February 2018

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19th February

 

A couple of weeks ago Hubcap and I got chance to go somewhere I hadn't been for decades: glorious Gainsborough Old Hall in Lincolnshire. This spectacular building dates to the 1460s, when it was built for Thomas Burgh II - a prominent figure in 15th century politics and esquire of the Body to King Edward IV - and it's quite odd to think of it being created during a turbulent decade when Wars of the Roses battles were being fought in the north of England, and Edward was actively seeking to capture the fugitive deposed king, Henry VI. Nonetheless, life went on much as normal for many people, including the builders, artisans and craftsmen whose labour can still be seen to such wonderful effect today; and the splendour of the Hall, built largely in brick, (then a very expensive material), with a crenellated tower more for show than for defence, is a powerful reflection of Thomas Burgh's wealth and status.

 

Gainsborough Old Hall's long history is somewhat chequered. The Burghs were an

important family during the 15th and 16th centuries, and their home was visited by King Richard III in October 1483, and by King Henry VIII and his ill-fated young Queen Katherine Howard in 1541. It remained in the Burgh's family until 1596, when the near-bankrupt Thomas Burgh IV was obliged to sell it to a successful merchant, William Hickman. It then remained in the Hickman-Bacon family, albeit in a state of increasing delapidation, until 1971 when it was gifted to the nation by Sir Edmund Castell Bacon, and is now owned by English Heritage and managed by Lincolnshire County Council. Fortunately, an energetic Friends group formed to preserve the Hall, fund-raise for major repairs and turn it into a museum, and it is now in excellent condition both inside and out, with some superbly recreated period room settings, like the buttery, Panelled Room, and game pantry you can see below (left to right), and a delightful knot-garden (far right). It also has a nice gift shop and cafe, which we found a real boon on a chilly February afternoon; the display rooms are unheated, which is great for the preservation of the building fabric and historic furnishings, but not so great for visitors unless you're very well wrapped up - by the time we'd walked round it all we were absolutely perished and very glad to sit down next to a radiator and wrap ourselves round a pot of Earl Grey! But despite the cold we really enjoyed our visit to the Old Hall; it was well worth the £8.50 admission fee, (free to English Heritage members) and we'd like to come back in the summer for a more leisurely amble around and to see the gardens in full flower. Highly recommended!

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