GAINSBOROUGH OLD HALL, Lincolnshire
ainsborough Old Hall is a lady-of-the-manor’s dream house! It is one of the best-preserved timber-framed manor houses in England. At its center is a magnificent and enormous high-ceilinged great hall. It is also unusual in having an extraordinarily well-preserved example of a large and well-appointed kitchen.
The house seen today replaced an earlier manor house, inherited by Thomas Borrough (or Burgh) in 1455. Thomas immediately began building a new, more modern and more prestigious home for his family. It is clear that a great deal of planning, as well as a great deal of money, went into the construction of Gainsborough Old Hall.
First to be built were the imposing great hall and capacious kitchen, soon followed by the east wing with its parlors and chambers. The west wing was added about ten years later in 1470. It had three floors of bedchambers with the great luxury of a fireplace and a privy for each room. A brick tower and exterior brick cladding were added in the 1480s. The hall, which today sits in the middle of the bustling town of Gainsborough, was originally surrounded by orchards and a deer park.
During the time the hall was occupied by the Borrough/Burgh family, two royal visitors came to call. It is believed that Richard III spent the night at Gainsborough in 1483 while on his way from York to London. Even though honored by the presence of the king as his guest, Thomas Borrough gave his support to Henry Tudor when he invaded England, overthrew Richard and took the crown as Henry VII.
The second Tudor king, Henry VIII, was the second royal visitor. He was in Gainsborough in August 1541 to attend meetings of the Privy Council taking place there. Henry, who traveled north with his short-lived fifth queen Katherine Howard, most likely would have stayed with the area’s most prominent resident, in its most capacious house (and with a kitchen capable of providing large quantities of excellent food).
Gainsborough Old Hall also has connections with Katherine Parr, a future Queen of England. Katherine’s first marriage was to Edward Borough, oldest son of Sir Thomas. She was married in the spring of 1529 when she was almost 17 years old and went to live in her husband’s family home. After about two years, Katherine and her husband set up an independent household. By early spring 1533, Katherine’s young husband was dead.
Katherine made three more marriages. Her most prestigious was made on 12 July 1543, when she became Henry VIII’s sixth (and last) wife.
Gainsborough Old Hall’s later history connects it to some distinctly unregal history. The hall was purchased in 1596 by the Hickman family. The Hickmans had connections to the religious Separatists of the early 17th century and allowed illegal prayer meetings to be held in the hall. Some of the Separatists who later were among the founders of Plymouth Colony (Massachusetts, USA), and who were distinctly disappointed with the religious views of Elizabeth I’s successor James of Scotland, may well have found their way to Gainsborough.