Gainsborough Old Hall is one of the country’s best-preserved medieval manor houses. It has a magnificent Great Hall at its center linking the East and West Ranges and boasts one of the best-preserved examples of a late medieval kitchen in England.
A charter of King Stephen (1135 – 1154) refers to a castle and a manor at Gainsborough. The earlier manor of Gainsborough is believed to have come to the noble Burgh family via the mother of Thomas, who later became known as the 1st Lord Burgh. Soon after Thomas Burgh inherited the manor in 1455 he began to build the new manor house now known to us as Gainsborough Old Hall.
Samples of timber from the Great Hall suggest the trees used in its construction were felled between 1454 and 1485 with a likely felling date around 1465 suggesting the current building dates from around the 1460’s. This and other evidence suggests that the kitchen and Great Hall were built first, shortly followed by the East Range. The West Range that stands today was probably constructed sometime after 1470 with later additions, such as the brick tower, completed in the 1480’s.
The walls of the original medieval building were constructed using a timber framework e.g. Great Hall and East Range but were later encased in brick as during this period brick was a statement of wealth and status. It is believed the manor was originally surrounded by orchards, hunting grounds and a mart yard, all belonging to the Burgh family.
The Hickman family bought the Hall in 1596 and lived there until 1720. Since then the Hall has been put to many different uses including a theatre, a pub, and a masonic temple. It was given to the nation in 1970 by the Bacons who are descendants of the Hickman family.
The East Range was built over two floors and housed the Burgh family’s private apartments, reception rooms, and rooms reserved for the most high-status guests. The long corridor which links the rooms of the East Range is unusual for a manor house of the late 1400’s and more often a feature of urban dwellings of this period. This long corridor has another story attached – a ghost story – which has led it to become more affectionately known as the “Ghost Corridor“
Sightings of the Grey Lady walking the Ghost Corridor have been part of local legend from before the Victorian era. Dressed in grey and in Tudor style, the grey lady walks the length of the corridor and turns right before the end to disappear through a wall. In the 1960’s the lath and plaster removed from this wall revealed a Tudor doorway – at the exact spot where the grey lady walks through the wall! Local legend says the Grey Lady is thought to be the daughter of the Lord of the Manor who fell in love with a poor soldier and planned to elope with him. Her father discovered the plan, locked her away in the tower where she died from a broken heart. Supposedly the girl’s spirit still wanders the tower and the corridor endlessly waiting for her lover to arrive.
I took it on myself to approach two lovely volunteers who were sewing some tapestry and asked them if they had heard anything or experienced anything untoward while they have been working at the hall.
I have not experienced anything odd while working here or indeed heard any tales of ghostly sightings
It’s not known whether these sightings have actually happened or whether it’s just a good old story
Two Family Dynasties
Two family dynasties helped to shape the history of Gainsborough Old Hall; The Burghs up until 1596 and the Hickman and Bacon families thereafter. During its occupation by the Burghs, the Hall received two royal visits. Richard III visited in 1483 and Henry VIII, together with his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, in 1541. The Hickman family also brought their fair share of interesting links. It is believed by many that William Hickman and his mother Rose offered support to the Separatist congregation. Some of these Separatists went on to form the group of Pilgrims who sailed for America on the Mayflower.