Fairlight Hall – 20th Century
In 1908 the house was let to a certain James Kirkley Esq and later, in 1914 at the outbreak of the first world war, to Captain Ronald Methven Grigg. In November 1917, two years after the death of William Peter, William Noel, the last male heir, sold the outlaying portions of the Estate comprising some 75 lots of assorted dairy and sheep farms, pastures, woodlands and cottages.
In 1922 Edward Festus Kelly, the owner of Kelly’s Street Directories, rented the Hall with its remaining 465 acres including the Home Farm. William Noel, having controversially divorced his wife and mother of their four daughters, Therese Bricard-Bazin, sold the mansion and Home Farm in 1928, thus ending the family’s ties to Fairlight. He moved to France where his descendants remain, and re-married, taking the proceeds of the sale to buy a ‘real’ castle: the 15th century Chateau de Bity in the Limousin.
It is here that he is reputed to have sheltered the exiled Leon Trotsky from 1933 to 1935 and whom it is presumed he had met during his service as an intelligence officer in Russia during the first world war. Chateau de Bity is now home to former French president Jacques Chirac. William Noel was forced to flee France at the outbreak of the Second World War and returned to live in Pett, He died just two years later in 1941 and is buried in St Andrews graveyard along with his parents and grandparents.
Fairlight Hall had been purchased in 1928 by the Yorkshire textile magnate Sir James Roberts. Born in Haworth, and a childhood friend of the Bronte family, he was well known for his shrewd business sense. By the age of twenty he was taking regular trips to South Russia to obtain merino wool. His work catapulted him from humble beginnings to ownership of the woollen industry in the model town of Saltaire, with over 4,000 employees. He was created a baronet in 1909 and retired to Fairlight Hall in 1928. He died in 1936 and the property was sold at auction to Queens School which had been established in Shoreham in 1916 and sought larger premises. Sir James had divided the entrance hall horizontally in two during his ownership, with a new first floor level accessed from the existing minstrels’ gallery walkway. The new room, created directly above the front door, was used as a billiard room and was subsequently converted into a chapel by the school.
During the Second World War Queen’s School was home to a number of German Jewish refugee children sent to England by their parents to escape the persecution in their native counntry. After the war, and somewhat in decline, the Hall was used in 1949 for the filming of the Edgar Allan Poe adapatation, The Fall of the House of Usher. The school was closed shortly thereafter and the house was bought in 1951 by a Major John Reginald Mundy. His main reason for purchase was his father’s interest in the farm and stables. He rarely lived there, and after his father died he lost all interest in the house. It was managed by his two sisters who sold it in 1959 to Clifford Stuart, a Canadian citizen who described himself as “a buccaneer, a swashbuckler, a pirate if you like.” In an interview with the News of the World he said, “I don’t like too many questions and I’m admitting nothing.” Owing to his eccentric lifestyle and erratic finances, he sold the property shortly afterwards in 1960 to Leonard and Diana Cooper.
Fairlight Hall then passed to the business partnership of Z. Kellerman and R. Bernard in 1963, who embarked upon substantial modernisation, both to the manor house and to Home Farm which was renamed Birchen Knoll Farm.
In 1965 the property was bought by Cyril Savage. Savage enlarged the stables and built an equestrian centre. In 1968 he divided the main house in two; the North Wing was turned into a guesthouse and managed by Albert and Nita Crowson. The estate was then sold to Roy and Barbara Robinson in 1980. Twelve years later the Robinsons attempted to upgrade the building’s English Heritage status from grade II to II*, but the application was declined. The house subsequently passed to the Chairman of Exide, Robert Lutz in 1991.
Please follow this link to see historic images from the Fairlight Hall archive.