A History of Pete Hall - Part 2

Pete Hall Peldon Part 2
[ Link to Part 1 ]

The Eagle Occupation of Pete Hall 1868/69? - 1922

The Eagle Farming Heritage

Henry John Eagle my Great Grandfather, was born in Ramsey, Essex ,in 1835. He was the eldest of ten children, one of whom died in infancy, born to John Eagle and Elizabeth (née Gosling). John himself came from a long line of freehold and/or tenant farmers traced back to the mid-17th Century, when Thomas Eagle was farming in Little Bromley, Tendring.

In 1861, when aged 26, Henry was living with his parents on the farm they owned at Badley Hall in Ardleigh, but it appears that Henry was soon farming in his own right, for in 1864 he was living at Bradley Hall, Ardleigh, a farm certainly very close if not adjoining the similar named property of Badley Hall. It is known that both farms were owned by his father.

In November 1869, when aged 34, Henry married Jemima Pertwee, the eldest of three children of the late Thomas Pertwee, formerly of Langenhoe Lodge, Langenhoe. Thomas had died in December 1866 with the farm continued by his only son, also Thomas.

It is believed that Henry had moved to take up the tenancy of Pete Hall and its Farm shortly before his marriage to Jemima. James Mason died in June 1869 aged 80. He had no surviving sons. At the time of his death he was already living in Colchester, so perhaps he transferred the tenancy on the previous Lady Day (25th March 1869) which was one of two traditional dates for changing agricultural tenancies. The other traditional date was Michaelmas Day the 29th September in which case Henry would have taken up occupancy in 1868.

Jeremiah Pledger Senior had died in 1851 aged 76, so perhaps he saw completion of the New Hall. He had just the one son, Jeremiah Pledger Junior, and the majority of the estate was bequeathed to Jeremiah Junior but only during his lifetime, and he too died in 1864 aged 53.

Jeremiah Pledger senior had made detailed provision in his will so that in the event of his son's death, the family estate should be inherited by his first-born grandson, also named Jeremiah. But should his grandson die without issue, the Pledger estates were to be subdivided between various grandchildren. Unfortunately, Grandson Jeremiah died a year earlier than his father, aged just 18.

The main Pledger estate in Little Baddow was therefore inherited by the next eldest grandson John Portway Pledger, himself only now aged 18. Pete Hall however was bequeathed to the third male born grandson Joseph Augustus Pledger, who on his father's death was just 11. So, when Henry took over the tenancy from James Mason, he would have had to deal with the trustees.

Henry and Jemima were now living in a substantial 5-bedroom, double fronted property, built of grey gault brick with a grey slate roof, in a courtyard configuration. It had three reception rooms and a servant's quarter. Outside was a brewhouse, coalhouse, a mixing house and granary. There were a number of farm buildings and stables, both for the farm horses and possibly a coach house, although this might have been built a little later. The Hall also had hot and cold running water which was not common in late 19th century properties.

Pete Hall would have been described in its day as a medium sized farm, and the 1871 Census records the farm employing 9 men and 5 boys. These numbers would have been increased by casual workers particularly at harvest time. Early Censuses seem to largely exclude any women being employed, but certainly the wives of agricultural labourers would have been employed on a casual basis, as would their young daughters. Boys (likely to be the sons of the labourers) would be counted as "boys" until they reached the age of 14 (in later Census this was increased to 16, and later still to under 20). It was not unusual for children to be casually employed from the age of 5, for example to pick stones to prevent damage to the plough, or even to act as moving "scarecrows" for a time after the seed had been cast. All the labourers' family would be involved at harvest time, as indeed would the farmer's own family.

The farm of Pete Hall would have been primarily arable, growing wheat, barley, oats and perhaps beans, with some grazing land. It is known that Henry also kept sheep and a smaller number of pigs.

In 1870 Henry became Churchwarden of St Peters and St Pauls Church in West Mersea, a role we believe he undertook until his death in 1884. His choice of St Peters reinforces the Hall's connection to the Island of Mersea for reasons already described, despite there being a church in Peldon.

In the 19th Century the Churchwarden held a far more important role in the community than is attached to that role today, especially as churchgoing was expected of almost the entire population. The Churchwardens were tasked with raising funds for the maintenance of the Church and for administering any charitable relief to the poor (if not undertaken by a Poor House).

Henry was heavily involved in Church matters and attended "Ecclesiastical Intelligence" meetings as far away as St Albans. He was also involved with the "Winstree Hundred Association for the Prosecution of Felons" as a member representing West Mersea. The annual meetings were held at the Lion Inn, Abberton. In the absence of a professional police force this organisation subsidised the victim's costs of bringing prosecutions against wrongdoers, and sometimes organised local watches and patrols. His son Alexander was also later to take on this role.

In April 1871 Henry and Jemima were to have their only child Alexander Henry Eagle. The following month, Henry's younger sister Ellen married Jemima's younger brother Thomas Pertwee now owner of the ancestral home, Langenhoe Lodge. Thomas and Ellen were to become parents of Frank Pertwee, the founder of Frank Pertwee and Sons Ltd a renowned Colchester firm to this day.

Meanwhile, in 1876 it is believed that Joseph A Pledger finally inherited Pete Hall at the age of 24 and so became Lord of the Manor and Henry's landlord.

Also in 1876, Henry was a member of the Inaugural Committee of the Mersea Island Horticultural Society, the driving force behind the formation of the Society being Hugh Green the local surgeon. The Society exists to this day.

It appears Henry was both expanding and diversifying his business enterprise, for the 1878 Kelly's Directory of Essex lists him as a Coal Merchant, Manure Merchant and Commissioning Agent at Strood Wharf Peldon, as well as being a farmer. The wharf had access to Pyefleet Creek, a navigable channel exiting on to the River Colne, which in turn gave access inland to Colchester, or downriver to Brightlingsea and the North Sea beyond. The wharf could accept deliveries of coal and manure by barge or other craft. Coal and other heavy goods were still being brought in by barge even after the First World War. Grain could also be shipped to London.

There was a national agricultural depression in the 1870s and 80s, which particularly affected arable farming, and it would have been sensible to diversify. The late 19th Century witnessed a peak period of bankruptcies amongst English farmers, and a number of Henry's cousins lost their farms at this time. The next Census of 1881 sees Henry farming 400 acres with 12 male employees and 5 boys.

On the 22nd April 1884 Peldon was struck by an earthquake measuring 4.6 to 5.1 on the Richter Scale, and is possibly one of the strongest earthquakes to ever hit Britain. It had its epicentre around Peldon/ Abberton/Wivenhoe. There were no recorded deaths but almost all the 72 homes in Peldon (population 458) were to suffer damage, some serious. Indeed, Dr Hugh Green who was effectively a neighbour, had his chimney fall through the upper floor, and land in the ground floor surgery consulting room, just minutes after he had left the room. Peldon Church suffered sufficient damage to prevent its use until the following January. While it appears Pete Hall suffered minor damage, perhaps because of its recent construction, it is recorded that the Old Hall was badly damaged.

The following 11th July 1884 Henry was to die at the age of 48, his funeral being held at St Peters and St Pauls Church six days later. He had written his will only one year earlier. Was this in expectation of his imminent death? It's likely he would have been suffering ill health as he died from a liver complaint. Henry ensured that the majority of his "estate" was to be put in trust for his son, as Alexander was aged just 12 when he wrote the will.

The terms of the will made his wife Jemima the sole trustee until Alexander reached the age of 21. They would then become joint trustees until Alexander reached the age of 25. Alexander would then inherit two thirds of the trust funds absolutely, while Jemima received only the income from the remaining one third (until she died or remarried when the residue would revert to Alexander!) Jemima was further tasked in continuing the farm, for the ultimate benefit of their son.

In September 1885 an advert appeared in the Chelmsford Chronicle seeking a working Bailiff to help run the farm with the option to live in the Hall, presumable in the servant's quarters.

In July 1893 an advert appeared in the Essex Standard offering for sale "The Rose Farm at Peldon an excellent small occupation of 30 acres held by Mrs Jemima Eagle". I have little information regarding this property, other than Rose Farm still exists and is close to Pete Hall and is also a Grade 11 listed building. It appears that the sale arose following the death of the landlord, the Reverend C H Green, and was part of seven lots for auction.

In March 1897 Alexander was elected to the Parish Council for West Mersea but later in May it was reported in the Ipswich Evening Star that the 26-year-old Alexander had been "charged with being drunk in charge of a horse and cart in St Botolph's Street Colchester" and fined 20 shillings and 3s costs. Interestingly his passenger, Henry Green, an agricultural labourer was also fined 5s 6d for being drunk plus 3s costs. Research suggests that Henry was a Horseman actually working for the Eagles, and he had lived in one of the estate cottages since birth. Just 2 years older than Alexander it may well be that there was a friendship from childhood despite the very real difference in status in Victorian society. Henry was to continue living in one of the farm cottages and in the last Census of 1911 he was father to 7 children two of whom were now Horsemen, and a son of 14, a shepherd.

In the 1901 Census Jemima continued to be listed as the Head of the household although under the terms of his father's will Alexander had become sole beneficiary some five years previously. In a predominantly man's world Jemima must have been a determined lady. Meanwhile Alexander followed in his father's footsteps in becoming a Churchwarden at St Peters and St Pauls Church West Mersea but possibly only until 1904.

1901 also saw Pledger as Lord of the Manor receiving advance notice of the possible building of a light railway from Colchester to West Mersea. Had this gone through it would undoubtedly have taken land from Pete Hall being adjacent to the Strood causeway. Railways were not always well received in the rural community being seen as the beginning of commercialism and worse, tourism! Indeed, there were plans for the construction of a Pier on Mersea Island, no doubt to accept paddle steamers bringing holiday makers from London. Similar schemes led to the development of Walton and Frinton just down the coast. For whatever reason the scheme did not proceed, despite one road in West Mersea actually being named "Station Road" (since renamed).

In December 1904 at the age of 33 Alexander married Maud Green (31). Maud's father had died in 1902 at the age of around 71, having earlier retired in 1890 as a farmer of some 70 acres at Brick House Farm, Fingringhoe. Maud was the eldest sibling and lived with her mother, two sisters and a brother in a part of Langenhoe Hall in the neighbouring Parish of Langenhoe, sharing with another family.

It was not until the birth of Norton, their first born in 1906, that Jemima appears to finally relinquish her direct involvement in the farm. Indeed, she may have moved out of Pete Hall as at the time of her death in January 1910 she was recorded as residing at Strood House (also owned by JA Pledger) just down the road. She was however staying at Pete Hall on the day of her death. Perhaps she was visiting or being cared for at a time of ill health?

The intermediate years had seen the birth of two more children, Marjorie in 1907 and John (Jack) in 1909. Maud will have been in her late 30s at this time.

1910 not only saw the sad death of Alexander's mother, but also in December the death of Mr J A Pledger their landlord. This was to initiate another problem over inheritance. Joseph had not married and the terms of his grandfather's will required Pete Hall to be devolved only to direct line male heirs. This was to require the intervention of the Chancery Division to decide on inheritance.

Joseph's elder brother, John Portway Pledger, who had inherited the main Little Baddow estate of Hammond farm from their Grandfather, Jeremiah Senior, had taken his own life in 1892. It was reported in the papers that he had money worries, although this was denied at the time. It may well be that the Pledgers had suffered in the Agricultural Depression which gripped England in the 1870/1880s. John Portway Pledger's wife died of Apoplexy the very next year, leaving John Wilfred Pledger their son, aged just 18, to inherit Hammonds. It was not until 1912 that the Courts were to declare John Wilfred Pledger as owner of Pete Hall and therefore the new Lord of the Manor.

1913 sees the completion of Alexander and Maud's family with the birth of my father Herbert Paul in the February, and the following year saw the start of WW1.

In 1916 the German Zeppelin L33 became only the second airship in the war to be shot down and landed in flames in Little Wigborough just 2 miles from Peldon. It is most likely the Eagles like most local residents would have taken the opportunity of visiting the crash site?

The war years 1914-1918, were quite a prosperous period for farmers, especially arable farmers. The Government encouraged a massive expansion of home-grown wheat and oats by demanding that previous fallow land be brought back in to use, as cereal imports were no longer available. These crops in particular were a speciality in Peldon/West Mersea.

Landowners, however, were finding their assets being increasingly taxed to fund the war effort. Indeed, Income Tax rose from 9% to 30% during the War and together with a new Super Tax some rich landowners were being taxed at the rate of 80%. Following the War, and given this tax burden, landowners were selling off their lands, especially as Capital Gains tax on the increased land values was at the time zero rated.

Death duties were also high, which often resulted in beneficiaries selling off land to pay these duties. It has been estimated by some commentators that 25% of agricultural land was sold off between the end of the war and 1922.

John W Pledger never married, he continued to live with his three spinster sisters at Hammond Farm. Pete Hall was some distance from his other farm holdings, and it may well be that financial considerations such as death duties were behind a decision to sell Pete Hall.

It was often the case that tenant farmers were being obliged to purchase their farm from these "departing" land owners, if only to avoid losing their livelihood to the new "landed gentry", who were the rich businessmen and industrialists who had profited from the War years. It was general practice for the sitting tenant to be offered first option to buy.

So it was that in December 1918 Alexander purchased 11 acres opposite the Peldon Rose from John Pledger and on 10th May 1919 Pledger sold Pete Hall and its farmland to Alexander Eagle. The sale price is not known. The Manor Rolls also confirm that "A H Eagle hereinafter [was to be] called Lord of the Manor". This may well be the very first time that the resident of Pete Hall was also the owner and Lord of the Manor.

At this stage the sale did not include Bonners Farm and the separate Peet Hall Saltings, a total of 238 acres of rough grazing and sporting lands, but these were auctioned in June 1920 on behalf of John Pledger with completion 11th August 1920. It was noted on the auction particulars that A.H. Eagle was the tenant at a rent of £10 per annum. These lands were also purchased by Alexander.

It is noted that earlier in October 1919 the Executors of J.A. Pledger (and not in this case John Pledger) had sold Strood House to an Ernest King and presumably it was at this time that Strood House was split off from the farmland.

It is known that Alexander secured a mortgage of £3500 in 1919 to purchase Pete Hall but whether he borrowed further in 1920 is not known.

The War years had seen a boost to a farmers' income and in 1919 there was a general expectation that the Government intended to protect arable farmers from the anticipated re-emergence of foreign grain imports, so farm income in the short term at least, seemed secure.

We also know that at some time the family had expanded in to dairy farming as by 1922 they had over 30 cows. It is my understanding that this number of cattle would provide a sustainable dairy income in its own right, notwithstanding the separate income from arable farming. Dairy farm output in Essex saw a remarkable increase from the 1870s when it represented just 4.4% of total farm output as by 1910/12 it represented 40.2%. The failure of farmers to switch to dairy when grain prices fell in the 1870/1880s was a cause of many failures at the time, which suggests that Alexander had seen the need to diversify. It would also appear that he withdrew from lambing as he had no sheep by 1922. This would mirror sheep farming generally in Essex which halved between 1870-1911.

As an aside, it is noted that John Woodruffe Eagle (a cousin) was also to purchase Walton Hall and its farm in December 1920 where he had previously been the tenant farmer. The J.W. Eagle lineage continues to farm in the Walton/Frinton area to this very day.

In 1917 the Lloyd George Government faced with the drastic shortage of imported foods during WW1 passed the Corn Production Act 1917, guaranteeing minimum prices for two cereals, wheat and oats for the harvests up to 1922. This effectively covered a normal cropping rotation of 4/5 years.

These guaranteed prices were then extended for an indefinite period by the Agricultural Act 1920 which included the clause that 4 years notice would be given by Parliament if it was intended to abolish these minimum prices. This notice period would give farmers time to change their crop rotation if necessary.

The passing of these Acts may well have given Alexander and any lender some comfort that the ongoing farm income was secure.

Grain prices continued to rise during 1919/1920, and although the war had ended, bumper crops in the Southern Hemisphere still could not be shipped to the UK, and this situation continued in to the early part of 1921. The Spring of 1921 saw a gigantic harvest in America, and rumours started to spread that loaded grain ships were on their way to Britain. It was expected that this would cause prices to fall, and the Government feared that they would incur a subsidy of around £20 million (£850 million equivalent in 2018). No subsidies were being offered to other sectors of the British economy, and it was decided that the Guarantee should be abolished, and the Act was repealed in August 1921 with immediate effect notwithstanding the previous 4-year notice clause.

The arrival of the imports did indeed herald a dramatic fall in prices just as farmers were harvesting their 1921 crops. Edith H Whetham wrote in the article "The Agricultural Act 1920 and its repeal - the Great Betrayal" : "Profits made during the War carried many families through the lean years which followed 1921, but the financial disasters prophesised by Mr Acland (Parliamentary Secretary of Agriculture 1915 - 1916) did indeed overtake many.......who came in to farming after the War, as well as those families who were forced, by the sale of estates, into buying their farms in the post-war years on borrowed money".

While Alexander enjoyed the additional and more stable income from Dairy farming, as well as some sporting rights income from the "Saltings", perhaps he saw the writing on the wall for agriculture. Perhaps he too, was encumbered by loans on which a high interest rate was being charged?

None of Alexander's three sons were to pursue farming as a career, and in 1922, Norton the eldest was only 16 when the decision was made to sell Pete Hall.

The Essex Records Office hold the "Particulars and Condition of Sale" for Pete Hall which was to be sold at auction on 11th February 1922 with completion by the following Lady Day (25th March). The Auction included: Peet Hall, the farm buildings and cottages, The Strood Farm commonly known a Bonners, The Peet Hall Saltings and The Manor of Peet Hall. Around 400 acres in all.

The sale was offered in three lots but it is understood that these were all purchased by Sydney B Wilson. Sydney was to die in March 1928 and in June 1931 his trustees were to advertise the entire estate for sale in several lots. This auction was to see the break-up of Pete Hall Manor.

The Lord of the Manor and Manorial Rights were sold to William Davies for £65 and while he also bought 32 acres of grazing land, he did not purchase Pete Hall so breaking the link. It is believed Pete Hall and just 24 acres were bought by Mr A Foakes. Other lots went elsewhere.

At some time before 1936 Thomas D Maughfling purchased Pete Hall and in 1939 he was listed as a pig and poultry farmer. It was sold to Sir Anthony Buck QC, when he became MP for Colchester in 1961.

Sir Antony Buck lived at the Hall until 1987, when it was advertised for sale for £300,000 along with a small cottage and 30 acres of land. Henry Heath lived there afterwards and while there have been subsequent changes in ownership, the Hall remains a private residence to this day.

Simon Eagle
June 2020


Appendix I - Major Maughfling

Major Maughlfling, left, in the Royal Observer Corps during WW2. Bill Clarry on the right

Major Thomas Drake Maughfling and his wife Josephine were at Pete Hall from before 1936 until around 1960. He was the last resident to work the land, though by this time it was reduced to about 30 acres. From local records, we can see that in 1951, Frank Marriage of Weir Farm, East Mersea, was paid £2 6s. to 'Service 2 sows'.

Thomas was born 1882 in Leyton, West Ham. In 1917 he was a Captain in the North Staffordshire Regiment in France, wounded and taken prisoner. Repatriated 1918.
1921 at Blofield in Norfolk, Thomas married Josephine Ready born 1892. In 1933 Major Thomas Maughfling was listed as a farmer at Harold Wood Farm, Romford. A son Roger T. Maughfling was born in Romford in 1927. By 1936, Thomas and Jemima Maughfling are on the Electoral Roll at Pete Hall. The 1939 Register lists them at Pete Hall, he is a Pig and Poultry Farmer. It was probably Thomas Maughfling who sold Pete Hall to Sir Anthony Buck in 1961. He died Belcham Walter, Halstead, Essex, in 1965 and Josephine died 1984 in Radnorshire.

Appendix II - Henry Heath

Henry Heath and his wife took over Pete Hall from the Sir Antony Buck in 1991, though by the time they arrived the house had been empty for two years. He ran an Insurance Brokerage business from Pete Hall, he had travelled up to work in Regent Street, London and decided to get away from the travelling.
In his spare time, Henry was Reverend Henry Heath, assigned to East and West Mersea as John Swallow's non stipendary curate. From West Mersea, Henry went on to become Rector of Stanway, and then Vicar of Wormingford, Mount Bures and Little Horkesley, until the Diocesse of Chelmsford thought he was of an age he should retire. Moving house to Long Melford in Suffolk, he discovered that the Diocese there was more than happy to keep him busy and he became Assistant Priest there.

In 1992 Henry was interviewed for Mersea Island Lions Talking Magazine - you can listen to the interview here LN016001_001 .

Link to Part 1

Read More
A Study of the Strood by Mrs W.E. Duane
Will of Thomas Frere of Fingringhoe 1663
Mersea Island Horticultural Society

Author: Simon Eagle
ID: PH01_PTZ
Source: Mersea Museum