GAINSBOROUGH OLD HALL – A BUILDING WITH A TUDOR PAST
2009 marks the Quincentenary of the accession, and the first of six marriages, of King Henry VIII in 1509. We can follow in his footsteps because he travelled from London through Lincolnshire on route to York in the wet summer of 1541. He stayed over at the Medieval Bishop’s Palace where his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, was accused of indiscretions with one Thomas Culpepper.
The royal party came to the timber framed manor house at Gainsborough and stayed four days before crossing the Trent for Scrooby. The manor house is much older than the Tudors by several years. Their host was Lord Thomas Burgh who was a former Lord Chamberlain to his second wife Anne Boleyn; he was at her coronation and sat on the jury which attainted her.
You can see the actual door way King Hal would have used when he first entered into the house, which is a huge community space next to the pantry (a store for dry food) and buttery (store for the ale and other beverages). The Great Hall has a remarkable arch braced roof resembling the hull of a ship. The Hall was a social filter and only the privileged were allowed into the east range. David Dimbleby was amazed by it when he came in 2007 as part of the television series, “Who built Britain?” The Manor House is a statement of power and wealth, and whoever said that they did not have central heating in 1541, take note of the central fire in the hall!
To the west, there is a brick passage leading to the kitchen, built in 1460. It contains two huge open fire places for roasting carcasses of animals for the great feasts. You can spy the lantern in the roof. This space was dominated by the male sex; females were put to work in the dairy, the laundry and the making of ale, not on kitchen duties. Clarissa Dickson-Wright of the Two Fat Ladies cooked here for the ‘Kings Cook Book’, a BBC4 production in 2008. Come and see the bee hive ovens used for pastry and bread making. The kitchen is an evocative space, which was once separately built from the Hall.
The remainder of the Hall was not for public consumption, it was reserved for the great family and their guests. In the brick tower chamber, you can see where the Grey Lady died of a broken heart and whose ghost haunts the building looking for her lover, whom she was denied. Go and look at the garde robes (toilets) used by the great family, but not by King Hal, as he had his own potty which was the responsibility of a servant called the Groom of the Stool who attended him. Many people enquire, “Where did the King sleep?” but he did not sleep in any of the beds made up today. The King brought his own bed, which had been reinforced to hold his excessive weight. In modern terms, he was obese. He would most likely have slept down on the ground floor, possibly the space now used as the tea shop, because he would not have been able to cope with the stairs!
King Henry had six wives. His last wife, Katherine Parr, is associated with Lord Burgh’s Old Hall. At 16 she had married Lord Burgh’s eldest son, Sir Edward Burgh, however he died after three years leaving Katherine Parr a widow. Sir Edward is buried in a vault in All Saints’ Church which is within a stones throw of the Old Hall and well worth a visit. The church tower is 15c and King Henry would have seen it in 1541.
The last Lord Burgh to own this magnificent house, who was bankrupt in 1596, added the impressive stone bay window in the Great Hall and supplied the grand staircase and landing, which leads to the solar and the private apartments. He served King Hal’s daughter Queen Elizabeth, dying aged 39, after six months in Ireland. He was buried in Westminster Abbey for duties to the Crown.
Interestingly, amongst the royal party which stayed with King Henry at the Old Hall, was Princess Mary Tudor who later became the first regnant Queen of England. She tried to reverse the Protestant religion for the old Catholic ways and burnt many heretics. Also in the group was Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, who was the grand father of Lady Jane Grey, who reigned only nine days before Mary Tudor took the throne.
In 1597 a new family called the Hickmans purchased the manor house (some of the family portraits still hang in the Upper Great Chamber) and before Elizabeth 1 died in 1603, they had re-modelled the interior of the east range, but maintained the integrity of the medieval building. One of my favourite spaces is Sir William’s chamber and when he died in 1625, an inventory records what was kept in here.
In modern times, the Old Hall has an association with a Rose, the emblem of the Tudor dynasty. William Rose, a self taught inventor was born at the Old Hall and his factory made the first machines that produced Cadbury’s chocolates named after its founder, William Rose. He even saw the Grey lady in the tower chamber!
In 1949, The Friends were formed to save this iconic manor house from dereliction. In 2009, they celebrate sixty years of unbroken service to the Old Hall. To mark that milestone, a programme of events has been arranged:
April tbc 7.30pm The Lost Palaces of Henry VIII Dr Jonathan Foyle (Chief Executive of the World Monuments Fund)
May 23rd at 7.30pm – Henry VIII & His Six Wives Alison Weir
June 20th – a Concert by the full Choir of Lincoln Cathedral at All Saints’ Church Gainsborough
27th June at 2.00pm – TENNYSON TALK: Tennyson who was born 200 years ago in 1809
July 10th at 7.30pm – Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk Dr Steven Gunn of Merton College, Oxford
September 10th at 7.30pm – ‘Restoration Tragedy? George Frederick Bodley in Lincolnshire’ Adrian Barlow of Cambridge University
The Old Hall is open Monday to Saturdays 2008 to Feb 28 2009 from 10am to 4pm and closed on Sundays. It has an excellent Gift Shop and Manor House Tea Shop.
March 1 2009 until Oct 31 2009
Monday to Friday 10am to 4pm
Saturday & Sunday 11am to 5pm