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.
Now known as The Hayes
The story of Wootton Hall might be considered that of the ‘Ugly Duckling’ in reverse. Nowadays the Victorian mansion is called The Hayes and its appearance is a pitiful keepsake of former glories.
The modest house was built in the late 1850s by Edward James King presumably for his own use. However, his death in 1860 meant it went to auction without ever being lived in. Along with it came 55 acres of rich pasture and meadow land in an idyllic rural location on the outskirts of Leek Wootton.
Now called Green Hayes the purchaser was a Cheshire cotton broker called Carl Frederick Trepplin who lived there until 1882¹.
The house attracted the attention of Francis Beresford Wright (1838-1911) who had been the victim of his own success. He came from a wealthy family and was an iron and coal proprietor of the Butterley Company in Derbyshire.
His family home, Aldercar Hall at Codnor, was under threat from encroaching industrial growth caused by his own company. At the height of the industrial revolution the nearby hamlets of Heanor and Langley Mill were also experiencing rapid growth and the rural idyll of Leek Wootton looked a more enticing prospect.
Wright belonged to an extremely wealthy family and his father was Francis Wright of Osmaston Manor in Derby. Marriage to Adeline Frances Henrietta Fitzherbert, eldest daughter of Colonel Henry Fitzherbert of Somersall Herbert Hall, in 1862, further strengthened his financial security.
Francis Beresford Wright renamed the house Wootton Court and made it the family home for the next 70 years.
Much as he had done at Aldercar Hall he spent a fortune rebuilding and expanding the house as well as enlarging the lake and creating beautiful gardens and lawns.
Wright died of a heart attack in 1911 and his widow would live at Wootton Court until her death in 1924. The house was inherited by their son, Arthur Fitzherbert Wright (1865-1952), who moved his family from Aldercar Hall and made a new life in the Warwickshire countryside.
It is said at Arthur Fitzherbert Wright was an amiable character and was well liked in the community. During World War Two the house was used to house nurses working at Warwick Hospital and he regularly welcomed people seeking refuge from the bombs of Coventry.¹
He died in 1952 and Wootton Court was put up for auction. It was described as being substantially of brick and tile, occupying a delightful position in wooded grounds. The auction brief outlined a house with an entrance hall, four reception rooms, games room, fifteen bed and dressing rooms, four bathrooms and seven attic rooms.²
While Arthur’s widow moved to nearby Stone Edge (built by Francis Beresford Wright in 1909) the Wootton Court estate was sold to Aubrey Jones, a Coventry builder. He managed the estate as a mixed farm with traditional crops.¹
The house was sold in 1972 to the Warwickshire and England cricketer, M.J.K. Smith, who foresaw a new direction for the estate. He converted several farm buildings into a country club and eventually sold it to Gordon Barrow, a local hotelier, in 1987.¹
By 1990 the estate was known as the Wootton Court Country Club and was sold, along with Wootton Court Farm, with the former grounds identified as a golf course. The Warwickshire Golf and Country Club was founded in 1994 with plans to build a 150-bedroom hotel.
The plan was abandoned and Wootton Court was renamed The Hayes and converted into several luxury apartments.
At what point Wootton Court was altered is uncertain. While the house retains its initial plan the central block has been shamefully robbed of its castellation and now looks more akin to a 1970s attempt at art deco rather than Victorian grandeur. The whole exterior has been refaced, virtually pebble-dashed, to obliterate the original brickwork and tiles. Now the house has become a sorry ‘ghost’ of its former self.
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
This house, as altered in the 19th century, was of 4 bays and 3 storeys, with string courses between them, quoins and a central segmentally pedimented entrance sporting a cartouche of arms. Inside there was a fine timber staircase, with turned balusters of 17th century date, and the gate piers were contemporary sporting carved stone urns and a sundial bore the date 1688.
The Derbyshire Country House (Maxwell Craven & Michael Stanley)
These days there are no visible traces of Aldercar Hall. Like so many houses it was demolished in the early sixties considered surplus to requirement and too near the expanding industrialisation of Heanor and Langley Mill. Now it is all but forgotten but was once the home of a wealthy industrialist.
There had been a previous house on the site but the last one was built by Thomas Burton in in 1668. By 1712 it was owned by the Milnes family and a century later was the home of Rev. John Smith.
By 1881 Aldercar Hall was in the hands of Francis Beresford Wright (1838-1911), the son of Francis Wright of Osmaston Manor, described as an ‘iron and coal proprietor of the Butterley Company, J.P. for the County of Derby, M.A. Cambridge, farmer of 295 acres’.¹
The Butterley Company was founded as Benjamin Outram and Company in 1790 and became one of the largest producers of iron in the country. One of its most famous contracts was providing iron for the Barlow Train Shed at St Pancras Station.
Despite improving the property Francis Beresford Wright lost interest in Aldercar Hall and made Wootton Court in Warwickshire the family home in 1882.
The following year an advertisement appeared in The Times announcing the pending sale of the Aldercar Hall estate.¹
“The Aldercar-Hall Estate, Derbyshire, on the Midland and Great Northern Railways, within a drive of the beautiful scenery of Matlock, 12 miles from the county town, a like distance from Nottingham, and three hours’ journey from London. A charming Residential Freehold Estate of about 300 acres, formerly one of the Parks of the Ancient Castle of the Peverils. The mansion, placed on a commanding eminence, approached from the high road through an avenue of chestnut trees, stands in the midst of a beautifully timbered demesne of fine undulating lands, the pleasure grounds on the south side being skirted by an ornamental lake with islands and a wilderness. It is entered from the avenue through a handsome old gateway, into a quadrangular court, and contains a spacious entrance hall with broad staircase, handsome drawing room with large bay window, dining room, library, billiard room opening into a pretty conservatory, eight principal bed rooms and two dressing rooms, bath room, school room, day and night nurseries, and seven secondary bed rooms, housemaid’s closet, two men’s rooms, &c. The domestic offices are excellent and fitted with every modern convenience; a dairy, with marble fountain; soft water cisterns, with force pump, and spring water, conveyed by gravitation from a spring on the hill, supply the hall and premises, and hot water and gas are laid on throughout. The stabling comprises six loose boxes, two stalls, two coach-houses, saddle and harness rooms, with chambers over. A terraced-garden court, laid out in the Italian style, with coloured gravels and fountain, with terraced rosery below, and on a lower terrace, enclosed by handsome box and yew hedges, is the tennis court, with beautiful walks down to the ornamental water and wilderness. There is an asphalte tennis court, also pretty rookeries, caverns and arbours. The lake, about two acres in extent, with islands connected by a rustic bridge, is a delightful object from the house. There is an aviary, three orchard houses, palm-house, vineries, &c. The Home Farm, with superior buildings, yards, &c., with 40 acres of grass land, adjoins the Hall; and Park Farm, of about 175 acres of grass and 60 of arable, in a high state of cultivation, with superior residence, a range of model farmbuildings, cottages, engine-house, &c., is most perfect and remunerative.”
The reserve price was never met and the auctioneer purchased Aldercar Hall on behalf of the Wright family for £10,000.
It would appear that the house never left the family and by 1888 it was being leased or rented to Mr Frank Adams M.A. as a boys’ preparatory school. The school remained there until 1891 before relocating to Wellingore Hall, near Grantham. However, Aldercar Hall continued as a preparatory school, under the control of Mr E.H. Nicholls and Mr L.W. Compton, until around 1895.
By 1898 Aldercar Hall was once again a Wright family home.
Now it belonged to Arthur Fitzherbert Wright (1865-1952), son of Francis Beresford Wright, who remained there until 1927. He left Aldercar Hall and moved to the family seat at Wootton Court until his own death in 1952.
The house was reported to be unoccupied by 1930 and is understood to have remained so until the 1960s when demolition seemed the only viable option.