From the Thorley Archives

Thorley Hall 1253 - 2003

Thorley Hall is the house situated behind the farmyard entrance between St. James the Great church and the St. Barnabas Centre. The Hall is a private house owned by the Tinney family - as is the adjoining farm. Over the centuries the Manor of Thorley and the Hall have had some distinguished owners and occupants. Richard (Dick) Whittington was a joint owner in late 1300s followed by the Leventhorpe family in 1400 and 1500s. John Duke was the farmer in the 1600s (his brass memorial is in the church nave) and the Billers family lived there between 1691 - 1712 (William Billers was a City of London Alderman). The Raper family were the owners throughout the 1700s. Matthew Raper F.R.S. had an observatory built in the attic in 1758. Successive Lord Ellenboroughs were lords of the manor for most of the 1800s and the title was transferred to George Streeter in 1906.

Thorley Hall

Thorley Manor is first recorded in the reign of Edward the Confessor as belonging to Godid. William the Conqueror then rewarded Geoffrey de Mandeville for his support by transferring ownership to him. Further details are listed in the Domesday records. There is also evidence of a moated settlement dating from this period which enclosed the Hall, the farm and possibly the church. Remnants of the moat are still obvious beside the newly built children's rooms, the Emmaus Centre. Until the 1900s Thorley Hall Farm was a large complex with an enclosed farmyard and a dovecot between the house and the church.

The manor house has been the subject of much research by students of medieval buildings as it is one of the oldest surviving timber framed buildings in the county. Starting with the original two bay hall, built by the Gerbergh family in the 1200s, the house has structural evidence of having been modified and enlarged in almost every century. An extension of a cross wing was added on to the original hall at the time of Richard Whittington and his fellow speculators which doubled the size of the house. The impressive Elizabethan chimney stack was inserted at the time of the Leventhorpe family and the Billers family extended the house with an east wing. A Georgian brick fašade was built on to the southern timber-framed wall in the 1700s. The 1800s saw further modifications with an additional staircase and other rooms in the north east corner.

This developmental sequence of architectural events has been pieced together from evidence contained in documents and maps at The County Record Office, Hertford. In March 2001 English Heritage commissioned the University of Nottingham to undertake a tree-ring analysis of timbers in the original hall and then the cross wing of Thorley Hall to ascertain more precise building dates. The earliest style of construction, in comparison to similar Hertfordshire and Essex buildings, suggested a date between 1280 and 1300. There are, however, some confusing features in the earliest joints and bracing. Joints and truss construction style in the attic of the cross wing put its building date between 1380 and 1400. The researchers from Nottingham extracted 29 x 1cm diameter cores from timbers within these two building phases. These were then were taken back for analysis in the laboratory where the computerised results gave exact dates of 1253/4 and 1397 respectively. These are the precise dates when the oak trees would have been felled and the green timber used for shaping the timbers for the construction of Thorley Hall. We therefore have in our parish not only one of the oldest buildings in Hertfordshire but one of the most architecturally intriguing.

Robert Howard Coring a Cross Wing Rafter

Bill Hardy
February 2003

 

From the Archives