by Norma Leach
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When we finally got the deeds to our house in Long Lane, Grays, we were surprised to learn that the land had originally been owned by the Orsett Estate.

Captain Thomas Charles Douglas Whitmore had inherited the Orsett Estate in 1884 from a fellow officer in the Royal Horse Guards, Captain Digby Hanmer Wingfield. This was during the time of the Great Depression in agriculture. The estate was heavily mortgaged and in a derelict state, Thomas’s son Francis describing Orsett Hall as ‘…. an uninhabitable shell, without light, water or sanitation’. Funds were urgently needed for refurbishment and to pay 30,000 towards the repair of sea defences after the great storm of 1881. Captain Whitmore decided to re-mortgage the estate rather than sell; this he did on 1 March 1887 for 170,000. There were no building societies in those days so money had to be borrowed from individuals, or groups of individuals. Our mortgage deeds stated the following:

1 Mar 1887: Freehold land forming part of Stifford Clays Estate, Grays, mortgaged by Thomas Charles Douglas Whitmore of Gumley Hall, Leicester (Captain in H.M. Army).
1) Duncan James Baillie of Lochloy Nairn, Scotland
2) Maria Villebois, 23 Belgrave Square, Middlesex
3) Sir Wm. Reynell Anson, Birch Hall, Lancaster
4) Arnold Wm White, 12 Gt Marlborough St Middlesex
held jointly, for the sum of 170,000 @ 3.75%. Original mortgagee Date of Transfer
40,000 08.09.1860 Sir Robert Smirke 13.06.1877 & 28.02.1887
2,000 30.07.1864 Lucy Ann Meech 28.02.1887
3,000 18.12.1865 Sir Wm Erle & Peter Erle 13.01.1876 & 28.02.1887
30,000 05.10.1870 Peter Richard Hoare 01.09.1881, 30.12.81 & 28.02.87
7,000 30.081871 Peter Richard Hoare 11.04.1883 & 28.02.1887
7,100 30.09.1872 Rev.Wm Fredk Erskine, Knollys Henry Spencer Perceval & James Pearce St Aubyn 28.02.1887
12,300 28.07.1873 George Ward Hunt & Patrick Boyle 27.10.1877 & 28.02.1887
8,000 28.07.1879 Chas. Arthur Richard Hoare, Augustine de Sille Strickland & Henry Gerald Hoare 11.04.1883 & 28.02.1887
20,000 05.05.1881 As above 11.04.1883 & 28.02.1887
26,000 01.10.1883 As above 07.09.1886 & 28.02.1887
7,500 21.05.1887 Henry Robert Digby 01.01.1864, 18.05.1865, 01.12.1870 & 28.02.1887
7,100 20.07.1881 George Digby Wingfield Digby 28.02.1887

170,000 Total

Captain Thomas Whitmore’s wife died in 1892 and on 20 April 1895 he conveyed the estate to his only son Francis Henry Douglas Charlton Whitmore, 130,000 still being outstanding on the mortgage. It was not finally discharged until October 1929.

Captain Whitmore moved to London and in the 1901 Census he was living alone in Knightsbridge with five servants. He died in February 1907 and was buried at Orsett. The estate continued to be run by his son Francis, later Col. Sir Francis, Lord Lieutenant of Essex. Much has been written about his military service and how kind and generous he was as a landlord (see articles in Panoramas nos.5, 27 and 40 also the History of the Orsett Estate by Dr E.J.T.Collins).

On 2nd January 1939, 30 acres of Stifford Clays Farm, fronting on Stifford Long Lane was conveyed by Colonel F.H.D.C. Whitmore to Nora Mary Billings of Meesons Lane [died 6 Mar 1957 aged 92, buried St Mary's, North Stifford] for housing development, for 11,733.5s.2d. Houses or bungalows erected not to exceed 8 to an acre and not of less than 500 each. Our deeds stated that we were not allowed to sell liquor from our premises, as a plot of this land had been sold to the brewers Charringtons (later the Acorn).

Billings started the new estate, but WW2 intervened and only a few houses and bungalows were built. After the war Billings’ remaining land was sold to Thurrock UDC, to form part of the Stifford Clays Estate.

Col. Whitmore died in 1962 and his son John inherited the estate. He was a racing driver but after going into partnership for a few years with Hew Watt, a local farmer, he decided to sell in 1968.

Since then there have been various owners of Orsett Hall, which was opened as a hotel in 1976. It was extended and run as a successful business boasting a hotel and restaurant, with facilities for conferences, marriage ceremonies and receptions. It was Grade II listed and set in 12 acres of surrounding grounds. On Friday 11 May 2007 a devastating fire, starting in the kitchens, destroyed Orsett Hall. The owners, Steve and Lynn Haynes intend to rebuild, using old bricks for the frontage, if possible. They say that ‘Orsett Hall will not be lost to history’.

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