By Norma Leach
(Orsett Hall before the fire: photo by John Winfield)
Orsett Hall dated back to the 17th century. The Lord of the Manor of Orsett was granted to Francis Downes in 1614 by James I. It then passed to the Latham family, followed by the Hatt family. Richard Baker bought the Orsett Manor and Estate in 1746 from Richard Letchmere, who had acquired it through his marriage to Ann Hatt. Richard Baker altered and enlarged a house on the Horndon road about half a mile to the east of the old Manor House (which was probably in bad condition), and since then it has always been known as Orsett Hall and the residence of the successive Lords of the Manor.
Richard Baker died in 1751 and his son, another Richard, inherited. Between 1750 and 1789 Orsett Hall was enlarged and entirely reconstructed in brick. Richard Baker laid out beautiful grounds and planted trees, including two cedars of Lebanon in front of the hall. When he died in 1827 the ownership of the John Baker title passed to William Wingfield, a friend and nephew by marriage. Following the death of Jane Baker, Richards widow, in 1849 the remainder of the estate (the Orsett title) also passed to him. When William Wingfield died in 1859 the estate was inherited by his son Richard Baker Wingfield, and as a tribute to Richard Baker, he incorporated Baker into his name, thus becoming Richard Baker Wingfield Baker. When he died in 1880 he was succeeded by his only son, Captain Digby Hanmer Wingfield, who only survived his father by four years, as he died in 1884.
Captain Wingfield was in the Royal Horse Guards. He never married and the Orsett Estate passed by will to his great friend and brother officer, Captain T.C.D. Whitmore, at a time of acute agricultural depression. Captain Whitmore died in 1907 and left the estate to his son, who became Col. Sir Francis Whitmore. When Sir Francis died in 1962 it was inherited by his son John, who sold the estate in 1968. Since then there have been various owners and it was opened as a hotel in 1976.
(Firefighters tackle the blaze at Orsett Hall - from the Essex Fire Service)
Orsett Hall was Grade II listed and set in 12 acres of surrounding grounds. Sadly, a fire took hold and it was burnt to the ground on 11 May 2007.
The building was rebuilt on the same footprint and in a similar style. It re-opened in 2009.
On 15th September, 2015, a Thurrock Heritage plaque was unveiled at Orsett Hall commemorating Sir Francis Whitmore and the Officers and Men of the Essex Yeomanry and 10th Royal Hussars who served with Sir Francis in the Great War.