A History of Stragglethorpe Hall

The Tudor Manor of Stragglethorpe Hall lies 12 miles South of the cathedral city of Lincoln in the shadow of the great scarp designated an “Area of Outstanding Beauty”- the Lincolnshire Cliff- along which the Romans built their Roman Roads to the northern boarders, and where the ancient Britons traced the Viking Way linking their earlier settlements. A ready source of water was the magnet which attracted the early habitation there, and evidence exists of Roman remains close to the present-day Hall.

In the 14th century the Stragglethorpe Estate was given by the John O’gaunt, third son of Edward III, to the Gilbertine Order of Sempringham (in Norfolk), as a Grange House for that order. There were many monasteries in England, but the Gilbertine Order was the only English Order of Monks whichever set up. It was named after its founder, Gilbert (of Sempringham), the eldest son of Gilbert of Normandy, who came over with William the Conqueror in 1066. The son, Gilbert, being deformed was unable to fight, and so became a learned friar, founding his monastery around 1068, for the education and protection of women. By the time of the Dissolution of Monasteries by Henry VIII (in 1535-1540), there were 21 such Grange Houses belonging to the Order.

It is of interest to note that Gilbert of Sempringham died in 1189 at the incredible old age, for those days, of 101 years. He was canonised relatively speedily, in 1202 by the Pope Innocent III, and had been in his lifetime a friend and confident of Henry II, his wife Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Thomas Becket- Archbishop of Canterbury, also known as Thomas A Becket.

“Who will rid me of this Turbulent Priest?” Henry II is supposed to have exclaimed, where upon two of his overzealous knights murdered Thomas on the steps of his own alter, made more heinous by the fact that the deed took place inside the Cathedral itself. Thomas Becket was promptly canonised too, as Henry II took to wearing “sack-cloth and ashes”- a most painful penitence.

There is no evidence, however, that either St Gilbert, or St Thomas ever visited Stragglethorpe, but it would have been possible being so close to Lincoln Cathedral.

Upon the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1535-1540), Henry VIII gave the manor to his Clerk of the Exchequer, William Rigges. In 1544, William Rigges and Leonard Browne received a grant in fee in return for the monastic lands which included the Lordship and Manor of Stragglethorpe (leased to John Staller).

William Rigg of Clerkenwell sold the estate to the Lacons Family, who in turn sold it to Augustine Earle, who had been living in Torskey, Lincolnshire, until about 1608: He died in 1636 and is buried at Stragglethorpe. Augustine had married twice, first to Margaret daughter of Charles, Lord Willoughby of Parham, and secondly, to Francis, sister of Sir Thomas Coney of Bassingham in Lincolnshire, Augustine Earle’s eldest son by his second marriage became Sir Richard Earle, born in 1609 and died in 1665. He had been made Baronet in 1629 and had married Frances Hartopp, daughter if Sir Edward Hartopp of Buckminster. Their eldest son (another Augustine) predeceased Sir Richard leaving a son, Richard, who died in 1678 and is also buried at Stragglethorpe, He was the Second Baronet.

The Third Baronet, the second son of the first Augustine Earle, married Ellenor, daughter of William Welby of Denton (a family very much a feature of Lincoln Society to this day), and their son of the Fourth Baronet (1673-1697) died without issue at Kensington leaving his estates to the Welby family. [It is to this the Earle that the delightful plaque remains in memorial in St Michaels Church Stragglethorpe]

The daughter of Richard, First Baronet, married a John Thornagh of Struton in Nottinghamshire, and portraits still exist of them. The bequest and possession of Stragglethorpe by the Welbys led to the Christian name of Earle being given to William, First Baronet and Grandson of Richard Welby, and has become the custom that continues throughout each generation of their descendants.

The estate of Stragglethorpe remained in the Welby family until 1913 when Sir Charles Welby, Bt., c.b., sold it to R J Tonge of Stragglethorpe Grange. He later sold it to Mrs Gilliatt.

The market town of Newark, 7 miles from Stragglethorpe, was a centre of Cavalier resistance in those civil wars. The Roundhead forces never completely succeeded in subduing Newark which is dominated by its Castle by the River Trent, although its citizens had been forced to eat rats and horses during the sieges. The forces of King Charles I were allowed to march out of the town with their weapons, so impressed was Cromwell’s New Model Army, at the Royalist fortitide. The Roundheads then caused Newark Castle to be sacked and pulled down, something which their guns had failed to achieve. Newark is further known as a place that Byron, (later Lord Byron) visited, and in which he composed some of his romantic poetry.

Pevsner says of the historic house of Stragglethorpe, that “It is difficult to tell what is old and what is new” The high-level dormers, dating from the Tudor period at around the time of the Earls, are remarked on, but so much renewal and renovation had been carried out to the Hall in the early 20th century that it is indeed hard to tell now what is original and what is not. The work is by Charles Bidulph-Pinchard, on behalf of Mrs Gilliatt- the widow of a Nottinghamshire banker who lived in the hall before and after WWI. Charles Bidulph-Pinchard came from Leicester and was active at the end of the Victorian period and early Edwardian. The library wing was built in the 1880s, and the Night and Day nurseries were placed on the West end of the hall from a Suffolk Mill bought there stone by stone. Vertical mill beams can be seen as supports to the loggia overlooking the South (garden) side and some lovely Suffolk “Pargeting” remains prominent under cover of the loggia. Larger mullioned windows in the Great Hall replaced the smaller slit windows, and the Victorian hanging tiles once removed from all elevations disclosed the Tudor woodwork. Formal Gardens were also laid out by Mrs Galliatt with wonderful Yew hedges (now 10ft high), together with a sunken tennis court, a croquet lawn, orchards, and a marvellous walled kitchen garden.

In the early 1960s, the Hall was purchased by Major Allen Rook (another Nottingham family), who was a very successful wine merchant, and one of only a handful of published World War II war poets. The Major set about developing a vineyard to grow grapes and show that the Romans could indeed have made English wine here during their occupation. At that time it was “the most Northerly vineyard in Europe”, but this is no longer so, since its demise in the late 1970s. The wine produced commercially was called “Lincoln Imperial” after the renowned “Lincoln Imps” carved by medieval craftsmen into the Cathedral friezes.

For a number of years, the house and gardens were recognised as one of Lincolnshire;s premier wedding venues and during the same period were used as a film set for the BBC’s Middlemarch series. The house was bought by its present owners in 2006 and is now a private family home.

(Information Published by Leicester Graphic, May 1969  by Marion Freeman-Attwood)