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Hall Place
Hurley, Berkshire

Earliest records show that La Halle, the name by which the original building was known in the 13th century, existed in 1234 when it was the manor house of Hurley and owned by John de Hurley. Descendants of John de Hurley eventually relinquished the title of the land and buildings to Hurley Priory who continued to hold the estate for two centuries. In 1540, the Priory and all its possessions, which by this time belonged to Westminster Abbey, were surrendered to Henry VIII at the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

After the Dissolution, The Hall, as it was then known, was owned successively by Andrew Newbury, Sir Richard Mompesson, Henry Alford and finally, in 1690, by Jacob Bancks. Bancks was born in Sweden, adopted English nationality, served with distinction in the British Navy, married a wealthy Devonshire widow, was elected M.P. for Minehead and was knighted in 1699. It was Sir Jacob who erected the statue of Diana the Huntress at the end of the North Drive, the magnificent avenues of lime trees having been planted a little before his time. Sir Jacob died in 1724 whence The Hall passed to a son of the same name but within a year the property was owned by Richard Pennel.

In 1728, the estate was purchased by the wealthy London lawyer, William East who demolished The Hall and built the existing, smaller early Georgian manor, Hall Place, on the site of the original building. The north and south wings were added at a later date. Both the exterior and interior construction of the mansion were of the simple style characteristic of the period - except for the two baroque chimney pieces and the lavish decoration of the drawing room, now the library. William East died in 1737 and was succeeded by a son of the same name born the year following his father's death. The second William East was created a Baronet in 1766 and died in 1819 when Hall Place passed to his son, Gilbert. Sir Gilbert East died without issue in 1828 and the estate, consisting of 1,121 acres, passed to a nephew, East George Clayton.

The new owner assumed the surname of East and was created a baronet in 1838. Within a few years, the estate consisted of some 3,000 acres and the mansion was surrounded by a deer park. Sir East George Clayton East planted oak trees in this park, depicting the arrangements of the fleets at the Battle of the Nile, erected a statue of Admiral Lord Nelson in the field now known as Nelsons Grass and built brick pyramids, only one of which remains today, over the wells in the park. The first baronet died in 1851 whence the estate passed to a succession of Clayton Easts, namely to Sir Gilbert in 1851, Sir Gilbert Augustus in 1866, to Sir George in 1925 and finally to Sir Robert, 5th baronet of Hall Place, in 1925. Sir Robert died suddenly and intestate in 1932 whence the baronetcy became extinct and Hall Place was purchased by his mother, Lady Frances, who lived in the mansion until it was requisitioned by the government in 1939.

In 1943, 1025 acres of the estate were purchased under a Compulsory Order by the Ministry of Agriculture. Subsequently Hall Place, Home (now Top) Farm and 484 acres were sold to Berkshire County Council for the establishment of the Berkshire Institute of Agriculture in 1949 and the remaining 541 acres were utilised for the re-location of the Grassland Research Institute. In 1968 the Institute was re-named as a College by which time a substantial programme of extension and development was in progress and which is continuing at the present time.

Edited from Notes compiled by the College in 1981.

Hall Place is home to the Berkshire College of Agriculture.

    Nash Ford Publishing 2004. All Rights Reserved.