Arborfield Hall
Arborfield, Berkshire

The medieval manor house of Arborfield stood on an elevated piece of ground near the River Loddon which defended it on the western side and supplied the waters of the moat that encompassed it on the other side, the remains of which can still be distinctly traced. This was the home of the Bullock family since at least the early 13th century. The most famous member of the family was Thomas Bullock, Gentleman Usher Extraordinary to King Henry VIII. In 1589, the mounting debts of his grandson and namesake led to the sale of the estate to a Clerk of the Petty Bag of the Court of Chancery, Edmund Standen from East Molesey in Surrey, although Bullock was allowed to remain in residence. The rest of his family were not happy. At first, Thomas' uncle, Gilbert, refused to had over the manor deeds, and eventually a protracted court case ensued. Thomas' brother, William, believed he had a right to inherit the property under a legal 'entail' and, upon Thomas' death in 1595, took forced possession of the house and mill along with his many friends. When Standen's agents tried to retake the mill, they had boiling water poured on them! Not surprisingly, William Bullock ended up spending a number of years in prison and Edmund Standen did finally take possession of his house.

Old Arborfield Hall (sometimes called Arborfield Manor or House) was built on a site adjoining the medieval moat in 1603 for William Standen, soon after he inherited the estate upon the death of Edmund, his father. It was a five bay brick Jacobean building with projecting porch and bow windows topped by pretty Dutch-style gables. William's magnificent effigial tomb of 1637 and the family's chief memorial can still be seen in Arborfield (New) Church today. The manor remained in the family for many generations. His cousin's son, William Standen II, appears to have made substantial repairs or additions to the house in 1654. Perhaps it had been damaged during the Civil War. His grandson, who lived at the Hall in the 1720s, was the Edward Standen who became well-known for having fallen in love with 'Sweet Molly Mogg,' the beauty of poetic fame who worked as a barmaid at the Old Rose Inn in Wokingham. After Edward's death in 1730, his young maternal half-uncle, Richard Aldworth of Stanlake Park (later to become father of the 1st Lord Braybrooke), sold Arborfield Hall to the Master-in-Chancery, Pelsant Reeves. His son, John, inherited the property in  1764, but his own sons all predeceased him - the eldest being killed at the Siege of Toulon in 1793 - and so, upon his death in 1813,  his daughter, Elmira, inherited Arborfield. She was the maternal cousin of the artist, Charles Gore, and had married their aunt's step-son, George Dawson of Osgodby Hall in East Yorkshire. Their son, George Pelsant Dawson, presumably thought the house too old-fashioned and had it pulled down in 1832.

Mary Russell Mitford described the half-demolished building as the 'Old House at Aberleigh' in Our Village: "The story of that ruin - for such it is - is always to me singularly affecting. It is that of the decay of an ancient and distinguished family, gradually reduced from the highest wealth and station to actual poverty. The house and park, and a small estate around it, were entailed on a distant cousin, and could not be alienated; and the late owner, the last of his name and lineage, after long struggling with debt and difficulty, farming his own lands, and clinging to his magnificent home with a love of place almost as tenacious as that of the younger Foscari, was at last forced to abandon it, retired to a paltry lodging in a paltry town, and died there about twenty years ago, broken-hearted. His successor, bound by no ties of association to the spot, and rightly judging the residence to be much too large for the diminished estate, immediately sold the superb fixtures, and would have entirely taken down the house, if, on making the attempt, the masonry had not been found so solid that the materials were not worth the labour. A great part, however, of one side is laid open, and the splendid chambers, with their carving and gilding, are exposed to the wind and rain - sad memorials of past grandeur! The grounds have been left in a merciful neglect; the park, indeed, is broken up, the lawn mown twice a year like a common hayfield, the grotto mouldering into ruin, and the fishponds choked with rushes and aquatic plants; but the shrubs and flowering trees are undestroyed, and have grown into a magnificence of size and wildness of beauty, such as we may imagine them to attain in their native forests. Nothing can exceed their luxuriance, especially in the spring, when the lilac, and laburnum, and double-cherry put forth their gorgeous blossoms. There is a sweet sadness in the sight of such floweriness amidst such desolation; it seems the triumph of nature over the destructive power of man."

For many years, the stables and laundry, dated 1654, survived from the old house. In 1837, George Pelsant Dawson started work on a new Arborfield Hall. The replacement many-gabled Neo-Tudor building was still unfinished when, five years later, he sold his estate to Sir John Conroy, the Controller of the Household of HRH the Duchess of Kent and her daughter, Princess (later Queen) Victoria. He expanded the house still further and retired there upon his banishment from Court. His son, Sir Edward, found the expense of living at Arborfield Hall too great however. He sold it to Thomas Hargreaves in 1855, the year after his father's death, and moved into the much smaller Arborfield Grange. Hargreaves was a rich manufacturing baron. After his death in 1891, his widow enlarged the house and had electricity installed using the old mill to generate it. The Hall became a great centre of village life and her son sold up in 1926.

The Hall was occupied by both the RAF and the American forces during the Second World War and never recovered from the experience. It was demolished by the University of Reading in 1955. A much smaller house called 'Aberleigh' now stands on the site.

Neither Old Arborfield Hall nor Arborfield Hall still stand. 


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