By far the most impressive building to be demolished to make way for Hanningfield Reservoir was the 800-year-old manor of Fremnell’s.
The first record of Fremnell’s dates from 1376 when it was referred to as ‘Hemenales’, named after John de Hemenale in 1285.
During the reign of Elizabeth I (1533-1603), the estate, then known as ‘Fremingnells’, was owned by Sir Henry Tyrrell, also spelt Tirrell.
Sir Henry died in 1588. He was buried under a slab in Downham church.
Cartographer John Norden recorded ‘Fremnal’ on his 1593 map of Essex. Chapman and André’s 1777 map of Essex named the manor as ‘Frimnells’.
The building dated from around 1550 and is likely to have been built by Sir Henry. It later came in to the possession of Sir Thomas Raymond, who was one of the Justices of the Kings Bench. It is thought that Sir Thomas had the frontage of the manor built and had the walls that enclosed the front courtyard erected.
According to an article publish in The Echo on the 15th August 2007 local folklore suggests that Fremnell’s was a meeting place for Guy Fawkes and the other Gunpowder Plot conspirators.
Much of the article was incorrect but they did publish two photos, including one of the interiors of the house.
Thomas Raymond, also recorded as Rayment, was born around 1626, educated at Christ’s College, Cambridge and transferred to the Court of King’s Bench on 24 April 1680.
He was remembered for failing to point out the irrationality of a defendant’s confession in a witchcraft trial. The defendant died as a result.
Sir Thomas Raymond died on 14th July 1683.
Fremnell’s moved in to the hands of Cornelius Vanden Anker, who paid £3,100 for the estate. Cornelius was married to Sarah Norden, the daughter of Baptist preacher Robert Norden. Mr Norden was instrumental in the establishment of Baptist churches in Virginia having traveled to the colonies in 1714.
Benjamin Disbrowe took over at the manor, dying there in 1707. After Cornelius, Sarah’s second husband, died Sarah married Benjamin Disbrowe.
Benjamin was the seventh son of Major-General John Disbrowe, who had married one of Oliver Cromwell’s sisters. Benjamin Disbrowe was appointed as Sheriff of Essex in 1689, a role he held for 8 months.
Sarah died in 1692 and Benjamin married her sister, Mary. His third marriage.
Benjamin had a son, Cromwell Disbrowe, with his first wife, Elizabeth. Cromwell married Cornelia Vanden Anker, the daughter of Cornelius and Sarah.
The manor was inherited by Platt Disbrowe, the son of Cromwell and Cornelia. When he died in 1751 Fremnell’s was sold.
Many of the Disbrowe family are buried in the graveyard at St. Margaret’s, Downham.
It is rumoured that the notorious Essex highwayman, Dick Turpin (1705-1739), stayed at Fremnell’s. Jessie Payne wrote in her ‘A Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Essex’ that Dick may have ridden his horse up the stairs where he stabled it in one of the attic rooms, which was once a chapel.
The 1851 census recorded Sarah Low as a farmer living at ‘Fremnells, Downham’. Sarah was a widow in her 40’s, managing 320 acres and employing 9 labourers.
She lived with her three daughters; Susan (17), Alice (6) and Matilda (2).
A report in the Essex Standard on 5th January 1877 mentioned that Mrs Low died, aged 75 years.
Mr Low had lived in Fremnell’s for many years, until his death in 1830. It was then taken over by Edmund Low until his death in 1850.
Living ‘near Fremnells’ was Joseph Green. Joseph had given his occupation as ‘farm labourer’. He was living with his 24-year-old wife, Marianne, as well as their two sons; John (12) and George (1). The census shows they had two labourers lodging with them.
The White’s Directory of 1863, a ‘general survey of the county’, listed ‘Fremnales’ in the Parish of Downham and as ‘one of its three manors.’ The directory also recorded that it was in the ownership of the Manbey family.
White’s also showed Thomas Blyth at Fremnells, listing him as a farmer. He first appears in the manor on the 1861 census.
An advert was placed in the Chelmsford Chronicle on 1st March 1867 for the auction of ‘Frimnell’s Farm and Woods’, in the parishes of Downham and South Hanningfield.
The farm comprised 331 acres, an ancient mansion, extensive buildings, a woodland and a registered title, ‘all for £300 per annum.’
When the 1871 census was taken Thomas William, Blyth was in charge of 840 acres of Fremnell’s farmland, and was employing 30 labourers.
Thomas, who was 42 and from Dunmow, was living with his 46-year-old wife, Rebecca, who was from Braughing in Hertfordshire. They lived with their four children as well as Eliza Neeves, employed as a housemaid, and Sarah Maskell, who was a General Servant.
Also living on the Fremnell’s estate was William Smith, a labourer from Panfield, near Braintree.
He and his wife lived with a son and a grandson. They also had three lodgers; James Low (21) and Robert Capon (76) were both farm labourers. Henry Hemp (59) was employed as a groom.
Thomas Blyth placed an advert in the Chelmsford Chronicle, which was printed on 23rd September 1898.
He was looking for a ‘head horseman’ to carry out drill, road and was a good ploughman. All applicants were required to have good references.
The estate, including Fremnell’s Manor, the farm, Little Abbott’s and two cottages, was bought by a Mr Matthew Tarbett Fleming around 1907.
Mr Tarbutt Fleming was born in Glasgow during 1851. He worked as an East India Merchant and was a founding director of the ‘Burmah Oil Company.’
He set about repairing and updating the manor house. An electric light plant was installed, powered by a Hornsby’s Internal Combustion Engine, 9. H.P. with Dynamo & Accumulators.
A boiler supplied central heating. The pressure for this was supplied from Southend Water Works Company’s Main, which passed along Wickford Road.
The 1911 census listed the staff that were employed at Fremnell’s:
Charles Douglas Piper (23) Footman
Edith Emily Hoskins (29) Cook
Mary Small Housemaids
Kate Ellen Beer Housemaids
Beatrice Hoskins Kitchen Maid
George Reeves was living on the estate with his wife and his mother-in-law. George was employed as a ‘Domestic Gardner’.
Frederick Webber was also working as a domestic gardener. He lived with his wife, Emma and their family. Their 15-year-old son, William, was working as a milk carrier.
Sergeant William Thomas Webber served with the 24th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers during the First World War. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records that he was killed on 19 April 1918 and was buried in Berles New Military Cemetery in Pas de Calais. He was just 22. By this time his parents were living in Corbetts Tay, Upminster.
A gamekeeper is listed on the 1911 census. Ernest Cross was living with his wife and their three children.
Matthew Tarbett Fleming died on 10 December 1913, the year after he had married Elizabeth Wells.
The manor went up for auction on Monday 8th September 1919 at 2.30, held at Winchester House. An extensive sale catalogue was printed for the occasion.
The manor house was described as a ‘comfortable residence of Elizabethan style’ and had electric light and central heating, garage, stables, chauffeur’s cottage, kitchen and pleasure garden.
There was also a lodge at the entrance to the estate, two cottages, paddock and plantations, ‘in all about 18 acres 1 rood and 19 poles.’
A rood is around one quarter of an acre, whilst a pole is a 5.5-yard x 5.5-yard square.
The house contained:
• Entrance Lobby: Leading in to a spacious oak panelled hall (34ft x 20ft 9ins by 9ft 6ins high.)
• Drawing Room (17ft x 15ft 10ins x 10ft 3ins.)
• Dining Room: Oak panelled (20ft 10ins x 17ft 3ins x 10ft 3ins.)
• Smoking Room: Oak panelled (15ft 4ins x 14ft 10ins x 10ft.)
• Business Room
• Gun Room
• Garden Room
• Wine Store
• Two lavatories and W.C.
Approached by a broad oak staircase on to a spacious landing, there are:
• Six bedrooms and 1 dressing room,
• Three bathrooms
• Three W.C. and housemaid’s cupboard.
There are 6 good bedrooms. Domestic offices are exceedingly well-arranged and comprise:
• Butler’s room
• Servant’s hall
• Housemaid’s pantry
• Coal room
• Boiler house
• Boot room
• Servant’s bathroom
• Bathroom and W.C.
A garage, stabling for 3 horses and the engine house were hidden from view by shrubbery.
The manor also had a bowling green, tennis lawn with a duck pond, supplied by a stream. There was also a rose walk, flower garden, extensive kitchen garden with greenhouse, about 80ft long, potting sheds and tool house.
Fremnell’s Farm was also listed in the catalogue, comprising several enclosures of arable and pasture land, and plantations, containing altogether about 334 acres 1 rood 6 poles.
Little Abbott’s House, ‘a small picturesque country residence’ was listed.
Little Abbott’s sat almost opposite Fremnell’s, on the opposite side of what is now called Hawkswood Road.
The house had stucco walls and a tiled roof, two sitting rooms, kitchen, scullery, and four bedrooms.
The servant’s W.C. was in the rear yard.
The house was let to Mr Wilton for £35 a year, but was occupied by his sub-tenant, a Mr Thomas William Blyth.
Little Abbott’s land contained 30 acres 3 roods 34 poles with a pair of cottages.
The tithe rent on all of the property, paid in 1918 was given as:
South Hanningfield £21 14s 1d
Downham £69 18s 0d
The rents for the whole estate came to £613 17s 0d, which is roughly £35,700 in 2021.
The estate appears to have been bought by Robert Parrish, from Somerset. The sale catalogue held by the Essex Records Office shows that the estate was bought for £6,000 in 1919 (around £318,000 in 2021).
By the mid-1920’s Fremnell’s estate had gained a reputation for sport. The Essex Union Hunt often visited the valley fox hunting. Grouse hunting took place and a ‘point-to-point horse racing course of around 3.5 miles was created.
The Illustrated London News printed a photo on 21st April 1923 of Miss Joan Parry jumping a stream on the Fremnell’s estate, whilst taking part in the Ladies Adjacent Hunt Race.
An inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex, volume 4, South East by His Majesty’s Stationery Office, London was published in 1923.
The report recorded that the garden to the front of the house was enclosed within a brick wall. The garden was entered by two gateways that had brick pillars and ball finials. Each panel had a panel sunk in to it. One had the initials ‘TRA &C., with the other displaying the year ‘1676’.
The report also mentioned that the moat was ‘imperfect’ but the overall condition of the house was ‘good’.
William Parrish died in 1925 and his wife, Laura, moved to Chelmsford. She died in 1938.
The last owner of Fremnell’s Manor was Laurence Kirk, a Justice of the Peace, born in 1864, who bought the estate in 1926.
The Chelmsford Chronicle twice advertised the opening of the gardens at Fremnell’s Manor, both times to raise money for the Essex County Nursing Association.
The public could visit on Saturday 2nd June 1945 from 2:30pm until 6pm with admission set at one shilling.
Another advertisement stated that the gardens would be open on 4th June 1947. Admission was 6d.
‘The Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Essex’ by historian Jessie Payne tells the story of a male that stayed at Fremnells in 1951. He woke up during the night to see a glowing spectre in the room. As the figure approached him, he turned on the light, only for the figure to disappear. This happened again within a few weeks.
The Sphere published a wonderful photo of Fremnell’s Manor on 9th October 1954 as it reported on the creation of the reservoir.
When the house was eventually demolished its bricks were used in the creation of one of the dams.
As a boy Jack Thorington was taken there, from Wickford, by his father to see the manor before it was pulled down.
He “thought it was a superb old place” and remembered talk about it being taken down, brick by brick, to be rebuilt elsewhere.
As the reservoir was created and Basildon New Town was being built the manor was remembered in a road name. The Fremnell’s runs from Whitmore Way to Broadmayne.