Stansted Hall Arthur Findlay’s family home, built in 1871, was gifted to the Spiritualists’ National Union by James Arthur Findlay, MBE, JP, a former Honorary President of the Union, and in accordance with his wishes is administered by the Union as a College for the advancement of Spiritualism and Psychic Science
Mr Findlay bought the estate in 1923 upon his retirement from business and first mooted the idea of a Spiritualist College at Stansted to the Union in 1945. After personal contacts with three successive Union Presidents a will was drawn up and in 1954 the National Council accepted the proposed bequest of Stansted Hall with an endowment. This was followed by a later gift in the form of stock to be used for furnishing and decorating, and in 1964, a year after the death of his wife, Mr Findlay transferred the Hall, grounds and endowment to the Union. Mr Findlay passed to the higher life in July 1964.
The Church near to the present Hall stands by an even older neighbour, one which you cannot see at the present time, but one you can be assured is there. We are given to understand that some years ago it was discovered that under part of the land adjoining the church lie buried the remains of a magnificent Roman Villa. This villa is most likely part of a Roman settlement which incorporated the present village of Stansted Mountfitchet.
These Roman remains may have given rise to the Saxon name “Stansteda” meaning ‘stony place The Saxons usually built their settlements in a wooded area, and the remains of a mined Roman Villa or settlement may well have provided a landmark for easy reference to the village at the foot of the hill.
In 1066 when William of Normandy invaded England and became King. he had to settle his debts with those knights who had fought with him He did this by giving them land and property in various areas. William bestowed upon his nephew Robert Gernon, (or Robert Greno as he is referred to in the Domesday Book) the Duke of Boulogne, the Lordship of Stansted and several others in the County, together with the gift of various lands. Robert built his castle in Stansted on the site of which is thought to have been an Iron Age Fort, then a Roman Flint Fort followed by Viking and Saxon settlements. His castle was of the wood and bailey type and he made this his chief seat and head of his Barony.
In the Domesday Book compiled by William I it lists for the Hundred of UTTLESFORD the following information:-
Robert holds Stansted (Mountfitchet) in lordship, which a free man held before 1066 as a manor, for 6 hides. Then 4 ploughs in lordship, later 2. now 3. Always 10 men’s ploughs; 11 villagers; 1 priest. Then and later 4 small holders, now 18; then 8 slaves, later 4. now 3. Woodland, 1000 pigs; meadow. 20 acres; always 1 mill. Then 8 cattle, now 16; then 140 sheep, now 120; then 20 pigs, now 60; then 40 goats, now 24; now 2 cobs and 5 asses.
Robert’s son William, who was most likely named after the King, dropped the name of Gernon and took the name of Mountfitchet, which was then used by his descendants. He is reputed to have built the original Parish Church dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, which now stands at the edge of the present Stansted Hall grounds. There is a stone effigy of a knight in the Church which is reputed to be him. The Chancel Arch in the Church today is just as the Norman builders completed it and there are also two beautiful Norman doorways of very fine quality.
In 1185 there is the first mention of a park at Stansted. About the year 1214 Richard de Mountfitchet living at Stansted Castle joined with other noblemen to make a stand for their rights, because of the opposition by King John to the status bestowed upon them by William 1.
In the year 1215 on the 15th June, the Barons finally forced King John to meet them at Runnymede, near Windsor by the River Thames. There in the water meadows they forced the King to sign and seal their great charter, now known to everyone as the Magna Carta.
At this point one might ask what the connection with this great event is in English history and Stansted Hall. The connection is, that the same Baron Mountfitchet who owned the land at Stansted, also owned the land at Runnymede. Richard was one of the 25 Barons chosen in 1215 to govern the realm in the reign of King John. Alas, this story has a very sad ending, because in 1216, King John who could never forgive and forget sent a small army to Stansted, laid siege to the castle and eventually destroyed it, together with the slaying of some of its inhabitants.
It is most likely about this time that the first Stansted Hall or Manor House was built with stones from the castle. History does not record the exact date, but we do know that there have been various Halls on a site in the field below the present terrace walk, near the Church, since the 14th century. Richard died in 1258 without issue, and Stansted Hall reverted to his sister Margery, wife of Hugh de Bolebec of Northumberland. She was succeeded by her son Walter de Bolebec, who was then succeeded by his son, also Walter, who died without issue.
Stansted Hall then had various owners until it was sold to Thomas de Vere, a son of Robert, third Earl of Oxford. In the Church there is an effigy to either Sir Roger or Sir John, but history does not record which one.
In 1438, Elizabeth, wife of John de Vere, 12th Earl of Oxford, inherited the Hall and Estate. Her husband espoused the Lancastrian cause and after the battle of Towton in 1461 the Earl and his son Aubry were arrested and tried for plotting to kill the King. They were both beheaded and all their lands, including Stansted Hall, were confiscated. The estate then became the property of the Duke of Norfolk and remained so for 23 years.
On his coronation in 1485, King Henry VII as an act of kindness conferred the land and estates of Stansted upon his mother-in-law, the Dowager Queen Elizabeth, widow of King Edward IV. Elizabeth (nee Woodville) was the mother of the two Princes (Edward V aged 12 and his brother Richard aged 9) who were reputedly murdered by their uncle Richard III in the Tower of London. It was her eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York, who married Henry VII, so uniting the rival factions of Lancashire and Yorkshire after the Wars of the Roses.
However, two years later Henry VII banished the Dowager Queen Elizabeth to a nunnery and restored Stansted Hall and its estates to the de Vere family, in whose possession it remained until 1582 when the 17th Earl, who was at that time Great Chamberlain of England, sold it to John Southall.
In 1588 John Southall conveyed the manors of Stansted to Edward Hubbard or Hubert who was a Clerk in Chancery; it was his son Sir Francis Hubbard who sold the estate in 1615 to Sir Thomas Myddleton, who was a Member of Parliament, a former Lord Mayor of London in 1613 and a dynamic merchant, who appears to have been a wealthy man of many talents. It was Sir Thomas Myddleton who built the Jacobean Hall in the early 1600’s. Sir Thomas Myddleton died aged 81 on the 12th August 1631 and is buried in the Parish Church.
His splendid monument and effigy may be seen on the wall on the staircase of the Long Gallery. Inscribed on this monument are the words “Resigned his soul to Heaven, his body to the ground, in earnest expectation of a better life than this”. (It is not known what better life he expected. He had lived well and been married four times.)
The Hall remained in the Myddleton family until 1710, when another Thomas Myddleton MP (a Member of four successive Parliaments in the reign of Queen Anne) died, leaving five daughters but no male heir.
The title was then bought by Thomas Heath, Member of Parliament for Harwich and the son of William Heath who had been a Captain in the service of the East India Company.
Thomas died in 1741 and was succeeded as Lord of the Manor by his two sons, Bailey and William. Bailey was Sheriff of Essex in 1747 and died in 1760.
William inherited the estate and died in 1797. He was succeeded by another Bailey Heath, upon whose death in 1808 the family became extinct.
Local legend has it that part of the Tudor Hall was destroyed by fire and a new hall built on the same site. We also know that it was Sir Thomas Myddleton who built the Jacobean Hall, which was a massive four story building with two large domed-shaped towers
If one looks closely at the line drawing of this Jacobean Hall in 1770, one can make out the older Tudor Hall in the background, by the three gables, windows and doorway.
Sometime during the 1800’s, the upper floors of the Jacobean Hall were devastated by fire. From an old map we know that the Tudor/Jacobean Halls were sited at the lower end of the lake field near to the Church. The Hall fell into disrepair until 1825, when it was referred to as a ‘farm house’.
Stansted Park and the creation and development of its landscape between 1750 and 1900 survive relatively intact today. Humphry Repton in 1791 produced one of his ‘red books’ of designs for Stansted. The parkland covered 146 acres and there was a narrow rectangular pond, with a narrower curved extension to the north.
The Hall then came into the ownership of Miss Berthia Ellis (1780-1863), and upon her marriage to Mr E. Fuller-Maitland (1781-1858) Stansted Hall became the property of that family. However, Berthia disliked the residence and after a fire in 1880 when the old hall burnt down leaving only a tower, she allowed it to fall into further ruin.
The son Berthia and Mr E Fuller Maitland, William Fuller-Maitland, MA was a traveller, connoisseur and art collector and he was, in 1870, looking for a place in which to house his priceless collection of paintings and other artefacts. His home across the valley from Stansted was already bursting at the seams and he needed more space in which to display his treasures.
It was this William who commissioned Robert Armstrong a young architect to design a new Hall, apparently on the site of the earlier stables and offices, which would combine a Jacobean style with 19th century building techniques.
Building work commenced in 1871 and by 1876 the mansion was ready. William Fuller-Maitland died in that year before he could take up residence in his new home.
To provide a sense of continuity and authenticity, various items were salvaged from the old Halls and incorporated into the new house. These included a small Cupola which was made into a Bell Tower and incorporated on the roof of the Kitchen Wing. Two of the larger Cupolas from the towers of the Jacobean Hall were brought across, one of which was placed on the Stable Block.
Various other items were incorporated such as the two magnificent Adam fireplaces, a wooden fireplace surround and some 16th c. wood panelling.
The Hall then passed to his son, also called William, who lived there until 1921, when the Hall was sold to Sir Albert Ball. William Fuller Maitland died in November 1932. In the Parish Church and Churchyard are various monuments to the Fuller-Maitland family.
In 1923 Arthur Findlay and his wife from Scotland visited the property with a view to purchasing it. They fell in love with the place, and in 1923 after some tough bargaining they bought the estate.
They moved into the house in 1926, and in the years to come he became an English landowner, farmer, magistrate and author of some standing, as well as taking a very active part in local affairs. During the Second World War, Stansted Hall was loaned to the Ministry of Defence for use as a convalescent hospital by the Red Cross. During this period some 5,500 soldiers, recovering from accidents, wounds and illness, recuperated within its walls and enjoyed the beauties and pleasures of its surroundings. They could go anywhere they liked in the pleasure grounds, but were not allowed in the three hundred year old walled kitchen garden. Following the war Mr & Mrs Findlay came back to live at the Hall.
1951 was the year of the Festival of Britain. Consequently there was staged a wonderful pageant on the four acre lawn surrounded by tall stately trees. It was called “Stansted through the Centuries
Then came 1953, the Coronation Year and Stansted Hall entertained some of the Commonwealth visitors and another pageant took place. Over the years Arthur and Gertrude Findlay welcomed over thirty thousand visitors to their home at Stansted Hall.
In order to fulfil his dream of a residential College for the training of competent mediums and speakers and also for personal reasons J Arthur Findlay conveyed to the Spiritualists’ National Union parts of the Stansted Hall Estate by a Deed of Gift dated 13th April 1964
This included various pieces or parcels of land comprising gardens, grounds, drive, lake (including island therein) and woodlands containing an area of 15.750 acres, together with the mansion house known as Stansted Hall with its outbuildings, garage and stabling, Stansted Entrance Lodge, Boat House and other buildings now erected or standing thereon, together with various rights of way.
This was done to provide a permanent home for the Arthur Findlay College for the Advancement of Psychic Science.
Mrs Annie Gertrude Findlay died in 1963 and Arthur J Findlay died 24th July 1964 and they were both buried in the nearby churchyard to the east of the Church. Their graves remained unmarked by the family for a number of years and eventually small headstones to their memory have been purchased and placed there by the Spiritualists’ National Union.
To make the Hall suitable for a college, new water, gas, electricity and sewerage systems had to be installed. The very large bedrooms were divided into smaller units and very extensive building works had to be carried out.
The old Stable Block was also extensively renovated in the 1960’s to house the SNU Head Office. This was further developed some years later to provide extra bedrooms for the College. Further renovations were carried out in 2013.
Over the years maintaining the fabric of the Hall has cost many thousands of pounds and has always been a continual drain on finances. In 1995, thanks to the generosity of the JV Trust, extensive building alterations were carried out to the old kitchen and servants’ wing in order to house the new ultra-modern kitchen facilities.
The Coach House was extensively renovated and for a number of years this housed the SNU Trust offices, before they purchased and moved into the adjacent Burton End Lodge.
In 1998 plans were formulated for the building of a healing and meditation centre at the rear of the Sanctuary, as there were no permanent facilities at the Hall for spiritualist or complementary healing purposes. This was to commemorate the Sesquicentennial (150th Anniversary) of Modern Spiritualism and to recognise ALL past and present workers within the Spiritualist Movement and would be called “The Pioneers Centre”.
The Foundation Stone was laid by the then SNU President, Minister Judith J Seaman on the 31st March 1998. The Centre was completed and dedicated on the 31st March 1999 by SNU President Minister Judith J Seaman and SNU Vice President, Minister Duncan P Gascoyne. The Project was financed by various SNU organisations and individual members on a sponsorship basis.
The replacing of the college window frames was carried out in 2002. Most of the window frames on the first and second floor of the main building and the Sanctuary having now been replaced.
In early 2006 several outbuildings in the old service yard were demolished, and in their place is a brand new extension specially designed and built by skilled craftsmen in keeping with the original style of the main building. This now houses the college bar and a dance floor where the former hall chapel room was located.
In early February 2006 the laying of a new concrete drive from Burton End Lodge to the Hall was completed.
In 2007 and them 2015 a vast amount of remedial work due to deterioration over the years was carried out to the roofs, gutters and drainage of the Pioneers Centre, Sanctuary and Colonnade.
In 2008 a programme of replacing the damaged and crumbling decorative stonework to the main building at a cost of over £50,000 commenced. This work is very expensive due to the fact that all replacements have to be in the original ‘Bath Stone’ and the cutting of this is specialised work.
In 2009 The College was able to purchase the field between the main road and the Hall, the field down to the Lake on the West and a strip of land down the main Drive. This means that Stansted Hall is now surrounded by 33 acres of parkland.
In 2013-14 more works were carried out on the main college roof costing more that £74,000. Works to replace further deterioration of the decorative stonework is ongoing.
Since 2014, the College bedrooms and corridors have been totally refurbished and provide students with comfortable beds and rooms and electrical points in all the right places.
Further work continues on the student bathrooms and the en suite pod rooms. These room are last as they were subject to planning approval which was granted in 2017.
The College is a Grade 2 listed building and the College committee has an ongoing plan to ensure the restoration of the building is managed to ensure it remains for generations to come.
The landscaping of the Stansted Hall Estate date back to the 12th (1100’s – Norman Period) where a park was mentioned in the domesday book of 1066.
The Stansted Estate was the homes of Stansted Hall’s One and Two and not much has changed to the area that remains.
In 1791 Humphrey Repton was asked to produce a detailed landscape design for the Estate and he produced one of the characterful Redbooks for which he is famous. Some of the works were carried out at the time but some of the works were completed when the new hall was constructed in the late 1800’s.
The aim is to retain, restore and enhance the heritage features of the garden. The Humphry Repton Red Books are referred to to ensure the garden remains very much in the style that it was.
Over the last ten years a large part of the grounds and woodlands have been cleared of accumulated rubbish and a number of new trees and shrubs planted. Whilst a large amount of clearance work has already been carried out and part of the garden has been productive, there still remains a lot to be done.
The Stansted Hall Estate is home to some 776 trees and rising, many of which are old heritage trees planted around 1770’s. The college garden and grounds has a planting programme which reintroduces the classic trees, shrubs and plants that featured in Repton’s designs and each year we make headway to realising those goals.
The College has a grounds restoration programme which is realised solely by fundraising and garden donations. We do not spend valuable college funds on garden projects whist there is so much to do in keeping the college running and maintained. Many new planting initiatives have been realised by the generosity of our students who have donated towards the gardens. Many new seeds and plants are nurtured in our greenhouse in the market garden then transferred into the flower beds.
You are welcome to support fundraising or contact the College General Manager if you wish to make a donation.