James Hatch first appears in the local records in 1786 when he purchased the Claybury estate. Within five years he had demolished the old house and a new mansion had been erected, designed by Jesse Gibson. Then, in 1791, he employed Humphry Repton to advise on improving the site, and the ‘Red Book’ which he produced is now held at the Essex Record Office.
Although Repton did not suggest significant changes to the landscape, he proposed moving the front entrance of the house. The original approach meant that on arrival guests turned their backs on the magnificent view across London. At his suggestion the entrance was moved to the north side of the house so that guests could alight from their carriage away from the windy hillside and then be shown into a ‘sumptuous saloon’ where ‘the whole scene bursts upon the view at once’.
Rev. Daniel Lysons mentions in his account of The Environs of London (1796) that Hatch resided at Claybury during the summer months. By then James Hatch and his wife, Wilhelmina, had several children. Four daughters grew up to marry but sadly their only son James died in 1804, aged 21, and he was buried at St Mary’s, Little Ilford.
James Hatch earned his vast fortune as a malt distiller, entering into partnership with John Lefevre and working under Lefevre’s name at the Four Mills distillery, Bromley. This was close to the River Lea, near the present junction with the Limehouse Cut and the Blackwall Tunnel approach. When the partnership started in 1775 their capital was £52,000 of which a quarter was provided by Hatch. Lefevre withdrew from the company in 1784 and Hatch was joined by new investors, and by this time the capital had increased to £80,000. Hatch retired in 1803 and the new partnership which was drawn up had a capital of £160,000.
Line drawing of Claybury 1806
Hatch invested his share of the profits in property. By 1795 he owned Great Gales Farm at Woodford Bridge and in 1799 he purchased the manors of Chigwell, Luxborough (where he demolished the Palladian mansion) and the part of Monkhams which was in Chigwell parish, as well as Little Monkhams. He also leased the manor of Clayhall in Ilford, the land he could see to the south from his windows. It seems that he became a “gentleman farmer” and had some innovative ideas about the use of manure on his farms. He had a correspondence about his theories with Arthur Young who was writing his General View of Agriculture in Essex which was published in 1807.
James Hatch died at Thomas’s Hotel, Berkeley Square, on December 8, 1806 after a very short illness and was buried at Little Ilford, although there is a commemorative plaque to his memory at Chigwell Parish Church. The notice of his death in the Times said “He was a truly affectionate husband, a good and tender father, and a kind and faithful friend.”
St Mary’s Church, Chigwell, is open every Thursday at 10.30am for two hours to allow visitors to see around the ancient Grade II* listed building
His extensive estates passed to his daughter Caroline, wife of John Rutherforth Abdy (who changed his name to Hatch-Abdy). He held several estates in the Stapleford Abbots area in his own right, and they lived at Albyns. When Caroline died in 1838 without issue, the Hatch estates passed to her nephew James Mills, son of her sister Jemima, and then on his death in 1884, to his cousin William John Rous (d.1914), son of their sister Louisa. It was Rous who sold the Claybury estate to the Justices of the County of Middlesex in 1887, so that they could build a ‘lunatic asylum’ there.
Georgina Green has been involved with local history in Redbridge, Waltham Forest and the Epping Forest area for 40 years and served as the honorary secretary of the Woodford Historical Society from 1987 to 2000. She is the author of several local history books and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 2021.