Ballerinas and bonfires at historic hall
It’s curtain up on the long and colourful history of Hall Barn. Donald Stanley uncovers the mansion’s diverse associations
FOLLOWING his return from exile in 1652 the poet Edmund Waller built the present mansion and laid out its grounds. It enjoyed the status of a manor and remained in the possession of the Waller family until the 1830s.
In 1882 the estate passed to Edward Levy-Lawson who was subsequently created 1st Baron Burnham. The Burnhams enjoyed a large circle of contacts through their long association with The Daily Telegraph and theatrical connections.
Lawson Lucia, daughter of the 4th Baron, described weekend house parties before the Second World War. Guests included the entire cast of the Russian Ballet, Joyce Grenfell and Sir Malcolm Sargent.
Flowers for each bedroom were delivered on the Friday and white cards with guest’s names would be slotted into holders on the doors to their rooms.
The staff bathed in the afternoon to leave ample hot water for guests arriving that evening. At 7.30pm the dressing gong went for family and guests to change into evening dress.
Television being a rarity the house party would make its own evening entertainment such as charades and word games.
After Sunday lunch, Lady Burnham would preside over a bonfire as the entire house party was mustered to tidy the grove, a feature of the grounds contributed by the Waller family when earlier owners.
Hall Barn had long been noted for its pheasant shooting parties one of which, in 1913, had achieved the world record bag of 4,000 birds.
Among regular ‘guns’ were King Edward VII and later his son King George V, Hitler’s Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop, Joseph Kennedy then future president JFK’s father was US Ambassador to London, and James Bond author Ian Fleming.
Hall Barn played its part in the Second World War by housing the Wallace Collection, armour from the Tower of London and items from the British Museum. Lucia joined the ATS (the women’s part of the army) but by omitting to warn there was a flagpole on the roof a mishap was only narrowly averted when a pilot who had given her a lift home ‘buzzed’ the house at low height.
With the coming of peace Hall alone of Beaconsfield’s great houses continued in its role as the family mansion of a substantial estate.
In 1972 Richard Tyler, an architect specialising in redesigning country houses to meet post war conditions, removed additions made over the years thereby restoring Hall Barn to its original size. AS part of my role as a local journalist, to council meetings.
At many meetings, am the only person below the age of 40 and am often one of the only women.
I was once in a parish council meeting in Little Chalfont Village Hall when 20 emotive pensioners came in banging their walking sticks, ordering the councillors to agree to fund a £10,000 road crossing for them.
These pensioners were from Halifax House and they wanted a crossing across Chalfont Station Road so they could reach the shops in Chenies Parade.
The politicians were all rather shocked at how passionate the troop of elderly people were. They may also have been scared. Either way the money was released.
This is why local politics is important. lets old people cross roads.
After the crossing was built, a 90-year-old man said he was able to cross the road independently for the first time in years.
He could go to the shops, and for him, that was life changing. He no longer had to endure the daily tango with death as he fetched his pint of milk.
canvassed some of my friends’ views. ‘ don’t vote because don’t know enough about it all, and don’t feel like should have a say’ was the general response.
Another train of thought was ‘ wasn’t brought up thinking about politics and now don’t know where to start’.
Take a look around; local politics is everywhere. From releasing funds to fixing potholes, to deciding if a big development should be built down the road potentially blighting the village, to doing more to get more working class kids into grammar schools. Councils really do wield power. The words of my friends really should ring a warning bell for the entire democratic process.
Unless more people turn out and vote, politicians will serve the people who do rather than focussing on each demographic.
And then, how will the councillors know that the old people want to cross the road?
Hall Barn after an architect demolished its additions and, inset, the wartime evacuated Wallace Collection stored in the mansion
Left – the estate in the time of the first Baron Burnham and right – King Edward VII (on right with gum) at the Hall Barn shoot