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Last update, April 2017



On 14th June over 50 members made their own way to Middleton Hall where we were shown around the House by members of the Middleton Hall Trust, which was formed in 1980. Then the Hall had been unlived in and neglected for over 20 years and was in total disrepair and was in danger of being pulled down, if it did not fall down first! A very sad end to a delightful collection of buildings, that dating from 1285 to 1824 and were Listed II*.

The Hall passed into the possession of the Willoughby family through marriage in 1435 and underwent various changes and periods of rebuilding until sold by the family in 1924, just before the sale of Wollaton. By then it was occupied by tenants, the last Willoughby to be born there was Thomas, who went on to be created a Baron in 1711, and took the name of his birthplace for his title. He also erected an enormous monument to his father, Sir Francis (the Naturalist, see below) in the local Church.

The Trust has done some impressive work, not least restoring the Tudor Hall (see article on the Old Wollaton Hall), which dates from 1530 and had been subject to many “make overs” during the 19th century, and like many of the older buildings, had been rendered to make them fit in with the later Georgian additions.

All the Trust’s work is done by volunteers with such money as they can raise. We felt so impressed that, apart from our gate money, we gave them a donation of £100. We enjoyed lunch either in the Teahouse, or the gardens, before being swamped by torrential rain.

It was nevertheless a lovely day out and worth repeating, though next year we will hopefully be going to Birdsall Hall, the Middle ton’s home in Yorkshire.

(Photos: The Entrance over the moat: inside the Stone Building: 18th century West Front: Members in the Great Hall,

and shop.



Weston Gallery, Lakeside Arts, University Park to Sunday 4 December 16

Sir Francis Willughby (that is how he signed his name) was born at Middleton Hall in 1635. He was the great grandson of his namesake who built Wollaton Hall (though at this time the Hall was unoccupied having been damaged by fire in 1643 and remained so, until restored in 1687). So Sir Francis lived at Middleton, going to Cambridge where he studied the Liberal Arts. Whilst there he met John Ray with whom he shared an interest in botany and zoology.

Together they travelled widely in Britain and on the continent collecting specimens. In 1665, following the death of his father he returned to Middleton. He married two years later and had three children, before his untimely death at the age of only 36. In his will he left £60 a year to John Ray so that he could remain at Middleton and tutor his children. Ray also edited Francis’s papers and published Ornithologia (about birds) in 1676 and Historia Piscium (about fishes) in 1686. The apartments occupied by Ray at Middleton still survive. (see above, with the Stone Building on the right).

This exhibition includes many of Francis’s collection of birds, plant and fish illustrations and of plant specimens, now over 350 years old, which form part of the Middleton Papers held at the University. The exhibition is well worth a visit, before it closes in December.

THE PROPOSED “PAVILION CAFÉ” BY THE ADVENTURE PLAYGROUNDMany of you may have seen the plans to convert the Pavilion into a new Café. The Pavilion was rebuilt not long ago as changing rooms for the former football pitches. It replaced an earlier hut, which was one of several hundred built in the Park, initially to house Italian prisoners of war in 1940,  subsequently as a base for US Forces before the Normandy Landings in 1944 and finally as a camp for German POW’s until 1948.

Clearly a Café and Lavatory Facilities near the Adventure Playground would be well used and the Society has accordingly supported the Council’s plans. These include upgrading the building and adding a large veranda for outside seating. However we feel that the provision of only one lavatory will be far from adequate, especially in the summer, and that the Café is too small, there being room for only 20 seats inside, which may make it unviable.

The project involves spending £120,000. Some funding has already been obtained by the Council, who are now seeking additional external funding in the hope that this new facility will be open by next year. We will keep you updated.

You may also be delighted to know that Wollaton Park has now been awarded a “Green Flag”. This basically means that is now meeting various national requirements and standards in relation to the management of the Park and access to it by the public. Congratulations!


We know that there was a Hall in Wollaton before Sir Francis Willoughby built the present Wollaton Hall between 1580 and 1588. However no one knows exactly where it was, how big it was, what it looked like, or in what materials it was built, because there are no pictures, prints or plans


Above: The 1863 Survey Plan of the Village. The Dovecote is just above the word “Wollaton”. (120) marks the yard behind the Rodney, with barn and piggeries to the north. (121) is The Rectory with garden surrounded by a ha-ha. Might this follow the line of medieval wall or ditch? (290) is the Church.                                             

Below: A modern Google Earth map showing the Church & Old Rectory and the area to the Northup to Rectory Avenue, all possibly the site of the Old Hall Complex.

In 1702, Cassandra Willoughby wrote a history of the Willoughby Family. She had come to Wollaton a few years earlier with her brother Thomas, who restored the present Hall and was subsequently ennobled as the first Lord Middleton. By then all trace of the Old Hall had effectively disappeared. She wrote that “the old hall was built near the church”, information that she might well have got from people then living because it was still being used in 1637. Then an estate census refers to “ye ould hall” being occupied by seven families, comprising 25 people. It must have been demolished by 1671 for there is an entry in the records that year, that shows £1 17 10d was paid out “for digging stones at the foundation of the old hall”.

We are fortunate that a number of the Willoughby household accounts and documents have survived, including two important inventories. The first dated 1550, lists, by name, all 36 rooms in the old Hall. It was probably drawn up on the death of either Sir Francis’s Father or Grandfather (Sir John), who died within months of each other in 1550, when Francis was only two years old. It makes reference to “the Chambre next to the Gate” and “the next Chambre to hit towards the Churche”, which seems to confirm Cassandra’s conclusion that it was built very close to the Church. The second Inventory is dated 1585, which would have been made as the present Wollaton Hall was nearing completion.

Above: The Church with the (old) Rectory to the right circa 1910, on the highest part of the village. Below, right: The Chantry used in the 1570’s as additional accommodation to the old Hall and Bottom: The Tudor Hall at Middleton 1530

It is by no means unusual for the Manor House and Church to be in close proximity. Both would be located on the highest point of the Village which this is, as anyone who has walked up Church Hill (Wollaton Rd) will readily appreciate! The original Manor House, or Hall, which may have dated back to the Conquest, would in all probability have been located here, on this high ground possibly defended, at some time, by a wall or palisade and perhaps a ditch.

Although the Willoughbys had acquired the Wollaton Estate in 1319 they appear to have continued to live at Willoughby on the Wolds until about 1460 when Sir Richard (who is the first member of the family to be buried at Wollaton) moved here. The reason he did so was coal. It was then providing a considerable income, sufficient to enable him, to carry out substantial rebuilding of the medieval house and probably enclosing the land to the east and north to form a new park (which was the north of the existing Park).

We know that Sir Richard was building cottages in stone. He built the Chantry, the surviving stone cottage opposite the Church, which was being used in the 1570’s as additional accommodation for the old Hall. It seems highly likely that he would be using the same materials in the extension or rebuilding of the House. The 1550 Inventory refers to “The Stone Parlour”, which may have been built about this time.

His successor, Sir Henry, inherited at the age of 21, in 1470. By 1493 he had 6 pits in operation and in 1498 his accounts show they were providing him with an annual income of £746.A very substantial sum and ten times his income from the land itself, which was only £73. It is estimated that between1526 and 1548 these pits produced the between 6,000 to 10,000 tons of coal a year, a massive quantity.

Although an important courtier to Henry VII, and a soldier, one can imagine that Sir Henry, one of the richest men in the kingdom, spent as much time as he could at Wollaton, running his mines.

The lavish scale of his tomb in the Church suggests he liked to show off his wealth. He would surely have made substantial improvements to the old Hall. The Family had also acquired, by marriage, Middleton Hall in Warwickshire. Recent restoration of the fine Tudor Hall there has revealed that it was built in 1530. That would be two years after Sir Henry’s death. By then, he had been succeeded by his son, Sir John. Such fine timber framed buildings were very popular and we know that in 1480, King Edward IV had built his new Royal Apartments at Nottingham Castle in a similar style. It seems entirely logical to suspect that the Willoughbys might well have follow suit.

 On the other hand contemporary buildings, such as Hampton Court, were being built in brick in the early 1500’s. The fact that an ample supply of bricks was available to Sir Francis in 1565, when he built the Dovecote, suggests that this might also have been Sir Henry’s or Sir John’s material of choice.

The Tudor Hall at Middleton sits on a stone base. It is interesting to note that the present Admiral Rodney, though built in brick, sits on a similar stone base. In 1523 there is reference to a courtyard with both rear and “great gates” letting onto “the town” and the 1550 Inventory refers to “the Chambre over the Gate” and to “the Porters Lodge”. Could it be that the Admiral Rodney now stands on the base of a timber framed building that once formed the gatehouse to, or was part of, the old Hall?

Above: The Tudor Hall on its stone base.                 

 Below: The stone base of the Admiral Rodney. Was it originally for a similar timber framed building?

We know from the inventories, that what we call the “old Hall” would have been a very substantial building providing not only accommodation for the Willoughby Family, with room to entertain and house their important guests and their servants (they had over 30 household servants in1594). It also included a very substantial farm complex. We can only conjecture at the full extent of this complex when Sir Francis came into his inheritance in 1564. All we can say is that it probably extended northwards, from the Church up to Rectory Avenue (formerly Pig Lane and the location of the piggeries) and eastwards, from the Rodney to the Old Rectory. The House itself might have comprised building round one or more courtyards. We know it had service quarters, “Buttery, Kychen and Larder House, Backhouse (bakehouse) and the new Stoore House”.

There were the at least 10 personal rooms, some with smaller rooms attached, often named after their most recent occupant, such as “My Ladye Fitzhughes Chambre”, and there was also “The Sycke Folkes Chambre” (which contained only one bed!). There was the “Chappell” and what we might call public rooms, including the “Dyning Chambre” where the family would have dined and the, probably larger, Chambre next to it (probably the hall) where the servants and others would have eaten and the Family entertained. There was a “Gallerye” and two parlours, one being the “Stone Parlour”. There was also an “Armerye” on two floors. This contained the equipment needed to arm the tenants to form the Masters retinue when he was required by the King to go on campaign, or to put down local uprisings. Reference to “the Garrett” may indicate that there was possibly a third floor.

The farm building included two stables, one for the Master and one for the carters. Some idea of the size of these stables can be gathered from the will of Sir Henry Willoughby in 1528, where he refers to his “20 horses, mares, colts and fillies at Wullerton”. There were two Oxehouses, fattening oxen in one and draught oxen in another. The 1585 Inventory also refers to various barns, wheat and rye chambers a mill and mill house a brewhouse, washhouse and dairy house amongst numerous other buildings including the Dovecote. This is, now, probably the only building to survive from the old Hall complex.

Above: Churchside Cottages. This building might originally have been a barn and  on the site of an earlier barn that blew down in 1680.           

Below: Dairy Cottage on Trowell Road. Might this be the Dairy to the old Hall?        

Below: an Edwardian Lady struggles up Church Hill. On the right the stone wall.

 Cassandra wrote, in 1702, that “what now remains” of the old hall “is turned into three or four farm houses, of which one is about a quarter of a mile from the rest, which was the dairy house to the old hall”. Might this be a reference to “Dairy Cottage” on Trowell Road, or a previous building on the same site? Cassandra also refers to a barn, “betwixt the old Hall court and the church yard” which had blown down in 1680. This barn may have been rebuilt in brick and it is possible that it was subsequently converted to become cottages (Churchside Cottages) that now stand between the Church and the Admiral Rodney.  (These, and many other questions posed in this article, may be resolved once the “Cottages Survey” has been completed.)

Whatever the old Hall looked like, one can well imagine that, like Middleton Hall, it contained buildings of different styles, built over a long period and no doubt appeared something of a jumble. Add to that the close proximity of a farm with its attendant smells and noises; it was not a place suitable for an aspiring and wealthy young man, with a new and difficult wife. Even more importantly, it was not a place suitable to impress and entertain the Queen.

She had visited him at Middleton in 1575, as she passed, but he probably hoped that if he was to lavishly entertain her, and the court, for several days, it might have increased his chances of being raised to the peerage.

So Sir Francis set about building his new Hall on a nearby hill, surrounded by a new Park, away from the farmyard, stables and associated smells! Here were grand new apartments all containing more than one room behind a grand edifice in an entirely new style. A palace suitable for a Queen! It was however, only after Sir Francis’s death that another Queen visited, and these apartments acquired the grand names they deserved, The Queens, The Princes and The Dukes Chambers, that appear in the 1609 Inventory.

The old Hall remained in use after 1588, sometimes used by Sir Francis to entertain his numerous guests and their retinues, who had come to admire his new Hall, or to accommodate their servants.

In 1934 Peter Radford acquired the old Rectory and during building works discovered that the foundations were of old stone, though he thought they were more likely the foundations of an earlier rectory, which had  burnt down, rather than of the old Hall. He did however discover a large well which was 32 feet deep, only 8 feet from his front door! Possibly one of the wells for the old Hall.

It is sometimes supposed that the wall beside the Church, running down Church Hill, is built with stones from the old Hall. That may be right, though they all appear of uniform size and without any signs of having formed part of a building. What may be a more significant find, are roof timbers seen in the cottages on the south side of the Square. It is possible that these may have come from the old Hall, when it was demolished. Dendrochronology may soon give us an answer to this and many other interesting questions.

(Sources: The First Wollaton Hall by J.H.Hodson TTS 1968,  Sir Henry Willoughby of Wollaton by A.C.Cameron TTS 1970,  Middleton Hall-The History Guide2015, HMC Middleton Papers.)



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