Until about 1600 halls were large official rooms rather than private spaces. Gainsborough Old Hall is the advent for December 2nd. It’s a wonderful building constructed from timber frame and brick. It was built by Thomas Burgh who inherited the manor of Gainsborough in 1455 – so just as the Wars of the Roses was kicking off. Thomas’s father had done rather well from the Hundred Years War and had married into the Percy family to improve their social standing. It was his marriage into the Party family that bought Gainsborough into the Burgh’s possession.
Historians believe that the hall and kitchen were built first from timber in the traditional manner with a cruck frame and wattle and daub. The brick was added later when the Burgh family wanted new ways of showing off their wealth. The great hall is constructed from huge oak beams. Originally there would have been a central fire. The smoke escaped through a louvred frame in the roof – so more kippering. The raised dais where the lord and his family sat was at the opposite end of the room from the cooking and service areas which were accessed through three doors. Evidence of the screen hiding these doors can still be seen in the wall above the door frames.
Thomas was a Yorkist so found that his position in society was further established. He became Sheriff of Lincoln as well as one of the Esquires to the Body of Edward IV. He celebrated his new position by marrying a wealthy widow.
Thomas continued to be loyal to Edward in 1469 when the Earl of Warwick rebelled against Edward’s lordship and then during the so-called Re-Adaptation of Henry VI. In fact it was Thomas who was one of the Yorkists who helped Edward escape his foes in 1471.
Richard III visited the hall on the way from York to London on October 10th 1483. The owner of the time Sir Thomas Burgh was the same chap who’d commissioned the building in the first place and who had demonstrated his loyalty to the Yorkist cause throughout the period. A week previously Henry Tudor had attempted to sail from Brittany with a fleet to invade at his mother’s behest. He was forced to turn back leaving the duke of Buckingham to rise in rebellion agains this former friend Richard III. Buckingham would be executed in Salisbury at the beginning of November and Edward V’s coronation postponed for the last time.
However, something went seriously awry between the House of York and the Burgh family because Thomas turned his coat and by 1485 was a supporter of Henry Tudor. As a result of his support of the Tudors, Thomas was elevated once again becoming Baron Gainsborough.
Sir Thomas’s heir, Edward was loyal to the Tudors as well but suffered from inherited mental health problems meaning that a younger son also called Thomas became the head of the family. This particular Lord Burgh was Anne Boleyn’s chamberlain and sat as part of the jury at her trial. His son, another Edward, was Katherine Parr’s first husband. They married in 1529 but by 1533 he was dead.
Henry VIII visited the hall with wife number five- the ill fated Katherine Howard.
It’s unusual to find an untampered medieval hall simply because later owners added extensions and made alterations to suit their own needs. I must admit that I rather liked the Henry VIII and his wife dolls scattered around the hall – a couple of whom are pictured here and its not often you can trot around corridors that cover such a fascinating period of history from start to finish.