The Recent Past

When we came to Prested Hall in 1994, we found a near derelict house, which had been empty for several years and was last enjoyed as a family home in 1939. We were told by the little girl who grew up at the Hall that she and her brother were sure that whoever brought the Hall would have no choice but to pull it down.

We are delighted that we took the alternative route – despite the years of seemingly non-stop toil.

What we have been able to discover

Prested Hall has had many different names over the years. When the site was mentioned in the Doomsday Book, in 1086, it was known as Presteda and was occupied by someone called Ranulf Peverel, who is listed as having two beehives, a mare and a foal.

By looking at Philip Morant’s huge and impressive work, The History and the Antiquities of the County of Essex (2 vols), published in the latter half of the 18th Century, we know the names of all the occupants of Prested from Doomsday till 1785, but we know less about what the house looked like during these hundreds of years.

In the very early times it was referred to as one of Feering’s “two capital maners”, and by the late 18th Century it had become a “mansion house”, so we do know that it was always a house of some size and standing.

We had assumed that the oldest existing part of the Hall was 16th Century, as suggested by the painted date (1527) above the porch at the side of the house. However, following an examination by English Heritage a few years ago, we were told that the roof timbers were earlier, dating from the 15th Century – only viewable by crawling into the roof space !!

In 2009 we heard from a gentleman who had been doing some research into his ancestry and had connections with Prested.  The first of his family members to reside at the Hall was his 4 times Great Grandfather, Francis Hill (born 1808), who married Hannah Harrison. Francis and Hannah had a son, John H Hills in 1841. John was stated to be the head of the house at Prested in the 1881 census. He lived with his wife Lucy and their 6 children at the time of the census (including our correspondents Great Great Grandfather, Ralph Hills). At the time there were 2 maids, 11 labourers and 1 boy employed at Prested.

From 1890 until our arrival just over a hundred years later, Prested was owned by the Sherwood family – David is still a local land owner. The first Prested Sherwood, Nathaniel Newman Sherwood, was a partner of the seed company Hurst & Son, based in Hounsditch, and came upon Prested when his company opened seed trial grounds in Feering. From the 1800’s, Feering, and later Kelvedon were one of the premier seed growing areas in the country. Kings seeds are still based here.

Nathaniel Newman and his family lived in Streatham Hill and Prested was initially used as a shooting lodge for weekend parties. Nathaniel eventually made the Hall his permanent family home in 1890.

To be able to invite your friends and colleagues to your Country House was a sign of prosperity for an up and coming business man, and visitors to Prested would have enjoyed the shooting, Tennis, good meals, laughter and musical evenings. Edward, the younger of Nathaniel’s two sons, was a talented musician. He wrote and conducted for Hurst’s Music Society.

Cricket on the lawn at Prested would have been a summer weekend activity as the staff at Hurst’s had formed a Cricket team, famously defeating a team from Sutton Seeds in 1895.

I 1912 Nathaniel celebrated the 50th anniversary of his association with Hurst’s with a large garden party at Prested.  The staff from the Feering trial grounds gathered with the London staff, who were collected from the station in farm wagons. We have a delightful photograph of this gathering along with some Cricket matches held here at Prested during this time. These are on display in the front entrance hall.

In 1934 great works started to extend the Hall. The Prested lobby and entrance were added, as were the Ballroom a Conservatory and outbuildings. At this time the Ballroom was used as the family Drawing Room, with the rug pulled back for dances and social gatherings.

Although the family continued to own the hall, the Sherwood family actually moved out of Prested at the beginning of World War II, when it was requisitioned by the Army. Sadly, they never returned.

At the time of Edward Sherwood’s death, the staff at Prested consisted of six women in the house, six gardeners, a groom, a chauffeur and three gamekeepers.

Prested Hall Nursing Home

During the intervening 50 or so years before our arrival Prested Hall was put to many uses. It has been a maternity hospital and nursing home, a home for the elderly, a guest house, an in the 1950’s, a centre for the Spastics Society (now SCOPE), who opened some radical rehabilitation workshops on the site of the current Prested Therapy Rooms.

When we arrived, the Hall was a desolate place……its beautiful period features and architectural ironmongery hardly visible through the grime. As we scrubbed and cleaned, joined by our staff over the years, we have had a real sense of renaissance of a house. The oldest part is the Drawing Room and room 1 above, The Dining or Oak Room is 18th Century, the fireplace is more modern, we think it may have been added when the 1930’s grand alterations and extensions were created. So it is like many houses today, one which has been extended and changed over the years.

Every now and then, someone from Prested’s past pops by, and this is always a pleasure. Apart from being so interesting, it makes Prested’s history so alive, and confirms again and again, that it was, and still is a special house.

Sybil Llewellyn, the little girl who grew up here, became a good friend, and we had a lot of fun sharing our adventures and memories of Prested. She was very enthusiastic about our project at Prested, which was lovely for us. Sadly, Sybil died in the summer of 2008.

A while ago, Elsie, a former parlour maid, in her 90th year, came to tea. She worked at the Hall with her sister Mildred, in the 1930’s. With Elsie’s help, Mildred would escape down a rope from the staff quarters at the top of the Hall to visit her young man late at night……Elsie was required to be the dutiful sister, waiting with a candle at the appointed hour, to lower the rope for Mildred’s safe return.

We have also enjoyed visits from the Great Nephew of the Head Matron and her sister, who both worked at Prested when it was a maternity and nursing home, He was able to meet up with the Staff Nurse in charge of nursing and midwifery here, who was a recent guest at the Hall. By sheer coincidence, another Hotel Guest was celebrating his 60th birthday with a stay at Prested, where he was born.

More recently we had a visit from Jean Anderson; Mrs Anderson was celebrating her 65th birthday & decided on a nostalgic trip to the Hall as it was her birthplace, the entry on her birth certificate states Prested Hall Nursing Home. In her own words “it gave me tingles as I walked through the door” As Mrs Anderson & her family have remained in the local area we hope to welcome her back for many future birthday celebrations.