Nunnington Hall in Ryedale is built on land originally owned by St Mary’s Abbey in York. The hall is fifteenth and sixteenth century in origin –so no medieval links to feasting or law should you pause a while in the double height hallway with its baronial fireplace but its perhaps unsurprising to discover that there was a building here in the thirteenth century.
The history of Nunnington’s owners is lively. It passed into the Parr family when Maud Green married Sir Thomas Parr of Kendal. As the elder of the two co-heresses it was Maud who acquired Nunnington. Maud died in 1532. Her son William inherited the property but unfortunately for him the then Marquess of Northampton became involved in Wyatt’s Rebellion of 1553. The bid to replace mary Tudor with Lady Jane Grey failed. Jane had not plotted but her father the duke of Suffolk had become involved. He, his daughter and his son-in-law were promptly executed. Parr was fortunate to suffer only attainder. Nunnington was forfeit to the Crown.
Nunnington was leased out to various families including Elizabeth I’s physician but in 1655, after the English Civil War, the manor was sold to Ranald Graham. He was succeeded by his nephew Sir Richard Graham of Netherby in Cumbria. He was made Viscount Preston and Baron Esk in 1681. He would also marry into the Howard family when he married the daughter of the earl of Carlisle. He served under Charles II and James II. He even did a turn as English ambassador in France. In 1689 his luck turned when he sided with James II rather than William of Orange and James’ daughter Mary. Graham was captured on his way across the Channel. Even as his escape vessel was boarded he made every attempt to destroy incriminating documents. He was attainted and sentenced to death in 1691. The sentence was never carried out because Queen Mary spared him when his daughter Catherine pleaded for his life- it may also have helped that he did turn evidence against his fellow conspirators- but his lands were parcelled out to, amongst others, the earl of Carlisle. It was just as well that it had all been kept in the family because Richard was allowed home and his son Edward eventually inherited Graham’s estate although it was his daughter Catherine by then Lady Widdrington who ultimately inherited Nunnington when her nephew Charles died – the names give an indication of continued Graham loyalty to the Stuart cause…though how the Jacobites felt about Lord Preston giving evidence against them is another matter entirely.
The Graham family maintained their loyalty to the Jacobite cause particularly Richard’s daughter Catherine. Even today if you visit the house you can see a ring which contains a lock of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s hair, an Order of the Garter and blue garter ribbon belonging to Prince Charles Edward Stuart and fragments of Jacobite plaid.
The symbolism of the Jacobite cause is hard to ignore and in additon to drinking toasts to the king over the water it turns out that some families advertised their loyalty to the cause by planting Scots’ pine in a prominent position. There is one at Nunnington. There is even a notebook discovered in 2011 filled with cipher which is still unexplained made by Graham and hidden under the floorboards.
So there is the Bonnie Prince Charlie link and now for the second of the ghost stories:
It is said that one of Nunnington’s squires being a widower with a young son remarried. The new wife quickly provided a second son for the squire and when the squire died she set about ensuring that her son inherited rather than his elder half-brother.
At first the woman locked her step-son in an attic where he was ill clothed and poorly fed. Orders were given that no one was to have anything to do with the boy. The only person who dared to defy this order was the boy’s younger half-brother. He would take toys, clothes and food up to the attics and spend time there. However, one day he made his accustomed climb up the stairs to find the room deserted and no sign of what had become of the older boy.
It was suggested by some that he had either been sent to sea or run away to sea. Less kind folk hinted that the boy’s step- mother had murdered the lad.
The little boy now inherited Nunnington but he was devastated by the disappearance of his brother and believed that the boy would return. One day he thought he heard his brother, leant to far out of the window and fell to his death. The boy’s mother took to sitting in the panelled room where her son had fallen and it wasn’t long before she too died. It is said that the sound a a rustling silk gown can be heard as the woman searches for ever for her own dead boy.
I’d have to admit that Nunnington Hall is a tad on the draughty side but I spend rather more time trying to photograph the peahen’s chicks than stalk ghosts.
‘Parishes: Nunnington’, in A History of the County of York North Riding: Volume 1, ed. William Page (London, 1914), pp. 544-548. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/north/vol1/pp544-548 [accessed 17 December 2017].
Material Culture and Sedition, 1688-1760: Treacherous Objects, Secret Places
By M. Pittock