We have been producing house histories of historically interesting houses in the village.
So far we have completed house histories for Station Corner Cottages; Mere Cottage, Sturmer Hall, Maltings Cottages, Suffolk Edge.
We are working on The Woodlands Hotel and The Spinning Wheel.
House histories so far:
Station Corner Cottages
Here is an extract from the item in the Sturmer Village News - more details are available in our archive
Who lives there now? Station Corner Cottages, The Street, Sturmer
I visited the current owners of 2 Station Corner Cottages to find out more about the history of the building.
Mary bought the house in 1991 and is a retired laboratory assistant with Braintree College. Alan has also retired from his job as Head Green Keeper of Haverhill golf club. Alan enjoys the rural aspects of the village and they both appreciate being near to the golf course. Mary attends an art group locally and they enjoy socialising with friends who live on the coast. They also find Sturmer convenient for the gym and shops in Haverhill.
No. 1 Station Corner Cottages is currently occupied by Rebecca and Phil.
When the property was listed as Grade II by English Heritage in the 1980s it was said to be occupied as one property. At that time Eileen Bellis lived there. Part of the garden was sold for the building of Rivendell (where Linda and Bev Bevan now live). When she passed away the properties were sold separately again.
We know from Maggy Chapman’s reminiscences that Percy Coote ran the Post Office from No.1 in the 1940s. This is confirmed in the legal documents. The properties have even been known as “The Post Office Cottages” in the past. In 1918 they passed from A C Purkiss (the Purkis family owned much of Sturmer in the 1800s) to Charles Boardman (an auctioneer from Abbotts Hall) and then to Jether Cutmore (the farmer at Abbots Farm which is further down the road towards Halstead). He used part of it for farm workers.
Going back further into the 19th century, from the census we find a variety of occupations amongst the people living in the cottages including agricultural worker, road labourer, shoemaker, needlewoman, rail porter and a retired police constable. The families have included grandchildren and an 11 year old lodger. For many years a number of Masons and Skeltons lived in the properties.
We believe the houses date from the 1840s and they appear on a number of old maps including the Tithe map of 1841 and old Ordnance Survey maps. However, before that date even older maps show a building on the site.
Sturmer Hall - more details and pictures available in our archives
The Story of Sturmer Hall
STARTING ONE THOUSAND YEARS AGO
Sturmer is first noted in the epic poem “The Battle of Maldon” of c 1000 AD as Sturmere – a lake formed by the River Stour.
The first mention we can find of Sturmer Hall is in the Domesday Book 1086 when William the Conquerer sought to record all the land and assets in England so that he could collect taxes more efficiently and reward his loyal followers after the invasion by the Normans in 1066.
The Manor had a mill and beehives which was thought to have been on the site of Sturmer Hall and in 1215 Sturmer had a manor house, mill and church (the present St Marys).
Then records are silent and it appears Sturmer may have been a medieval village deserted when residents died from the Black Death in the 1300s.
500 YEARS AGO
However, in 1550 Robert Todd is shown as possessing Sturmer Hall on a plaque in the church and his descendants seem to have been at the Hall until 1829.
The Bury and Norwich Post refers to Robert Todd marrying Helen Radcliffe of Sturmer Hall in 1595 and then Radcliffe Todd is referred to in various documents relating to the Hall held by the Essex Records Office. We have a copy of a will by Radcliffe Todd in 1751 and Radcliffe Pearl Todd signed the muster roll for Sturmer in 1799. This was a list of men able to serve in the army which was drawn up locally for the Napoleonic Wars.
Sturmer Hall was sold to John Purkiss in 1829. The sales catalogue refers to Sturmer Hall with gardens, shrubberies and offices and over 766 acres of land.
John Purkiss is recorded as living there in the 1841 census and in Kelly’s Directory of 1843 he is described as a maltster (malt was used to make beer).
Ambrose Gardiner replaced him in the1871 census and was followed by the Deekes family in the 1891 census. Mr Deekes also gets a mention in Kelly’s Directory (the trade directory of the time) as a farmer.
In the 1890s the Hall was for sale as an agriculture and sporting property. The local trade directory says the chief crops in Sturmer are wheat, barley and oats.
Sturmer Hall is described as having large old fashioned flower and kitchen gardens adjoining the house. The house contains a large entrance hall with fire place, oak panelled drawing room, dining room and study opening to garden. There are front and back kitchens, dairy, larder, large wine and beer cellars, fruit store, gun cupboard, W.C., six principal bedrooms (two with dressing rooms), boxroom and two attics.
There is a bake house, brew house, coal and wood stores, two fowl houses, fowl run, storage sheds as well as stables, harness room, coach house and granary. In addition to a cow house, cart lodge and piggeries.
A good supply of water is obtained from a well pump adjoining the yards at that time.
We believe the Mason family replaced the roof of the hall in about 1898 and we have some more information on them from a relative who passed details to Daniel Hannan (the current occupant) who kindly shared them with Sturmer Local History Group.
The Masons were a well- known firm of builders in Haverhill and one branch of the family lived at Sturmer Hall in the Victorian/Edwardian period. We have some copies of family photos and think we can pinpoint Thomas Mason and his daughter Gertrude in them.
According to an article by K A Walker published by the Haverhill and District Local History Group in 1976, Walter Mason had two sons, Thomas J Mason (1864 – 1932) who was educated at Framlingham College and Walter Junior (1877 – 1923) who was interested in the sport of Haverhill, being President of Haverhill Rovers Football Club from 1904 until 1920.
Walter Senior bought two farms for his sons, Sturmer Hall for Thomas and Manor Farm, Haverhill for Walter. When their father died in 1904 the two sons succeeded him in his building firm.
Brought up in comparative luxury these two brothers were concerned more with pleasure than with business, and as mentioned before, Walter was a keen sportsman, although he suffered from indifferent health. Thomas actively acted his part as squire of Sturmer, with shooting parties and entertainments. The business then began to suffer once again and Thomas had to leave Sturmer, and also withdrew from the family firm. His first wife, Annie Chevens , was a daughter of C H Chevens who, being a printer, was the founder of the Haverhill Almanack and Directory.
The firm was once again saved, this time by a cousin, Clifton Mason (1876-1946). His father, Guylott Mason had been manager prior to his death in 1888 and Clifton had entered the business as a boy. He was shrewd and industrious and became sole proprietor on the death of Walter in 1923 and was joined by the younger Alfred Mason (1884 -1965). They built in and around Haverhill for many years.
THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY
The Masons are still at the Hall in the 1901 census but by 1911 we see the Hoffman family have moved in.
We had heard the rumours that the Hoffmans were a circus family and that they had kept elephants at the Hall during the winter months so we decided to research their family history to find a connection.
We had also heard from our interviews with residents that elephants once walked through the village, circus horses (recognised by their pie bald markings) had grazed at the Hall and one of the ladies of the house had been a bareback rider in her youth and was not adverse to using her horse crop on servants who displeased her!
We wanted to find out if there was any documentary evidence to confirm these stories.
We turned to Find My Past and Ancestry on the internet to find more information about the Hoffmans.
The first document we obtained was a birth certificate for Meriel Hoffman who was born at Sturmer Hall in 1917. According to her birth certificate her father was (John) Peter (Carl) Hoffman and her mother was Eva Annie (nee Ansell). We hoped the father’s occupation would be shown as a circus entertainer or similar but alas it was simply “farmer”.
Next we turned to our local library in Haverhill. We borrowed three books on circus history. One was called “The Sanger Story”. This proved to be a gold mine of information on the famous Victorian circus family.
At a meeting of the history group one member had said that the elephants had belonged to the Sanger circus. He had not seen them himself but had been told they had been in Sturmer by people who had seen them.
“The Sanger Story” included a family tree which showed the marriage of Lavinia Sanger and Peter Hoffman.
The book said that Lavinia and her brothers (including George Sanger) had been left in charge of the circus when their father (John Sanger) died.
Back to Ancestry – yes – we found a marriage between Lavinia Sanger and Peter Hoffman in 1882.
Our library book showed one of their children as “Peter”.
We still needed the link between Meriel and this Peter who was the son of Lavinia.
Another round of searching on the internet found the marriage of Eva Annie and Peter (Carl) Hoffman in 1913 (parents of Meriel). The groom’s father’s occupation was again given as “farmer”. However, a search based on the groom’s address and assuming he still lived at home with his father led us back to the 1891 census when Peter Hoffman and Lavinia were listed with their children in Leicester.
Just above this entry is George Sanger circus proprietor and his family so they were living next door! At last a link between the Hoffmans at Sturmer Hall and the circus?
In this entry Peter Hoffman’s occupation is given as horse trainer and his birthplace as Budapest, Hungary. Surely a circus background at last?
A search of the Parish Council records reveals details of (John) Peter Hoffman of Sturmer Hall who became a Parish Councillor in Sturmer in 1913 (we think he was the son of Peter the horse trainer ).
A visit to the History Room to talk to the Haverhill and District Local History Group also revealed details of a gravestone in the churchyard of St Mary’s Church, Sturmer for the death of (John) Peter (Carl) Hoffman in 1925 aged 40 years so we were able to tie up the dates of events such as the death of the Parish Councillor called Peter Hoffman in the Parish Council minutes.
The Haverhill and District Group was also able to provide us with a picture of circus elephants drinking from a horse trough outside the Cangle school in Haverhill in 1930 – may be they moved on to stay at Sturmer Hall?
One of their journals also records a visit to Haverhill by John Sanger’s circus in October 1911. This would have been towards the end of the annual round of visits before the animals were over wintered.
Further information in literature about the circus and on the internet points to the truth of these stories and is included in our archives.
Members of our group have heard the stories of the elephants. One can remember Mr Holbrook (owner of the Spinning Wheel) telling her he used elephant manure on his market garden!
Sylvia Chambers, who now lives in Halstead recalls in her oral history interview how one of the elephants walking through the village stole a cabbage from her grandmother’s front garden.
We feel we have found some good evidence that the Hoffmans were related to a circus family but the elephants ? – who knows…..?
Parish Council minutes from 1907 reveal a local dispute between Mr Hoffman and residents of the village. Thirty to forty parishioners attended the meeting in April to complain that part of the charity land had been claimed and staked out with barbed wire by Mr Hoffman. The men wanted to bodily remove the stakes and wire but agreed to stop doing this if other means were adopted to reclaim the land. Letters were written and presumably a solution was found.
In 1921 a fire of 30 haystacks at Sturmer Hall is reported in the Chelmsford Chronicle and the Haverhill Echo. We have a record from Mr H Allan of this incident.
He writes in a letter to the Echo that he well remembers the fire. He was about 16 years old and hoped to get a job on the pump which was manned by 24 men and boys. If they were lucky enough to get to a fire first the pay was 5 shillings a day. The pump worked like a seesaw up and down with 12 people on one side and 12 on the other. The pump was a wonderful machine with plenty of brass shining bright and a bell which they rang on the way to the fires. It was pulled by two horses.
Mr Boardman recalled in 1993 that he came home from boarding school for half term to find there was a big stack fire raging at Sturmer Hall. It had been burning for several days and was a great spectacle causing much excitement and gossip in the village. He remembers the manual pump working on that occasion.
Jack Purkiss wrote that they would go to have a look at the fire at Sturmer Hall in the evenings and may be give a hand with the pump.
An ordnance survey map of the same year shows the nine hole golf course in front of the church past the present paddocks.
By 1929 the census refers to Peter Hoffman – farmer and Phillip Hoffman – fruit grower at the Hall which included the site of the present Sturmer Nurseries.
We have heard from Haverhill and District Local History Group that Peter Hoffman was an air raid warden during the Second World War.
Some of our interviewees also remember Mrs Hoffman:
“She was a very stately women…she was a nice looking women - got lovely hair”
“My mother used to come occasionally and do some cleaning for her”
“There was a very elderly lady who many referred to as Lady Hoffman – she wasn’t titled as far as I know but she was very old – pale, wrinkly skin, dressed in black. She had glasses, black hat, beautifully done hair underneath it and lots of beads”
1940s AND 50s
Another local resident has shared his memories of the Hall in the 1940s and 50s
He remembers Philip William Hoffman and his wife Winnie and their daughter Pamela Hoffman.
The Hall farm was around 400 acres by then and the farm buildings and farmyard yard were beyond the Hall and the track continued right through the holding up to the Bumpstead Road. There was a bluebell wood up there on the way.
The Colne Valley Railway ran across the land at the rear and over a bridge across the track leading into a deep cutting on the east side towards Birdbrook. There was a slight incline and it was a grand sight to see the trains hauling up there at full steam.
The Hoffmans were staunch conservatives and Mr Hoffman was the chairman of the local party. Whist drives were held in the Hall and also in the Parish Room (opposite Abbotts Hall on the main road through Sturmer) for fund raising.
Our writer recalls that he used to sit with him tearing out and folding the raffle tickets in front of the huge fire while the MC Mr E J Farrant took command of the tables.
In the summer, fetes were held on the front lawn with all the usual stalls and sideshows. He remembers his sister being a flower in a little enactment, her lines were “Cowslips fling their fragrant flower from each scented bell”
One year his mother won the bowling for a pig which in those times was a real pig. Fortunately, they lived on a farm!
Carol singers looked forward to going there on a cold winter’s night as they were sometimes invited in by Mrs Hoffman for a warmer in the oak panelled room and the singing was much improved after that.
The sloping field opposite the house was known as the golf links (which ties in with our OS map of the 1920s).
The farm bailiff in the 1940’s was Mr Large. Mr and Mrs Large lived in Old School House (near the Village Hall) which was at that time owned by the Hoffmans.
Later in the 1950’s the bailiff was Bill Cornwell who lived with his wife in The Lodge on Church Walk.
Our writer tell us he worked at Sturmer Hall in the spring of 1957 for three weeks driving their brand new Ferguson 35 Grey/gold tractor reg no 1080 F harrowing and rolling the fields of winter wheat and spring sown crops.
Later that same year he spent another month there driving the grain from the harvest fields to the grain store barn in an old 1930’s Fordson crash gearbox tipper lorry and had to keep on the move to keep the two combine harvesters running.
The combines were a red Massey Harris No 21 driven by Alf Parrish of Sturmer (we interviewed his daughter for our oral history project) and the latest silver Class SF machine driven by Harold Farrant of Haverhill.
Jim Goreham also worked there in the 1940’s.
Our writer’s duties were to feed the chickens at 7am and then go down to the glasshouses which covered the now Sturmer nurseries site to pick tomatoes for the wholesale market and then by lunchtime Mr Hoffman would have done a grain moisture check with his calcium carbide meter and declared they could go combining for the rest of the day.
Mr Hoffman would drive into the harvest field to watch them work and he smoked very strong Capstan Full Strength cigarettes which he would try to get others hooked on. Quite a fire risk!
John Duffin from The Gables (on the main road – now a small group of modern houses) worked in the glasshouses. The manager had his office in the packing shed where the nursery shop is now situated.
Hoffman tomatoes had a unique flavour and were much revered locally and you would see them labelled “Hoffman just in” in the shops of the area at the beginning of the season. Another interviewee told us people would cycle from Haverhill in their lunch break to buy them.
A secondary crop in the glasshouses was chrysanthemums for the London market and these would be packed and wheeled down to Sturmer station on a large hand barrow. We have a picture of Stephen Pannell and his friends working in the fields of these flowers.
In 1966 a sales catalogue shows the Hall for sale as a residential farm with 438 acres.
Mrs Packman took up residence next and it was when she was restoring the house that it collapsed and had to be rebuilt. Her son Michael Rothwell (she had remarried) discovered a strange amethyst like gem in the grounds of the Hall and incorporated this into a tapestry he made which now decorates the pulpit of St Marys Church. He suffered a serious accident and was bed ridden for some years so took up tapestry work to pass the time. Luckily he made a full recovery and it is believed he may have later joined the church as a vicar.
A member of the Group tells us the Tuffins were the next residents. Little is known of them but we believe village fetes were held there during their occupancy.
In 1979 the Hall was sold again and Mr Hannan took up residence. When we met him he explained that in order to maintain the Hall he had found a commercial use for it as a hotel, conference centre, music venue and for weddings. He aims to offer a top class experience. He is keen to establish a good relationship with the village and offers free tickets to music events to village residents from time to time. He has recently hosted events for the local WI and has offered free use of all the grounds for The Sturmer Fayre in 2016.
Sturmer Local History Group
© Linda Bevan – All Rights Reserved
19 February 2016
Essex Records Office Archives
Haverhill and District Local History Group
Sturmer Local History Group
Find My Past website
Thanks to all who have helped us find out about the history of Sturmer Hall including Maggy Chapman, Daniel Hannan, Jean Caulkett, Jean Coe, Reg Mead, Jo Porth, Paul Sadler
Maltings Cottages and Suffolk Edge available in the archive room of the village hall.