History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: 2 secret priest's holes
History of Ingatestone
The estate of Ingatestone dates to at least the 10th century, when King Edgar granted land here to nuns of Barking Abbey. When Henry VIII began the process of dissolving monasteries in the 1530's, a young lawyer named William Petre was commissioned to visit all the monasteries in southen England. Petre was smitten by the manor of Ynge-atte-Stone, and when the manor became available after Barking Abbey was disbanded in 1539 Petre purchased the estate - at full market value, which was somewhat unusual at a time when other royal oficials were taking advantage of their positions to buy monastic estates for a fraction of their real value.
Petre and his wife were both staunch Catholics, so his caution in obtaining the Pope's pardon is understandable. what is perhaps less understandable is how the Petre family managed to avoid the unpleasant fate that befell many Catholic families over the ensuing centuries. Despite remaing true to their faith through the religious turmoil of the Reformation and its aftermath, the Petres remained in good standing with the crown, and received royal visits on several occasions.
Petre rose to serve as Secretary of State for 4 monarchs, including Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I. Elizabeth stayed at Ingatestone in 1561 on one of her endless royal progresses. What is remarkable is that the Petre family kept royal favour even after a priest staying at Ingatestone was betrayed to the authorities in 1582. St John Payne was ostensibly a steward at Ingatestone, but in reality he was a Catholic priest, kept by the Petre family to say Mass in the family chapel at a time when Catholic practise was illegal. Payne was betrayed by someone at Ingatestone, and executed, yet the Petre family escaped punishment.
There is a small parking area just outside the main gates to the Hall, and from there a level walk takes you up the long drive to the striking gatehouse, topped with a clocktower. The motto inscribed below the clock is a reminder of the Petre family's tradition of Catholic faith; 'Sans Dieu Rien' (Nothing Without God). On either side of the clocktower are brick buildings that predate the Hall itself. You pass through the gatehouse into a wide gravelled area to an open courtyard, with projecting wings on either side of a main block. This area would have originally been fully enclosed, but the west wing, as noted, is long gone.
When we visited ther only way to see the house was by timed tour, though there are occasional 'free-flow' days. The tour was excellent, however, with the guide giving our group plenty of background information about the family and the history of the house - as well as telling us about the resident ghosts said to haunt areas of the house and grounds. We saw a series of wonderful period rooms on the ground floor, including two priest holes, or hidden chambers. Then we visited several bed-chambers on the first floor, and the long gallery, which is filled with a mini-museum of family treasures and memorabilia. After our visit we were free to wander around the informal garden area behind the house, including the Lime Walk and small walled garden.
I found Ingatestone an absolute delight. The staff were incredibly friendly and helpful, the guided tour was fascinating, and we very much enjoyed the house, with its richly panelled rooms and Tudor furniture throughout. There were also pieces of later Georgian furniture and art brought to Ingatestone after the fire at Thorndon, so that the interiors have a bit of a split-personality mixing Elizabethan dark oak with elegant Georgian gilding and delicate woodwork.
About Ingatestone Hall
Address: Hall Lane, Ingatestone, Essex, England, CM4 9NR
Attraction Type: Historic House
Location: Off the A12 between Brentwood & Chelmsford.
Website: Ingatestone Hall
Historic Houses Association
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
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