North Benfleet Hall was a manor house in rural North Benfleet that held a special place in the memories of the local residents and a question mark as to its disappearance.
The area it was built in holds historical interest with its roots as far back as Saxon times when King Harold owned the land which was then taken over by William the Conqueror. It is though that the church that stood opposite the Hall, All Saints Church was built in the 13th century and although still standing, is now not used.
In the eyes of children who lived nearby in the 1920’s and 30’s, North Benfleet Hall was an exciting and mysterious place. Standing empty, the children have memories of secret rooms hidden behind fireplaces and false walls behind cupboards. There was a secret tunnel that ran from ‘ Dolce Dolman’s cottage’, a tiny cottage that became the first telephone exchange in North Benfleet, to the ‘Old Hall’ as North Benfleet Hall used to be called. There was also talk of a tunnel that ran from the Hall to Sadler’s Farm. In fact, when the roundabout was being built there, part of the tunnel was discovered and filled in by building contractors who thought it was an old drain. Old photos taken from the air, clearly showed a pale line running from North Benfleet Hall to the area of Sadler’s farm roundabout but unfortunately these have been destroyed too.(John Wernham @ Basildon History)
The description of North Benfleet Hall is detailed in ‘An Inventory of Historical Monuments in Essex’ volume 4, 1923. It describes the building as a house and moat north of the church. It was built in Tudor times and was substantial. It had two floors, attics and was built to an ‘H’ shaped plan. The East wing was 15th century, but the middle and West wing were rebuilt in the 16th century. In the 17th century a cellar was built under the East wing. The building was also ‘modernised’ and refaced with brick. On the south front side of the middle section, the upper floor projected out and its weight was carried by ‘a moulded bressummer (load bearing beam in a timber framed building) at the eaves level with moulded brackets below (Historical Monuments vol. 4). In 1923 the condition of this house was said to be good, but its moat, incomplete.
With its large doorways and many mullioned windows, North Benfleet Hall was a grand house, but who lived there? The only residents found were possibly the Appleton family, last there in 1710. The Appletons were no strangers to Benfleet. In 1563, the Appletons lived at Jarvis Hall in South Benleet. A Manor house that was in ‘poor repair’ as described in the Historical Monuments vol. 4, yet that building survives today. Strangely or coincidentally, Jarvis Hall also had a secret tunnel that ran to St Mary’s church. It has been stated that these passageways saved priests from persecution in Tudor times, whereas others have believed them to be more to do with smuggling. The mystery remains.
The mystery of North Benfleet Hall is unresolved. What became of this Hall with its Tudor architecture and secret rooms? Why was it abandoned? Some think it was because the Benfleet branch of the Appletons had no heirs to pass it onto in 1710, yet the Appletons lived at Jarvis Hall which still stands.
Looking on Google maps,a rectangle shape in the ground can clearly be seen between All Saints Church and its pond, and North Hall Farm. The ponds and North Hall Fisheries lake, are what remains of North Benfleet Hall’s moat. The manor house itself? That seemed to have disappeared in the late 30’s early 40’s……Is there anybody out there who knows what became of North Benfleet Hall?
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Thanks for reading, Sharon Harris.
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