A History of the County of Essex: Volume 4, Ongar Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1956.
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Before 1066 THEYDON MOUNT was held by Godric as a manor and as 3 hides and 80 acres. After the Conquest it was given by William I to Robert Fitz Wimarc, who was still alive in 1069 but had been succeeded in or before 1075 by his son Swein. Robert was Sheriff of Essex and the office was later held by Swein. (fn. 1) Swein made his castle at Rayleigh, which became the head of his honor and from that time the manor of Theydon Mount was always held of the Honor of Rayleigh. (fn. 2) In 1086 the manor was held of Swein by one Robert. (fn. 3) Swein was succeeded by his son Robert of Essex, the founder of Prittlewell Priory, and Robert of Essex was succeeded by his son Henry of Essex. (fn. 4)
In 1163 Henry of Essex, then Constable of England, failed to clear himself of a charge of cowardice during a war against the Welsh, and was deprived of all his lands. (fn. 5) Henry II appears to have granted 3 knight's fees in the Honor of Rayleigh to one William, thereafter known as William de Theydon. This William was apparently alive in 1194. (fn. 6) Upon his death these lands passed to Robert de Theydon, probably his son. Robert or a namesake had had the wood at Theydon as early as 1163 and when this property was taken by the king he received compensation of 20s. a year. (fn. 7) Robert was succeeded by his son Henry de Theydon who seems to have been in possession of Theydon Mount early in the reign of John. In 1215 Henry was one of the garrison of Rochester castle when it surrendered to the king. (fn. 8) His lands were undoubtedly taken into the king's hands but in 1217 Henry's son Paulinus de Theydon was granted the lands formerly held by his father in Gloucestershire (fn. 9) and it is probable that he received Theydon Mount at the same time. Paulinus certainly held Theydon by 1225 when he was given licence to hold a weekly market and an annual fair there. (fn. 10) In 1227 he was also granted deer for the park. (fn. 11) He died in or shortly before January 1233, when Walter de Evermue was granted the custody of the daughter and heir of Paulinus. (fn. 12) Paulinus had held 3 knights' fees in Theydon and Little Wakering. (fn. 13)
Beatrice de Theydon, daughter of Paulinus, married before 1236 Robert de Briwes. (fn. 14) In 1239 Robert and Beatrice were granted a weekly market and annual fair in their manor of Theydon. (fn. 15) In 1248 the manor and the advowson of the rectory were sub-infeudated for 100 marks to John de Lessington, to hold of Robert and Beatrice and the heirs of the latter, doing service of 2 knights' fees at the court of the Honor of Rayleigh. (fn. 16) An inspeximus of the accompanying charter gives the consideration as 1,000 marks and the object to acquit Robert and Beatrice of what they owed to the king as executors of the will of Hubert de Burgh and of their debts to the Jews for themselves and for Walter de Evermue their ancestor. (fn. 17) In 1250 John de Lessington had licence to keep inclosed, with a hedge and ditch, the close which he had made in the wood of his manor of Theydon, but so that the deer could have ingress and egress. (fn. 18) He died in 1257 holding the manor, which contained 3 carucates of land, of Robert de Briwes for the service of 2 knights' fees. His heir was his brother, Henry de Lessington, Bishop of Lincoln. (fn. 19) The bishop died in 1258, being succeeded by his two nephews William, son of Roland de Sutton, and Richard de Markham. (fn. 20) They divided this inheritance (which lay in several counties) between them in 1259, Theydon Mount falling to Sutton's share. (fn. 21)
William de Sutton was succeeded by his son Robert, who was a supporter of Simon de Montfort and forfeited his property to the king after the battle of Evesham. (fn. 22) The township of Theydon Mount was valued at £10 and in 1265 Richard de Tany the younger received the Michaelmas rent of 40s. (fn. 23) In October of the same year the king granted the manor to Robert de Briwes, presumably the same man who had sub-infeudated to John de Lessington in 1248. But Richard de Tany, who was lord of the adjacent manor of Stapleford Tawney, coveted Theydon Mount, put out de Briwes, and in support of his action produced a charter dated three days earlier than that of de Briwes and contrived to have it entered on the Charter Roll. De Briwes declared de Tany's charter to be a forgery and upon investigation by the justices coram Rege this was proved to be the case. The chancery official who had the Chancellor's list of grants admitted that de Tany had said to him 'Theydon is a pretty manor and lies next to mine at Stapleford; it would just do for me', and had clearly responded to the hint. (fn. 24)
In 1269 Beatrice daughter of Henry de Terays released to Sir Robert de Briwes all her right in the manors of Theydon and Wakering and in all the lands late of Paulinus de Theydon and the said Henry (fn. 25) and when Robert went on pilgrimage to Pontigny in 1273 he appointed William and Richard del Jardyn to prosecute his right to the custody of Theydon Mount. (fn. 26)
The manor must, however, have been restored to Robert de Sutton, possibly as a result of the Ban of Kenilworth, for on his death in 1274 he was found to hold in Theydon Mount a messuage, 200 acres of arable, 21 acres of meadow, 51 acres of pasture, a windmill, foreign wood, and £4 5s. 6½d. rent of assize, &c., of the Honor of Rayleigh by service of suit at the court of the honor, a gilt spur or 6d. yearly, and scutage for 2 knights. His heir was his son Richard, aged 8. (fn. 27)
Robert de Briwes, the former mesne lord, died in 1276, leaving his son John as his heir. (fn. 28) No further references have been found to their lordship, the tenants in demesne thenceforth always holding immediately of the Honor of Rayleigh.
In 1282 a commission of oyer and terminer was issued touching the persons who felled and carried away trees in the wood of 'Theydon Lessington' late of Robert de Sutton the younger, while in the hands of Oliver de Sutton, Bishop of Lincoln, who had custody of the land and heir. (fn. 29) In 1303 Richard de Sutton was returned as holding ½ fee of the king of the Honor of Rayleigh. (fn. 30) In 1308 he had licence to grant the manor of Theydon Mount in fee to his son John de Sutton and Margaret his wife. (fn. 31)
In 1322 John de Sutton leased the manor for twelve years to Henry de Malyns and in the following year released to him all his right in the property. Malyns must have died soon after, for in 1324 John de Sutton released his right in the manor to Edmund de Malyns, Henry's son and heir. (fn. 32) In 1326 Edmund was pardoned for acquiring in fee this property which was held in chief of the Honor of Rayleigh and entering upon it without licence. (fn. 33) In 1346 he held ½ knight's fee in Theydon Mount. (fn. 34)
Sir John de Sutton of Dudley (Worc.), son of the above John and Margaret de Sutton, disputed de Malyns' title to the manor, claiming that it descended to him after the death of his parents. In 1348 and again in 1350 the matter was heard before the court of Common Pleas, but Malyns evidently won his case. (fn. 35) He was apparently alive in 1357 but had been succeeded by his son Reynold Malyns before December 1361, when the latter presented to the rectory of Theydon Mount. (fn. 36) Sir Reynold died in 1384 holding the manor jointly with his wife Florence. His son and heir was Edmund Malyns. (fn. 37) Florence was still holding the manor in 1390. (fn. 38) In 1400 the manor was conveyed by Thomas Waller and two others, presumably feoffees, to Reynold Malyns and his wife Alice and the heirs of Reynold. (fn. 39) In 1418 Reynold and Alice conveyed the manor of Theydon Mount and Hill Hall (see below) to feoffees to hold of the chief lords with successive remainders to the heirs of Reynold and then to Edmund Hampden and his heirs. (fn. 40) In 1428 Reynold was found to hold ½ fee in Theydon Mount formerly held by Richard de Sutton. (fn. 41) He died in 1431. There is no specific reference to Theydon Mount in his will, nor any mention of children, (fn. 42) and in 1434 Alice his widow released her right in the manor to Sir Hugh Halsham, kt., and others who held it by her feoffment. (fn. 43)
Thomas Hampden died holding the manor in 1486. (fn. 44) He was the grandson of an Edmund Hampden who died in 1420 (fn. 45) and who was probably the man upon whom the remainder of the manor had been settled in 1418. If this identification is correct the manor had probably passed after the death of Alice Malyns to John Hampden (d. 1450-1), son and heir of Edmund and father of the above Thomas. Thomas's heir was his son John, but Theydon Mount was left to his widow Margery. (fn. 46) She appears to have held it until her death in 1506, as her will refers to her property at Hill Hall. (fn. 47) The manor then seems to have passed to her grandson (Sir) John Hampden, son of John Hampden. In 1532 Sir John settled it, excepting chief rents, for the jointure of his wife Philippa, daughter of William Wylford of London, merchant. (fn. 48) In 1548 he further settled the manor upon himself and his wife for their lives, with remainder to Edward Ferrers son of one of Sir John's daughters, and his wife Bridget, daughter of William, Lord Windsor, in tail. (fn. 49) Sir John Hampden died in 1553 and in the following year his widow married Sir Thomas Smyth, son of John Smyth of Saffron Walden. (fn. 50) Sir Thomas (1513- 77) Secretary of State under Edward VI and Elizabeth I, Ambassador to France 1562-6, and author of De Republica Anglorum, lived at Theydon Mount and started building the present Hill Hall. (fn. 51) In 1556 he purchased from Ferrers and his wife their reversionary interest in the manor in return for an annuity of £3 6s. 8d. payable during the life of Philippa and of £30 thereafter. In 1559-60 Ferrers released to Smyth all his interest in these annuities, binding himself in the sum of £400 to join with his wife in a final concord to extinguish her rights therein. Ferrers, however, never carried out this obligation and Smyth brought an action in Chancery, complaining that Ferrers had died leaving neither goods nor lands in fee simple, whereby he might have execution of the recognizance, and that Bridget, who had later married Andrew Ognall, had refused to make her release, so that Smyth still remained charged with the payment of the rents. It was also alleged that just before the conveyance of 1556 Ferrers had leased the manor in two parts, one part with the mansion house of Mount Hall to Robert Fynche for an annual rent of £20, the other part called Hill Hall to Thomas Luther and his mother for £10 a year, so that Philippa lost her jointure. In consequence of this, according to Smyth's statement, her brother John Wylford had put into execution a bond under which Ferrers was obliged to maintain the jointure, and it was for this reason, among others, that Ferrers had sought financial help from Sir Thomas in return for the sale of his reversionary interest in the manor. In 1576 the case was decided in Sir Thomas's favour. (fn. 52)
During Sir Thomas Smyth's tenure of the manor it was said to be held of the Honor of Rayleigh at an annual rent of 3s. 8d. (fn. 53) He died in 1577 and his wife in 1578. The manor then passed under a settlement made by Sir Thomas shortly before his death to his natural brother George Smyth. George died in 1584 and the manor passed successively to his son (d. 1626) and grandson (d. 1632), both named Sir William Smyth. Edward, son and heir of the second Sir William, died in 1652, being succeeded by Thomas, brother of that Sir William, who was created a baronet in 1661. The manor subsequently descended with the baronetcy of Smyth (later Bowyer-Smijth) until 1916, when the 12th baronet, Sir William Bowyer-Smijth, died unmarried. (fn. 54) The baronetcy then passed to a cousin of the 12th baronet, but the manorial rights of Theydon Mount seem to have passed to his sisters, Mrs. Battye and Mrs. Northcote. (fn. 55) In the later title deeds of the manor it is always called Mount Hall.
The manor of HILL HALL was held of that of Theydon Mount. In 1373 Richard de Northampton, herald, and Katherine his wife made conveyance of a messuage, 210 acres of land, 28 acres of meadow, 4 acres of wood, and 8d. rent in Theydon Mount and Theydon Garnon, and properties in Hertfordshire. (fn. 56) In 1384 they conveyed the same properties to John Cokyng, Robert Somerset, and Thomas de Kent, presumably as feoffees. (fn. 57) In his will, proved in 1389, Northampton left the 'manor of Theydon Mount' to his wife Joan to support a chaplain in the church of Theydon. (fn. 58) Soon after the probate Cokyng, Somerset, and Kent granted an annual rent of 10 marks to John Hemersthorp and others from the manor of Hill Hall and a few days later they conveyed to Nicholas Exton, alderman of London and Joan his wife all the properties conveyed to them in 1384. (fn. 59) In 1390 they received the royal licence to found a chantry in the church of Theydon Mount and endow it with ½ acre of land and 10 marks rent from the manor of Hill Hall. The manor was then said to be held of Florence Malyns as of her manor of Theydon Mount by knight service and an annual rent of 15s. 7d., 1 lb. wax, 1 lb. pepper, and 2 capons, and besides the above land and rent Hill Hall was worth 40s. (fn. 60) In 1391 it was found that the licence was not valid as Hill Hall was not a manor, and a new licence was issued in which the phrase 'issuing from their messuage, 210 acres of land, 28 acres of meadow, and 4 acres of wood' was substituted for 'issuing from the manor called Hill Hall'. (fn. 61) In 1397 Walter Pynchon of London and Joan his wife quitclaimed to William Gascoigne and four others properties described in the same terms as in the conveyances of 1373 and 1384. (fn. 62) This suggests that Joan Pynchon was formerly Joan Exton, and she may also have been identical with Joan widow of Richard de Northampton.
In and after 1412 Hill Hall descended along with the main manor of Theydon Mount, and was sometimes styled a manor. The above account suggests that Hill Hall may originally have formed the demesne of the manor of Theydon Mount. From the 16th century onwards the mansion of Hill Hall was the seat of the lords of the manor of Theydon Mount. It remained so until towards the end of the 19th century, when it was for some time unoccupied. (fn. 63) From about 1900 to 1908 it was let to an eccentric who called himself the Duke de Moro. (fn. 64) Soon after 1908 Charles Hunter became the tenant. (fn. 65) Mrs. Charles Hunter left the house in 1925 and in the same year it was bought by Sir Robert Hudson. (fn. 66) It was subsequently the residence of Lady Edward Hay, was later acquired by the Prison Commissioners, and in 1952 was opened as an open prison for women. (fn. 67)
When Sir Thomas Smyth acquired Theydon Mount on his marriage to Sir John Hampden's widow there were two houses there. These were known as Mount Hall and Hill Hall, (fn. 68) and probably represented a survival from the time when the two manors were in separate ownership. Mount Hall is thought to have stood about 100 yds. north of the church and to have survived as a farm-house until the 19th century. (fn. 69) It then disappeared during improvements to the southeast corner of Hill Hall park. (fn. 70) The position of the original Hill Hall is not known. The present brick mansion, which stands on a commanding site about 450 yds. north-west of the church, was largely the work of Sir Thomas Smyth himself. If in the first instance he made additions to an existing medieval structure, all trace of this has now vanished. It is true that some features of the present Hill Hall are slightly earlier in style than the rest of the house but these are unlikely to date from before the middle of the 16th century. Even at this period the use of brick in a richly timbered area was an innovation.
Evidence concerning the exact dates of Sir Thomas Smyth's work at Hill Hall is conflicting. According to Strype the shell of the house was finished in 1568. (fn. 71) In Smyth's own diary (not used by Strype) the following entries occur:
1569 Hoc anno perfeci. (fn. 72)
It has been suggested that these entries may refer to Mount Hall, and that Smyth did not start work on Hill Hall until some years later. (fn. 73) Certainly much still remained to be done at Hill Hall at Smyth's death in 1577, and he made provision in his will for the completion of the house. He left £20 to his chief architect (fn. 74) Richard Kirby, to be paid when the building was tiled, and £10 to his steward to oversee the workmen. (fn. 75) In August 1577 Philippa, Sir Thomas's widow, agreed with his executors to allow them the materials from 'within the ground of Hill Hall or Mount Hall' to make 150,000 bricks and 'sufficient wood and straw for two years as shall suffice for the covering and furnishing of the said new building'. (fn. 76) Four years after Smyth's death £800 had already been spent by his executors and the house was still unfinished. (fn. 77) It was then explicitly stated that 'some few years' before his death Smyth had 'laid the plot of a fair and goodly house of brick'. (fn. 78) At the time of his death Smyth had had personal possessions at both Hill Hall and Mount Hall. (fn. 79) From 1554, when he married Philippa, until at least 1557 he appears to have lived at Hill Hall, while Thomas Luther lived at Mount Hall. (fn. 80) In several documents relating to Theydon Mount at this period there is confusion of nomenclature between Hill Hall and Mount Hall. (fn. 81) On the whole, however, it seems probable that the building of the present Hill Hall was carried out in two stages, the first being finished in 1569 and the second, more ambitious stage being started some time later, during the last years of Sir Thomas's life.
The courtyard plan on which Hill Hall is built follows the usual arrangement of the Tudor period, but the special architectural interest of the house lies in its early use of renaissance detail, in particular the application of classical orders to the external walls. These are carried out in plaster, intended to simulate stone. The fact that much of the plaster was replaced by cement in the 19th century has led some authorities to suppose that the external orders were applied at that time. (fn. 82) There is ample evidence, however, that they were part of the original design. Sir Thomas Smyth was one of a group of notable men who had been associated with the Protector Somerset when old Somerset House, probably the first building in the country to use classical detail on an extensive scale, was being constructed. The influence of Somerset House is seen in the subsequent building activities of other members of the group including Sir John Thynne and William Cecil, later Lord Burghley. (fn. 83) Sir William Smyth's own interest in architecture is proved by the existence in his library of several editions of Vitruvius. (fn. 84) The early renaissance style in this country owes more to French than to Italian influence and Sir Thomas had special opportunities of observing the architecture of France during his embassies abroad. The details in the courtyard at Hill Hall have been compared with those at the château of Bournazel near Toulouse. (fn. 85) Smyth stayed at Toulouse in 1565 and again in 1571. (fn. 86) The external columns at Hill Hall are known to have been in existence in the 17th and 18th centuries and to have been accepted then as the work of Sir Thomas Smyth. (fn. 87)
Another outstanding feature of Hill Hall is the set of 16th-century wall-paintings, some discovered as recently as 1951. A modern authority has described their technical accomplishment as 'without parallel among surviving examples in England'. (fn. 88)
The subsequent history of the house involved many alterations, making it difficult to date accurately the different parts of the building. The first major reconstruction took place in the late 17th and early 18th centuries when the east range was rebuilt by Sir Edward Smyth, 2nd bt. (fn. 89) The work was probably completed by his son. Early in the 19th century there were alterations and restorations by Sir William Smijth. Soon after 1912, during the tenancy of Mrs. Charles Hunter, the house was extended and the interior much embellished by Mr. (later Sir) Reginald Blomfield. (fn. 90) In 1940 the explosion of a German landmine near the west range caused considerable damage. In 1950-2, when the building was being prepared for its use as a prison, a thorough restoration was carried out by the Ministry of Works under the direction of its Ancient Monuments Inspectorate.
As it stands today Hill Hall consists of four ranges of building enclosing a central courtyard. In the main it is of two stories, but at the ends of the south front there are two tower-like projections, each of three stories. A lower wing continues the line of the north range at its west end, and north of this is a single-story service wing. At the junction of the north and west ranges there is an octagonal angle buttress. The projecting wing contains the remains of a gatehouse which has a three-centred arch and a semi-octagonal stair turret flanking it. All these features are typically Tudor in character, and it is possible that they were the work of Sir Thomas Smyth during an early phase of his building at Hill Hall. One authority has suggested that they were in existence before his time. (fn. 91) The north range itself has mullioned and transomed windows and in the centre are moulded Tudor arches leading into the courtyard. At least one of the massive chimneys is original. Internally the first-floor rooms of this range are decorated with wall-paintings of Sir Thomas Smyth's time representing the story of Cupid and Psyche. These have been identified as copies of a set of contemporary engravings after paintings by Michael Coxie (b. 1499). (fn. 92) They were probably executed by a foreign artist. Each of the scenes has life-size figures surrounded by a wide border of fruit and foliage. Parts of two scenes were discovered in 1940 and presented to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Three others, which came to light in 1951, have been restored and left in situ. (fn. 93) Traces of the painted border elsewhere suggest that the series originally extended over the whole first floor of the north range. At the north-west corner of this floor and possibly at one time extending into the west range is a set of biblical subjects. These are at frieze level, probably indicating that the lower part of the room was panelled. The two most complete of the remaining pictures show Hezekiah at the temple door and the destruction of Sennacherib. The latter scene has always remained exposed and it is possible that others were not papered over until early in the 19th century. (fn. 94) Other early features in the north range include an oak staircase, possibly not in its original position, a stop-moulded door-frame, and several plastered fireplaces. An elaborately carved overmantel, formerly on the ground floor, (fn. 95) is now missing. At one time the courtyard windows in this range contained a quantity of stained glass, all reset. (fn. 96) Many of the heraldic subjects, including the arms of Smyth, the Tudor Royal Arms, and the crowned badges of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, date from the time of Sir Thomas Smyth. One scene from a set of the Seven Deadly Sins described by Strype (fn. 97) was still in existence in 1920. The glass was damaged in 1940 and is still under repair. Some has been reset in other windows of the house.
In the courtyard all four walls have a classical treatment now generally believed to be the design of Sir Thomas Smyth. It consists of a somewhat unorthodox version of two superimposed Roman orders, Doric below and Ionic above. The widely spaced Doric columns stand on high bases and support an enriched entablature resting on a row of modillions. The imitation stone appears to have been renewed early in the 19th century.
Across the courtyard the south range contains the great hall with the original kitchen adjoining it on the west. Two kitchen fireplaces with massive arches were uncovered in 1951. Both these rooms, or parts of them, originally extended to the height of two stories. The chambers above are partly in the roof and have 16th-century brick dormers, whereas elsewhere in the house the attics are modern insertions. The fittings of the great hall were always classical in character. The fireplace still exists and has half-round Doric pilasters and a pediment. Its ornament includes a bust of Sir Thomas Smyth and shields bearing his arms and those of his second wife's family. Two oak screens have been replaced by the present imitation marble columns. (fn. 98) The west screen had round-headed openings and Corinthian columns on high bases. Above it are the arms of Elizabeth I. The two-story screen on the north side may have been altered in the 18th or early 19th century. It is said to have been used originally for the display of a collection of armour which largely disappeared at the time of the Commonwealth. (fn. 99)
The south front of this range has an applied classical order with a deep entablature at eaves level and large Doric columns at the angles of the two projecting towers. If these last are the work of Sir Thomas Smyth they represent an isolated and very early example of the use of giant columns in this country.
The first extensive alterations to the house were probably completed in 1714, a date which appears on the rainwater heads of the east front. The sash windows on the south and west fronts may have been inserted at this period. The north front was brought up to date by the addition of a central pediment (now missing), a Doric portico, and a clock turret surmounted by a bell cupola. The absence of any older work inside the east range suggests that it was built or rebuilt at this time. Facing east a fine new facade was contrived in the style of Queen Anne and during the 18th century this was considered the 'principal front'. (fn. 100) We must assume that the great columns, similar to those on the south side, were adapted or copied to form part of the new composition. This includes a less ponderous entablature and a central pediment. The tall sash windows have the segmental heads and rusticated quoins of the period. The treatment of the central doorway is modern. In the pediment is a cartouche bearing the arms of Smyth impaling Hedges. (fn. 101)
A general simplification of the exuberant Elizabethan roof-line probably took place at this period. Plain parapets replaced gables and the chimneys are known to have been rebuilt. The sundial on the south front and the wrought-iron grille at the north entrance are of the same period. Internally many insertions were made, among them the fine inlaid staircase occupying the tower at the south-east corner of the house. A heavily ornamented marble fireplace with flanking consoles was added to the chimney-piece of the Great Hall, but this was later removed to the upper corridor of the west range. (fn. 102)
The dates 1768, 1815, and 1844 all appear on the walls of the house and it may be assumed that alterations were carried out at those times. A tablet in the courtyard is dated 1815 and bears the initials of Sir William Smijth (d. 1823) and his wife. This was probably the date at which the cement work was renewed.
Soon after 1912 major alterations took place and Hill Hall became one of the more luxurious country houses of that time. Attics with hipped dormers were inserted in the north and west ranges. The north-west wing, incorporating the old gatehouse, was rebuilt as staff quarters. A new kitchen wing was added. The oak screens were removed from the hall. The interior was expensively fitted out, many of the furnishings being museum pieces. The dining-room was lined with 17th-century carved woodwork of Venetian origin. (fn. 103) This and many other fittings were later removed.
The restoration of 1950-2 brought to light many original features besides the wall-paintings in the north range. Owing to its condition the pediment on the north front was taken down, but as far as possible all existing details were left unaltered.
During his lifetime Sir Thomas Smyth paid great attention to the grounds of Hill Hall. He planted orchards and a tree-lined walk. The approach avenue to the north is said to be his work (fn. 104) and two of his fishponds remain in the garden as ornamental pools. Many 'improvements' were made to the park during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, including the removal of Mount Hall, the inclusion of the parish church within the park, and the construction of the long curving drives to north and south. (fn. 105)