NCRA NewsMail

17 April 2018


Loring Hall (previously known as Woollett Hall), North Cray - its early history

The original house was built around 1760 (on the site of an earlier Tudor house known as Waletts) for a gentleman by the very unusual name of Neighbour Frith, a London Silk Merchant. The old English meaning of "Frith" is defined as peace and freedom. His father (John Frith) married Sarah Neighbour of East Wickham in 1714, and as was then sometimes the custom, they gave their son his mother's maiden name as a Christian name. The family owned several acres of land in North Cray and had a long association with the village. Neighbour Frith's 79-year-old grandfather, Roger, was buried in St. James Churchyard in 1701.

Neighbour Frith grew up in North Cray but as an adult, like many other former wealthy residents in the district, his connections with the London's business community enabled him to enter the fairly closed world of City trading as a Silk Merchant. During the 18th century Britain's trade expanded dramatically and all sorts of goods were being shipped in and out of the country, with the English Channel being a major thoroughfare for trade. The East India Company had the monopoly on most trade both to and from across the world and the shipping traffic weaving its way along the fairly narrow River Thames included the mighty vessels of the East India Company with their huge cargo holds. Most of the ships had first to lay offshore in areas like the Medway and Sheerness awaiting their slots at the London docks. This delay encouraged smuggling of some of their valuable cargo before it even got into London.

The 18th century in particular was a golden age of silk weaving in London and in 1721 the manufacture of silk in England increased to the enormous value of some £700,000. The expansion and success of the industry depended upon connections with other regions around the world. Supplies of raw materials and labour came into London from Europe, the Levant and India. Silk Merchants were able to make huge profits without ever leaving London by financing ships carrying silk from abroad and then selling it to the factories at good rates of profit. This income enabled Neighbour Frith to commission the building of Woollett (Loring) Hall.

Neighbour Frith married Anna Maria Upfold at St. Clement Church in East Cheap, London and the couple had two daughters - Mary born 1736 and Sarah born 1739. However neither daughter lived to survive him and when he died in 1776, he left in his Will his large house and extensive grounds to the Rev. Edward Cockayne, the husband of his niece, Elizabeth and (possibly as a condition of the Will) Edward Cockayne then added Frith to his surname to honour his benefactor. But he did not want to use the house as a residence and he decided instead to lease the grand house with its beautiful grounds leading down to the River Cray to Joshua Kirby Trimmer of Bexleyheath. After taking up residence, Joshua and his wife were blessed with a son, also named Joshua, who was born on 11th July 1795 and Christened at the beginning of August in St. James Church.

Joshua grew up to be a renowned geologist. As a young adult, he was asked by his father to manage a copper mine in North Wales. Then for a short time he managed a farm in Middlesex but returned to Wales to oversee a slate quarry. This led to his interest and study of geology. In 1832, Joshua was elected as a fellow of the Geological Society and in 1841 published a book entitled Practical Geology and Mineralology and he wrote several papers on the subject. With his extensive knowledge of rocks, earth and the importance of drainage and agriculture, he was a much sort after agricultural expert. In 1840 Joshua was employed to carry out a geological survey of England. He mostly spent the remainder of his life in Kent and died, unmarried, in London on 16th September 1857.

Viscount Castlereagh - In 1811 Loring Hall (still known as Woollett Hall) changed ownership again this time to a renowned politician, Lord Castlereagh , who was given the title of Marquess of Londonderry. However, in 1822 the much troubled politician who had achieved many great things during his Parliamentary career, suffered from a complete breakdown of his mental health and unfortunately, before his wife could summon a doctor, he decided to end his life.

Following this unfortunate episode in the history of the house it was empty for many years whilst in the ownership of a banker, Richard Gosling , before being occupied by Frederick Friend in the early 1850's. Frederick Friend, a general merchant specialising in beer and wine, had been living in Penhill Road, Bexley Village before taking up residence at Woollett Hall. He must have made good living from his occupation because he had a large family and many servants to support. However, by 1891 he describes his occupation as an Export Merchant and his son and daughter were also residing with him. He employed a butler, cook, two housemaids, a kitchen maid and a live-in nurse for his grandchildren who also resided at the house. His daughter, Margaret, married Captain Cecil Lodge in India and the couple were blessed with twins - Francis and Celia.

At an adjoining property named Woollett Hall Garden Village lived James Wilcox and his two sons, both born in North Cray, Alfred and John, who worked with their father in the extensive grounds of Woollett (Loring) Hall. Frederick Friend died in 1895 and was buried in St. James churchyard. It seems that banker Richard Gosling , (who had owned the house probably since the unexpected death of Lord Castlereagh) then sold up his valuable property in Ashford, Middlesex (known as Ecclesfield House) and subsequently moved into Woollett Hall, where he died in 1899.

It is not too clear who the owners or residents of Woollett Hall were during the early part of the 20th century, but by 1907 Ronald Keep, an Australian citizen working as a London stockbroker, was in residence. At the time, few people had the luxury of owning a telephone at their home but Ronald had the distinction of being registered with Sidcup Telephone Exchange. By 1921, another London stockbroker, John Maurice Coppen was registered with the Land Registry as owning the freehold of Woollett Hall.

In the early 1930's Woollett Hall was purchased by Goldsmiths College and renamed "Loring Hall" in memory of their first principal, William Loring, who unfortunately died on the Hospital Ship which was bringing him home to England after being injured in the disastrous Gallipoli campaign of 1915.

Researched and written by : Sylvia Malt