Historic grandeur, luscious pastures and plenty of 21st century touches — including a fantastic outdoor pool — meet at Stanstead Hall in Greenstead Green, Essex. Carla Passino takes a look.
On a fateful day in February 1527, a fresh-faced, 13-year-old boy, William Parr, found himself in the chapel at Stanstead Hall, the seat of Henry, 2nd Earl of Essex, to tie the knot with the Earl’s daughter, 10-year-old Anne Bourchier.
It was the beginning of one of Tudor England’s most disastrous marriages (Anne left her husband in the 1540s), but also the foundation of Parr’s fortune and, with it, of the hall’s reinvention.
Sitting pretty at the centre of a moat-encircled island by Greenstead Green, in Essex, Grade II*-listed Stanstead Hall—for sale through Savills at a guide price of £6.5 million—stands on 46 acres of land that had once been held by Robert Malet, Chamberlain of England in 1092, who promptly lost it after he had the misguided idea of joining a conspiracy against Henry I.
The whims of kings and the vagaries of marriage and inheritance eventually saw the estate land in the hands of judge John de Bourchier.
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His son, Robert, 1st Baron Bourchier, would become Lord Chancellor to Edward III and, having fought valiantly for the King, was allowed to crenellate the house in 1341, according to the 1875 Handbook for Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, and Cambridgeshire. The moat was probably added under Sir Robert’s tenure, too, making it about 681 years old.
In a swift social rise, the Bourchiers progressed from barons to counts (William, Count of Eu) and earls (Henry, 1st Earl of Essex) with an Archbishop of Canterbury thrown in for good measure (Thomas Bourchier, who had the longest episcopate of his times, 51 years). Then came Anne and the miserable marriage.
The combination of medieval mores and her ‘guilt’—she ‘lived in adultery with a person named Huntley,’ according to Thomas Wright’s The History and Topography of the County of Essex—ensured that, when the couple split, the hall went to Parr.
With a sizeable estate under his belt and his sister Catherine on the throne of England, his fortunes were assured and looked set to improve even further when Edward VI, who called Parr his ‘honest uncle’, made him Marquess of Northampton.
Like Robert Malet before him, however, Parr backed the wrong royal and lost his estate, his title and very nearly his head—after Edward’s death, he was one of Lady Jane Grey’s supporters and Mary Tudor didn’t take it well. Restored to his honours by Elizabeth I, he bought back Stanstead Hall, but must have decided he had had enough of it, because, according to some accounts, he sold it after only a few days to Sir William Waldegrave.
Nonetheless, during his time at the hall, Parr expanded and improved it, according to Susan James’s biography, Catherine Parr: Henry VIII’s Last Love. A 1553 account, related by Wright, describes the house as a quadrangular brick building of ‘great extent’, surrounded by a moat 44 poles in circumference and set in a 787-acre park with 1,000 deer and 3,620 oaks, ‘of a hundred years’ growth’.
Although Wright believed that little of Parr’s original home had survived, today’s hall still dates from the 16th century, it remains a building of great extent (10,900sq ft) and vestiges of its long past are visible in every nook, from the Tudor chamfers in the stair hall to the heavily panelled dining room, the intricately carved fireplace in one of the seven reception rooms and the ancient beams in some of the 12 bedrooms.
Even the 1913 and 1934 extensions are sympathetic to the period feel.
The first was built for textile baron Samuel Courtauld, founder of the Courtauld Institute, the second for his daughter Sydney and her husband, Tory minister Robert Austen Butler, later Lord Butler of Saffron Walden. Under their ownership, the house and grounds played host to many Tory grandees, not least Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin who, much to Lord Butler’s horror, was bitten by one of the family’s dogs.
However, he didn’t take it personally—according to Butler’s biographer Michael Jago, he turned to the pooch and said: ‘I quite understand how you feel; I want to do that to every supplementary question in the House at this time of the year.’
Despite this august history, Stanstead Hall still feels very much a home. ‘All the reception rooms are grand enough to feel that you’re in a country house, but also comfortable enough that you could sit in and read a book, watch television or be with the family,’ says selling agent Tim Phillips of Savills. ‘There is a real balance.’
Greenstead Green: What you need to know
Location: 6 miles from Baintree, about 26 miles east of Bishop’s Stortford and 18 miles north of Chelmsford.
Atmosphere: Greenstead Green Farm runs a successful boutique, gift shop and post office and Greenstead Green Barn Cafe also gets great reviews — especially their afternoon tea and scones.
Things to do: Plenty to do in the area, with golf courses, walks and larger towns to explore.
Schools: The Ramsey Academy, The Perse, Bishop’s Stortford College and The Leys are all reputable local schools.