BY TOBY PORTER
A historic house which was once home to the founder of a notorious club for posh rebels is set to be revamped – with one opponent branding the changes “disgraceful”.
Ambitious plans to revamp Bexley’s historic Hall Place have been given the green light.
Bexley’s planning committee unanimously approved the council’s own application, which includes building a 390m-long model railway loop, a children’s playground, a human sundial and a new covered seating area.
The attractions come with a new entry fee for the gardens, set at £4 for adults and £2 for children aged five to 16.
The work represents a £620,000 investment into Hall Place and its grounds, which the council hopes will lead to a surge in visitor numbers as the authority grapples with the cost of running the mansion.
It was once home to Sir Francis Dashwood, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1762–1763, but also a founder of the secret and immoral Hellfire Club.
Councillors said they understood the need to make the council-run facility viable.
But several voiced concerns over how the new additions would fit in with the surrounding Grade-II listed gardens.
Councillor John Davey said: “Overall I’m very much in favour of this, but I do have some concerns.
“The canopy (for the seating area) looks a bit rough, bearing in mind this is a listed building site…this is an iconic view across the river, at the moment there’s no details showing what it’s going to look like really.
“(It’s) just a sketch, which I’m not at all happy about.”
His views were echoed by Cllr Val Clark, who criticised the council’s own designs for a lack of detail.
She said: “I feel like we’re being asked to do a lot of this on trust. Looking at the map up there I think it’s disgraceful.
“If that’s the best Bexley can produce we ought to be ashamed.
“I would expect Bexley to put something forward that’s a big more professional than this.”
In response, a council officer stated the authority’s heritage officer was satisfied that the bridge would have an acceptable impact on the area, while more detailed plans would be forthcoming.
The planning committee voted unanimously in favour.
The building was also given the codename Santa Fe Station, and used to decode German secret messages by British and American agents in the Second World War.
The Santa Fe station intercepted encoded Morse signals, mostly from the
German Air Force and the Luftwaffe.
Radio aerial wires were strung over the rooftops and the Great Hall was converted into a ‘set room,’ with banks of Hammarlund Super Pro radio receivers lined up on wooden-plank tables.
The Great Chamber became the soldier’s dormitory.