Gainsborough Old Hall is a well preserved 500 year old medieval manor house. One of the most complete in England, it was built by Sir Thomas Burgh c1460. The family was both wealthy and powerful, and Gainsborough was only one of their homes. The Burgh family had to sell Gainsborough Old Hall in 1596, having fallen on hard times. The new owners were the Hickman family who kept possession until 1720. They put in new windows and brick-cladded some of the timber framing. In 1760 the hall was used as a coarse linen factory, then a theatre. In the 1800s the town used the east wing for a ballroom and meeting place.
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The mostly timber-framed building, with its two wings, has changed little over the centuries. The kitchens with the servery, pantry, and buttery have remained almost intact from medieval times. Some of the kitchen brickwork was added at a later date. There are two large open fireplaces. A wooden pulley which turned a spit and two bread ovens can be seen. Store rooms were located in the kitchen corners. Above the kitchen were servantsí sleeping quarters.
A three floor brick tower on the north-east corner provides a 59 step climb to the top with views over the town of Gainsborough. It was used for private apartments.
Another interesting statistic is that the hall had 16 garderobes. A room on an upper floor at the west end of the great hall was used as a private quarter. Another such area was a solar for the family. A cellar reached by stone steps lies beneath the former parlour (now a modern kitchen). An oak panelled room has a decorative frieze around the top along with two pilasters beside the fireplaceóthese are 17th century additions. A lower inner chamber has wall paintings.
The east wing of the building forms one side of the courtyard and was built a few years after the original great hall. It held state and private rooms. On the first floor was the upper great chamber with some Victorian alterations. The bay windows date from late Elizabethan times. Bricks were placed over the timber at this time.
A wooden spiral staircase joined the great hall with the east wing and solar. This section of the hall has three gable roofs. Look for the Burgh mailed fist emblem between two of the gables. The west wing of the building was taken down to the timber frame for much needed repair work in 1982. It has four timber-framed bays. Its four suites were used as accommodation for household members and visitors. This wing of the building has a dozen fireplaces and garderobes.
The great hall, used for entertaining, has a high arched roof and six bays. The roof trusses are from naturally curved oak. Note the stone bay window that lets light into the hall. Although the hall did not have a chimney it had a turret in the roof above a central hearth. There would have been a wooden screen at one end of the hall where a cross passage led to the courtyard and the grounds.
The great hall was the scene of two banquets for kings, one for Richard III and another for Henry VIII. Other famous visitors to the building include John Wesley, the founder of Methodism who preached here in 1759 and 1784 and the pilgrims who sailed on the Mayflower to the New World. They worshiped here before their trip.
Gainsborough Old Hall
Parnell St, Gainsborough, Lincolnshire
Tel. 0 1427 612 669
Open: April-end Oct, daily, 10am-5pm; Nov-mid Dec, Mon-Sat, 10am-4pm; Jan-end Feb, Mon-Sat, 10am-4pm; closed last two weeks Dec and month March
English Heritage and Lincolnshire County Council joint property; audio guide; special events
Photos © by Barbara Ballard