Is there a link between halls?

Bexhill Observer letters
Bexhill Observer letters

From: Kevin Regan, Standard Hill Close, Ninfield

Does anyone know the origin of the name for Preston Hall in Sidley? Is there a connection to the Brassey family at Normanhurst Court?

Preston Hall is a manorial home in Aylesford, Kent, dating back at least to 1102.

Owned by the Culpepper family for over 400 years and latterly used as a hospital, part of the estate became the Royal British Legion Village in the 1920s. Some of the remaining land is now given over to housing and the Heart of Kent Hospice.

In 1848, the hall was bought by Edward Ladd Betts, a very successful railway contractor, who demolished the old house and had it rebuilt in the present Jacobean style. Betts commissioned John Thomas as his architect. Betts’ partner, Samuel Morton Peto, had commissioned Thomas to supervise the rebuilding of the sumptuous Somerleyton Hall in Suffolk, also in the Jacobean style. The new Preston Hall has not been universally appreciated: it is reported that the new house, “… could hardly be drearier. The materials … seem to have been coloured artificially a greyish-yellow, are repellent in the extreme.”

With Betts’s insolvency in 1867, the hall was bought by Thomas Brassey, the railway contractor, on behalf of his son, Henry Brassey.

Henry did not work in railways himself, but his father was a friend of Betts and they had worked closely together, so Henry clearly knew Betts and Preston Hall. Henry moved to Preston Hall on the death of his father in 1870. Henry also became a great benefactor of Aylesford, including financing major repairs to the church and provided the village with a school. Between 1868 and 1885 Henry was MP for Sandwich, Kent, and later served as both Deputy Lieutenant and High Sheriff of Kent. He died in 1891 and his wife, Anna, in 1898.

On the death of Anna, Preston Hall passed to Henry and Anna’s son, Henry Leonard Campbell Brassey (1870–1958). Henry Leonard Campbell Brassey had married Lady Violet Mary Gordon-Lennox (1874–1946), the daughter of Charles Henry Gordon-Lennox, 7th Duke of Richmond, in 1894. Lady Violet did not care for Preston Hall, expressing the opinion “... it was only fit for commoners as it had no historical legacy.”

They moved to Apethorpe Hall, Northamptonshire, in 1904 and sold off major parts of the Preston Hall estate.

Henry Leonard Campbell Brassey’s sister, Hilda Madeline Brassey (1872–1971) married Lady Violet’s brother, the 8th Duke of Richmond.

So, is that the connection between the Preston Hall in Sidley and the Preston Hall in Aylesford? There is another connection. The North Bexhill Access Road recently won the Kent/East Sussex Branch of the institute of Civil Engineers most prestigious prize, the Thomas Brassey Award for Breheny, the contractors.

How strange would that be, the Thomas Brassey Award for a project that skirts Preston Hall, if that were also a link to the Brasseys? Thanks for any information about a possible link (pardon the pun).