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I have very little to say about the town of Gainsborough just over the border in Lincolnshire, poor souls. The town is a valuable strategic site controlling the crossing of the River Trent. I have passed through it very many times but it has never struck me as an interesting let alone a great place to visit except for the jewel in its crown Gainsborough Old Hall.

Gainsborough Old Hall

Gainsborough Old Hall is a timber-framed Medieval manor house more than five hundred years old. It was built between 1465 and 1480 by Sir Thomas Burgh on the site of an older house demolished in 1470 during the Wars of the Roses. It is recorded that Richard III was entertained there in 1483. Henry VIII and his court were the guests of Thomas, the third Lord Burgh in 1541. Believe me in its day it was state of the art, top of the trees power building for a powerful and wealthy man.

Gainsborough Old Hall
Gainsborough Old Hall

The Burgh family whose name I have also found spelled Borow, Brough and Borough owned the Hall until 1596. There were many prominent members of the Burgh family, trusted servants at the courts of Henry VII and Henry VIII. Edward Burgh was the first husband of Catherine Parr who later became Henry VIII's sixth wife. Thomas Lord Burgh was a loyal servant to Queen Elizabeth and spent many years abroad in her service. He was appointed Lord Deputy for Ireland in 1596 but died the following year. Service to the Queen had been costly to the family and they were in financial straits when the sold the hall to the Hickman family in 1596.

The Hickman family, who were successful merchants, made some improvements to the hall but did not alter its essential Medieval structure. Rose Hickman and her son William offered support to John Smyth and the Separatist congregation at Gainsborough from 1603 to 1606 when they emigrated to Leyden in Holland to find religious freedom. Members of this congregation became the Pilgrim Fathers who sailed to America on the Mayflower in 1621. Despite this William Hickman was knighted in 1603 and when he died in 1625 his probate inventory shows that the Hall was the centre of a busy farming estate.

In 1643 during the Civil War Willoughby Hickman was created Baron Gainsborough. That was the year in which much of the town was destroyed during the Battle of Gainsborough. He was later fined £1000 by Parliament for his royalist support, but the fine was reduced because his income had dropped during the war. Successive Hickmans were Members of Parliament and prominent in the development of Gainsborough. In 1720 the family moved to a large new house at Thonock and the Hall was rented out.

The Methodist preacher John Wesley preached here in 1759 and 1786. By that time the last Baron had died without sons and the Hall was becoming much neglected. The building was variously used as a coarse linen mill, theatre and dissenter's chapel. Parts were divided into tenements said to be inhabited rent-free (presumably because of the appalling condition).

In the mid 1840s the Hall was repaired by Sir Hickman Becket Bacon with much use of cast iron. Parts were later used a ballroom, meeting rooms for the choral society and other groups.In the First World War it was used as a furniture store.

In 1949 a voluntary group, the Friends of the Old Hall was formed to raise money to save the Hall. They did much of the restoration work themselves. In 1970 Sir Edmund Bacon gave the Old Hall to the nation when it became the responsibility of the Department of the Environment. In 1977 Lincolnshire County council assumed responsibility for the day to day running of the Hall.

Gainsborough Old Hall besides being a museum still plays a central role in the life of Gainsborough being used for meetings and social gatherings as well historic re-enactments and workshops. There is a programme of exhibitions and fairs throughout the year.

An odd, cobbled-together old house, draughty and inconvenient but without doubt my favourite old building.


Open Mon - Sat 10am - 5pm, Sun from Easter to October 2 - 5.30pm.
Car Stockg in public car parks in town, café and gift shop. A varied programme of events e.g. costume weekends, Medieval crafts.

Address:- Gainsborough Old Hall, Parnell Street, Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, DN21 2NB. Tel. 01427 612669 Fax. 01427 612779. Website www.lincolnshire.gov.uk/gainsborougholdhall.

For more information about Gainsborough Old Hall visit gainsborougholdhall.freewebspace.com.

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