We have all heard of the Tudors and King Henry VIII and his 6 wives. Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, was executed in May 1536, at the Tower of London for adultery, a treasonous offence when you were married to the King. One of those men accused was her own brother, George. Before his death he was titled Lord Rochford, a title passed to him by his father. Along with the title came a great moated manor house, situated in Rochford, Essex. Unfortunately only a small fraction of this house exists today and that is Rochford Hall, now part of Rochford Hundred Golf club. This is the story of that once great manor house.
Rochford itself was 1 of 14 hundreds in Essex and was a major administrative centre which included Rochford, Rayleigh, Hockley, Ashindon, Great Wakering, Canewdon, Hullbridge, South Benfleet, Hadleigh, Eastwood, Leigh, Prittlewell, Southchurch and Shoebury. The original manor was given by the King to Sweyne (whose stronghold was Rayleigh Castle), and he is listed as the owner in the 1066 doomsday book. It was inherited by his son who changed the family name to ‘de Essex’.
King Henry II confiscated the manor on grounds of cowardice and was given to Eustace, a Norman, who took on the name of ‘de Rochford’. The manor again went back to the King who this time gave it to William de Bohun, Earl of Northampton. Back into the crowns possession in 1399 and under the House of Lancaster.
James Butler, 4th Earl of Ormond would inherit the manor in 1420. He saw that the Lancastrian side was loosing during the battle of St Albans and decided to throw down his arms and leave the battlefields. It is also during this time believed that he paid attention to his Rochford estate and possible rebuilt the manor which we know as Rochford Hall. It was built from red brick and ragstone. There would have been octagonal chimneys and turrets along with a moat on one side of the house.
James was eventually beheaded following the battle of Towton. All his property, including Rochford Manor, went back to the crown once again. It would be granted by Edward IV to his sister Anne, wife of Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter. The daughter of this union, Anne, would marry Thomas Grey in 1460. The manors of Rochford, Leigh and Rayleigh were transferred to him. However it did not stay under the Grey ownership for long. It would be given by the King to Earl Rivers (Elizabeth Woodville’s father) in 1469, and after his execution it was granted back to Thomas Grey in 1473.
The house would come under the ownership of the Boylens in 1515 when upon the death of Thomas Butler (James’ brother) his daughter Marguerite and her husband Sir William Boleyn of Blicking Hall inherited it. The Bolyens main home was of Hever Castle in Kent but they would make many visits to Rochford. In time, Sir Williams’s son, Thomas would inherit the home in 1517 and in 1525 he was given the title of Viscount Rochford (father to Anne). He made Rochford his home on 26th October 1517 and was granted a licence to export “wode, billet….made within the lordship of Rochford”. In 1529 he rose even higher (mainly due to the prominence of his daughter Anne), he was made Earl of Ormond and Earl of Wiltshire. This was the title held by his grandfather’s eldest brother who started Rochford Hall. Gorge Boleyn was then made Viscount Rochford.
What rose so high fell, noW plummeted back to ground in 1536. Anne was arrested and placed on trial for treason against the King. She was accused of Adultery along with her own brother and 3 other men of the court – Henry Norris, Francis Weston, and William Brereton and a musician named Mark Smeaton. George and the four other men were executed on Tower hill just outside the Tower of London. As she had been queen Anne was executed within the Tower on Tower green and her corpse is believed to be buried in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower walls. Her father managed to escape any blame, he was even on the jury of peers who judged his only son and daughter. He left London soon after and died a few years later in 1539, a broken man.
It is said that Anne may have not been laid to rest within the Tower walls but at the church in Hordon on the Hill, near the Boleyn home. There is a nameless black marble monument and legend says that is where she lies. However it seems too small to hold a body but it is possible for her heart to have been laid there maybe? After all Jane Seymour’s heart, Henry VIII third wife, is buried within the walls of the Chapel at Hampton Court.
After Thomas died, Rochford Hall with its gabled roof and twisted chimneys passed to Mary Carey, his only surviving daughter (mistress to Henry VIII before her sister).Some sources say that she and her husband, William, lived at the hall, while others that by the time she actually gained possession of the hall she would die 4 days after. In 1540 it is said that she built a dove cote which stood on the south front hall until 1888 when it was destroyed by lightening. The hall was set in an eight acre walled park and would have been moated on three sides. The northern part of the wall still survives today. It is made of Tudor red brick. Mary died at the all on 19th July 1543 and all her properties went to her son of her first marriage, Henry, who was 18 years in age.
Henry Carey was born in 1526, there is rumour and speculation as to whether he was an illegitimate son of King Henry VIII but it seems unlikely due to the year he was born and the time that Mary was Henry’s mistress. He rose in court and was quite popular in his cousin’s reign, Elizabeth I, along with his sister. As the two were the closest relations Elizabeth had left alive, especially on her mother’s side she favoured them. At the age of 21 he secured his election to represent Buckingham within Parliament, he would gain this seat four times and would be the first of 11 Members of Parliament to live at Rochford Hall.
Along with Rochford Hall and other properties of his mothers, Henry also inherited the title of Viscount Rochford itself and it would pass down his line until 1677 when it became extinct for a time due to no males heirs left from his line. This was not the end of the hall or the title. The title would reappear in 1695 when William III gave it to William Henry von Nassau, a major general in the Dutch army. It would pass through his line until that line became extinct in 1830.
Rochford Hall would take a different path to the tile that went with it originally. Henry Carey made some changes to the mansion. Fragments of carved stonework within the walls show that the materials used during these alterations would have come from some of those monasteries which were dissolved during Tudor period. Most likely during the time of Kind Edward VI. William Stafford, Henry’s stepfather, was known for taking away some of the church bells in the area for funds and repairs to sea walls. We know he took bells from churches in Rochford, Ashingdon, South Shoebury, Hawkwell and Foulness.
Henry sold Rochford hall and its estate to a permanent businessman and opportunist if the Tudor court – Richard Rich. Rich owned a large number of properties within Essex especially in the south East Essex area. Rich would too die within the walls of the Hall on 11th June 1567. He is buried at Felsted.
‘He would leave the manor and others to his son Robert. Like his father Robert was also make a number of additions to the manor of Rochford. The manor would stay in the Rich family line until 1712 when it was sold for a second time.
The new owners were Child Family (who had already brought some other properties which once belong to the Rich family). It was under their ownership that, in 1760, a great fire would break out, destroying at least half of the great mansion. The damage was so severe that the south side of the building was torn down and parts of the north end were turned into barns and some left derelict.There were abandoned wings, and along with those came ghosts storied of books being thrown at people’s heads. The Rochford Hall that the Boleyn’s and Carey family knew was no more.
For a time not much else was done to the manor, it had various owners, via inheritance but they chose not to do anything about the manor and so parts became derelict and in disrepair. In 1867 it was put up for sale for a third time. By this time the manor was known as Rochford hall Farm. It was brought by James Tabor, a farmer with Essex roots. His nephew would write of Rochford Hall “it was scarcely fit for anyone to live in, and it would have cost a very large sum to restore it properly, but the owners objected to it being g left derelict…so uncle James made one or two rooms habitable. He could well afford or restore Rochford hall to something like it previous grandeur, or to build a mansion for himself…be he kept to one room.”
During Rochford halls time as a farm many of the lads who worked there would sleep in the East wing sticks. In 1896 the very same east wing and a large part of the park land would be let to the Rochford Gold club. From the early 1900’s the Talbots would cease to work the farm and a number of tenants took up the work instead. Sometimes there would be tours of the upper floors of the hall for a small fee to the public. Graffiti from these tours can still be seen today.
During the Second World War some German prisoners of war who were housed in what is now Rochford Hospital would work o the farm to plough and repair the hedges.
During the 1980’s, Master craftsman Malcolm Ginns took on the project of restoring some of the barns at the hall which used to make the north end of the hall. He built four private prophesiers in the grounds with gardens. Rochford Hall itself today is a grade I four bedroom house with a barn annex and swimming pool.
The oldest part of the building still in existence is from 1216 and that is a date found carved in an old joist. There are also some arched doorways. The hall would have been built of red brick and Kentish ragstone with three thick walls. It would have three or four courtyards and three, possibly more, octagonal towers, perpendicular door arches and those twisting chimneys of the tudor period. There would also have been a great hall and a chapel.
The hall is a scheduled grad I listed building and scheduled ancient monument. It is not open to the public but privately owned with parts belonging to the Rochford Golf club along with some of the land.
There is a small fraction of Rochford hall that is accessible to the public and that is the church – St Andrews Church. It dates from the 13th/14th century and has a 16th century brick tower. On the tower is the Coat of Arms of the Earl of Ormone who once owned Rochford hall and had the church built. The church on the site before the current one was also the site where Henry Bolingbroke, later King Henry IV married Mary de Bohn (she died before he seized the crown and is buried in Leicester). Some rumours say that Mary Boleyn may have been buried in the church or within its grounds but there is no evidence to support this. What we do know is that James Banyard, founder of the peculiar people is buried in he church grounds.
Not far from Rochford Hall, a little further down the rode stands a building called the Lawn, a beautiful Georgian building used for functions. It is possible that this may have been used as gatehouse to the grounds of Rochford Hall which stands a mile away.
Clark, M. (1990) Rochford Hall – a history of the Tudor House Gloucester: Alan Sutton Publishing