Sans Dieu Rien
“Sir William hath at his own great costs and charges erected and builded a new house, very fair, large and stately, made of brick and embattl’d.”
Thomas Larke, 1566
It is not often that stately homes stay in one family. Many throughout England now belong to councils, trusts or associations and are seen as relics of the past. The Petre family, however, have retained their grade one listed manor house through fifteen generations. Ingatestone Hall, built during the reign of Henry VIII (1491-1547), maintains its Tudor appearance and is owned by the 18th Baron Petre.
Since 1992, parts of the house have been open to visitors during the summer months, including the ten acres of enclosed gardens. The south wing remains off limits and contains the living apartments of the heir of Ingatestone Hall, Dominic Petre. Either with a private tour or exploring on one’s own, guests can discover the history of the Petre family and their connection to the history of Great Britain.
Set slightly outside the village of Ingatestone, Essex, five miles from Chelmsford, and twenty-five from London, the Hall is easiest to travel to by car, however, the view of the building is obscured by trees. After parking in a meadow and starting to walk towards the Hall, visitors are welcomed by a red outer court building supporting a turret and one-handed clock engraved with the motto Sans Dieu Rien (without God nothing). Passing through the archway below brings you to the inner court, still referred thus despite the demolition of the west wing.
Built with red bricks, the manor house contains many features typical of Tudor architecture. Some of these are the originals and others were installed in the 20th century when attempting to convert the building back into its initial appearance, these include the many mullioned windows. Crow-stepped gables and ornate chimney pots decorate the roof, and a tall, crenellated turret containing an octagonal staircase stands to face the courtyard. It is unusual to see a private residence with crenellations because these are traditionally reserved for defensive structures, such as city walls and castles. Permission had to be granted by the king before the first owner could add this characteristic to his home.
The first owner was Sir William Petre (c1505-72) who bought the estate around 1540, however, the history of the land goes back much further. In circa AD 950, King Edgar granted Barking Abbey land in Yenge-atte-Stone (the old name for Ingatestone) to build the Abbey of Our Lady & St Ethelburga. The Nunnery remained in use until 1535 when Henry VIII ordered the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
The Dissolution of the Monasteries was an anti-Catholic process that took place between 1535 and 1541. The monarch suppressed all Roman Catholic properties, taking their money and belongings as well as their buildings. This, in part, was a result of the Protestant Reformation in Europe, however, for Henry VIII, it was more likely a monetary issue.
William Petre, a lawyer from Devon, first came to Ingatestone as Thomas Cromwell’s (1485-1540) assistant. Cromwell was ordered to lead the Dissolution of the Monasteries and it was Petre’s job to create a record of each establishment’s possessions and persuade the inhabitants to peacefully surrender to the king. One of the places Petre was assigned to was the Abbey of Our Lady & St Ethelburga, a building with which he quickly fell in love.
Taking out a mortgage, which he quickly paid off, Petre bought the grange from Henry VIII for £849 12s 6d. Unhappy with parts of the building, Petre demolished it and built the house which is essentially what visitors can still see today. William Petre, knighted in 1543, lived the remainder of his life at Ingatestone Hall with his wife and children. Henry VIII appointed him Secretary of State, a position he kept throughout the reigns of four Tudor monarchs. On his death, his eldest son John (1549-1613) inherited the house, becoming the first Baron Petre.
The tour of Ingatestone Hall begins in the Stone Hall, so called due to its flagstone flooring, which was recreated in the 20th century to replace the Great Hall lost in the demolition of the West Wing of the building. In the Georgian era, the decor had been modernised, however, Lady Rasch, the wife of the 16th Baron Petre, restored the room, which would have originally been three rooms, to the traditional Tudor appearance. Although electrical lighting has been added, the hall is quite dark due to the oak-panelled walls, giving visitors a sense of life in the 16th-century.
The Dining Room, also decorated with oak-panels, is set up as it would have looked at the beginning of a family meal. The table is set with cutlery, crockery and candlesticks, making the meal look like a grand occasion. The most interesting feature in the room, however, is the Mortlake Tapestries that adorn the walls around the table. Although they have become discoloured with time, the tapestries, which may have once belonged to James I and Charles I, are still impressive pieces of woven art.
The Old Kitchen with its wide fireplace is another interesting part of the house. This room would have been full of serving staff preparing meals but today it is no longer used as a kitchen. A cabinet holds examples of old kitchenware from past generations and the walls are filled with paintings of horses in the style of George Stubbs (1724-1806). Rich families often commissioned paintings of their prized horses, even more so than portraits of their own children.
Upstairs, the Master Bedroom has been refurbished to appear as it may have looked when the first few generations lived in the house. The Tudor oak-panelling is also seen here but it has had some additions over time, including a walk-in wardrobe. In contrast, another room on the first floor reveals the Georgian decoration the Hall wore in the 18th century. Instead of oak panels, the room is covered in pine, a much lighter colour to its predecessor.
Finally, visitors reach the Great Gallery, which is a lengthy 29 metres, containing 40 portraits of the previous Barons Petre and their families. Display cases reveal various items, including clothing, letters, and old Catholic objects that may have once been hidden in priest holes in the walls of the building. Two priest holes were found by accident by past members of the family. These can be peered into by visitors as they make their way around the house.
The Petre family were recusants that refused to accept the new Anglican church. For their safety, they kept their Roman Catholic practices hidden from the public, holding covert masses in their private chapel. The priest holes may have been used to store their Bible and so forth in order to prevent nosy visitors from discovering their secret. They also helped to shelter several priests who were being hunted by Anglican lawmen. One of these priests was St. John Payne (1532-82) who had been arrested at Ingatestone in 1577. It was thought that he returned to the Hall after being released from the Tower of London where he may have made use of one of the priest holes. Although the Petre family succeeded in concealing him within their walls, Payne was later arrested elsewhere and beheaded in 1582. The clothes he wore on the scaffold are on display in the Great Gallery, complete with blood stains.
After visitors have finished exploring the Hall, they may relax in the Summer Parlour, or the Ballroom as it was in the original plans. Here you can order teas, sandwiches and large slices of cake, freshly prepared by the kitchen staff. The room has a positive atmosphere and is a great place to regroup after a tour or a walk around the gardens.
With splendid scenery and a beautiful building, Ingatestone Hall is a popular location for weddings. Various rooms can be used for the ceremony and reception and the Summer Parlour is the perfect size to cater a meal for a large party. At other times of the year, exhibitions or plays may be put on by local artists, which always attract a large number of visitors.
Every now and then, the current Baron Petre or his son Dominic may make an appearance. Until recently, John, the 18th Baron Petre had a big role in public life. Until a recent birthday, he held the title of Lord Lieutenant of Essex and has had opportunities to meet the Queen and the previous President of the United States, Barrack Obama. In 2016, he was appointed Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order. Lord John Petre will forever be associated with a large number of local organisations, such as Brentwood Arts Council; Brentwood Shakespeare Company; Ingatestone and Fryerning Horticultural Society; Ingatestone and Fryerning Angling Club; and as the President of St John Ambulance Essex, to name but a few.
Putting aside its history, Ingatestone Hall also has several claims to fame. It has been hired numerous times by film companies for a range of productions. These include: Lovejoy (BBC TV: 1992); Lady Audley’s Secret (Warner Sisters: 1999); an advertisement for British Gas (2001); Blue Peter (BBC TV: 2002 & 2005); a music video for Snow Patrol; Bleak House (BBC TV: 2005); and Jekyll and Hyde (ITV: 2015).
Ingatestone Hall is well worth a visit for both locals and those living further afield. Historians will love seeing the Tudor building and learning about the previous members of the Petre family. Others will enjoy the gardens and tea room as part of a peaceful day out. Children are also catered for with special events throughout the summer. Details of these can be found on their website. Due to it being a private residence, access to the Hall is limited. The opening times are from noon to 5 p.m on Wednesdays, Sundays and Holiday Mondays between Easter until the end of September. Visitors are advised to check the website before arriving to make sure the Hall will be open.
|ADMISSION PRICES (2018)|