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The Priory stood at the western edge of Dagnam Park. It was demolished in 1956

The following account of the history of the Priory was made possible by the loan of material from Ernie Herbert's extensive local history archives. He also provided much advice as did the local historian, Don Tait. I am extremely grateful to them and all the other contributors.    Del Smith.

 

ROMFORD AND DISTRICT HISTORICAL SOCIETY.

DAGNAM PRIORY, NOAK HILL, ROMFORD, ESSEX.

By G.G.Clements & P.A.Cole.

13th October 1957

Dagnam Priory, a red brick house of about forty rooms Stood in several acres of well timbered grounds near the junction of Wrightsbridge Road and the drive of Dagnam Park. The gardens were well known for their beauty, being opened to the public on occasion in aid of a charity. In the late nineteen forties the house and grounds were taken over by the London County Council in connection with their development work at Harold Hill and towards the end of 1956 the house was pulled down.

The origin of Dagnam Priory is somewhat obscure Mrs M. Marriott, the last private owner was approached, in April 1957. Her opinion was that part of the house was Tudor but much altered and pulled about. Mrs. Marriott quoted “Wright's history of Essex” “Edward Carteret, died 1759, built a chapel at Dagnams. Sir Richard Neave bought it in 1772. He pulled down the ancient house and erected the present elegant mansion on a new site

However, this appears to be a reference to Dagnam Park. Mrs Marriott continued that she had asked Sir. Thomas Neave, Bt, the last Lord of the Manor of Dagnams, if he knew anything of the history of Dagnam Priory but he did not. Very soon, after the war started Sir Thomas sent all the old deeds, etc of Dagnam Park to the Essex Record Office, Chelmsford. The deed for Dagnam Priory was certainly amongst, those in possession of the Neave family.

A visit to the Essex Record Office in September, 1957 did not substantiate the theory that the house was Tudor various seventeenth and eighteenth century maps showed only a cluster of unidentified buildings, presumably cottages near the site. An Eighteenth Century map had "John Brown's” Farm marked nearby. Back numbers of "Kelly's Directory" were perused. Several different occupants were traced from thy present time back to about 1880 but no earlier mention of the Priory could be found. Mr. A. C. Edwards, Assistant County Archivist, expressed the opinion that the house may have been late Georgian, Tudorised in the Nineteenth Century. Judging from the photographs, Mr. Edwards thought that the house could have been Elizabethan but doubted it. The name 'Priory' suggested an origin not earlier than the Nineteenth Century Gothic Revival. There was certainly no medieval priory there. Subsequent visits to the site gave no evidence of anything earlier than the last century. The foundations remain and the bricks, judging from size and the sanitary arrangements are clearly Victorian. Indeed, one brick, which was found, shows part of a manufacturers name. The size of the ornamental trees also indicates that the grounds were laid out within the last hundred years.

In her letter, Mrs. Marriott mentioned that stone figures and other stone work including one very large column, were said by Sir Thomas to have come from Wanstead House when it was pulled down in the eighteen twenties. Several columns, obviously Georgian, were still laying about the site when it was visited recently. There is no reason why these should not have come from Wanstead House as the material was sold in separate lots. Before the house was demolished, two alabaster monks or some sort of effigies, about two feet high stood in niches on the first floor level. The origin of these is doubtful but possibly, they came from abroad. Thus it appears that in all likelihood the oldest thing about the Priory were the Georgian columns and these, so far as it is known were never incorporated into the actual building.

 

below an excerpt from “ The History of Harold Hill and Noak Hill” by B.F.Lingham. published 1969

The Priory

The Priory was a large Victorian house, built of red brick, and containing about forty rooms. It was possibly built in the late 1840's, and is shown on the Ordnance Survey map of 1860. The house stood at the junction of Wrights Bridge Road and Noak Hill Road, The Priory was originally intended to be a Dower House - the possible reason for the name - as a home for the widows of the Neave baronets. The first occupant may have been the widow of Sir Thomas Neave who died in l848, The Priory, with 4l acres of land, was leased to Mr. John Sands in 1877. There were two other tenants after Mr, Sands, Sir Montague Turner, who had previously lived at Bedfords and a Mrs. Marriott, who lived at the Priory from the early 1930s until 1945,

The gardens at the Priory were well known for their beauty and were opened to the public on several occasions in aid of charity. The Priory was also known to the local people as the 'Ghost House'; servants would never stay in the house because of strange noises heard at night, apparently doors would open and shut loudly at the dead of night when everybody was in bed and other strange things used to happen,

There was another legend current in the 1950's that the woods near the Priory were haunted by a 'white lady'.

The house was purchased by the London County Council with Dagnam Park, in 1947; and later demolished. Today, the name is perpetuated in Priory Road,

............................................

The article below was supplied by Don Tait, I am not sure of the original publication.

The Priory was not a monastic building as the name might suggest, but had been built around 1840 possibly as a dower house for the widows of the Neave baronets. Red brick and in a mixture of Tudor and Gothic styles, the Priory reflected Sir Thomas Neave's passion for the 19th century Gothic Revival - even down to the “fake Ruins” in the sunken garden at the front of the house. The Priory had as many as forty rooms and stood near the junction of Wrightsbridge Road and Noak Hill Road within 41 acres of woodland with a lake. James Quilter, whose family have been associated with Manor Farm since the turn of the century, recalls delivering milk to the Priory.

“I used to deliver milk up there from the farm every morning. And you'd go up there on a nice sunny, summer's morning about half past eight, and you'd walk down the gravel at the back and there was a lovely brick wall with fruit on it - Morello cherries and you went down and into the courtyard and then round..... And there was the kitchen with a big scrubbed, white table, and the cook.....and it was cool (sighs). Unless you've ever seen it you can't imagine how lovely it was, and peaceful... it was beautiful, really beautiful."

The gardens, maintained by three gardeners, were occasionally opened to the public in aid of a charity, by the Marriotts who lived in the Priory during the thirties and forties. Mrs. Marriott was heavily involved in village life, particularly with the church where she was churchwarden between 1939 and 1949 The Priory grounds were also used for a production of Twelfth Night by the local amateur dramatic group, the Rustics in which Mary Marriott played the part of Olivia. In 1946, the Priory was sold to the London County Council. The property was let to various tenants usually for short periods. Attempts to sell the house may have been hindered by the estimated £300 needed to install electricity and gas. Wartime bomb damage, (click to see V2 rocket crater) an attempt to steal the lead from the roof and years of general neglect all contributed to the final decision to demolish the Priory in 1956, a sad loss to the local landscape.

 

The Essex Chronicle of 21st December 1934, an article on the death of Sir Montague Turner a denizen of the Priory, probably from the late 1920's until his death in 1934.

 

The Priory, the face that looked across the garden and fields to Dagnams

Priory gardens

Priory side on

An enlargement of the dormer window. This has to be a ghost. I suppose its just possible its the caretaker opening the window.

FODP are offering a prize if anyone can name him.

 

There is very little left to see today (2006) the ponds are still there of course. And if you rummage around you may find some foundations and some sections of the long abandoned columns brought in by the Neaves but never installed. The largest pond to the north of the house remained undisturbed apart from the attention of young fishermen until the early 70s when it was taken over by a fishing club. They enlarged the main pond by digging out the soil that separated the smaller pond alongside. They also dredged the pond dumping the sludge on the eastern banks. They fenced the area and it was a private fishery for about thirty years. Three or four years ago they gave up the lease, the fences are down now and fishermen and boys are once again making free use of the fishing. Sadly litter seems to follow wherever we go and there are substantial accumulations on the pond's banks as well as in the pond itself. In spite of that it is still a peaceful secluded spot and worth a visit. Adjacent to the pond there is a smallholding which has now been purchased from the council. It was originally leased from the Greater London Council back in the 1970's. The pond is now "for all practical day to day purposes" part of the extended Manor Nature Reserve

 

I have never told this story before mainly because Ernie Herbert may not have wanted me to. Sadly Ernie is no longer here to complain. But knowing him as I did I am sure he would be proud rather than ashamed of what he did. In a way it sums him up.

I was an enthusiastic bird watcher in the 60s/70s and I worked as a labourer in the GLC yard in Dewsbury Road, Harold Hill along with a fellow labourer Ernie Herbert. Ernie was a keen naturalist and only a budding historian in those days. Like me he was also infuriated by the six foot chain link fencing that the fishing club had erected around the priory pond. We both spent a lot of time over the manor and we occasionally moaned about the new fence to each other in the yard’s canteen.

On my way to work one morning in the summer of 1970 as I walked along Gooshays Drive a police car pulled up. I was bundled into the back of the car and taken the few yards to Harold Hill police station. I was then closely questioned as to my whereabouts on the previous night. I was totally nonplussed as I was at home in North Hill Drive the whole night with my wife Gaynor. Anyhow I was eventually released without any explanation as to my forced detention. I arrived in work an hour late.

Later in the day I was talking to Ernie and complaining about “the pigs”. It transpired, he, as was his way was carrying out a one man vigilante operation against the priory pond fence. Which he admitted he had cut down on several occasions. But on the previous night the police were waiting for him. He had arrived in total darkness and two coppers leapt on him. Ernie was no wimp and apparently the ensuing fight spread into the piles of nearby, newly dredged silt until all three of them were completely covered in mud. Ernie eventually slithered away and escaped.

Anyhow; it’s always been my view that my temporary arrest and Ernie's mud fight were linked. At the time Ernie was as always a clean cut, tidy, regular guy. I was a hippy scruff, mostly dressed in rags and sandals with long hair and beard, just about everything one would expect from the sixties. Ernie and I both spent a lot of time over the manor and we both worked in the same GLC yard. I have always thought that the local police who believed that "peace and love hippies" were a threat to the state hadn't quite grasped the reality. It was Ernie who owned the illegal guns and me who just did a bit of dope. The police mind-set was like that in the 60s. The inside info was that “it’s the bloke who works for the GLC” and they got the wrong bloke. Truth is I’ll never know, unless the pig is still grunting.

Postscript.  Ernie is no longer grunting. He committed suicide in Harold Hill in 2014 with one of his illegal guns following a miserable slow deterioration of his health. Ernie was a one off and in his later years he researched and made freely available a mass of valuable local history. It is all available here. Ernie’s bombastic, eccentric and self-assured attitude was not always appreciated but his dedication to the cause of uncovering the history of the area that became Harold Hill cannot be denied.

Del Smith. (grunting on regardless)