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Ilsley Hall
East Ilsley, Berkshire

The Hall at East Ilsley is built of blue and red brick under a tiled roof and has over the last decade been the subject of a comprehensive scheme of refurbishment; the installation of a new warm-air furnace is the most recent item. The Hall is listed Grade II* and is a fine example of early Georgian architecture with many of the original architectural features remaining, in particular fine external brickwork detail, panelled parapet with its moulded stone coping, pilasters dividing the south facade into tall bays with sash windows with segmented heads. Stone and brick semicircular steps leading to a six-panel front door with glazed fanlight over.

The Parish of East Ilsley takes its name from the Hildesley family which for long occupied the Manor Farm on the north side of the village from The Hall. It is believed that in the second half of the 16th Century, Sir Francis Englefield constructed the first East Ilsley Hall which stood on or very close to the site of the present house. Queen Elizabeth seized The Hall in 1585 for Sir Francis' alleged complicity in a Jesuit plot; but The Hall was returned to Sir Francis' nephew, Francis. After Sir Thomas Shirley (1542-1612) (best known as the first person to suggest the creation of the title of baronet) bought The Hall, he surrendered it to Queen Elizabeth: she then bestowed it on Urie Babington whose son sold it in 1618 to Sir Francis Moore who was born in East Ilsley. In 1620 he obtained a charter from James I to hold regular markets at first weekly, then fortnightly, from February to August. His grandson, Sir Henry sold The Hall to William Pococke; in turn, his son, John sold it in 1691 to John Alien, and it was either he, or his son of the same name, who had the present Hall built for him circa 1728. John Alien was probably a wealthy wool merchant who benefited from the fact that until 1934 East Ilsley was second only to Smithfield as the most important sheep and cattle market in the country - hence its name at one stage in its history 'Market Ilsley'. In order to cater for visitors

to the village, there were eight inns in the village at the beginning of this century; there remain three. John Alien was a Church Warden and in 1733 he and his fellow Church Warden, Will Budd, donated to St. Mary's Church a fine silver chalice and paten made by Francis Spilsbury and hallmarked in London, which is still in use today.

Both East and West Ilsley have had extensive connection with racehorse training and East Ilsley's connection goes back to the 18th century when the Duke of Cumberland (brother of George II) had stables built at his mansion, Keate's Gore, at the foot of the north side of Gore Hill. Those stables were demolished soon after the Duke's death in 1765. Throughout the 20th century there have been racehorse training stables in the village with a number of very well-known trainers including Capt. Ernest West at The Hall.

The Hall, in its original form, was an extremely fine building whose pitch roof rose directly to the ridge, revealing two particularly tall chimney stacks with projecting panelled brick work: it had three dormer windows rising just above the parapet wall. It must have been a totally freestanding building with the main entrance on the north side into the staircase hall although it is clear that at some stage there was a front door in the centre of the south side of the house (how that affected the drawing room is impossible to tell). There is evidence that the extensive basement was reached not only internally but externally in the south east corner of the house close to the present front door. It would be unusual for the architect of the present principal building to be known to posterity, but there is a fine building at East Hanney (six or seven miles away as the crow flies) which shares a number of characteristics with The Hall, although the former is probably a little earlier than the latter.

Towards the end of the 18th century The Hall was acquired by the Balistre family: James made a large fortune from trade with the East Indies and his son, Charles, who was a professional soldier was in occupation of The Hall in 1824. By 1833 The Hall had passed to Charles Balistre's daughter, Mary Williams, who (on the basis of the 1851 census information) had been born in the house in 1783, Mary lived at The Hall with her two farming sons, George and Francis, and her daughter Caroline and two live-in domestics, Mary Yeats and Emma Tubb. When Mary died, she bequeathed The Hall to her third son, Albert, who was born in the house in 1814 and became an 'Attorney and solicitor on the Rolls, holding Certificate but not Practising'. He was described by a contemporary as having a 'merry mouth, somewhat upturned, blessed with a ruddy complexion, and an equally rosy nature, but a gait much affected by the gout'.

In the early I9th century, Ilsley Hall was used as an 'Academy' run by J. Legge and Assistant Masters with Terms per Annum' at 17 guineas

Although a painting of East Ilsley by W. Hewett (a section of which is reproduced here) in 1841 shows The Hall as having an addition at the east end of the house with an addition, it is clear that that addition is not the one which contains the front door and and the curved staircase today. It is most likely that the present new staircase section of The Hall was built about 1880 when the profile of the roof was altered to contain a mansard roof before the pitch rises to the ridge. Even though the number of dormer windows was reduced (on the north side at least) from three to two, the second floor of The Hall was able, as a result of this remodelling, to contain four very good-sized rooms. At some stage of the 19th century the north-facing parapet wall (which is shown in the painting of 1841) was rebuilt because the elegant brick panels, similar to those on the south-facing parapet wall, were omitted.

At the 1871 census Albert Williams was still living at The Hall, together with his wife Ann, but by 1881 he had been replaced as owner by William Henry Woodhouse, the grandfather of Mrs 'Chips' Hibbert who died very recently; the Hibberts played, and continue to play, an important role in village life for most of this century. It is said that when a member of the Woodhouse family married (in the view of those living in The Hall) 'beneath her station', the occupants of The Hall not only refused to attend the wedding but closed the shutters of all the windows facing onto Broad Street.

During the 20th century The Hall has been owned for the most part by legal, military and diplomatic families - Captain Ernest Edward West, who was called to the Bar in Dublin; Hugh Kimber, a partner in the firm of Kimber Williams & Co. of 79, Lombard Street whose home telephone number was simply, East Ilsley, 5 - the Post Office Telegraphs consent document seems to indicate that the telephone was installed circa October 1924; Brigadier-General Robert Hughes CB, CSI, CMG, DSO RD who, although be bought The Hall in 1928, did not come to live in it until he retired as Director of the Nigerian Civil Service in 1930; Colonel A. M. Collard who lived there until just before the second world war when it passed to the Hon. Catherine Gibbs.

For some reason which is not entirely clear (especially since he did not appear to own the house at the time), Col. Collard commissioned a series of detailed measured drawings of aspects of The Hall which was prepared by a draughtsman E.W.N. Mallows in April 1929. These drawings are held by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England at the National Monuments Record in Swindon. They show that no more than seventy years ago, although The Hall boasted eight bedrooms, there was no bathroom or lavatory. Miss Gibbs was the granddaughter of the first Lord Aldenham, a director of the Bank of England and a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery. Miss Gibbs was a Church Warden from 1941 until her death in 1967; in the later years of her life a ramp had to be built on the north side of The Hall to enable her in her wheel-chair to be taken down into the garden.

The first major works to be undertaken at The Hall for many years were in the late 1960s and early 70s under the supervision of Donald Insall & Partners, the well-known conservation architects, on behalf of Mr. & Mrs. William B Thomson; the ducted warm-air heating was installed; the new kitchen was built in place of some very rundown outbuildings which can be seen in the Country Life advisement for the prospective auction of The Hall in September 1967. The curved walls joining the kitchen wing to the coach house were built, at the same time in place of some other very rundown outbuildings. The Thomsons sold to Mr. & Mrs. Rice who sold The Hall Cottage(s) and The Hall's orchard area, on which Dormer Cottage was then built - a loss to The Hall.

Between 1991 and 1993 extensive refurbishment works were undertaken to the house to include complete re-roofing of the main roof, and a totally redesigned rainwater disposal system; a new rear entrance porch and new stone steps both at the front and at the rear of The Hall: a fine Georgian fireplace and the installation of an Aga in the kitchen and many modern facilities including a ground floor lavatory and a new circular staircase; previously the only period during which there had been a ground floor lavatory found it carved out of the study at the north-west corner of The Hall; by 1991 it had been removed and there were no such facilities on the ground floor. Substantial works to the coach house saw the creation of a totally new area at first floor level where most lovely beams support the roof. The excellent space which has four new windows is presently used as offices, but the local authority has indicated that it could be converted (without planning or listed building consent) to a flatlet with little difficulty since full plumbing (including a soil pipe) and water is already connected.

The garden has been greatly upgraded with a useful conservatory in the north-east corner and a small formal garden in the south-east corner, and is the subject of a separate note. Two fine sculptures, one by David Wynne and the other (spanning a new small lily/fish pond) by Nigel Boonham adorn the garden which has an automatic irrigation system, standpipes at five points and wet-proof electrical outlets at three points; and the useful new wood store now contains an equally useful 'facility' for outside workers!

Ilsley Hall is a private residence. It was last offered for sale by Hamptons International in 2000.

This historical note has been abstracted from East  Ilsley -Photographic Memories 1900-1970 by Jim Wilson and The Hall, East  Ilsley. A History by Peter Bushell and from information at the RCHM, Swindon and at The East Ilsley Historical Society.

    Nash Ford Publishing 2002. All Rights Reserved.