Medieval villages and manors
During the six centuries between the arrival of the first Saxons in the 5th century and the Norman conquest in 1066 the area acquired the system of villages and manors which persisted until the building of the New Town in the 1950s. The medieval parish of Harlow had a population of 184 according to the Domesday Book. It ran south from the River Stort between the parishes of Matching and Sheering on the east and Latton on the west. It contained five Saxon manors: Harlowbury, Brend (later New) Hall, Kitchen Hall, Hubbards, and Moor Hall. Only the chapel of Harlowbury, and parts of the original Hubbards manor house survive. There were two principal manors in Latton Parish: Mark Hall and Latton Hall. Neither has survived. North of the Stort River, in Hertfordshire, there were two manor houses of interest: Pishiobury and Hunsdon.
The manor of Harlowbury was given to the Abbey of Bury St Edmonds in Suffolk by the Saxon thane (i.e. nobleman) Thurstan in 1044. The manor was enlarged by King Stephen around 1150 and remained in the hands of the Abbey until its dissolution in 1539. The chapel was built by Abbot Sampson ca. 1182 and is the oldest building in Harlow. The original rafters were replaced by a beautiful crown-post roof around 1300. The adjoining timber-framed hall, parts of which survive within the present house, was probably also built by Sampson. Old Road follows the line of the original main road linking Bury and London, and the Abbot would have stayed in the manor house and worshipped in the chapel, on his way to attend important State or religious functions in the capital.
The original Norman village probably lay south of the Harlowbury manor house, but was moved to what is now Churchgate Street in the late 11th century. Settlement at Market Street and Mulberry Green came later, perhaps by as much as a century. Henry VIII sold the manor to a family from Devonshire after the 16th century dissolution of the monasteries. By 1720 the chapel had been converted to a granary. The insertion of a second floor to increase the storage capacity put additional stress on the walls, and brick corner buttresses had to be added in the 19th century.
Because of its game-rich forests and its proximity to London, Harlow and the surrounding area was often visited by Royalty, particularly during the Tudor period when a number of property acquisitions were made. Little of what follows has any direct bearing on the structure of Harlow in the 21st century. But the story is an important reminder that you cannot walk very far anywhere in England without tripping over its history, and the names of long-extinct manors bear silent witness to the turmoil of the past.
A lane leading to Hubbards Hall branches off from the south end of Churchgate Street beside Hubbard's Cottages. Title to this manor was conveyed to John (Fitz) Hubert in 1353 by the de Harlow family, owners of Harlowbury. In the early 15th century it was owned by Sir John Shaw, Lord Mayor of London, whose descendents retained ownership until ca. 1600 when it came into the possession of the Reeve family. Francis Reeve (d. 1639) ws the founder of the almshouses in SHeering Road, at the north end of Churchgate Street. The core of the surviving house was built in the 1320s. Through the centuries it has been modified and extended, with the last major modifications made in 1934. It is now a wedding venue known as That Amazing Place.
North of the River Stort lies the Hertfordshire village of Hunsdon which, like Harlow, is listed in the Domesday Book. Sir William Oldhall built a large, brick tower house here in 1447. The house was bought in 1471 by Edward IV who then granted the property to Thomas Howard when he became Duke of Norfolk. In 1525 the house was purchased by Henry VIII who wanted to use it as an escape from the plague in London, because of its 'wholesome air'. Over the next nine years Henry spent £2,900 building an E-plan mansion of palatial proportions, with royal apartments, a great gallery and a moat.
Thomas Cromwell wanted a country seat near the King's house, and asked the Abbot of Bury St. Edmonds for a long lease of Harlowbury manor. An indenture was drawn up, but never executed. Whether this was because Cromwell changed his mind, or some other reason, isn't known. In any event, the Abbot granted a 60 (later 80) year lease to a William Summer the next year, at the same time that he granted Cromwell a pension of £10 from the manorial income.
Henry occasionally used Hunsdon as a base for hunting, but more importantly, as a place to keep his children. Mary and her household were sent here in 1527. By 1530 Mary, then aged 24, and Elizabeth, aged 3, were both living at Hunsdon. They were still there in 1536 when Elizabeth's mother, Anne Boleyn, was executed and their father married Jane Seymour. It was here on June 22nd of that year, that Mary reluctantly agreed to sign the Articles of Submission, drafted by Cromwell, which recognized Henry as the Head of the Church of England and acknowledged that the marriage of Henry to the ‘late Princess Dowager’ (Mary’s mother Catherine of Aragon) was ‘incestuous and unlawful’, thereby making her a bastard.
Prince Edward, later Edward VI, spent much of his youth here, and Hunsdon House can be seen through the open window in the upper left-hand corner of his 1546 portrait. And it was while she was living in this house that Mary signed the hated letter of submission to the terms of the oath attached to the Act of Supremacy.
On 13 January 1559, Queen Elizabeth made her cousin Henry Carey (the son of Anne Boleyn's sister Mary) the first Baron Hunsdon, and granted him the manor. Much of Henry's great house was pulled down in the mid-18th century and the moat was filled in around 1788. A new house was built around 1810, incorporating the little that was left of Henry's house. It, in turn, fell into ruin until it was renovated and 'Victorianized' in 1860. That house, only about a quarter the size of Henry's, survives today.
Eastwick and Pishiobury
North of the River Stort, the boundary between Essex and Hertfordshire, were the two adjoining manors of Eastwick and Pishiobury. Both were bought by Henry VIII in 1534 and given to Anne Boleyn. After her execution, Eastwick was bought by Henry's nephew, Henry Carey. There is no evidence that she ever lived there and the property reverted to the Crown after her execution. Edward VI granted the manor to one of his Gentlemen of the Chamber. The original house, built in 1585 and somewhat altered by Inigo Jones in 1615 was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1782 following designs by James Wyatt. At the same time the park was redesigned in the Landscape Style, and attributed to Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, the most sought-after landscape designer of the age. The house was converted to a school in 1941. It now houses offices. The stable block, built in 1660, has been converted to flats.
The manor of Moor Hall dates from the Normal conquest. It comprised lands granted to Eustace, Count of Boulogne, and some of the lands originally granted to the abbey of Bury St. Edmunds as part of their manor of Harlowbury. For more than 250 years, beginning in 1443, the manor was owned by seven generations of the Bugge family, which also owned Kitchen and Brendhall manors. In 1793 the estate was bought by John Perry, a ship owner from Blackwall, in Poplar. The family made it their home, enlarged the house and improved the grounds, especially when it was occupied by John Perry-Watlington (1823-1882). He was educated at the Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge (B.A. 1845, M.A. 1849). He was admitted to the Inner Temple in 1844, and elected MP for South Essex in 1859. He was a Major in the Essex Yeomanry, a Justice of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenant for Essex and Hertfordshire, and, in 1855, the High Sheriff of Essex. In 1810 he began to rebuild the house as a three-storied, five-bay, neo-classical mansion and, at the suggestion of Humphrey Repton, diverted the Matching Road to give the new house more privacy. The house was taken over by the British Army during the Second World War, then left unoccupied and allowed to decay. It was demolished ca. 1960, after being burned by vandals. Part of the stable block, and one of the lodges survived, and can be seen from the Matching Road. In the spring of 2019 the stable block was being converted into a residential property.
Mark Hall was the principal manor in Latton, the parish west of Harlow. Its lands provided most of the site for the post-war New Town. After the Battle of Hastings its new owner was Count Eustace Adelof de Merc (from Mercke near Calais) whose family held the manor for more than 250 years. Over time the name was anglicized to Mark. Subsequently there was a succession of important owners . One was James Altham, Sheriff of London in 1557 and of Essex in 1570, who played host to Queen Elizabeth I on three occasions (September, 1571; August, 1576 and July1578) during her Royal 'progresses' through the county. The Queen's retinue was too large to be accommodated in one house, and part of it stayed at Latton Hall which was also owned by Altham.
In 1786 the estate was bought by Montague Burgoyne, a philanthropist who supported the establishment of free schools, and the modernization of agriculture. He founded the Essex Agricultural Society in 1793 and introduced the use of mechanized seed drills and threshing machines for his farms. He commissioned Humphrey Repton, who succeeded Capability Brown as the best-known landscape designer of the age, to plan the landscape of the park. Montague’s first cousin once-removed, was General ‘Gentleman Johnny’ Burgoyne. His loss of the battle of Saratoga, New York in 1776 contributed to what would be called, depending on your point of view, either the loss of the American colonies, or the liberation of those colonies from British domination and exploitation.William Lushington, Altham’s cousin, owned the estate between 1776 and 1786. He demolished the Tudor/Jacobean house and replaced it with a new neo-Classical style building. To provide a suitably spacious setting for his new house he moved Latton Street 500 yards to the west and enlarged the park, demolishing Latton Hall in the process. The cycle track running through the Mark Hall North neighbourhood of the New Town follows the line of the relocated road. The Hall and the manor church (St. Mary at Latton) were now splendidly isolated in the park. Lushington’s father bought Latton Priory and lands in Latton and Netteswell, beginning a process of estate expansion that would continue to the end of the 19th Century.
In 1819 Burgoyne put the estate up for sale by auction at Garraway's Coffee House in 'Change Alley, Cornhill, London. It was purchased for 100,000 guineas by Richard Arkwright who, in 1769, invented the mechanized spinning machine which revolutionized the cotton textile industry and helped usher in the Industrial Revolution. He wanted to buy a house and living for his clergyman son Joseph, and settled on Mark Hall. He may have learned that the estate was available from Joseph's father-in-law, Sir Robert Wigram of Walthamstow who, in partnership with Mr. Perry Watlington, the owner of Moor Hall, owned the Blackwall Docks in London. Richard's daughter Anne had also married into the Wigram family.
The entire Arkwright estate, including Mark Hall, was inherited by Loftus Wigram Arkwright in the 1860s. His five unmarried sisters were already living in the Hall, and rather than dispossess them, he built a new house for his family at Little Parndon, just north of the site of the now-demolished Parndon House. The new building, known as Parndon Hall, serves today as part of the Princess Alexandra Hospital.
The last member of the Arkwright family to live in Parndon Hall was Commander Godfrey Arkwright, RN. On his final night in the house in September, 1953, after 134 years of Arkwright residence on the estate, he wrote a sad letter to the Harlow Development Corporation as the bulldozers were literally coming up the drive, lamenting the loss of his family's estate, but wishing the Corporation well in an undertaking which he recognized was well-meant and necessary.
Mark Hall was let to its last tenants in 1893. The Gilbeys were a local entrepreneurial family that had to look for alternative sources of income when the coming of the railway in the 1840s destroyed their coaching business. By the time they took up residence in Mark Hall they were involved in the wine trade and also owned several gin distilleries. In 1963 they opened a new head office and distillery complex just north of the Town Centre. Regrettably, following the takeover of the company by IDV in 1990, the distillery was closed and the buildings demolished. The site is now occupied by a Sainsbury's Superstore. One of the copper stills has been preserved and is located in the walled garden of the former Mark Hall stables, which now house the Museum of Harlow.
During the Second World War, Mark Hall was occupied by members of the Womens' Land Army. It was destroyed by fire in 1947, but the Georgian stable block (built ca. 1785) escaped destruction and now houses the Museum of Harlow. The Victorian-era servant's wing on the east also survived. Between 1951 and 1960 it was used as a temporary school for some of the New Town's first children and then as the first home of Tany's Dell School. It then fell into disrepair and was demolished.
Two of the estate's gatehouses survive: East Park Lodge in London Road, opposite Fawbert and Barnard's School, and North Lodge at the intersection of Fesants Croft and the cycle path which follows the old Netteswell Road.
Other Interesting Manor Houses near Harlow
No Royal or aristocratic families live in the Harlow area any more, but they have been replaced by some modern celebrities. Between the southern boundary of Pishiobury and the River Stort lies Rowneybury House, built in the 1930s as a home for disabled children on an estate carved out of Pishiobury in 1880. It was abandoned for nine years until it was bought in 1999 by Posh and Becks: Victoria, formerly Posh Spice of the 1990s singing group The Spice Girls, and the world-famous football player David Beckham. Victoria is a local girl, raised in Goffs Oak, Hertfordshire. They bought the house for £2.5 million, and sold it in 2013 for £11.3 million.
Wood House and Durrington Hall
Six miles to the south of Harlow, on the outskirts of Epping, is the century-old Wood House, part of a private gated development adjacent to the grounds of Copped Hall. For 30 years this was one of the U.K. homes of singer and football enthusiast Rod Stewart, which explains why it is equipped with a full-size football pitch. He sold the house in 2013 and moved to the mid-18th century, 10-bedroom Durrington Hall on the eastern outskirts of Harlow. In 2016 he was given planning permission to install a five-a-side football pitch on the property with the stipulation that it would not be equipped with floodlights.