left, with his siblings @Tim Bradley-Williams (Descendant of John Selwin Calverley) Image Link
Mrs Louisa Mary Calverley1
Image Source: @Imperial War Museum Image Link

Mrs Louisa Calverley

Down Hall opens as a hospital under the supervision of Mrs Louisa Calverley who was made Commandant in 1915.  The Hospital was fitted out and received 9 English and 4 Belgian soldiers as its first batch of wounded on 21 November 1914 and continued to receive wounded soldiers throughout the war.  In February 1919 the Hospital was closed and Down Hall returned to a family home.   In 1920, we see from records that Horace has started selling off his land holdings, in particular all the major estates attached to Down Hall.  He died on September 22, 1929 at the age of 67 and at this stage, Down Hall enters a new chapter in its history.
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Downham School

Down Hall was sold in late 1930, possibly early 1931, and re-enters the annals of history in 1932 as Downham school, an upmarket boarding school for girls.  We don’t know who bought Down Hall but from the alumnae we know of, the owners were obviously very well connected to the upper echelons of society.  Downham was described as a ‘horsey and fashionable girls’ school in Essex’, where learning was frowned on and snobbery was all.  It offered a curriculum where the role was less on academics and more on shaping character, with an emphasis on neatness, good taste and self-control.   The aim, rather politely, was to make the girls all the more eligible for marriage whereas in fact they were taught that their goal was to marry well.  Some notable ladies that attended Downham include: Pamela Harriman - appointed US Ambassador to France in 1993 by Bill Clinton; Anne Clarissa Eden, Countess of Avon - married to Anthony Eden who was Prime Minister of the UK from 1955 to 1957 and Frances Shand Kydd - mother of Diana, Princess of Wales and grandmother of the Duke of Cambridge and Duke of Sussex.
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Clarissa Eden, Couness of Avon
Image Source: The marriage of Clarissa Churchill to Anthony Eden @Google Arts & Culture Image Link
St Ouen Antiques
Image Source: Copy of the original catalogue page @Hotel Archives

St Ouen Antiques

Downham is sold in the late 1960s and from anectdotal evidence, becomes in 1967, a conference centre run by a Mr G Liddell.  Whether he himself was the owner and whether the business was under the name Downham, or Down Hall, is completely unknown at this stage.   What we do know is, that in 1973, St Ouen Antiques had bought the property and announced an opening in early 1974 at ‘Down Hall’ with a display of English and Continental period furniture and fine art.

Veladail Hotels

Downhall is sold again and bought by Veladail Hotels, owners of the estate to this day.  Over the ensuing years, they have invested millions of pounds in restoring the house to its former glory as well as sympathetically moderninising and updating the property to create the contemporary, country mansion you see today.  All the public rooms are named after some of the people contained in this timeline, so when you are walking around the hotel, or indeed the estate, we hope you will imbibe some of the unique and fascinating history of Down Hall that goes back over 1,000 years.
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