A significant country house re-emerges from obscurity, this prestigious Grade II* listed mansion stands in a parkland setting with far reaching views across the Trent and Witham Valleys.
A lot has been said about the views from Harmston Hall, on the Lincoln Cliff overlooking the River Witham. From its parkland, on a clear day, you can see the Derbyshire Hills, some 60 miles or so away. This spectacle is foremost in the estate agent’s selling brief, along with the floors – oak floors, oak floors inlaid with mahogany detailing, and lots of pine floors. Yes. A lot has been made about the wooden floors here.
The oddest thing is that outside the North Kesteven district of Lincolnshire, not many people have heard of Harmston Hall. The fact that it has re-emerged from obscurity is due to it being offered on the open market at Savills with a guide price of £3.45 million.
The land on which it stands once belonged to the Thorold family, resident here since 1456. The present Queen Anne house was started by Sir Charles Thorold (1655-1709), but it was his younger brother, Sir George Thorold who completed it in about 1710. The mansion became the summer retreat of the Lord Mayor of London, a man who acquired a baronetcy and distinguished title ten years later. Sir George added a tall north front to the house, but this was pulled down in 1892 when the family departed Harmston Hall for good.
The buyer was William Henry Morton, a farmer, magistrate and county alderman, who, in 1892, spent a considerable sum of money altering the house, employing Lincoln architects William Mortimer and his son, William Malkinson Mortimer, to carry out the designs. A new front was created in the same style as the original building, incorporating a new entrance and porch, surmounted by a tower. The roof was stripped of its tiles and recovered in green slate, while new windows were added to the upper storeys. Inside, all the rooms were completely renovated, but despite his extravagance, Morton only stayed at Harmston Hall for six years.
The estate was sold in 1898 to Nathaniel Clayton Cockburn, a grandson of Nathaniel Clayton, a Lincoln iron founder. Its new owner was a military man, a Major in the Imperial Yeomanry, who ended up serving in Palestine during World War One. Cockburn died in 1924 and its big rooms briefly became the domain of his sister.
The inevitability was that Harmston Hall was far too big and expensive to maintain. Therefore, it was no surprise when it was sold to the Lincolnshire Board for the Mentally Defective, who opened it as a ‘Colony for Mental Defectives’ in 1935… and consigned the country house to decades of bleak insignificance. Just imagine the despairing shrieks from the inmates echoing through those long corridors. This was a time when Britain wasn’t particularly good at dealing with mental health… many of its occupants probably shouldn’t have been there at all. The hospital was eventually absorbed into the National Health Service (NHS) and buildings spread across the parklands.
Harmston Hall Hospital later became an administrative block and closed for good in 1989.
As always happened, the abandoned hospital was left to decay – broken windows, leaking roof, rotten floors and ceilings – its former institutional use adding to the air of dereliction.
Its saviour was Peter Sowerby, a local property developer, who bought the estate in 1996. There were probably those who thought him mad enough to have been one of the hospital’s former residents. However, when Sowerby flattened the hospital outbuildings and built a new housing development, there appeared to be some wisdom attached to him after all. He doubled the population of Harmston and transformed the quiet village into an important commuter settlement for Lincoln.
Decisively, Harmston Hall itself was restored and turned back into a family home over a period of ten years. In 2008, it was on the market for £4.5 million, considerably more than the guide price being asked for today.
There are few signs of its former use. The house is entered through a panelled entrance lobby with stone flooring. This leads into a Reception Hall, complete with Rococo chimneypiece, Georgian fanlight doorways and Ionic columns in front of the staircase. The principal rooms include the main Drawing Room, along with a former Ballroom (complete with the oak flooring and inlaid mahogany detailing). The Dining Room and yellow Sitting Room all have original Queen Anne wooden panelling with pine and oak floors respectively. An ornate Billiards Room is embellished with mahogany panelling, carvings, huge mahogany doors along with decorative cornices, and, of course, more oak flooring. Upstairs there are seven primary bedrooms.
Being a former Historic Formula 1 Champion, it is no surprise that Sowerby has also included garaging for 20 cars. The big difference from its former existence as a country house is the addition of both an indoor and outdoor swimming pool.
The Grade II* listed house stands within 13-acres of land, including a terraced garden with those spectacular views, and a further 30-acres of former parkland available separately.
House and Heritage features another guest post on the history of Hussey Tower – King Henry VIII’s embarrassment.
This post consists of research from 2008 onwards courtesy of Art History students at Eumemmerring College, Victoria, Australia.
Hussey Tower, in Sleaford, Lincolnshire, was once an impressive manorial home including a great hall, servants’ quarters, kitchens, stables and a large gatehouse. The building dates from around 1450-60 and is one of the oldest brick buildings in Lincolnshire.
It was originally built for Richard Benyington, collector of customs and excise in Boston which was a very important port at that time.
The tower was constructed entirely of hand-made red brick produced using local clay.
Around the time of being knighted after the Battle of Blackheath in 1497, John Hussey (son of Sir William Hussey) acquired the Sleaford estate. Hussey held a number of important positions in the Household of Kings Henry VII and VIII. He would become the Chief Butler of England and was Chamberlain to Henry’s daughter, Princess (later Queen) Mary.
Lord Hussey was one of five people to carry the canopy over the infant Princess (later Queen Elizabeth I) at her baptism on 10th September, 1533.
In 1529, he was raised to the peerage as Lord Hussey, 1st Baron Hussey of Sleaford, and remained living at his Sleaford estate – complete with refurbished tower. Henry lodged there one night, and ‘held a court’ next morning; the monarch was heading towards York to meet the King of Scotland.
The tower later passed into the ownership of England’s Boston Corporation where little care was taken of it. Today it is a popular tourist attraction. Hussey’s legacy also lives on in the ‘American Wing’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The Bachiler-Hussey joined armchair (c.1650-1700) is a remarkable piece of early American carved furniture which has elements of Hussey’s coat-of-arms: “Ermine motifs are repeated along its back and are interspersed with elements of his father-in-law’s Bachiler heraldry; the interplay of semicircles representing the sun rising from its base”.
Although his descendant’s chair survives, Lord Hussey’s story, like that of his dilapidated tower, is indeed a sad one, showing King Henry VIII at his worst.
Despite Lord Hussey’s closeness to Henry VIII, the Kings’s determination to break ties with Rome did not sit well with Lord Hussey – a staunch Catholic. Hussey and Henry fell out, with Hussey being accused of treason. Henry ordered his former confidante to be sent to the Tower of London and, tragically, beheaded in Lincolnshire in 1537.
Off Skirbeck Road, Boston, Lincolnshire, PE21 6DA
Built: 1725 with later additions Architect: Unknown Owner: The McCorquodale family Grade II listed
Small country house and service range with yard. Early C18, late C18, early C19 alterations and additions. 1864 alterations. Squared limestone rubble with ashlar quoins, ashlar, slate roofs with stone coped gables, moulded ashlar gable and ridge stacks. 2 storey plus attics, 8 bay south front arranged 3:3:2, the central 3 bays project slightly with first floor band. (Historic England)
This small country house is the last house belonging to the important Turnor family who were huge Lincolnshire landowners until the first part of the twentieth century. While the country seats at Panton Hall and Stoke Rochford Hall were sold off this house remained home to the last of the Turnor family until 2015.
While the Turnors occupied Little Ponton Hall from 1863 the house has a rich history going back even longer. For a time it belonged to the heraldic house of Fane/Vane whose descendants included the Earls of Westmorland and the Dukes of Cleveland.
The house was probably built for William Thorold, dated 1725, and later leased to Lord Widdrington. William Daye and Henry Pennyman were also owners with the latter altering the hall in the 18th century¹.
By 1831 Sir Charles Egleton Kent, 2nd Baronet, (1784-1834) was in residence. He was also occupier of Fornham Hall in Suffolk and died at Peterborough House in Fulham in December 1834, having survived his wife Lady Sophia Margaret Lygon (daughter of the Earl Beauchamp) by just three weeks. He was succeeded by his only child, Sir Charles William Kent, 3rd Baronet, (1819 -1848) a minor².
Little Ponton Hall was acquired by William Harry Vane (1766-1842). He had been the 3rd Earl of Darlington between 1792 and 1827 and the Marquess of Cleveland between 1827 and 1833. He was made the 1st Duke of Darlington in 1833. Vane had married Lady Katherine Powlett (1766-1807), second daughter of the 6th and last Duke of Bolton, in 1787. His second wife was Elizabeth Russell, the daughter of Robert Russell, a market gardener of Newton House in Yorkshire. They married in 1813 and spent most of their time at Raby Castle in Durham but Little Ponton Hall provided the perfect location for his love of fox hunting.
Following his death it would appear that the house remained within a different branch of the family. By 1856 it was under the guardianship of Vere Fane (1785-1863). He was the son of Henry Fane (1739-1802) and Anne Fane of Fulbeck Hall, near Grantham. His father was the second son of Thomas fane, 8th Earl of Westmorland, who had bequeathed him £1,000 in East India stocks.
Vere Fane, already a rich man, was a London banker and a long term partner at Praeds and Company, of 189 Fleet Street, from 1817 until his death. He had been MP for Lyme Regis between 1818 and 1826 and also benefited from compensation awarded to slave-owners for estates in Jamaica and Grenada. He married Elizabeth Chaplin, daughter of Charles Chaplin, of Blankney House, Lincolnshire, in 1815³.
Vere Fane’s daughter, Emily (1821-1893), married Colonel Edward Birch Reynardson (1812-1896) in 1849 and spent much of their time at Little Ponton Hall. They would later live at Rushington Manor, Totton, in Hampshire.
When Vere Fane died in 1863 he left effects under £20,000. In the same year Little Ponton Hall was purchased by the Turnor family who would remain until the present.
The first occupant was Philip Broke Turnor (1814-1882), the younger son of Edmund Turnor (1755-1829) of Stoke Rochford and Panton Hall, and brother of Christopher Turnor (1809-1886), who subsequently inherited the Turnor estates. It was Christopher Turnor who rebuilt Stoke Rochford Hall between 1841 and 1845.
Philip Broke Turnor and his wife moved into Little Ponton Hall shortly after Vere Fane’s death. Turnor had married Selina Laura Saunderson (1831-1901), daughter of Mr James Saunderson (the youngest son of Colonel Alexander Saunderson of Castle Saunderson in Ireland) in 1853.
Turnor had lived for many years at Newton House, near Folkingham, and spent his remaining 14 years at Little Ponton Hall. He died at the house in 1882 after a protracted illness. His widow remained at Little Ponton Hall and two years later married Major William Longstaffe in a ceremony at Stoke Rochford Church.
William Longstaffe (1831-1922) had been educated at Woolwich and served as Captain in the Royal North London Militia between 1855 and 1860. He also saw four years’ service during the Crimean War as well as being adjutant of the 2nd Volunteer Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment from 1880 to 1884. He became a JP for Kesteven and Chairman of the Grantham Board of Guardians and the Rural District Council.
He was a keen huntsman and ended up supporting the Belvoir Hounds for 50 years. Longstaffe’s contribution at Little Ponton Hall was extreme and despite the death of Selina, on holiday in Folkstone, in 1901, he remained at the house for most of his life. In his final years he suffered illness and moved to Stoke Rochford Hall where he died in 1922 aged 91.
His death came as an advantage for Captain Herbert Broke Turnor (1885-1979) who married Lady Enid Victoria Rachel Fane (1894-1969) in September 1922. Herbert Broke Turnor was the eldest son of Algernon Turnor (son of Christopher Turnor) and Lady Henrietta Turnor. The marriage marked the return of the Fane/Vane family to Little Ponton Hall. Lady Enid was the eldest daughter of the 13th Earl and Countess of Westmorland and widow of Major Henry Cecil Vane, eldest son of the 9th Lord Barnard, who had died from wounds sustained during World War One. Following their wedding at St Paul’s Knightsbridge the couple set up home at Little Ponton Hall.
Herbert Broke Turnor lived a leisurely life at Little Ponton Hall fulfilling his duties as a member of the West Kesteven Rural District Council and of the Spitalfields branch of magistrates. He was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant for the County of Lincoln in 1939. However, his world irrevocably changed in 1940 following the death of his cousin Christopher Hatton Turnor (1873-1940). It meant the Turnor estates were now the responsibility of Herbert Broke Turnor and he faced some very tough decisions.
Christopher Hatton Turnor’s death saddled him with death duties amounting to £277,658. The huge bill was a hammer blow for the family. Panton Hall had been disposed of in 1917 and there was now the problem of what to do with Stoke Rochford Hall. For the duration of World War Two the army were in residence but the house was far too big and expensive to consider making it a family home again.
Herbert Broke Turnor made concessions and in 1941 wrote to the tenants of his North Lincolnshire estate, between Market Rasen and Grimsby, informing them that he had no course but to sell the land. The whole village of Kirmond-le-Mire was sold, together with farms and properties at Binbrook. Kirmond had belonged to the Turnors since the reign of Henry VIII and the auction raised £33,320. The following year he sold Sir Isaac Newton’s orchard, including the famous apple tree, at Woolsthorpe to the Royal Society at a price substantially less than its value.
Stoke Rochford Hall was let to Kesteven County Council in 1948 and finally sold to the National Union of Teachers in 1978. Little Ponton Hall was now the last remaining property belonging to the Turnor family and the only remnant of a once mighty Lincolnshire estate.
Herbert Broke Turnor died in 1979 and the estate, including Little Ponton Hall, passed to his daughter Rosemary Sybil Turnor (1924-2015). She had married Alistair McCorquadale (1925-2009) in 1947 and remained at Little Ponton Hall until her death.
Alistair McCorquadale had been educated at Harrow and was an acclaimed sportsman and athlete who lost out on a medal at the 1948 London Olympics after officials separated the 1000m finalists using photo finish technology. Following the Olympics he played cricket for Middlesex. McCorquadale was also an astute businessman and became Chairman of McCorquadale and Co in 1967. He retired in the mid-1980s and also sat on the boards of British Sugar and Guardian Royal Exchange as well as being a governor of Harrow School. He had been actively involved running the Turnor estates since 1954⁴.
He died in 2009 and the estate passed to Neil Edmund McCorquadale (b.1951) who married Lady Sarah Spencer (b.1955), the daughter of the 8th Earl Spencer, and sister of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. He was a former Coldstream Guards Officer before turning his attention to farming matters.
The death of his mother, Rosemary McCorquadale (the last of the Turnor family), in 2015 means Little Ponton Hall is now under his guardianship. The future of the house is uncertain but one can presume that it might become the new family home for the present generation. Little Ponton Hall remains in relative solitude save for a few days every spring when the gardens are open to the public to view the impressive snowdrop displays.
¹ Historic England ² Enniskillen Chronicle and Erne Packet (Thursday 18th December 1834) ³ The History of Parliament online ⁴ The Telegraph (13th March 2009)
Little Ponton Hall,
Little Ponton, Grantham, Lincolnshire, NG33 5BS
Panton Hall, the seat of Edmund Turnor esq. MA., D.L., J.P. lord of the manor and principal landowner, is a handsome mansion of white brick, situated on a finely wooded eminence, and surrounded by a beautifully undulating and park-like country. (Kelly’s Directory of Lincolnshire, 1896)
Panton Hall, near Wragby, was one of those magnificent country houses lost simply because the owners could not afford its upkeep.
The house was built around 1720 by the Gace family on an elevation with faraway views of the Lincolnshire Wolds.
Joseph Gace, Receiver of the Land Tax for Lindsey, had asked William Talman (1650-1719) to design the house. However, the death of Talman in 1719 ended his association with the house. Just how far he had got with his plans is uncertain but a copy of the design is believed to have existed until the 1950s and is presumed lost or simply mislaid.
It was left to Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661-1736) to complete the task but just how much was down to Talman’s blueprint is ambiguous as building work was already underway during 1719. Hawksmoor was an able replacement. He studied under John Vanbrugh who had employed him at Castle Howard and Blenheim Palace. The three-storey house with a front canted bay was completed in 1727¹.
The completion of the house might just have been the start of Gace’s problems. It undoubtedly cost a lot of money and, through bad debt, would eventually lose control of his estates including Panton Hall. In 1742 the house passed to Gace’s son-in-law, Carr Brackenbury (1714-1763), who owned the house until his death².
His trustees transferred ownership of the house to Sir Jacob Wolff (1740-1809) in 1767. He was the son of Baron Godfrey Wolff of Moscow and had married Anne, the only daughter of the Right Hon. Edward Weston of Somersby Hall, the Secretary of State for Ireland, a year earlier. His intention may have been to make Panton Hall a family home but history suggests he spent little time there and did little for its upkeep. By the end of his six year stay the house was in a state of disrepair¹.
The house was rescued by one of Lincolnshire’s largest landowning families. The Turnor family had built up their estates over generations and had added the manor of Panton in 1687. Their family seat was Stoke Rochford Hall, near Grantham, where Edmund Turnor lived until 1769 but this is understood to have burned down by the time of his death³.
The new heir was his son, Edmund Turnor (1715-1805), who had married Mary, daughter of John Disney of Swinderby and Lincoln, in 1753. He lived at Kirmond le Mire and bought the manor of Stixwould in 1771³.
The house at Stoke Rochford was inhabitable and he required a house grand enough to match his wealth. In 1773 he bought Panton Hall for £6,150 and planned to make it his new home. Turnor remained at Kirmond le Mire while renovations took place³ but had to invest significant amounts of money to make it grand enough to live in. By 1775 he had appointed John Carr of York (1723-1807) to make alterations to the property including the addition of side wings. This reconstruction of the house would be his obsession that lasted until his death in 1805.
In John Carr’s reconstruction there were nine principal bedrooms and on the ground floor several spacious reception rooms. To save space most of the servants’ quarters were relocated to the basement³.
There has been much debate as to how much work John Carr carried out on the house. William Angus wrote in his ‘Select View of Seats’ in 1787 that the house was late 18th century with no trace of an earlier work⁴ Howard Colvin, the author of ‘A Biographical Dictionary of English Architects 1660-1840’ was in agreement and thought that the house had been completely rebuilt and only some early 18th century panelling re-used in one of the smaller rooms³.
John Harris in ‘No Voice from the Hall’ disagreed:-
“I came here when it was half-demolished, and it confirmed everything: the tall central block with its powerful canted bay rising three-storeys was the original Gace house, and the wings with their canted bays to the ends, answering the centre, were by Carr. The original house was obviously by Talman and at his death in November 1719 Gace clearly brought in Hawksmoor for the finishings.”⁵
Following Edmund Turnor’s death he was succeeded by his son, another Edmund Turnor (1755-1829). He was an MP for Midhurst, an antiquarian and author of ‘Collections for the History of the Town and Soke of Grantham Containing Authentic Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton’. He married twice. His first wife was Elizabeth Broke and then Dorothea Tucker.
Turnor was a keen traveller in France, Switzerland and Italy and became a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1779 and a fellow of the Royal Society in 1786³. By 1817 Turnor was turning his attention towards Stoke Rochford and plans were afoot for a new house to be built there.
These plans would be implemented by his son Christopher Turnor (1809-1886) who inherited the estates on his father’s death in 1829. He preferred Stoke Rochford and built the new house between 1841 and 1845. This grand new house would become his home and Panton Hall was left to deteriorate.
However, in 1847 newspapers were reporting that Mrs Leeke, of the Sycamore, in Louth, had rented Panton Hall to use as a finishing school. The house was thoroughly repaired and Mrs Leeke and her pupils moved in during April.
“The establishment will be conducted as before, the assistance of Ladies (Professors) of high talent from London and Paris. The size and numerous apartments of Panton Hall enable Mrs Leeke further to offer Finishing Lessons in the various accomplishments to Ladies desirous of a temporary home as Drawing Room pupils.⁶”
The school lasted until October 1866 and the following year Panton Hall was back in the hands of the Turnor family. Christopher Turnor’s son, yet another Edmund Turnor (1838-1903), was using the house as his home while his father preferred Stoke Rochford.
Christopher Turnor died in 1886. Edmund, had married Lady Mary Katherine Gordon (1840-1930), the daughter of the Marquis of Huntly and sister of the Countess of Ancaster, in 1866 and now made Panton Hall his home. Edmund was M.P. for South Lincolnshire as well as being a J.P. and High Sheriff of Lincolnshire in 1894. He was a practical agriculturalist and participated on numerous farming bodies. He was a distinguished landowner and much liked by his tenants.
According to the Nottingham Evening Post, who reported his death in 1903, “he would make himself acquainted with the grievance of his smallest tenant, and would use his knowledge and experience to attain a satisfactory solution of the cause”. Turnor met an unfortunate end while shooting with Mr Montagu Waldo-Sibthorpe, at Hatton, near Wragby, where he suddenly collapsed and died in 1903.
The Turnor estates passed to a nephew, Christopher Hatton Turnor (1873-1940). He was educated at Oxford and studied agriculture at Cirencester as well as being a trained architect.
He took up residence at Stoke Rochford Hall in 1907 following his marriage to Sarah Marie Talbot Carpenter, the only daughter of Admiral the Hon W.C. Carpenter of Kiplin Hall in Yorkshire. His interests lie chiefly in agriculture and rural education but he still managed to write a number of books on land and food problems. Turnor applied his knowledge to the study of agriculture on scientific lines and managed to combine theory and practice most effectively on the estate.
Panton Hall had continued to be the home of Lady Mary Katherine Turnor following her husband’s death in 1903. However, times were changing for the aristocracy and the cost of upkeep for large estates was rising. The Turnor family also owed significant death duties and in 1911 the freehold estates of Stixwould and Wispington went up for auction.
In August 1917 the Panton estate, including Panton Hall with 563 acres as well as 20 farms and small holdings, woodlands, the Turnor Arms Hotel, residences and cottages, were offered for sale at an auction in the Schoolroom at Wragby
Panton Hall, including its pleasure grounds, stables, kitchen garden, entrance lodge, woodlands and Grove Farm, were sold for £15,000. The purchaser was Mr George Keeble, an ex-mayor of Peterborough, who had experience of buying country houses. In 1912 he had bought Finedon Hall in Northamptonshire but had quickly sold it on. The sale of the entire Panton estate raised over£136, 000⁷.
The purpose of George Keeble’s purchase remains a mystery. He clearly had no intentions of moving in and Lady Mary was still in residence in 1918. In March 1919 the Grantham Journal reported the sale of surplus household furniture by Lady Mary and by December it was announced that a party of monks from Oxford had taken over Panton Hall.
By this time the ownership of the house had passed to Thomas Cecil Langham, a landowner and farmer, well known in the Grantham district, with farms at Stroxton, Little Ponton and Welby. However, Langham was a tormented man who was always nervous and afraid he was going to be ill. In 1924, suffering from a bout of insomnia and internal pains, and agonising over the closure of his Nottingham business, he committed suicide. However, the monks were in residence at Panton Hall which had become a Franciscan Monastery and Roman Catholic School.
In 1931 newspapers reported the construction of new cloisters that extended around the college quadrangle. It was anticipated that the fourth side of the quadrangle would eventually contain a chapel. The monks existed side by side with the college occupying the stables and the friars occupying the Georgian mansion⁸. They remained until the 1930s before relocating to Kelham Hall near Newark.
In May 1935 Panton Hall was bought privately by Sir John Denton Marsden, 1st Baronet, of Louth (1873-1944)⁹. Most historians suggest Marsden bought Panton Hall from the Turnor family in 1917 and rented the house and stables as a monastery and college. However, newspaper reports from 1935 suggest this is incorrect.
Marsden had been associated with the fishing industry since 1901 and was the Managing Director of the Consolidated Fisheries Limited, a prominent trawling firm, and President of the Trawler Owners’ Federation. He had married Agnes Mary Ronald in 1911. As well as being a prominent businessman he eventually became High Sheriff of Lincolnshire in 1942-1943.
Marsden lived in part of the stables but newspaper reports from the time suggest the house was regularly used for social events. During World War Two the house was used by the army and by the time of John Denton Marsden’s death in 1944 the house was in poor condition. After the war it stood empty. The Panton Hall estate was offered for sale in 1946 but did not include the house.
The Marsdens remained at Panton Hall until the early 1950s before moving to Thorpe Hall in Louth.
A few years later John Harris visited Panton Hall and described the house’s last days:-
“Some years earlier the back forecourt had been netted off and the ground floor rooms used as chicken coops: some were black with droppings. There was a handsome Carr chimney-piece in the hall, and fine but plain chimney-pieces in most of the rooms. These were not elaborately decorated, but that was the attraction: all were wondrously reserved. The house had not been tampered with since Carr’s days. The bedrooms upstairs could only be described as windows on the Arcadia of the rural Wolds.”⁵
Panton Hall crumbled away and one wing eventually fell down. In 1964 the house was demolished and the bricks were to be used elsewhere. However, such was the perilous state of the building the bricks disintegrated when exposed to the weather³. The only reminders today are the Grade II listed stables, built by William Legg in 1777, and the former kitchen garden now privately owned.
According to the DiCamillo Companion plans were submitted in 2002 to rebuild the house but these came to nothing.
¹ Lincs Revival Heritage
² Inheriting the Lincoln Mantua – Research Well Lincolnshire
³ Lost Lincolnshire Country Houses – Volume 5 (Robert Pacey) 2002
⁴ A Biographical Dictionary of English Architects 1660-1840 (Howard Colvin) 1954
⁵ No Voice from the Hall (John Harris) 1998
⁶ Lincolnshire Chronicle/Stamford Mercury 1866
⁷ Lincolnshire Echo August 1917
⁸ Lincolnshire Echo June 1931
⁹ Lincolnshire Echo May 1935
Built 1760 Offices and apartments Grade II* listed
The buildings are constructed of limestone ashlar with slate roofs. Many ashlar moulded stacks. Plinth, first floor band and moulded cornice with coped parapet. Central block, 5-bay, 3-storey including basement, piano nobile and mezzanine floors. Slightly projecting central 3 bays crowned with a pediment. The gates, gate piers and wall to Wellingore Hall are the subject of a separate listing. They date from around 1770 and around 1830, and are constructed of limestone rubble and ashlar. (Historic England)
Wellingore Hall was built around 1760 by Christopher Nevile (1743-1829), a Colonel of the South Battalion of Lincolnshire Militia. He was descended from one of the most powerful barons amongst ancient chivalry of England. The construction of Wellingore Hall meant that the Nevile’s abandoned their ancestral home at Auborn House and made the short journey across Lincolnshire.
The house passed to his son Colonel Christopher Henry Nevile Noel (1774-1838). The family name of Noel was added on the demise of the Hon Thomas Noel of Walcot, near Stamford, and after his mother Lady Sophia Noel, sister of the last Earl of Gainsborough. He had been Lieutenant Colonel of the Rutland Fencibles, formed by Colonel, Sir Gerard Noel of Exton Park.
He made a number of lateral extensions to Wellingore Hall around 1800.
Christopher Henry Nevile Noel died childless and Wellingore Hall was inherited by his nephew, Henry Nevile (1808-1861), the son of the Rev. Henry William Nevile, the Rector of Cottesmore.
Henry spent most of his time at Walcot Hall and married Ellen, the daughter of the Rev. C Bryan of Woolastone in Gloucestershire, in 1847. He was educated at Harrow, was a Magistrate and Deputy Lieutenant for the counties of Northampton and Lincoln, and spent time in the Dragoon Guards. In 1861 he left Walcot with his wife intending to visit Italy but decided to spend time visiting Switzerland and France. They were on their way home when Henry became ill with rheumatism of the heart and died in Paris.
Wellingore Hall passed to his only son, Ralph Henry Christopher Nevile (1850-1911) who made the house the family seat. He married Mildred Frances, daughter of Mr Charles Robert Scott- Murray of Danesfield, Buckinghamshire, in 1871, with whom he had four sons and three daughters.
Ralph had been educated at Eton and King’s College and went on to become a J.P. for Kesteven and High Sheriff of Lincolnshire in 1883. He was a keen chemist, well known in the engineering world, and invented and perfected many early electrical devices.
In 1876 he employed John MacVicar Anderson (1835-1915), the Scottish architect, to remodel Wellingore Hall.
Around 1882 Ralph built a Roman Catholic Chapel, dedicated to St Augustine, attached to the hall. It cost £7,000 to build but two years later it was destroyed in a mysterious fire and rebuilt in 1885.
For reasons unknown Ralph spent some time away from Wellingore Hall between 1891 to around 1899. It is possible that Ralph took his family to Crown Lea in Malvern but the Nevile’s retained a presence at the house. For the duration the house became an agricultural college under the supervision of Mr Frank Gray M.A. who relocated his school from Aldercar Hall in Derbyshire.
Wellingore Agricultural College housed about 30 boys between the ages of 15 and 20. It prided itself for taking a more liberal view to education and allowed pupils to ride, keep dogs and even permitted older boys to smoke. One famous student was Philip Henry George Gosse (1879-1959), the son of Sir Edmund William Gosse, who went on to become a General Practitioner and writer on natural history.
By 1902 it appears the Nevile family had resumed control at Wellingore Hall. However, tragedy struck when his wife Mildred died in a car accident in 1908. Ralph remained at the house another three years until a long illness ended in his death in 1911.
Wellingore Hall was inherited by his eldest son, Geoffrey Henry Nevile (1874-1935). In contrast to his father he was far more interested in agriculture. He had studied at Fort Augustus in Malvern and the Royal Agricultural College and assumed responsibility for the family estates. He did government work of farming and irrigation in Canada, Sudan and Egypt. Geoffrey was a pioneer in early mechanised farming as well as being a keen golfer and cricketer.
His brothers, Hugh George and Bernard Philip, both lost their lives in World War One, and family responsibilities were shared with his remaining brother, Charles Joseph Nevile.
Charles married Miss Muriel O’Connor, the second daughter of Sir Nicholas O’Connor, one time British Ambassador to Constantinople, in 1919. The couple also resided at Wellingore Hall but Charles spent many years abroad in Sudan and in the civil service being assistant commissioner to Dongola province. He followed the family tradition of being an excellent cricketer and would captain the Lincolnshire cricket team. He died at Wellingore Hall of heart failure in 1929.
Geoffrey Henry Nevile died in 1935 but the Nevile family remained in the house.
However, the outbreak of World War Two meant Wellingore Hall was requisitioned. It became a mess for nearby RAF Wellingore and later in the war was used as a prisoner of war interrogation centre. (Wellingore Heath airfield had opened in 1917). Both Douglas Bader and Guy Gibson stayed at the house but wartime events hastened the departure of the Nevile’s from Wellingore. The house suffered miserably and there are reports that it still shows the scars of discarded cigarette stubs on the wooden flooring.¹
After the war the Nevile family finally turned their back on Wellingore Hall and returned to Auburn House.
In November 1946 Kesteven County Council announced they wanted to purchase the house and surrounding land as a farm institute. Reports suggest the Nevile family were against the sale but the council threatened compulsory purchase if necessary. A year later RAF Wellingore closed and the land given back for agricultural use.
The house suffered a period of neglect and the Nevile estate was finally sold in 1968. Thankfully it escaped the demise of many similar properties and avoided the bulldozers.
Today Wellingore Hall exists as a business centre comprising offices and apartments.
The levelled platform of Easton Hall, demolished in the early 1950s, lies towards the north of the site, south-west of Easton estate village. Easton Hall, a medieval manor house and village, was purchased by Sir Henry Cholmeley in 1606. In 1805, Sir Montague Cholmeley took down the west wing and rebuilt the house (Turnor 1806). The medieval village was removed in 1805 (Glenn 1995). The Hall was rebuilt again by his son, Sir Montague Cholmeley in the 1840s and was described in 1872 (White) as a ‘large handsome mansion’. In 1902 the house was described as embodying the best features of Tudor style (CL). Attached to the west front of the house stood a large conservatory (ibid).
“A dream of Nirvana”… “A dream almost too good to be true.” These were the words of future President Franklin D Roosevelt about Easton Hall and its gardens. He was no stranger to the Lincolnshire estate, visiting at least three times, the last being for his honeymoon in 1905. When Roosevelt made this enthusiastic declaration he would have been dismayed that just 46 years later the illusion had gone forever.
Back in the 1990s I made the journey up and down the A1, near Grantham, on a daily basis. Mature trees and hedgerow lined both sides of the busy carriageway but little did I realise that just yards away were the remains of a fine country house. There was a clue, just past the turning for Burton Coggles, but I was in too much of a hurry for a second glance. Here, screened by unchecked undergrowth, was a decorative gateway. A pair of iron gates were suspended between two stone pillars – padlocked with a rusty chain – apparently leading nowhere.
I now realise that these gates once provided access to Easton Hall, a distinguished country house, once the ancestral home for 14 generations of the Cholmeley family. The house had long gone, a familiar story of decline after two traumatic world wars, the land relinquished to nature.
The Cholmeley family had purchased the Manor of Easton in 1592 after arriving from Cheshire. The medieval manor passed through generations until the beginning of the 19thcentury. From 1805 the original house had disappeared. Sir Montague Cholmeley, (1st Bt) demolished the West Wing, the oldest part of the house, along with the central block, and extensively altered the fabric of the house. A number of later Victorian additions by the 2ndBaronet created the most desirable home. Old Photographs show Easton Hall as a predominantly two-storey structure made of stone. Only a series of attic windows show the true height of the house.
Its front was dominated by a series of bay windows – running from floor to ceiling – with an arched porch to take horse-drawn carriages. In the Victorian manner the roof was a complex affair of stacks and chimneys. The most attractive part of the house was the south wing with 5 magnificent arched windows letting in large amounts of light to the ground floor. It comes across as a very irregular house but, like many of its contemporaries, is very aesthetic.
The architect for Easton Hall is hard to determine. However, the walled gardens, garden buildings and terraced gardens are attributed to Anthony Salvin in 1836. He was also responsible for the gatehouse and stables in 1841.
The most dramatic room inside the house was the large entrance hall, adorned with a gallery and hung with suits of armour. The rest of the house was no less handsome with valuable paintings and artwork spread throughout. The West Wing had fine views over the River Witham which flows towards Lincoln. The pleasure grounds rose from the banks of the river in a series of terraces, embellished by fountains, vases and garden statues.
The weakening fortunes of Easton Hall probably started at the beginning of the 20th century. When Sir Arthur Henry Cholmeley (3rd Bt) died, in 1904, the title and the 11,500 acre estate passed to his son, Montague Aubrey Rowley Cholmeley. He’d been a captain in the Grenadier Guards serving in the Sudan and the Boer War. After inheriting the baronetcy he retired from the army to focus on estate matters. He’d married Mabel Janetta Waldo-Sibthorp, from Canwick Hall, near Lincoln, in 1903 and she gave birth to their son, Hugh John Francis Sibthorp, in 1906. Maybe the proximity of Mabel Janetta’s family at Canwick looked a better proposition because the Cholmeleys spent most of their married life living at Norton Place, Glentham, north of Lincoln. This elegant 18th century house, by John Carr of York, had been in the Cholmeley family since the early 19th century. Easton Hall would be let out, around 1907, to Captain Marshall Roberts
Cholmeley re-joined his old regiment at the outbreak of the First World War but was killed in action, near La Bassée, in France, on Christmas Eve, 1914.
“The enemy were throwing hand grenades and one of these killed the Captain, who had come along the trench and warned us to keep down. A grenade exploded near him, and I think one of the pieces struck his head. He was killed instantly.” Private C Fuller
At his death Cholmeley left property to the value of £11,290. The baronetcy passed to Hugh John Francis Sibthorp Cholmeley (5th Bt), who was just eight-years old.
The loss of the 4th baronet was felt at both Norton Place and Easton Hall. While the Cholmeleys spent time in North Lincolnshire life at Easton Hall had been exciting. It had become the perfect place for visiting aristocrats who attended house, hunting and shooting parties. In 1902, the house had featured in the pages of Country Life magazine and had captured the imagination of people wanting to visit. Not least Franklin D Roosevelt who included Easton on his honeymoon tour of 1905.
Marshall Owen Roberts (1879-1931) rented the house from around 1907. He was the millionaire son of the New York transport entrepreneur, Marshall Owen Roberts. His father made his fortune after taking over the US government contract subsiding mail steamships. During the civil war he’d made huge profits by selling boats to the federal government. He would be instrumental in a Caribbean steamer service and would become involved in the development of transatlantic telegraphic cables. In time he was elected the President of the New York Chamber of Commerce. Our Marshall Owen Roberts was one-year-old when his father died. Seven years later he would sail to England with his wealthy mother.
Roberts would grow up to be a British subject and serve with the Scots Guards during the South Africa campaign. In 1903 he married Irene Helen Murray and spent their honeymoon travelling through France. Whilst driving back to Paris late at night from Fountainebleu, at considerable speed, their car came into contact with an unlit cart. The couple was thrown from the car and into a ditch but were fortunate to escape serious injury.
With plenty of money at their disposal the Marshalls were seen as part of the intelligent crowd. They lived in London’s fashionable Grosvenor Square and used Easton Hall as their country retreat. A keen sportsman, Marshall Roberts would become Master of the Belvoir Hunt. He was a keen and enthusiastic golf player and his many golfing parties at Easton included many well-known professional players including Harry Vardon, the 6-times British Open winner. Roberts would eventually build a 9-hole golf course attracting top golfers to take part in tournaments.
At the outbreak of the First World War, the British Red Cross and the Order of St John of Jerusalem formed the Joint War Committee. Under the emblem of the Red Cross they set out to secure locations to be used as temporary hospitals as soon as wounded men began to arrive from abroad. Marshall Roberts decided that Easton Hall would be a perfect location and part of the house was used for the duration as a convalescent hospital.
Roberts would re-join his old regiment but was severely wounded at the first Battle of Ypres. When recovered he transferred to the Welsh Guards and would soon become Captain Marshall Roberts. He served with the Welsh Guards in 1915 and 1918 twice being invalided.
After the war it was evident that Roberts’ marriage was falling apart. In 1921 his wife filed for divorce after identifying Marshall Roberts’ handwriting in a letter sent to the manager of the Grand Hotel in Brighton. A registration form from the hotel was also in his handwriting. It was alleged that Roberts had stayed with an unidentified woman over four nights. This woman was likely to have been Glen Alexandrine Charlotte Oldham whom he married in December of that year.
The golf course is worth a further mention. According to John Whittington, whose grandfather Ben Robert Cooper was the green keeper professional, the history books has Gleneagles as the first game against the Americans in 1921 that lead to the Ryder Cup in 1927. However, he says that there was a game against the Americans at Easton Hall prior to Gleneagles, organised presumably by Marshall Roberts. A team of 12 Americans travelling from Southampton to play in the Open at St Andrews stayed at Easton Hall for a few days to acclimatise and played an English pro and amateur team, also on their way to Scotland. Ben Robert Cooper’s sons, Whittington’s uncles, caddied for Cyril Tolley, British amateur golf champion, and professional Abe Mitchell playing against Walter Hagen and an unknown American.
Whittington also believes the course was a 12-hole course, not 9 as history books suggest, and that some of the layout can still be recognised on Google Earth. His grandfather remained the green keeper at Easton Hall until Marshall Roberts, on leaving, was made to return the course to nature. He then helped design and build a new course at Stoke Rochford Hall on the other side of the A1.
His marriage over, it was also time for Roberts to end his long association with Easton Hall. In 1922 he moved to Holme Pierrepont, near Nottingham, leaving Easton untenanted with only a caretaker. The house would become a target for thieves and in December a gang of ‘international crooks who secured little booty for their pains’ broke in. Instead, they crossed the Great North Road and stole gold and silver curios from Christopher Turnor’s country house, Stoke Rochford Hall.
Captain Marshall Roberts died in 1931 after taking ill in Venice while returning from a Mediterranean cruise.
The next tenant of Easton Hall was Andrew Alexander Watt (1853-1928). He was a hard-nosed businessman from Derry whose family had made their fortune as one of the largest whisky distillers. Their Abbey Street distillery covered eight acres and produced three world famous brands. Tyrconnell was named after the Watt family’s racehorse that ran in the Irish Classic “National Produce Stakes” and won against all odds at 100 to 1. This was the best-selling brand in the United States while, Favourite and Innishowen, enjoyed major exports across the word – to England, America, Canada, Australia, Nigeria and the West Indies.
In 1902 Andrew Watt merged his company with two other Belfast distilleries to form a new company called the United Distilleries Company. He would become chairman, increasing his personal wealth, and managed to negotiate a deal with the Distillers’ Company, of Scotland, to divide trade and limit production of grain whisky. This would prevent saturation of the market and ensure that prices remained at a competitive level.
The deal between the two companies was not an easy one and the United Distilleries Company found itself in financial trouble. This was worsened when the United States introduced Prohibition from 1920 depriving Watt of his biggest market. To confound matters the company suffered unrest amongst its workers resulting in a calamitous strike in 1921. They complained about Watt’s careless attitude towards working conditions and their meagre wages. Watt, dogged and merciless, told his workers that no money was available.
“Watt asked to be helped up on to one of his own whiskey barrels and from there he addressed the crowd with the menacing words – ‘Well men, I shall put it to you like this …what is it to be? Will you open the gates?’
The workers retorted angrily- ‘The gates stay shut!’
‘Very well!’ exclaimed Watt bluntly. ‘Shut they are, and shut they shall remain!’”
Andrew Watt turned out to be a man of his word. History clouds what happened next. It is more melodramatic to believe that Watt closed the distillery for good. However, it is more likely that the Distillers’ Company were breathing heavily down his neck. In 1922 the Scottish company took full control of United Distilleries and, by 1925, all the Irish factories had been dismantled. Whatever the circumstances, Andrew Watt was blamed for the appalling job losses and poverty that followed. With whisky sales in freefall, and the ominous Irish Question loitering, it’s likely that Watt was clever enough to get out while he could. (Fortunes were better for the Distillers’ Company – it grew into a major company, eventually taken over by Guinness in 1987, and is now interred within the prodigious Diageo organisation) Watt left Ireland behind, headed for the peace and quiet of the English countryside, and enjoyed the magnificence of Easton Hall for the next six years.
While it had housed tenants for over twenty years Easton hadn’t been forgotten by the Cholmeley family.
In 1927, to celebrate ‘the attainment of his majority and succession to the Easton estate’, all tenants and their families were entertained, at Easton, by a now grown-up Sir Hugh John Francis Sibthorp Cholmeley. With the permission of Andrew Watt close upon 500 people, including a delegation of 35 from Canwick Hall, advanced on Easton for a day of celebration.
The stone cross approaching the hall flew Union Jacks, the archway leading to the courtyard being most effectively decorated in red and blue flowers, with a horseshoe design in centre, the colours of the Grenadier Guards and bearing the inscriptions, ‘Long Life’ and ‘Prosperity’ and ‘Health and Happiness’. Other flags, including one with the family crest, were flown from the tower. Grantham Journal 27/8/1927
Andrew Watt looked on in admiration but had only one more year to live. He would leave over £900,000 in his will, a huge amount, of which £270,000 ended up in treasury coffers as death duties. In November, a newspaper advertisement appeared for the sale of ‘household linen, glass and china, as well as kitchen requisites’ from Watt’s time at Easton Hall.
It would be ten years before Sir Hugh Cholmeley moved into Easton Hall. He’d been educated at Eton College and the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. In 1931 he married Cecilia Ellice, and, after 12 years in the Grenadier Guards, retired to a house he barely knew. However, his stay at Easton would be short-lived.
When war was declared in 1939 the future of Easton Hall was condemned. Sir Hugh returned to fight with the Grenadier Guards and the house was requisitioned and used as barracks for the Royal Artillery and of the 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment. Like so many houses Easton Hall did not come out lightly.
According to the architectural historian, John Martin Robinson, ‘nearly every house which was used to accommodate the military has some horror story to retell of staircases chopped up for firewood, subsidiary wings gutted, the Van Dycks used as dartboards, jeeps driven through wrought iron gates or stone balustrades, carved or painted graffiti, smashed windows and much else besides.’
Easton Hall suffered all this and much more. The fabric of the house was damaged, contents ravaged and family records destroyed forever. Stories abound of live ammunition being fired inside the house and hand grenades thrown into the greenhouses.
The Cholmeleys never returned to Easton. After the war, the house, scarred and broken, waited empty for the next six years. Like all unoccupied properties it suffered to vandals and thieves who stole the lead from the roof. No longer watertight, no longer habitable, the house had become a burden for the family.
It would have been with heart-wrenching sorrow that Sir Hugh chose the only viable option. In 1951 he made the decision to demolish Easton Hall.
Stone by stone, tile by tile, the house was raised to the ground. Memories from generations of the Cholmeley family were obliterated in a just a few days. When the demolition people had gone only a few foundation walls and steps remained.
During the destruction fate played a remarkable hand. On the day that the gatehouse and stables were due to be flattened the bulldozer broke down. With time costing money the bulldozer was sent away and the buildings remained intact. A judgement that one day would prove advantageous. For a time the gardens were sustained to supply the markets of Grantham and Nottingham but these, too, were soon abandoned. Nettles, sycamores and brambles were left to take over the estate for the next 40 years.
Sir Hugh Cholmeley would live an exemplary life. He had been decorated with the award of Companion, Distinguished Service Order at Camino in Italy in 1945. Following the war he gained the rank of Honorary Colonel in the service of the 4th/6th Battalion, Royal Lincolnshire Regiment, and held the office of High Sheriff of Lincolnshire in 1961. He was invested as a Companion, Order of the Bath two years later. He would live with his wife in the Dower House at Easton Hall and died at St Thomas Home, London, in 1964, aged 57.
Had I chosen to stop the car and fight my way through the dense growth I would have been saddened to find crumbling steps, dilapidated walls, all covered with ivy and moss, trees growing from the ornamental bridge across the river and a woodland advancing where flower gardens once stood. The ghosts of the Cholmeleys would have been bemused. Their memories would have been whispers on the breeze teased by the hundreds of wild rabbits that had taken over.
Over the coming years Sir Montague John Cholmeley, (6th Bt), would turn away from Easton and strengthen the fortunes of the remaining estate. It now includes arable and livestock farming, acres of ancient woodland, a flourishing public house, a farm shop and nearly 80 rental properties.
In 2001, Lady Ursula Cholmeley, wife of Sir Hugh John Frederick Sebastian (7thBt) recognised the potential of the vanished house and its former gardens. By her own admission ‘there was a national outbreak of garden restorations, spearheaded by the famous Lost Gardens of Heligan’.
With scarcely a budget she led a group of people who miraculously retrieved the remnants of Easton Hall’s past pleasure grounds. In the years since walls and buildings have been repaired and today the public can visit Easton Walled Gardens, combining many of the original schemes with new areas of planting. The gatehouse and stables, fortuitously saved from the bulldozer, play a significant and inspiring role as entry to the site. The results are impressive and, with the remainders of Easton Hall still evident, this small part of Lincolnshire has been reborn.
Built: Between 1841 and 1845. Rebuilt between 2005 and 2008 Architect: William Burn Owner: Talash Hotels Group Hotel and conference centre Grade I listed
Pecked ashlar with smooth ashlar quoins and dressings, Welsh slate roofs having raised stone coped gables with obelisk finials, numerous tall octagonal grouped stacks, in a variety of styles, mostly facetted with moulded cornices, some with twisted cable mouldings and elaborate cornices. Irregular L-plan comprising central 2 storey plus attics principal range with, to left and at right angles, a more restrained service wing to full height with projecting single storey range.
A number of houses have stood on the site of Stoke Rochford Hall. The present house was built for Christopher Turnor (1809-1886) using his considerable family fortune. Turnor had succeeded his father in 1829 as a spirited 20-year-old owning 20,664 acres and a rental income of £27,000.
He sat as Conservative M.P. for South Lincolnshire between 1841 and 1847, and married Lady Caroline Finch-Hatton (the daughter of the 9th Earl of Winchilsea and Nottingham) in 1857. Turnor requested plans from the Scottish architect William Burn in 1839 and finally agreed a contract in April 1841.
William Burn (1789-1870) had worked in Sir Robert Smirke’s London office before returning to Edinburgh to join his father Robert Burn. He was prominent at designing country houses including Blairquhan (Aberdeenshire), Falkland House (Fife) and Revesby Abbey (Lincolnshire). He had replaced Anthony Salvin as architect for nearby Harlaxton Manor where most of the interior was designed by him¹. It was this work that probably alerted Turnor to Burn’s talents and construction started and completed by 1845. The pleasure grounds were designed by William Andrews Nesfield (1794-1881).
The result was agreeable but the house never really excited architectural historians. Mark Girouard called it “a competent but not very interesting re-creation of a symmetrical Jacobean house, with a big service wing to one side.”²
Simon Jenkins described it as “a poor man’s Harlaxton, except that it is hardly poor.”³
Christopher Turnor used Stoke Rochford Hall as his main residence but his son, Edmund Turnor (1838-1903), preferred the family’s other country house, Panton Hall, at Wragby (demolished in 1964) choosing to let Stoke Rochford to tenants. For a time the house was rented by Harry Wyndham Jefferson, an accomplished sailor who won a gold medal at the 1900 Paris Olympic Games.
Edmund Turnor was also M.P. for South Lincolnshire as well as being a J.P. and High Sheriff of Lincolnshire in 1894. He was a practical agriculturalist and participated on numerous farming bodies. He married Lady Mary Katherine Gordon, the daughter of the Marquess of Huntly and sister of the Countess of Ancaster in 1866. He was a distinguished landowner and much liked by his tenants. According to the Nottingham Evening Post, who reported his death in 1903, that ‘he would make himself acquainted with the grievance of his smallest tenant, and would use his knowledge and experience to attain a satisfactory solution of the cause’. Turnor met an unfortunate end while shooting with Mr Montagu Waldo-Sibthorpe, at Hatton, near Wragby, where he suddenly collapsed and died.
Stoke Rochford passed to his nephew and heir, Christopher Hatton Turnor (1873-1940) who genuinely cared for the house.
Christopher Turnor was a J.P. and became Mayor of Grantham in 1928 where is became known as the man who originated the cheapest housing scheme in England with houses rented at 3s 9d per week and attracting the attention of local authorities from all over the country.
He took up residence at Stoke Rochford Hall in 1907 following his marriage to Sarah Marie Talbot Carpenter, the only daughter of Admiral the Hon W.C. Carpenter of Kiplin Hall in Yorkshire. His interests lie chiefly in agriculture and rural education but he still managed to write a number of books on land and food problems. Turnor applied his knowledge to the study of agriculture on scientific lines and managed to combine theory and practice most effectively on the estate.
Turnor regularly placed Stoke Rochford Hall and its grounds at the disposal of the Kesteven education and other authorities to use as a summer school and for conferences. He had trained as an architect under Edwin Lutyens and Robert Weir Schultz and was responsible for constructing a green glass fireplace in the Newton Room and carving a scenic Mediterranean design in the balustrade of the main staircase. (Turnor had designed the Watts Gallery in Surrey and would build the Stoneham War Shrine in Hampshire between 1917-18)
His death at Torquay in 1940 coincided with the requisition of Stoke Rochford Hall by the War Department. For 18 months it became the headquarters of the Second Battalion of the Parachute Regiment and legend says the ill-fated Arnhem ‘drop’ of 1944 was conceived in the library.
The heir to the Stoke Rochford estate was Major Herbert Broke Turnor of Little Ponton Hall but he would never live at the house. Instead the house was leased to Kesteven County Council in 1948 and used as a teacher training college. The estate would eventually pass to Alistair McCorquodale and his wife Rosemary, daughter of Major Turnor, in 1954.
The teacher training college closed in 1978 and the lease was sold to the National Union of Teachers (NUT) as a National Education and Conference Centre.
In January 2005 Stoke Rochford Hall was almost lost forever. A fire started in the roof behind the clock tower but the cause was never established. Over a hundred firefighters pumped water from the lake for over four hours before having to retreat for safety. The wood panelled Grand Hall and library were lost as floors caved in and most of the interior of the south side of the building was destroyed. Fortunately, several pieces of priceless furniture, paintings and antiques were saved.⁴
The house was restored between 2005 and 2008 at a cost of £12 million and overseen by English Heritage. To the casual observer the result is impressive. No traces of the fire remain and the Grand Hall and Library have regained their grandeur.
Stoke Rochford Hall was used by the NUT as a hotel and conference centre for 38 years. Parts of the interior looked institutionalised, and it never quite pulled it off as a high class hotel, but the house is a fine example of Victorian architecture. Less can be said for the approach to the hall which is spoilt by unsightly modern additions.
In 2016 the 999-year lease was sold to Talash Hotels Ltd of Leamington Spa with plans to upgrade Stoke Rochford Hall into a high-end hotel.
The Stoke Rochford estate is owned by Neil McCorquodale, the son of Alistair and Rosemary who also own Little Ponton Hall
¹ The Oxford Dictionary of Architecture (James Stevens Curl & Susan Wilson)
² The Victorian Country House (Mark Girouard)
³ England’s Thousand Best Houses (Simon Jenkins)
⁴ Grantham Journal (January 2005) and Grantham Target (January 2015)
Additional information provided by Stoke Rochford Hall