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The page turns for Woolley Hall

PUBLISHED: 16:56 17 June 2014

Woolley Hall on the outskirts of Littlewick Green

Woolley Hall on the outskirts of Littlewick Green

MAUREEN MCLEAN

We can't help but think there's a novel in this story somewhere as a new chapter opens for Woolley Hall, and estate and country house on the outskirts of Littlewick Green,

As you will see, we have the possibility of Victorian melodrama with a kindly soul jilted at the altar (but Dickens did that with Miss Havisham in Great Expectations). Or we might go for a historical blockbuster spanning 1,000 years.

But back to the current tale with news that Woolley Hall has been bought by luxury homes builder Millgate, who propose to convert the Listed main house into apartments, and transform the stable block into mews houses. Millgate are known for their unique and stylish properties, so it comes as no surprise to learn that a small number of luxury country mansions are planned for the grounds.

The main house has had some notable occupants over the years, none more so than George Dunn, bibliophile and keen student of palaeography and early printing. Dunn lived there from 1886 until his untimely death in 1912, aged just 47.

Educated at Beaumont College, Windsor, he was an expert on no fewer than four different subjects: astronomy, arboriculture (the trees he planted are one of the hall’s fascinating and unique features), horology and antique books.

He built up an impressive library at Woolley Hall, collecting early English law books, medieval manuscripts, early printed editions and stamped bindings. After his death the library was broken up and sold off to collectors worldwide, realising over £30,000.

Perhaps he buried himself in books to avoid dealing with a broken heart. The story goes that on the morning before his wedding day, his bride-to-be ran off with his brother. The wedding breakfast, which was laid ready for the celebration, was left untouched for the remainder of his life in an eerie yet somehow fitting echo of that of Miss Havisham.

Even before Dunn arrived the house had a rich history dating back to at least the beginning of the 13th century. Over the years since then, Woolley Hall has passed from the hands of the Forester family through a fine selection of the British aristocracy.

By the beginning of the 13th century the estate was held by the Forester family, passing then to the de Fiennes through marriage and eventually through the nobility to Ralph Newbury, master of the printing house to Queen Elizabeth and James I.

Generations of the gentry passed on or sold the hall until George Dunn purchased it.

The current house was built in the 1780s but greatly expanded and refitted in 1891. Many 18th century features remain although there have been various additions over the years, right up to a 1970s office extensions.

More recently it was an HQ of Scottish and Southern Energy until jobs moved north of the border. Various planning applications failed to gain approval until the end of 2013 when residential development was agreed.

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