Mabel’s Manor – The Essex homes of the Hall-Dares. No. 4: Cranbrook, Ilford

Map from P. Morant’s ‘The history and antiquities of the County of Essex’ (London, 1768).

The aim of this short series of posts on the Essex homes (essentially northern Greater London, England) of Mabel’s kin – on her father’s side – is to give a quick look at the open spaces and sorts of landscapes that Mabel Bent (née Hall-Dare) would have enjoyed as a young woman on the eastern shores of the Irish Sea, predisposing her to an adventurous, outdoor life – horses everywhere, rivers, forests, walks, new rail links, not to mention the travelling involved in getting up to Dublin from Co. Wexford and then across the sea to London (there were rented properties in ‘Town’ too of course), for stays in Essex before, for example, spending the long summers touring Europe with her siblings. Indeed, she was to meet her husband-to-be, Theodore Bent, in Norway on one such tour (although we still don’t know when, where, how, and why).

The Essex properties, lands, and churches featured include: (1) ‘Fitzwalters‘, (2) ‘East Hall‘, (3) ‘Ilford Lodge‘, (4) ‘Cranbrook’, (5) ‘Wyfields’, ‘Theydon Bois’, and others.

No. 4: Cranbrook – Ilford, Essex, UK.

A period photograph of Cranbrook Manor taken from Edward Tuck, ‘A sketch of ancient Barking, its abbey, and Ilford’ (Ilford, 1899(?), pp. 36-39).

The jewel in the triple-crown of the Ilford estates linked to Mabel Bent’s connections on her father’s side was ‘Cranbrook’, taking its name from a stream that made its slow way down to the Thames through its acres. The stream was dammed in the 17th century to make a lake for the grand chalet of Valentines nearby, and the best way to locate what was once Cranbrook is to cross the happily labelled A123 at the west end of this water feature, and there the suburban sprawl that greets you all around affronts the memory of Mabel’s grandfather’s fine demesne. By 1901 the estate and manor house were gone. Mabel is unlikely to have stayed there, the lands being inherited by her uncle Henry on her grandfather’s death; however she may well have called in for tea.

Ordnance Survey: Essex Sheet LXXIII Surveyed: 1863, Published: 1873. The arrow points to Cranbrook, Ilford. Valentines lake is to the right of today’s A123.

Our two guides to the manor house of Cranbrook and its lands are the very straight-bat of The ancient parish of Barking: Manors, in Volume 5 of A History of the County of Essex (originally published in 1966, edited by W.R. Powell and now as essential as it freely accessible, online); and Edward Tuck’s whimsical A sketch of ancient Barking, its abbey, and Ilford (1899?).

It is not at all hard to distinguish the pens, not least because Tuck adds a final ‘e’ to the name.

To open the bowling, then, with Powell: “The manor of Cranbrook (in Ilford) which lay about ½ mile north of Ilford village, was a free tenement held of [Barking] abbey. It derived its name either from the Cran Brook, a tributary of the Roding, or from a family of Cranbrook which was itself named from the stream.” (Powell 1966, 190ff)

Barely visible, but Tuck assures that this is (was) a way to enter ‘Cranbrooke Park’. Taken from his book c. 1899. The whole estate was soon to be eradicated.

Tuck chips in at this point: “It may here be remarked that Cranbrook Manor is the oldest manor connected with the ancient abbey of Barking. It was held by the Malmeynes for several generations prior to 1314, giving it a period from 600 to 650 years at the least; during which time it has maintained its unbroken dignity of being a ‘Gentleman’s Mansion’…” (Tuck 1899, 36-9)

The erstwhile manors of Barking – three of which benefited Mabel Bent’s family connections – ‘Ilford Lodge’, ‘Cranbrook’, and ‘Wyfields’ (after ‘The ancient parish of Barking: Manors: A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5, 1966, pp.190-214′.

Powell again, clearly annoyed at the interruption: “In 1805–6 the estate was acquired by John M. Grafton Dare (d. 1810). In 1805 Dare, originally surnamed Grafton, and his wife Elizabeth, had inherited the estate of John Hopkins Dare, her son by a previous marriage… In 1808 Cranbrook comprised 179 [acres, c. 70 ha], including some 60 [acres, c. 25 ha] lying west of Cranbrook Road… After J.M. Grafton Dare’s death the estate passed to his widow, Elizabeth Grafton Dare (d. 1823), and then to her daughter Elizabeth, wife of Robert Westley Hall [Mabel’s grandfather]. Hall, who then assumed the additional surname of Dare, was the son of Robert Hall, of Ilford Lodge [Mabel’s great-grandfather]… Hall-Dare died in 1836, leaving Cranbrook to his second son Henry [Mabel’s uncle. (Her father was to have rights to East Hall in Rainham, and a huge sum from compensation due after their plantation slaves in Demerara were freed after Abolition in 1833)]… [Henry] sold it, some time after 1847 [Mabel’s birth year]…”

The area today where the lands of Cranbrook spread themselves for some 700 years. The western end of Valentines lake is the blank grey area, top right (Google maps).

“The last occupier of Cranbrook House, A.S. Walford [husband of the novelist L.B. Walford], gave up his tenancy in 1899, and by 1901 the house had been demolished and the estate cut up for building. The site is now occupied by De Vere Gardens, Endsleigh Gardens, and adjacent roads.” (Powell 1966, 190ff).

Mrs Lucy Bethia Walford (1845-1915), writer of popular fiction. The final resident at Cranbrook before its demolition. Born two years before Mabel, there is every chance her books were in the Bents’ library in their London home (Wikipedia).

Tuck saw the writing on the walls for this elderly estate long before the death of Queen Victoria; he will tell us, in a style reminiscent of Dr Frederick Chasuble, but not before his recommendation to read the ‘light-hearted domestic comedies’ of the previous dweller: “This mansion for a number of years was occupied by A.S. Walford, Esq., J.P., and his wife, Mrs. A.S. Walford, the well-known and popular authoress, whose works find favour, not only in many a household, but also in our principal public libraries… But this handsome mansion and estate is doomed; the destroyer’s hand has commenced operations, the beautiful park, the great resort of the inhabitants of Ilford for generations, is now cut up and covered with houses.” (Tuck 1899, 36-9)

Mabel Bent’s grandfather, Robert Westley Hall (© Bob Speel 2022).

He should see it now. The fine house numbered among its owners “families of honour and distinction”, opines Tuck, including: “Robert Westley Hall-Dare, Esq., J.P. and M.P. [Mabel’s grandfather]. [He] was elected M.P. in December 1832. He was always most interested in the affairs connected with the Ilford ward, and the Parish Church, Ilford, owes its origin to his indefatigable exertions. His daughter Mary [Mabel’s aunt] was selected to lay the foundation stone, and the building was named St. Mary’s.

St Mary’s, Ilford. The name is connected with Mabel Bent’s aunt, Mary Hall-Dare, who lived at Cranbrook (Wikipedia).

“This church was opened on June 9th, 1831, by Bishop Blomfield, Bishop of London, and the day was spent in general festivity from the highest to the lowest classes. All labour was suspended and the poor were not forgotten, being provided with food at their homes. A large party was entertained under a marquee on the lawn at Cranbrook, and after luncheon a ball was opened by Mr. Hall-Dare, who chose for his partner Miss Ashmole, a daughter of one of the oldest trading families of Ilford.” (Tuck 1899, 36-9) Those were the days.

References

The ancient parish of Barking: Manors, in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5, ed. W.R. Powell (London, 1966), pp. 190-214. British History Online.

Edward Tuck, A sketch of ancient Barking, its abbey, and Ilford (Ilford, 1899(?), pp. 36-39).

The Ilford Historical Society has several features on the Essex estates of Mabel’s connections in its Newsletters, e.g.:

August 2011

April 2016

April 2019

August 2019

December 2019

An interesting announcement in The London Gazette of June 20 1865 relating to the will of Mabel’s grandfather, Robert Westley Hall-Dare (the first, d. 1836).

Coming next: No. 5: ‘Wyfields’.

The back story

Of course Mabel was fortunate in that her family (on both sides) were landed (obviously) and comfortably off. Mabel’s paternal grandfather was the first of  the Robert Westley Hall-Dares proper, an astute, baronial, figure who sat at the head of a coalition of wealthy and influential Essex families (Halls, Dares, Graftons, Mildmays, Kings, to name but a few), garnering in with him two major estates (Theydon Bois and Wennington) and various other demesnes, farms, and assorted dwellings, large and small. His wealth and assets were based on rents, farming, ventures, deals, and investments – including a sugar plantation in what is today British Guyana. This plantation, ‘Maria’s Pleasure‘, still retains its name, although it was disposed of after Mabel’s father, to whom the sugar estate had been left, received his compensation for the emancipation of around 300 slaves after Abolition (worth the equivalent of several millions of pounds now).

Robert Westley Hall-Dare the first (1789-1836), the Member of Parliament for South Essex from 1832 until his death, rubbed shoulders with the great and the good, not to mention London Society, but it was his son Robert Westley Hall-Dare the second (1817-1866) who actually married into (minor) aristocracy with his marriage to Frances, daughter of Gustavus Lambart of Beauparc, Co. Meath – Mabel (b. 1847) was one of their daughters.

Mabel was thus free to travel; her husband was the perfect fit; they were never slowed down by children. But if anyone should say to you, ‘Ah, but Mabel never worked’, then they don’t know what they are talking about: few women of her class would have sweated more, from Aksum to Great Zimbabwe.

References

Edward Tuck, A sketch of ancient Barking, its abbey, and Ilford (Barking, 1899?), pp.52-53.

The borough of Ilford (pp. 249-266): A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1966.

The ancient parish of Barking: Manors (pp. 190-214): A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1966.

The Ilford Recorder, 22 April 2017: ‘Heritage: The fraudster who gave our streets their names’

https://www.ilfordrecorder.co.uk/lifestyle/21197094.heritage-fraudster-gave-streets-names/

Ilford Historical Society Newsletter No.129, April 2019

https://ilfordhistoricalsociety.weebly.com/uploads/1/1/2/2/11222518/ihs_newsletter_129_draft_at_09.03.19.pdf

For an overview of Cranbrook Manor written before 1792, see also Daniel Lysons, The environs of London: being an historical account of the towns, villages, and hamlets, within twelve miles of that capital interspersed with biographical anecdotes, London, 1792, pp.84-85.

For a photograph of Mabel’s uncle Francis Marmaduke Hall-Dare (1830-1897), past owner of Ilford Lodge, click here.

If you have any photographs or memories of Cranbrook we would be delighted to hear from you!

 

Mabel’s Manor – The Essex homes of the Hall-Dares. No. 3: Ilford Lodge, Ilford

Map from P. Morant’s ‘The history and antiquities of the County of Essex’ (London, 1768).

The aim of this short series of posts on the Essex homes (essentially northern Greater London, England) of Mabel’s kin – on her father’s side – is to give a quick look at the open spaces and sorts of landscapes that Mabel Bent (nee Hall-Dare) would have enjoyed as a young woman on the eastern shores of the Irish Sea, predisposing her to an adventurous, outdoor life – horses everywhere, rivers, forests, walks, new rail links, not to mention the travelling involved in getting up to Dublin from Co. Wexford and then across the sea to London (there were rented properties in ‘Town’ too of course), for stays in Essex before, for example, spending the long summers touring Europe with her siblings. Indeed, she was to meet her husband-to-be, Theodore Bent, in Norway on one such tour (although we still don’t know when, where, how, and why).

The Essex properties, lands, and churches featured include: (1) ‘Fitzwalters‘, (2) ‘East Hall‘, (3) ‘Ilford Lodge’, (4) ‘Cranbrook‘, (5) ‘Wyfields’, ‘Theydon Bois’, and others.

No. 3: Ilford Lodge – Ilford, Essex, UK.

Before AD 687, the Saxon king Œthelræd gave to the newly-founded abbey of Barking large parcels of land in the area, and over the subsequent centuries, further patronage, crown and mitre, established in this corner of Essex, after the Dissolution this is, estates such as Aldborough Hatch, Bifrons, Clements, Hainault, Highlands,  Valentines, and Ilford Lodge, our subject.

The mansion of Ilford Lodge – hardly a lodge as we might think of one – was a late 18th-century edifice of yellow brick – a central block and side wings, all in three storeys. (from Edward Tuck, ‘A sketch of ancient Barking, its abbey, and Ilford’, Barking, 1899?, pp.52-53.)

The mansion of Ilford Lodge – hardly a lodge as we might think of one – was a late 18th-century edifice of yellow brick – a central block and side wings, all in three storeys. Fine enough, if not exactly characterful, although Edward Tuck (of whom much more later) thought it ‘distinguished’. It stood, suffering several vicissitudes, until demolishment as recently as 1960. It is unlikely that Mabel Bent ever slept under its roof, as the property was owned by soldier-uncle Frank, who, like Mabel, was hardly ever at home; but she may well have taken tea there – we can only guess.

The erstwhile manors of Barking – three of which benefited Mabel Bent’s family connections – ‘Ilford Lodge’, ‘Cranbrook’, and ‘Wyfields’ (after ‘The ancient parish of Barking: Manors (pp. 190-214): A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5, 1966.

The estate of the same name, dates only from the late 18th/early 19th centuries, and was just a short distance down a lane from another Hall-Dare mansion, ‘Cranbrook’, which is to feature in another of these posts. Incidentally, according to our Edward Tuck (p. 53) – “It may, in a passing remark, be said that the road shadowed by the beautiful trees and shrubs along this estate down to Cranbrook was one of the most charming walks in the neighbourhood.’ He would not write the same now.

Ilford Lodge had been carved from the much larger adjoining estate of Valentines, and it passed into the hands of Robert Hall, who was previously a tenant there, before 1810. It remained in the Hall-Dare families until 1883, when it was acquired by the larger-than-life character, and crook, Jabez Balfour, and his Liberator Building Society, which collapsed in 1892, and Balfour imprisoned for embezzlement. His story his well worth a read!

The site of Ilford Lodge (OS London Sheet IV.SE, Revised: 1893 to 1895, Published: 1894 to 1896).

In 1896 the Ilford Lodge Estate was put up for sale as the ‘Ilford Park Estate’, sold, and subsequently developed into mostly residential housing – very much as can be seen on the maps today: no more gardens, gazebos, and children’s ponies grazing in the distance; pretty nondescript, suburban, a stone’s throw from Ilford railway station (opened 20 June 1839 for Eastern Counties Railway).

A Google map of Ilford today, the arrow pointing to where Ilford Lodge once was.

When the estate was sliced up for building, Ilford Lodge was preserved as a sports and social club for the local residents of Wellesley Road. As mentioned above, the roof under which Mabel never slept was torn down in 1960. Nothing remains.

Tuck’s entry on Ilford Lodge, from ‘A sketch of ancient Barking, its abbey, and Ilford’, Barking, 1899?, pp.52-53 (archive.org)

But now it’s time for Tuck proper and an account of the mansion’s heyday; his work on this corner of Essex is unparalleled: “‘THE LODGE’. This once distinguished house, although not one of the Manors connected with the Abbey of Barking, held a very prominent position among the leading seats of the surrounding gentry. The mansion and estate was for a number of years owned and occupied by Robert Hall, Esq… Their family consisted of a son and a daughter. The son, Mr. Robert Wesley Hall… married the only daughter of Marmaduke Grafton Dare, and on their marriage took the name of Hall-Dare, omitting Grafton, through some dispute of the Grafton family… It appears that the Graftons were once Romford people. I found on a tomb in the Churchyard ‘John Marmaduke Grafton, died 1788,’ aged 70. His son (named also John Marmaduke Grafton) married Mrs. Dare, of Cranbrook, and assumed the name of Grafton-Dare. Some years after, Mrs. Grafton-Dare’s daughter became the wife of Robert Wesley Hall, and they assumed the name of Hall-Dare. On the death of Mr. Robert Hall-Dare [i.e. Mabel Bent’s grandfather] his widow succeeded to the estate, and outlived her husband for several years… On her demise the mansion and estate came, by will of the grandfather, to Captain Frank M. Hall-Dare, third son of Robert W. Hall-Dare, Esq., of Cranbrook.

Jabez Balfour (1843–1916), whose Liberator Building Society was involved in fraud concerning the Ilford Lodge estate, inter alia (Wikipedia).

Having entered the army when young, he did not occupy the estate, nor leave the army till after the Crimean War, where he gained… four medals… After the war he retired from the army, and spent most of his time in travel. He subsequently disposed of the estate to the Liberator Building Society [see above for the rogue Jabez Balfour]. The mansion is now used for a club-house, and the estate covered with residences…’ (Edward Tuck, pp.52-53)

Coming next: No. 4: ‘Cranbrook‘.

The back story

Of course Mabel was fortunate in that her family (on both sides) were landed (obviously) and comfortably off. Mabel’s paternal grandfather was the first of  the Robert Westley Hall-Dares proper, an astute, baronial, figure who sat at the head of a coalition of wealthy and influential Essex families (Halls, Dares, Graftons, Mildmays, Kings, to name but a few), garnering in with him two major estates (Theydon Bois and Wennington) and various other demesnes, farms, and assorted dwellings, large and small. His wealth and assets were based on rents, farming, ventures, deals, and investments – including a sugar plantation in what is today British Guyana. This plantation, ‘Maria’s Pleasure‘, still retains its name, although it was disposed of after Mabel’s father, to whom the sugar estate had been left, received his compensation for the emancipation of around 300 slaves after Abolition (worth the equivalent of several millions of pounds now).

Robert Westley Hall-Dare the first (1789-1836), the Member of Parliament for South Essex from 1832 until his death, rubbed shoulders with the great and the good, not to mention London Society, but it was his son Robert Westley Hall-Dare the second (1817-1866) who actually married into (minor) aristocracy with his marriage to Frances, daughter of Gustavus Lambart of Beauparc, Co. Meath – Mabel (b. 1847) was one of their daughters.

Mabel was thus free to travel; her husband was the perfect fit; they were never slowed down by children. But if anyone should say to you, ‘Ah, but Mabel never worked’, then they don’t know what they are talking about: few women of her class would have sweated more, from Aksum to Great Zimbabwe.

References

Edward Tuck, A sketch of ancient Barking, its abbey, and Ilford (Barking, 1899?), pp.52-53.

The borough of Ilford (pp. 249-266): A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1966.

The ancient parish of Barking: Manors (pp. 190-214): A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1966.

The Ilford Recorder, 22 April 2017: ‘Heritage: The fraudster who gave our streets their names’

https://www.ilfordrecorder.co.uk/lifestyle/21197094.heritage-fraudster-gave-streets-names/

Ilford Historical Society Newsletter No.129, April 2019

https://ilfordhistoricalsociety.weebly.com/uploads/1/1/2/2/11222518/ihs_newsletter_129_draft_at_09.03.19.pdf

For a photograph of Mabel’s uncle Francis Marmaduke Hall-Dare (1830-1897), past owner of Ilford Lodge, click here.

If you have any photographs or memories of Ilford Lodge pre-1960 we would be delighted to hear from you!

 

Mabel’s Manor – The Essex homes of the Hall-Dares. No. 2: East Hall, Wennington

Map from P. Morant’s ‘The history and antiquities of the County of Essex’ (London, 1768).

The aim of this short series of posts on the Essex homes (essentially northern Greater London, England) of Mabel’s kin – on her father’s side – is to give a quick look at the open spaces and sorts of landscapes that Mabel Bent (nee Hall-Dare) would have enjoyed as a young woman on the eastern shores of the Irish Sea, predisposing her to an adventurous, outdoor life – horses everywhere, rivers, forests, walks, new rail links, not to mention the travelling involved in getting up to Dublin from Co. Wexford and then across the sea to London (there were rented properties in ‘Town’ too of course), for stays in Essex before, for example, spending the long summers touring Europe with her siblings. Indeed, she was to meet her husband-to-be, Theodore Bent, in Norway on one such tour (although we still don’t know when, where, how, and why).

The Essex properties, lands, and churches featured include: (1) ‘Fitzwalters‘, (2) ‘East Hall’, (3) ‘Ilford Lodge‘, (4) ‘Cranbrook‘, (5) ‘Wyfields’, ‘Theydon Bois’, and others.

No. 2: East Hall – Wennington, near Rainham, Essex, UK.

East Hall (Ordnance, Kent Sheet III, Surveyed: 1862 to 1866, Published: 1869 to 1875).

Although Mabel Bent never knew the eccentric and stylish Hall-Dare residence of Fitzwalters (see No. 1 in this series), the estate (c. 700 acres, c. 300 hectares) at Wennington, East Hall, near Rainham on the Thames, was extremely familiar to her and her immediate kin: indeed, in her obituary in the Paris Times of 5th July 1929 her birthplace is given (incorrectly) as Wennington.

The layout of East Hall at the end of the 19th century (Ordnance Survey, Essex (1st Ed/Rev 1862-96) LXXXII.4. Revised: 1895, Published: 1897).

Wennington manor became linked to Mabel’s forebears (together with their Theydon Bois lands) via a series of late 18th-century marriages, and remained a Hall-Dare site in a direct line from Mabel’s grandfather and father, and then down through her brother and nephew – until it was disposed of in the early 20th century. (The place is not to be confused with the old East Hall of Dagenham Manor.) The manors of Wennington and Theydon Bois  represented the bulk of the amalgamated families’ English holdings. Mabel’s brother Robert, although based in Ireland, took his stewardship of his Essex lands seriously and there are several references in his diary to visits there;  his early death from typhoid in Rome in 1876 had a significant impact on the future development of the family’s land assets. The name East Hall remained on large-scale maps into the 1950s.

The blue arrow shows the site of East Hall (Ordnance, Kent Sheet III, Surveyed: 1862 to 1866, Published: 1869 to 1875).

Unfortunately, a description of the East Hall mansion itself (possibly on an earlier site) has eluded us to date, but it is hoped one will surface – at least the  outline on the Ordnance Survey maps of the period gives a good idea of its scale and scope, just to the west of the small village and its only surviving medieval building, the church of St Mary and St Peter, which would have welcomed Mabel on the Sundays she stayed in her father’s house – coming down from town on the new railway line.

St Mary & St Peter, Wennington. Possibly the only building that Mabel Bent would recognize today. (Wikipedia)

Those wishing to see how the manor came to be in the possession of Mabel’s father should see the detailed entry: ‘Wennington‘, in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 7, ed. W R Powell (London, 1978), pp. 180-190. (The Tithe Award Place-names of Wennington by Parcel Number reveal the extent of the families holdings (under Dare there are 268 references for 1839).)

The sad fate of East Hall today (Google Maps).

All that remains of the estate today are memories, the area has been devastated by modern quarry workings and is a sorry sight on Google Maps; perhaps the murder that occurred on the farm there in 1910 presaged its fate. Ironically, the modern-era desecration has revealed on the land a history going back to the Palaeolithic – archaeology to some degree was never far from Mabel and outlined her future by her husband’s side; she was born on the Boyne,  not so very far from the Hill of Tara in the Celtic twilight.

Actually, there is one further souvenir – close to the turning to East Hall Lane you can find Halldare Cottage. A dwelling is marked there on the early maps, so presumably it had an association with East Hall and Mabel Bent’s family; it is a serendipitous survival.

See also ‘Wennington’, in The History and Antiquities of the County of Essex by Philip Morant (1768, London, pp.85-87); and the anonymous History of Wennington in 1882.

Coming next: No. 3: Ilford Lodge.

The back story

Of course Mabel was fortunate in that her family (on both sides) were landed (obviously) and comfortably off. Mabel’s paternal grandfather was the first of  the Robert Westley Hall-Dares proper, an astute, baronial, figure who sat at the head of a coalition of wealthy and influential Essex families (Halls, Dares, Graftons, Mildmays, Kings, to name but a few), garnering in with him two major estates (Theydon Bois and Wennington) and various other demesnes, farms, and assorted dwellings, large and small. His wealth and assets were based on rents, farming, ventures, deals, and investments – including a sugar plantation in what is today British Guyana. This plantation, ‘Maria’s Pleasure‘, still retains its name, although it was disposed of after Mabel’s father, to whom the sugar estate had been left, received his compensation for the emancipation of around 300 slaves after Abolition (worth the equivalent of several millions of pounds now).

Robert Westley Hall-Dare the first (1789-1836), the Member of Parliament for South Essex from 1832 until his death, rubbed shoulders with the great and the good, not to mention London Society, but it was his son Robert Westley Hall-Dare the second (1817-1866) who actually married into (minor) aristocracy with his marriage to Frances, daughter of Gustavus Lambart of Beauparc, Co. Meath – Mabel (b. 1847) was one of their daughters.

Mabel was thus free to travel; her husband was the perfect fit; they were never slowed down by children. But if anyone should say to you, ‘Ah, but Mabel never worked’, then they don’t know what they are talking about: few women of her class would have sweated more, from Aksum to Great Zimbabwe.

 

Mabel’s Manor – The Essex homes of the Hall-Dares. No. 1: Fitzwalters

Map from P. Morant’s ‘The history and antiquities of the County of Essex’ (London, 1768).

The aim of this short series of posts on the Essex homes (essentially northern Greater London, England) of Mabel’s kin – on her father’s side – is to give a quick look at the open spaces and sorts of landscapes that Mabel Bent (nee Hall-Dare) would have enjoyed as a young woman on the eastern shores of the Irish Sea, predisposing her to an adventurous, outdoor life – horses everywhere, rivers, forests, walks, new rail links, not to mention the travelling involved in getting up to Dublin from Co. Wexford and then across the sea to London (there were rented properties in ‘Town’ too of course), for stays in Essex before, for example, spending the long summers touring Europe with her siblings. Indeed, she was to meet her husband-to-be, Theodore Bent, in Norway on one such tour (although we still don’t know when, where, how, and why).

The Essex properties, lands, and churches featured will include: (1) ‘Fitzwalters’, (2) ‘East Hall‘, (3) ‘Ilford Lodge‘, (4) ‘Cranbrook‘, (5) ‘Wyfields’, ‘Theydon Bois’, and others.

No. 1: Fitzwalters, near Mountnessing, Essex, UK.

Of all the County Essex (England) properties owned or leased by Mabel Bent’s paternal connections, the Hall-Dares, Fitzwalters (west of Mountnessing,  51.650724, 0.336264) was perhaps the most outstanding, and certainly the most distinctive. The house and estate seem to have come into the possession of the Halls before 1820, on the death of Robert Hall’s friend Thomas Wright, a City banker, and was a favourite residence of Mabel’s father, Robert Westley Hall-Dare (1817-1866), who went on giving Fitzwalters as his address, even though the delightful mansion itself was destroyed by fire on the night of 24th March 1839 and never rebuilt. It seems the lands, with its several farms, were disposed of before 1860, when RHD was focusing on the rebuilding of his grand Irish home, Newtownbarry, Co. Wexford.

Fitzwalters (detail of house) before 1820, from Thomas Cromwell’s ‘Excursions through Essex’, Vol. 1, London 1819, facing page 126.

A piece in The Gardeners Magazine and Register of Rural and Domestic Improvement (Vol. 15, May 1839, Art. V. ‘Queries and Answers’, p. 303) provides an excellent introduction to this lost architectural masterpiece: “Fitzwalters, known also by the name of the Round House, was opposite the nine-mile stone of the London road, in the parish of Shinfield [Shenfield, Essex]. In 1301 the estate was the property of Robert Earl of Fitzwalter. The mansion, now destroyed, was built by Mr. John Morecroft, in the 17th century, after an Italian Model, and was an object of general observation and curiosity, being of an octagon form. Notwithstanding this singular shape each floor contained four square rooms; the centre of the house was occupied by the chimnies [sic]; and staircases filled up two of the intervening spaces between the square rooms, while the remainder formed small triangular apartments, devoted to dressing-rooms, closets, &c. The interior was built chiefly of timber, the girders being of very large dimensions. Fitzwalters was many years the property and country residence of Mr. T. Wright [died 1818], the banker, of Henrietta Street, of whose representatives the late Mr. Hall, grandfather of the present possessor [Robert Westley Hall-Dare, Mabel Bent’s father] purchased the property. (Chelmsford Chronicle, as quoted in the Times, March 30th, 1839)”

Fitzwalters on OS Essex Sheet LIX,
surveyed: 1871 to 1873, published: 1881.

J.H. Brady’s ‘pocket guide’ of 1838 provides details from before the catastrophic fire: “FITZWALTERS,  an  ancient  manorial  estate  in  Essex, in  the  parish  of  Shenfield,  one  mile  from  the  church  of that  place,  north-west  from  the  road  between  Ingatestone and  Brentwood.  This  is  supposed  to  have  been,  in  1301, the  property  of  Lord  Robert  Fitzwalter  (whence  the  name of  the  manor),  and  it  was  held,  in  1363,  by  Joan,  his widow,  of  the  king  in  capite,  by  the  service  of  supplying  a pair  of  gilt  spurs  at  the  coronation.  About  1400,  it  became the  possession  of  the  Knyvett  family,  and  subsequently  of John  Morecroft,  Esq.,  who  erected  the  house,  after  what is  stated  to  be  an  Italian  model.    The  building  is  on  low ground,  and  being  of  an  octangular  form,  with  the  chimneys  rising  in  the  centre,  has  a  very  singular  appearance. It  has  a  piece  of  water  in  front,  with  a  neat  fancy  bridge, and  toward  the  road  are  two  porter’s  lodges.  After  Mr. Morecroft’s  death,  the  manor  was  enjoyed  successively  by several  families.  It  is  now  the  residence  of  J.  Tasker, Esq.,  but  the  property,  we  believe,  of  Robt.  W.  Hall Dare,  Esq.” (J.H. Brady, A new pocket guide to London and its environs, London, 1838, pp. 262-263)

See also, Thomas Wright, The history and topography of the county of Essex, comprising its ancient and modern history, Vol II, London, 1836, p. 541.

For another old print of Fitzwalters, click here.

[Coming shortly (Nov. 2022) – No. 2: East Hall, Wennington]

The back story

Of course Mabel was fortunate in that her family (on both sides) were landed (obviously) and comfortably off. Mabel’s paternal grandfather was the first of  the Robert Westley Hall-Dares proper, an astute, baronial, figure who sat at the head of a coalition of wealthy and influential Essex families (Halls, Dares, Graftons, Mildmays, Kings, to name but a few), garnering in with him two major estates (Theydon Bois and Wennington) and various other demesnes, farms, and assorted dwellings, large and small. His wealth and assets were based on rents, farming, ventures, deals, and investments – including a sugar plantation in what is today British Guyana. This plantation, ‘Maria’s Pleasure‘, still retains its name, although it was disposed of after Mabel’s father, to whom the sugar estate had been left, received his compensation for the emancipation of around 300 slaves after Abolition (worth the equivalent of several millions of pounds now).

Robert Westley Hall-Dare the first (1789-1836), the Member of Parliament for South Essex from 1832 until his death, rubbed shoulders with the great and the good, not to mention London Society, but it was his son Robert Westley Hall-Dare the second (1817-1866) who actually married into (minor) aristocracy with his marriage to Frances, daughter of Gustavus Lambart of Beauparc, Co. Meath – Mabel (b. 1847) was one of their daughters.

Mabel was thus free to travel; her husband was the perfect fit; they were never slowed down by children. But if anyone should say to you, ‘Ah, but Mabel never worked’, then they don’t know what they are talking about: few women of her class would have sweated more, from Aksum to Great Zimbabwe.

 

 

Mrs Theodore Bent – The Queen of Explorers

“Like most travellers, this lady has found that the less she and her nomad husband see of spirits and wine the better, and so with the exception of a little brandy for medicinal purposes, the whole party travel on tea, beef essence, and condensed milk…”

To mark Mabel Bent’s birthday (28 January 1847) this year (2022), let’s read more from a rare article on her from an arcane newspaper – The Newry Telegraph, 3rd January 1895, published by an unknown publisher in Newry, Co. Down, Northern Ireland. It seems that it is an original editorial by an unknown author and not a piece syndicated from any other contemporary English source. There is every chance that it was written, or co-written, by Mabel’s sister Frances Maria Hobson, wife of the Rector of Portadown (a corner of that devout triangle, Newry, Portadown, Armagh. The wagging finger to the intemperate above is a clue perhaps, ironic rather as Theodore’s fortunes derived in part from brewing!).

Mabel in her prime and on her way to explore the ruins of Great Zimbabwe for Cecil Rhodes in 1891 (presumably a studio photo from Cape Town or Kimberley, the Bent Archive)

The featured photo, probably from Cape Town in 1891, shows Mabel in her prime and on her way to explore the ruins of Great Zimbabwe for Cecil Rhodes. Mabel’s confident air presages the Bents’ imminent fame as they join the cadre of the nation’s most popular and best-known adventurers. Their work in the Eastern Mediterranean is behind them, their celebrated Arabian expeditions ahead.  Thus this article in The Newry Telegraph that follows reflects this prestige awaiting Mabel in 1895 perfectly, as well, of course, as the attitudes and jingoism of the day. And no excuse is ever needed for an oblique reference to another extraordinary traveller, Raymonde Bonnetain.

So, without further exposition,  we join parlour-readers, heads and arms on their antimacassars, of The Newry Telegraph for Thursday, 3rd January 1895:

Mabel Bent, Queen of Explorers (The Newry Telegraph, 3 January 1895)

“Mrs Theodore Bent – The Queen of Explorers: Curious as it may seem, foreign exploration is one of the paths where the most feminine women have followed the example set them by their husbands and brothers. Of course, this has been especially the case in every kind of missionary enterprise, and one has only to recall the achievements of Lady Baker, Lady Burdon, Mme Dieu la Loy [sic], Mrs Peary, and more recently Mme Bonnetain  note 1 ,  to prove that even great explorers have not hesitated to take with them on their perilous journeys those whom they had chosen for their life companions.

The subject of our sketch, Mrs. Theodore Bent, is a striking example of all a woman can do in the way of cheerful endurance and intelligent observation. Her name is less well-known than that of her husband, one of the most distinguished Fellows of the Royal Geographical Society, for, as she sometimes observes, ‘There is not ink enough in a family for two’, but the valuable additions to exploration literature published by Mr Bent owe not a little of their interest to his wife, for she keeps careful notes of everything that occurs during their journeys  note 2 ,  and, when any excavations are to be done, generally takes charge of one party whilst her husband looks after another.

Mrs Bent, who is a light, graceful-looking woman, well-known in the cultured portion of London Society, belongs to an Irish family, famous in the annals of County Wexford, the Hall-Dares of Newton-Barry; she rode almost before she could walk, and early displayed remarkable pedestrian powers.

During the last ten years Mr and Mrs Bent have together achieved twelve exploration expeditions in some of the roughest and least known corners of Southern Asia, that vast and mysterious domain of which the world even now knows little. They began their travels by an expedition to the less well-known islands of Greece, and while there made some interesting archaeological discoveries; this first attempt taught them a great deal, and now Mr H M Stanley  himself could not rival Mrs Bent as organiser and manger of an exploration party, for long experience has shown her what to avoid, and narrowed down her list of absolutely indispensable necessaries to a small compass.

It is interesting to note that Mr Bent’s book on Mashonaland  was one of the first works published on that now much-debated portion of our Colonial Empire.

Of late years Arabia has become to both husband and wife the most interesting portion of the universe. There is probably no place in the world of which so little is known, and which is more full of practical dangers to exploring Europeans, for the native population, though civilised after a fashion, are extremely cunning and dishonest, and have a great hatred and contempt for anything they don’t understand.

Nowadays so much is talked about rational dress, cycling costumes, and the relative value of a divided skirt and knickerbockers, that it is interesting to know that Mrs Bent’s ideas on the subject are simple and the result of long experience. Her costume never varies, for she has found the same kind of dress equally useful in South Africa, Arabia, and the Isles of Greece. Her outfit, which is very pretty and even conventional, consists of a tweed coat and skirt coming down below the knees, breeches, gaiters, and stout shoes. The skirt is full, being pleated; and by a clever arrangement invented by the wearer herself it can be altered accordingly as to whether it is wanted for riding or walking. With this costume is worn a pith hat and gause veil.

Mabel on a camel in the Sudan in 1896.

Mrs Bent, whenever it is possible, rides on horseback, and she cannot speak too highly of the intelligence and faithfulness of the horse as compared to that of a camel or mule.

Every detail concerning the outfit and internal economy of their expeditions is left by Mr Theodore Bent to his wife, and so on her hangs the heavy responsibility of keeping in health and making comfortable a larger or smaller party, which often includes guides and servants belonging to the country which is to be explored.

Like most travellers, this lady has found that the less she and her nomad husband see of spirits and wine the better, and so with the exception of a little brandy for medicinal purposes, the whole party travel on tea, beef essence, and condensed milk, while quinine is the most important item of the medicine chest.

Frances Hobson, Mabel’s sister, and possible co-author of the ‘Newry Telegraph’ article featured here (The Bent Archive)

It should not, however, be thought that Mr and Mrs Bent spend their whole life in travelling through wild and inaccessible regions; they generally pass the season in their delightful London home, which is a veritable museum, full of curious and beautiful things gathered together during the course of their owners’ many expeditions. Mr Theodore Bent has generously presented many of his most precious archaeological finds to the British Museum, but his own store is extremely valuable and curious.  Mrs Bent makes a point of collecting anything specially feminine in the way of ornaments or habilaments, and some of the shawls and face veils presented to her by Arabian magnates throw a strange light on the manners and customs of the East.

The subject of our sketch was at one time proposed for election to the Royal Geographical Society, but she little values official recognition of dignities, and the matter has remained in abeyance note 3 .”

Notes

Raymonde Bonnetain (1868-1913), African explorer (archive.org)
Note 1: : 1) Florence, Lady Baker or Florica Maria Sas (1841–1916), Hungarian-born British explorer; 2) Phoebe Esther Burdon, née Alder (1829–1898), Far-Eastern traveller; 3) Jane Dieulafoy (1851-1916), French archaeologist, explorer, novelist, and journalist. She crossed swords with Mabel Bent, as it were, in Persia in 1889; 4) Josephine Cecilia Diebitsch Peary (1863-1955) was an American author and arctic explorer; 5) Raymonde Bonnetain (1868-1913), travelled to Africa in 1892, taking her seven-year-old daughter with her. Reputedly she was the first European woman to see the Niger River, and compiled her reminiscences in her travelogue Une française au Soudan: sur la route de Tombouctou, du Sénégal au Niger (1894). (For more travellers linked to Mabel see the post ‘In Exalted Company‘.)
Return from Note 1

Note 2: A reference of course to Mabel’s travel diaries, or ‘Chronicles‘ as she called them.
Return from Note 2

Note 3: This is a reference to the long-running scandal over admitting women as Fellows to the RGS.
Return from Note 3

Mabel’s Museum – 13 Great Cumberland Place, London, W1

“[One] of the most notable and charming women of the day…” and her “museum” – 13 Great Cumberland Place, London, W1

“The Gentlewoman – The Illustrated Weekly Journal for Gentlewomen”, No. 175, Vol. VII, Saturday, November 11, 1893.

Both Theodore and Mabel Bent liked to style themselves ‘archaeologists’, and at times a case can be made that they were… and at others that they were anything but. But there can be no doubting they were truly exceptional travellers and explorers, regularly facing uncertainty and considerable hardships over a period of almost twenty years – ‘excavating’ where they could, usually in line with whatever Theodore’s current hobby-horse happened to be – early life in the Cyclades, the Phoenicians, the Queen of Sheba…

Theodore and Mabel Bent (the Bent Archive).

The Bents are an amazingly addictive couple and ‘the archaeology of the Bents’ is very much part of what the Bent Archive is all about. And now and then, once in twenty years of research, something truly remarkable, unique even, comes to light. The late summer of 2020 produced just such a discovery, beginning with an insignificant alert from the British Newspaper Archive saying that a quality women’s magazine, The Gentlewoman, had been added to its list of digital holdings, most of which originate from the British Library. Straightaway the search term ‘Theodore Bent’ (which will turn up either Mr or Mrs J. Theodore Bent) went in, and, just like an excavator in an opening trench, you wait to see if anything comes up. Bingo! There it was – The Gentlewoman – The Illustrated Weekly Journal for Gentlewomen, Vol. VII, Saturday, November 11, 1893, pages 621-622, Article title: Gentlewomen ‘At Home’, No. CLXXV, ‘Mrs. Theodore Bent… at 13, Great Cumberland Place’.

An intriguing portrait of Mabel Bent in the “Gentlewoman” article reprinted here.

An astonishing discovery, and for us as intriguing as anything the Bents brought home to London from the Eastern Mediterranean, Africa, or Arabia.  And what makes the article so appealing is that it is the only piece unearthed  so far that goes into any detail about the Bents’ archaeological and ethnographic finds that they had out on show in their London townhouse (an invitation and victim to the Blitz), 13 Great Cumberland Place, just a few hundred metres from Marble Arch. A further discovery is that the article also contains a very rare portrait of Mabel (which our research shows is by Henry Van der Weyde); there are also three unique photographs, sadly very dark, of the interior of their house.

This revelatory article from The Gentlewoman is now transcribed below and we make no apologies for its length – you can return to it as often as you like, and it is probably the first time for a hundred years it will have been re-read. Its context (and once more we have archaeology), reinforces the aura of celebrity the Bents had acquired following their 1891 trip to ‘Great Zimbabwe’, with Cecil Rhodes scheming behind him – and in a sense the great ‘Colossus’ made a minor one of Theodore, and Mabel too.

The last few paragraphs of the piece make reference to the 1893 scandal involving the controversy of whether women should continue being elected Fellows of the Royal Geographical Society – Mabel was in the proposed second cohort (22 or so had been elected thus far), but the RGS hierarchy managed to ban them from applying. It was a sorry story, not put right until 1913.

It is also worth noting that some of the dates mentioned in the article are inaccurate for some reason – perhaps Mabel’s memory let her down during the interview with the editor.

43 Great Cumberland Place - missing its blue plaque
The Bents’ first home at 43 Great Cumberland Place. 13 Great Cumberland Place, alas, is no longer with us.

Nor does the article always make for happy reading – there are inclusions and stray finds that are unwelcome today, but which were the matrix of the day – the discovery that two ikons from the Patmos’ ‘Cave of the Apocalypse’ were removed is a shock (although Mabel in her diary records that at least one was ‘purchased’). Mabel died in 1929 and a few years previously she donated some of the artefacts she held most dear, those that reminded her most of happier times before Theodore’s early death in 1897, to the British Museum. All her remaining assets were bequeathed to her nieces, and her collections divided up, dispersed, sold off, reverting to anonymous items, and now in the main contextless, provenances lost. And the Patmos ikons? Where they are today, we don’t know. Let’s hope some future archaeologist turns them up and sees these little treasures returned to the Dodecanese…

… but let’s make a start on the transcription, and hand you over to Theodore and Mabel, in one of their cluttered drawing rooms, carriages rattling along in the street below, being interviewed by the editor of The Gentlewoman, Joseph Snell Wood. It is Autumn in London in 1893, an empire’s heyday, and the leaves in Hyde Park are changing colour…

Gentlewomen ‘At Home’, ‘Mrs. Theodore Bent… at 13, Great Cumberland Place’

 

Mabel’s three grand Irish homes, still in good hands!

Very good to know that Mabel’s three grand Irish homes are still in good hands!

Mabel Bent’s birthplace, Beauparc, Co. Meath (copyright JP and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons).

 

 

 

 

Home 1: Beauparc, Co. Meath – On 28 January 1847, Mabel Virginia Anna Hall-Dare (d. 1929) was born in Beauparc House to Mrs Frances Anna Catherine Hall-Dare (c. 1819-1862) and Robert Westley Hall-Dare (1817-1866). Frances was the daughter of Gustavus Lambart, of Beauparc, and his wife Anna (née Stevenson). Retaining all her life an affection for  the house, lording it over the Boyne, the mansion was built in the 1750s for the Lambart family, who retained it until the last Lambart, Sir Oliver, ‘a wonderful if somewhat retiring and eccentric individual’, died in 1986, leaving it, to the new owner’s ‘total and utter astonishment’, to Henry Conyngham, 8th Marquess Conyngham (born 25 May 1951) – dubbed (Wikipedia): ‘…. the rock and roll aristocrat or the rock and roll peer owing to the very successful series of rock concerts he has hosted since 1981, held in the natural amphitheatre in the grounds of Slane Castle [Slane falls within the estate, a few miles away across the river]… These concerts have included performances by The Rolling Stones, Thin Lizzy, Queen, U2, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Guns N’ Roses, Oasis and Madonna.’ Not too sure how Mabel would have taken to ‘Start me up’ rocking in over the Boyne, but who knows?

See also this entry on Beauparc in Irish Historic Houses (accessed 28/01/2022)

Temple House, Co. Sligo (image from the Temple House Hotel website, reproduced with permission)

Home 2: Temple House, Co. Sligo. You can’t stay with your in-laws forever, perhaps, and the Hall-Dares were soon looking for an estate of their own; Robert’s father being a very wealthy Essex landowner and Demerara sugar-plantation owner.  In the late 1850s, therefore, the growing family decamped from Beauparc, purchasing Temple House from the Percevals, at a discount, the latter in some financial discomfort. It was not to remain with the Hall-Dares for long, however: in 1861 Mabel’s father assaulted his gamekeeper’s wife and spent a month in Sligo gaol for his crime. Disgraced, he resold the house and lands to the Percevals – and delighted were one and all to see them back, for the Hall-Dares: ‘had a very different view on their duties and became notorious for evicting many families.’ Still magnificent and happily in Perceval hands, the fine house is now a luxury hotel – you can relax in grand style where Mabel spent her early childhood. Looking at the wonderful main stairs from the hall, it is easy to imagine the Hall-Dare children playing happily along them…

Newtownbarry House (from the website: Carlow Tourism, The Foresters’ Hall, College Street, Carlow)

Home 3: Newtownbarry, Co. Wexford. Robert, never down for long, moved his wife and several children 230 km across country down to Co. Wexford, and the village of Newtownbarry (now Bunclody). ‘For its size,’ boasts the 1885 Wexford County Guide and Directory, ‘there is no town in the County Wexford to compare with Newtownbarry. As a business place, its record is first-rank, and in scenic attractions it stands in the front rank. It is situated on the right bank of the Slaney, bordering the County Carlow, seven miles Irish from Ferns, the nearest railway station, nine miles English from Shillelagh, in the County Wicklow; ten miles Irish from Enniscorthy and sixteen miles Irish from Gorey. Originally it was called Bunclody. Clody, in Irish, signifies a mountain torrent, and bun is butt…’ [Bassett’s Wexford County Guide and Directory: a book for manufacturers, merchants, traders, land-owners, farmers, tourists, anglers, and sportsmen generally (George Henry Bassett; Dublin: Sealy, Bryers, and Walker, 1885, p.343).

Hall-Dare bought the rather modest house in the estate grounds from the Maxwells in 1861/2, and promptly set about enlarging it, although he died in 1866 (as an in-patient in the up-scale asylum for distressed gentry, Ticehurst House Hospital, East Sussex), never seeing its completion. Three other deaths must also have hit the young Mabel very hard – that of Frances, her mother in 1866, from what seems to have been ovarian cancer, the apparent suicide of her younger brother Charles, a single pistol-shot, just the other side of Worcester railway station, on 31 January 1876 (three days after Mabel’s birthday), and the death in Rome (from typhoid) of her elder brother Robert a few months later, on 18 March 1876. Despite these tragedies, Mabel remained at Newtownbarry until her marriage to Theodore Bent in 1877, and to them one might look for Mabel’s need to travel, to be somewhere else as soon as she possibly could, marriage her ticket. Solid-looking Newtownbarry House, in conversation ever with the trouty, brown Slaney just below it, was designed by the well-known Belfast architect Sir Charles Lanyon between 1863-69; it is still in family hands, Mabel’s great-niece being the current owner.

The Slaney River (from Sláine, the Celtic river nymph) running through the grounds of
Newtonbarry House, Bunclody, Co. Wexford, Ireland (photo, the Bent Archive)

Before we leave the amiable village, let’s take a stroll with George Henry Bassett: ‘Newtownbarry has many beautiful walks, but the one which is most favoured by the people is that leading off the Market Square over the bridge. Steep steps connect the public road with the river-path. Following this a few hundred feet a scene of rare loveliness is presented. Rich pastures extend far into the distance, skirted by a hill, which rises precipitously, a mass of foliage marked with every variety of color, and crowned by spike-like firs. On the left is the Slaney, deep and black in its shadows, silver-blue where it reflects the skies, its whisperings interrupted by the occasional leaping of salmon. Looking back to the road, the arches of the bridge, and their clear shadows, form circles which frame in charming bits of landscape. The residence of the Hall-Dare family is almost shut out from the view by trees. It is a mansion of extensive proportions, in the Italian style of architecture. At the end of the long stretch of pasture a stile is crossed, and the paths diverge. One goes down to a favourite bathing place of the boys, the other into the deep shades of the trees on the hill.” – Bassett’s Wexford County Guide and Directory: a book for manufacturers, merchants, traders, land-owners, farmers, tourists, anglers, and sportsmen generally (George Henry Bassett; Dublin: Sealy, Bryers, and Walker, 1885, p.349).

Click here for other stylish properties associated with the Bents.

Mabel Bent’s travel Chronicles are available from Archaeopress, Oxford

 

‘Baildon House’, Baildon, West Yorkshire, UK – Theodore Bent’s childhood home

‘Baildon House, Baildon, West Yorkshire’

Baildon House, where Theodore grew up (Wikipedia).

Stroll for a minute by Theodore Bent’s childhood home, wherever you are, even if, like the peripatetic Bents, you happen to be in Africa, Arabia, or excavating in the Eastern Med!  This fine, Grade II listed, home consists of two dwellings, a cottage and house, now linked together. From the informative book ‘Baildon and the Baildons; a history of a Yorkshire manor and family’ by W.P. Baildon (1912, Baildon), we have it that the handsome residence also known as ‘The Rookery, Low Baildon… was probably built by Robert Holden; a stone on the south front [of the main house] has the initials “R. H.” and the date 1724; hence Holden Lane, which runs alongside; it was formerly known as “Baildon House.” William Holden of Low Baildon died in 1809, aged 71, leaving an only daughter, Anne, who married John Lambert. Mr. and Mrs. Lambert were both buried in Baildon Chapel, as also was their only son, William Holden Lambert… The property descended to two daughters, one of whom, Margaret Eleanor, married James Bent [Theodore Bent’s father]… Mr. and Mrs. Bent lived at Baildon House (The Rookery), and here was born, in 1852, their son, James Theodore Bent, the distinguished traveller and antiquary…’

In fact, Theodore was born in Liverpool on 30 March 1852, an only child at a time when large families were very much the norm – explained perhaps by the fact that his father, James, (1807-1876) was 45 when Theodore was born and his mother, Margaret (c. 1811-1873),  41; and their son’s name ‘a gift from God’ thus highly appropriate.

One of the Bents’ breweries at the turn of the 19th century; Stone, near Newcastle-under-Lyme (Wikipedia)

James Bent was  was a member of a large and entrepreneurial clan, with, particularly, brewing interests; his marriage in April 1848 to a wealthy heiress, and with a grand house to boot, meant that he could semi-retire to Baildon, his wife’s village (as it was then), and enjoy a life of relative ease and manage quietly his estate and rents until his death in 1876. The mural tablet in the south aisle of the Bents’ local church, St John’s, suggests James’ comfort in his small, close, Baildon family (mercifully distant from the cutthroat, competitive and roller-coaster brewery businesses run by brothers John, William, Thomas and Rowland in Liverpool, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Macclesfield): ‘This Monument is erected in affectionate remembrance of Margaret Eleanor Bent, the beloved wife of James Bent, Esq., of Baildon House, who died November the eleventh, 1873, Aged 62. She was a loving wife, a devoted mother, and an humble Christian, Loving and greatly beloved. ” Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee.” Isaiah, xxvi, 3 v. [‘Baildon and the Baildons’, p. 28]. (W.P. Baildon’s book also refers to the Bents having at their local church: ‘St John’s, Baildon: Pews 13 & 15 (latter for ‘servants’)… [and] a pew (34) for Major Bradley for his houses in Kirklands [pp. 193-4]; and page 195 lists James Bent as chapel trustee and ‘of Liverpool, common brewer’.)

James’ in-laws, the Lamberts (sometimes Lambarts) represented a prominent local family, Lords of the Manor of Baildon, with an elegant ‘Hall’ and local estates – memorials to them can be found today in St John’s church. (An harmonious coda followed when Theodore married Mabel, her Irish mother coming from a distant branch of this family.)

For a glimpse of this area of Yorkshire (Aireborough, Baildon, Bingley, Shipley) in 1889/91 (when Theodore Bent was still a property owner there) there is an evocative 1894 OS 6″ map; and for delightful armchair ‘walks’ of Baildon, settle down with the series of on-line booklets produced by Baildon Local History Society (Commissioned by Baildon Parish Council) and no-nonsensely illustrated by Roy Lorrain-Smith (good maps by Vic McLindon). Their ‘Threshfield Walk‘ (revised 2016) includes the Lamberts’ ‘Baildon Hall’, the Bents’ ‘Baildon House’, and sections on Theodore Bent’s assets at ‘Brook Hill’, a portion of which “… is said to have been one of the properties sold by James Theodore Bent to finance his trip to Zimbabwe to visit the ruins in Mashonaland in 1890/91” – but this is uncorroborated.

After his father’s death, Theodore kept Baildon House, renting it out, residing with his wife at their (rented) house in London (Great Cumberland Place, first 43, then 13) and their larger manor at Sutton Hall, outside Macclesfield. A few days after their wedding, however, Theodore sold off much of his Baildon land to the local authorities:

Bradford Town Council – A quarterly and special meeting of the Town Council will be held on Tuesday [14th August 1877]… accepting the offer of Mr James Theodore Bent to sell to the Corporation certain lands and hereditaments situate in the township of Baildon, containing 25 acres, 2 roods, and 18 perches [c. 10 ha], for the sum of £4,000 [c. £200,000].” (The Bradford Daily Telegraph, 11 August 1877)

On Theodore’s death in 1897, the Baildon property was sold to a Mr. Smith Feather, J. P.

The Wikipedia page for Baildon House provides informative architectural and design details:  ‘Cottage and house, now single residence. Cottage: initialled and dated “R H M” 1 7 1 5 (Holden family); House initialled and dated “RH” 1724… Hammer-dressed stone, stone slate roofs, two storeys. A long range with cottage to left. This has two 1st floor windows. Doorway with tie-stone jambs with 2-light flat-faced mullioned window above; tripartite sashed windows with same above; doorway (blocked) with date stone over and a semicircular-arched window (blocked). Coped gable with kneelers and weathervane to left. Large stack to right gable. Linking passage to house, breaking forward, has 3-light windows to each floor. House: 3-room plan with four 1st floor windows. Quoins. Outer bays have mid-C20 canted bay windows with 4-light window above. 2nd bay has altered doorway with date stone over in decorative plaque with single-light window above. 3rd bay has 5-light window to each floor. 1st-floor windows have recessed flat-faced mullions with an inner chamfer. Moulded eaves cornice, coped gables with stacks… Interior: most rooms have richly moulded cornices. Stairhall has closed string staircase with wreathed and ramped handrail, slender turned balusters, 2 to each riser, pair of cast-iron columns the capitals enriched with acanthus decoration. Semicircular-arched doorway with impost, architrave and keystone.’

… and having completed your stroll, you will have earned a bottle or two of Bent’s Ales!

A selection of Bent’s Beers (some of their 20th-century brands) (Wikipedia).

 

 

‘My baby eyes first looked out on an extremely beautiful bit of this world…’

A typical word-portrait of Mabel Bent reads mostly along the lines of this one, from the ‘Anglo-African Who’s Who’ (Wills and Barrett (eds), 1905):

‘BENT, Mrs. Mabel Virginia Anna, of 13, Great Cumberland Place, W., and of the Ladies’ Empire Club, is a daughter of Robert Westley Hall-Dare, D.L., of Theydon Bois, Wennington Hall, Essex, and Newtownbarry House, Co. Wexford. She was married Aug. 2, 1877, to the late Theodore Bent, of Baildon House, Yorks. Mrs. Bent accompanied her husband in all his explorations, and took part in the excavations with which he was associated in the Greek and Turkish Islands, Asia Minor, Abyssinia, the Great Zimbabye (Mashonaland), Persia, and elsewhere. She is the authoress of ‘Southern Arabia, Soudan, and Sokotra,’ compiled from her own and Mr. Theodore Bent’s notes.’

Mabel Virginia Anna Bent. Reproduced from ‘Hearth and Home’, 2 November 1893. From the Studio of H.S. Mendelssohn, South Kensington (private collection).

But we are lucky that there exists a very rare autobiographical snapshot of her earliest years – appearing in the gossipy rag ‘Mainly about People’. A lengthy extract here conjures her up [ed note: Mabel Virginia Anna Hall-Dare was born (January 1847) and raised among the minor Anglo-Irish aristocracy]:

‘My baby eyes first looked out on an extremely beautiful bit of this world, for I was born at Beauparc, in the county of Meath, my grandfather Gustavus Lambart’s place, which, being situated on a very high bank at a sharp curve of the River Boyne, seems as if it were upon an island looking straight down the river. The right bank is high and wooded, and the left has a narrow grassy flat between the water and a low craggy cliff, above which you see away over tree-studded fields to a ruined castle with woods beyond; and my eyes, which have since been so much exercised in seeking for archaeological sites where to make excavations, must also have fallen on the wonderful ancient tumulus of New Grange. So much did this view please me the first time I can remember seeing it, that, having arrived in the dark one night, the following morning about four or five o’clock my wretched mother was startled from her sleep by shrieks and shouts to find me jumping up and down as hard as I could at the window, a manifestation of my ecstasy of delight at the sight of the snow and icicles and all the wintry beauty spread before me.

‘Beauparc – Lady Lambert’s House’. Mabel Hall-Dare was born here, in County Meath, Ireland, on January 28, 1847. From a watercolour by Garrett Scanlan. (Reproduced with the artist’s permission)

‘Although I certainly had no inkling of the fate that awaited me, being a ‘Thursday’s bairn who has far to go’, no child was ever fonder of reading and poring over maps and lists and pictures of traveller’s requisites than I was… I was also a most determined dweller in tents, for I used to pull my bed to pieces and hang up my top sheet by the nail of a picture, making a good hole that it should hold well, and then, arranging my bedding to suit my fancy, imagine I was sleeping on the ground. It was not comfortable, but there was something very nice about it. In one of my investigations of the library at home I came upon a book that I made up my mind to examine. It had a delightful title ‘The Atlas of Undiscovered Countries’. It was firmly fixed, and to get at it I had to exert all my strength and become very hot, tugging out the great folios that were on each side, and then to my disgust I found my prize was only a false wooden book to support the upper shelf. Years after I exclaimed, ‘Now I have really an atlas of undiscovered countries of my own’, when I eagerly unpacked a map in eight sheets (that my husband had had made at Stanford’s, of Southern Arabia, when we were first thinking of exploring that part of the world) and found two or three of the sheets blank save for latitude and longitude marks. I am glad to say that the blank is not so large now…

‘Some very strange things have been written in the way of description of the dress I wore when travelling in outlandish places – just a shooting dress. The accounts are such that my friends refuse to believe in my photographs, as they in no way tally with what they have read. One paper had it that I wore a spiked helmet, whereas what goes by the name of my pith helmet is of rather a large mushroom shape. All this is very amusing to me. A statement which delighted the whole of my family was one that ‘Mrs. Theodore Bent is never tired of expatiating on the sagacity of the horse, and its superiority in this respect to the mule or the camel’. Against whose attacks have I had to defend the ‘noble animal’. The first intimation of this came to me suddenly when I opened a magazine in a boatful of strangers in Aden Harbour. My husband, who had landed first to seek a dwelling on our return from Dhofar, had sent my mail (some months’ accumulation) on board. I nearly went into hysterics, tears rolled down my cheeks, the various coloured fellow-passengers stared, but I could not control my mirth nor explain the cause of its sudden outburst. After all, in a residence of a week or ten days at Aden, which has been my unfortunate fate seven or eight times, one is glad of anything to cheer one up. On this occasion we were so lucky as to be able to hire an unlet shop, where we set up our camp in dust that never could be swept up, and by night slept in the surrounding dens, alive with bugs, and those horrid ‘fish moths’, which are rather like earwigs, and eat cloth, linen, paper, ivory – in fact, everything but metal. Our servants cooked at various fires in the inner yard according to their religion, and spread their beds on the floor of the shop at night. Neither window shutters nor doors could be kept open or shut for lack of fastening, and slammed and banged to and fro incessantly. What we could not help we tried not to heed, and only rejoiced that we were masters of our own kitchen and could feed as we pleased much better than in the hotels. I really was once taken for a man, and caused a terrible commotion as I entered a Turkish bath filled with ladies about whose costume there is nothing to tell. I had on a tight fitting ulster and a hat, and the waist and the hat and the long coat made me really look very like a Persian man…

‘My youth was spent partly in England, but mostly in Ireland, my father having property in both countries, and we were often taken abroad for a summer or a winter. This is certainly the best way of learning languages, of which I was fortunately always very fond. It was a great help when it was necessary for me to look up references in various tongues and in old manuscripts. I have often been in places where I have heard no English at all. It would have astonished me very much in the days of my youth if I had been told that I should ever abide for some time in the Republic of San Marino and become a citizen of it. The diploma was sent after my husband had written a history of the Republic (‘A Freak of Freedom’), and he received a letter subsequently from a friend beginning, ‘Dear Sir and Fellow Citizen,’ congratulating him, and reminding him that ‘no matter at what distance he might lie from the Republic, he would be under her protection.’

Mabel Bent on a camel in the Sudan in 1896 (detail from a lantern-slide in the RGS, London).

‘It was lucky that I was so well used to riding, as I have had so much of it on horses, donkeys, mules, camels, and even elephants. I do not mind camel-riding at all, and really like it when I trot. However, no matter what I do abroad, when necessity compels, in the way of blacking boots, cobbling them, covering umbrellas, or mending their ribs, washing clothes, soldering cooking-pots, or ‘washing up’ (which last I hate), I try to live it down in after life, and when I am at home to enjoy the privileges of civilisation, to wear dresses of whatever length fashion desires of me, and hats that will pass in a crowd. I cannot understand the feeling which makes people wish to disguise themselves as travellers when at home. Certainly I have been granted some of the wishes that I made in the days of my youth!’ (Mabel Virginia Anna Bent)

[All taken from ‘The Dodecanese: Further Travels Among the Insular Greeks Selected Writings of J. Theodore & Mabel V.A. Bent, 1885-1888. Archaeopress, Oxford, 2015. Extract transcribed from: Mabel V.A. Bent, ‘In the Days of My Youth: Chapters of Autobiography’, M.A.P., 10, Issue 240 (17 January 1903), pp. 72-3 (M.A.P. [Mainly about People]: A Popular Penny Weekly of Pleasant Gossip, Personal Portraits, and Social News, Editor: T.P. O’Connor)]