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Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years ago


by R H Johnston


Historical Context


At first sight Yateley Hall looks like an attractive early eighteenth century country house. In fact, the intimate character of the house derives from the charmingly haphazard mixture of styles resulting from the changes made by each successive owner since the first timber framed house was built in the Middle Ages. A particularly important remodelling of the house was undertaken in 1871-2 by Richard Norman Shaw, one of the greatest and most famous nineteenth century domestic architects. The recent renovation of the house and its conversion into offices marks a further stage in its development. The house shows a fascinating overlaying of work of successive periods, having been modified or extended roughly every thirty or forty years from the sixteenth Century to the present day. Buried within the brick exterior is a high status timber framed farmhouse with a hall and two cross wings dating from no later than the fifteenth century. The house stands on a formerly moated site which has probably been continuously occupied since at least the thirteenth century.


The earliest documentary evidence available indicates that the property was owned in 1567 by Andrew Smythe, an armigerous gentleman, who held "a messuage, garden and orchard, called Colcatt's containing 4 acres of land". Oliver Gery owned the house from 1655 to 1658 and Mrs Gery continued to live there at least until 1679. A document, a very early example of estate agent's particulars prepared for Mrs Gery between 1671 and 1682, refers to "A new brick house, strongly built which cost above sixteene hundred pounds the building", surrounded by a large deep moat with a very strong new draw bridge". This document describes a comfortable and fashionable country house with its pools and gardens.


Henry Foxcroft, the London lawyer who lived at the house from 1702 to 1732, rebuilt the exterior of the house and gave it much of its present appearance. In 1722 Henry Foxcroft, as a magistrate, wrote a letter to Sir John Cope of Bramshill M.P. which is preserved among the State Papers in the Public Record Office. It refers to an outbreak of attacks on property in the area and says that a man who had been arrested for damaging fishponds at Heckfield had been immediately rescued by his confederates: the magistrates needed support from the Government. Shortly afterwards Parliament passed the so-called "Black Act" which imposed the death penalty for various offences, including damaging fishponds.


Rumney Diggle, another London lawyer, owned the house from 1732 to 1754: he was very rich, and was responsible for creating the parkland setting. His son Thomas, another London lawyer, lived all his life at the house until his death in 1794. Thomas Diggle, or the Halhed family (1795-1841) who followed, constructed the large airy ballrooms at the southern end of the house. John Halhed closed a road to the west of the Ha-ha in 1797 and changed the name to Yateley House. The Colletts (1841-56) changed it again to Yateley Hall, and were responsible for the avenue of oak trees on the drive. A series of short term tenants, some of them now with army connections, followed. The writer A C Benson remembered coming over in the 1860s with his parents from Wellington College, where his father (later Archbishop of Canterbury) was headmaster, to visit a Mrs Edwardes at Yateley Hall, and he recalled the delights of fishing in the ponds and having tea on the lawn.


In 1871 Martin de Winton Corry leased Yateley Hall and commissioned the architect Norman Shaw to make alterations: alterations executed in his then new "Queen Anne" style which was later to make him so famous. Mr de Winton Corry's daughter bought the house from Collett's executors after his death in 1885. After her mother's death in 1909 Miss de Winton Corry continued to live at Yateley Hall until her own death in 1943. During her time, she made the Hall a centre of village life and numerous celebrations, flower shows, fetes and sports meetings were held in the grounds.


By 1947 the grounds had been whittled away to the 40 acre park. The house was converted into a Convent School by the Farnborough Hill Convent. Later the school extended the building to provide classrooms, and sold off parts of the Park for development or under compulsory purchase. The Convent left in 1981, but the school continued to be run by parents until it finally closed in 1985.


Mr John Behan of Lacken Construction Ltd bought the Hall in 1986, and over four years has saved the it from the ravages of decay and neglect, and converted it to provide prestigious office accommodation. While aiming to retain as much of the existing fabric as possible, he has completely restored the house, sensitively added additional accommodation at the northern end, and provided new pitched roofs to the extensions added by the school.


Yateley Hall and its grounds have a long history, with both national and local historical connections, and therefore is of great historical importance in this otherwise largely modern community. In recognition of this Yateley Hall is listed Grade II* by the Department of the Environment and the Stable Block is separately listed Grade II.


Architectural Development


The Early House. The deep wide moat which still completely surrounded Yateley Hall until the end of the seventeenth century proves that the site has been occupied since the medieval period, probably from before 1350. Moats were dug by men of substance, not primarily for defence, but to provide secure overnight accommodation for livestock. The island thus formed was about 30 metres square. Local legends claim that the site was ecclesiastical or even Roman, but no evidence supports these conjectures. What is known is that there was a medieval timber framed house of relatively high status with a hall and two cross wings, much of which survives as internal walls within the house, hidden behind eighteenth century bolection panelling. The original foundations and a sill beam of the east wall are visible below the kitchen stairs. This large farmhouse corresponds to the central section of the present western facade.


The hall, which was the communal living room in medieval times, was originally a lofty single storey structure. The northern crosswing is an independent structure, and may have been reerected on this site after being brought from elsewhere. At the southern end of the attic there is a remnant of the original fifteenth century roof of the southern cross-wing, which was probably then a solar of two storeys. This attic room illustrates the eccentricities of the building: this medieval roof was partly cut away and a new roof built on top of it in the eighteenth century. A nineteenth century lead-lined open gutter now runs through this room.


Later, probably in the sixteenth Century, three very substantial chimney stacks were added, which still survive, one each at the northern and southern ends of the building and one against the eastern wall of the hall. The northern chimney retains a large brick arched fireplace, much restored, on the ground floor of the northern wing. A similar fireplace in the hall is now partly filled in for a later fireplace and covered by eighteenth century bolection panelling. Remains of the southern medieval fireplace survive behind the bolection panelling of what is now the entrance hall. An early sixteenth century leaded iron casement window can be found at the end of the corridor of the attic.


The House "Rebuilt" In the middle of the seventeenth Century the house was remodelled considerably, sufficiently for the 1671-82 document to refer to it as "a new brick house", a house now raised to three storeys, and which cost £1600. This seventeenth century house was described as having a very richly painted interior with oak panelling, and examples of both have been found behind eighteenth century panelling in the former hall. The attic stairs is an excellent example of a staircase of this period: these stairs formerly continued down to the ground floor. Original stud partitions survive, of various dates, particularly in the attics, and the house also has a wide variety of doors. From across the canal on the east side of the house, can be seen a square upstanding brick block of dark bricks, with a row of miniature hipped pitch-and-valley roofs above it that date from this period.


The Eighteenth Century The early eighteenth century saw major redevelopment of the house, obliterating most of the immediately visible evidence of the earlier structure. The western facade was reconstructed in Flemish bond chequer-patterned brickwork, and is good example of the Dutch influenced houses of the early eighteenth century. The bold brick chimney stacks of the western facade date from this period. At the same time the medieval moat was filled in on the northern, western and southern sides. The eastern side was extended and widened to form a fashionable Georgian canal on the east side of the house. A little later, a large additional wing was added to the north, partly on the site of the moat.


Changing fashion in the early eighteenth century also resulted in the removal of the painted oak panelling in favour of extensive pine bolection panelling, much of which still remains. The panelling in the former hall (the central ground floor room in the centre of the facade) is particularly fine, but there are other rooms with good panelling, some of it of later date, on the ground and first floor. The peculiarities of the panelling, doors, floor levels and other details of the first floor panelled rooms reveal the complexity of the buildings development. On the ground floor, also from this period, are two plank doors, ornamented to look like panelled doors. These doors are fitted with contemporary iron door-fittings. A wooden classical pilaster between them makes an incongruous appearance. The adjacent walls are of plaster, made to look like wood panelling.


Hall Cottage, at the northern end of the canal, was originally a seventeenth century building presenting five bays towards the canal with a door in the centre, with blind windows on the first floor, similar to the building just described. It is most notable for an interesting eighteenth century brick vaulted cellar in the "picturesque" style, with three particularly attractive triplets of blind lancet windows on the northern side. The building was converted into a two storey slate roofed cottage in the nineteenth century.


The Stable Block to the north of the main building, is a typical provincial Palladian design, built between 1730 and 1750, with a plain recessed centre flanked by two hip-roofed wings with lunette windows. It is a good example of its kind. At the northern end of the main building another seventeenth century outbuilding with an eighteenth century facade, probably designed as the washhouse and brewhouse, has become incorporated in the main structure.


The late eighteenth or early nineteenth century saw the addition of two large ballrooms at the southern end. The one overlooking the park originally had a bow window. The front door was moved to its present position from its previous position in the centre of the facade, and made to open onto an entrance hall which still has its charming screen of fluted Roman Doric columns. Curiously no porch was provided until 1991.


The Norman Shaw Additions - 1872 The additions by Norman Shaw are an important early work of his, being one of the pioneering examples of a reviving sympathy with English Carolean and Queen Anne architecture. He remodelled and partly rebuilt the Georgian drawing rooms at the southern end of the house, giving them new windows and internal fittings and adding a large bold wooden Conservatory to the south. He also extended this part of the house to the east, placing the wall nearer to the canal bank. A new main staircase was constructed on a very grand scale in polished light oak. The entrance hall was extended to encompass a further room to the north of the staircase, and a new door was placed in this room to give access to the canal. The entrance hall which resulted was on a palatial scale. Some of the rooms on the first floor were also remodelled with unusual cambered ceilings divided into beaded panels. Finally, the appearance of the front of the house was transformed by the addition of the heavy modillion cornice in place of the earlier modest cornice, and by the renewal of the dormer windows in a similarly bold design.


These additions and modifications blend successfully with the earlier house, and form a remarkably early example of the new respect for Queen Anne brick domestic architecture through which Norman Shaw and his associates led English architecture on and away from the Gothic Revival. Not only is the work remarkably sensitive to the original house, but the new East front is a very beautiful piece of architecture in its own right, the fine red brickwork rising out of the canal in a manner reminiscent of seventeenth century Dutch townscape painting.


Shaw's Southern wing demonstrates in its bold half-hipped gable a desire to keep the original roof line of the western facade. This gable and the cambered ceilings of the first floor bedrooms enable the roof line to be retained while allowing rooms with lofty ceilings on the ground floor. A similar expedient was used by Shaw at Cragside in Northumberland at about the same time. Much of the complexity of the roof elsewhere also arises from these artistic considerations. Below the half-hipped gable the new serenity of style is revealed in the high quality red brickwork, the massive modillion cornice and the tall sash windows, arranged on both floors in a tripartite pattern. Inside, the drawing room interior was probably intended to be plain and classical, a reaction against Victorian fussiness, though by early in this century it was extensively decorated with mosaics made of broken pottery, a little of which still survives. A large plate glass window in the south wall in a large arched recess revealed the contents of the Conservatory - an unusual feature which still remains in spite of the replacement of the Conservatory by twentieth century classrooms.


The staircase hall internally has a broad timber stairway rising gradually on three sides, with turned balustrading around a central well. The open screen of arches across the top landing perhaps betrays a slightly Jacobean style. A similar arcade screen of three arches is found at the top of the kitchen stairs, for which Shaw may also have been responsible, with a light box inserted to provide a roof light. Construction of this lightbox resulted in the blanking off of a cupboard on the western side of the corridor in the attic above: the eighteenth century doors of the cupboard remain.

The Georgian reception room on the Eastern side was completely remodelled internally by Shaw with new panelling and a new main cornice, and has one of Shaw's pretty fireplaces of imitation Delft tiles; opposite is the broad shallow rectangular bay window which Shaw added for the view over the canal. A French window formerly opened into the conservatory at the southern end of the room.


Upstairs, in Shaw's wing, there are two attractive bedrooms, one over the drawing room, the other at rightangles at the rear, each originally supplied with a dressing room. Here Shaw adopted a different type of interior style: the rooms have cambered ceilings divided up by ribs into a chequerwork of panels, decorated with wallpaper. The attractive wallpaper decoration dates from the late 1940s but may well have been a replacement for the original decoration like the pies in the eastern room was very fashionable in 1872.


The Eastern facade is particularly fine where the tall red brick hip-roofed facade of the staircase hall and the tripartite bay window of the eastern reception room rise out of the canal as in a Dutch picture. The restrained detailing places all the emphasis on the fine quality of the red brick and the white painted joinery topped by the massive hipped roofs of tiles and leadwork and pedimented dormers - a series of formal symmetrical elements being harmoniously but asymmetrically composed. Equally remarkable in its way, and reflecting the growing sensitivity to the style of older buildings, is the row of pedimented dormers and the massive modillion cornice which Shaw added to the Western facade. These were bolder than the originals, but are in keeping with the longer bolder windows which had been added earlier in the nineteenth century.


The Twentieth Century There was no further change to the main buildings until the middle of the twentieth Century. A lodge, now demolished, was built east of the entrance drive about 1900. During its occupation as a school, the building suffered the addition of a series of unfortunate neo-Georgian flat-roofed extensions at both the northern and southern ends of the building. During the 1960s, part of the eighteenth century northern wing was rebuilt (probably because of settlement) with the loss of the huge kitchen fireplace.


Lacken Construction Ltd have now made good the ravages of time and have improved the architectural unity of the building. They have given the twentieth century buildings attractive pitched roofs, and have extended the modillion cornice, and they have incorporated the northern outbuilding fully into the main structure. They have transformed Yateley Hall into a building for today, yet one which retains is ancient charm and much of its original variety.


Yateley Hall, its associated buildings and its setting is of great architectural and landscape merit both externally and internally, not only in respect of its specifically outstanding features, but also of the many minor features and idiosyncrasies which form its character.


The Grounds The walled garden was built at the start of the eighteenth century. The eastern side of the medieval moat was probably redesigned as a canal in the formal style (possibly a Dutch garden influence with canal water features) during the eighteenth century. The Ha-ha is probably eighteenth century too, though it may well follow the line of the western boundary ditch and bank mentioned in the estate particulars of 1671-1682. The "ha-ha" gave the house sweeping lawns immediately in front, replacing the much smaller seventeenth century formal garden within the moat, while beyond was the parkland with unobstructed framed views of grazing animals in the countryside.


Within this wider countryside context, the more intimate domestic curtilage was defined by the access drive, shrubberies, estate buildings and pond to the north, by the ha-ha to the west, by the walled garden and pond to the south, and by the canal and formal gardens to the east. Remarkably, much of the feel of this comfortable setting within the wider landscape context remains to this day.




Canadian Airmen at Yateley Hall in WW2

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