Royal links and gentlemen farmers in Lincolnshire

A short time ago I was asked to research the history of this striking 17th century house in Lincolnshire. Despite being tucked away in a quiet village in rural Lincolnshire, this house has a number of connections to prominent historic figures and events, including two wives of King Henry VIII and the Putney Debates during the Civil War.

St Benedicts Priory
Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk by Hans Holbein, 1539

The house is situated on the historic site of the former 12th century Benedictine priory, established in 1139, as part of Thorney Abbey in Cambridgeshire. However, in 1539, it suffered the same fate as the Abbey and was reclaimed under Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. In 1540, the lands and buildings were given to Tudor politician, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, who was also the uncle of two of Henry VIII’s wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.

However, by the early 17th century, the manor of Deeping St James was in the hands of the Wymondsold family and it was at this time that a new house, first known as Priory farmhouse, was constructed using original stonework from the demolished 12th century priory buildings. The Wymonsold family, also of Putney (now south west London) and Berkshire, are believed to have been responsible for building the priory farmhouse. Several 17th century deeds confirm the Wymondsold ownership of the manor of Deeping St James, ‘late called the cell of Thorney otherwise called the late priory of Deeping St James’, which included the priory farmhouse.

General Thomas Fairfax by Robert Walker

William Wymondsold was High Sheriff of Putney at a pivotal moment in history, during the Civil War, and at the time of the Putney Debates, held at St Mary’s Church in Putney in 1647. The Debates were held between members of Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army, including Oliver Cromwell, Henry Ireton, and Sir Thomas Fairfax, and other politicians and soldiers to discuss the future of England and pivotal constitutional questions, including the rights of men and freedom of speech. At this time, it has been recorded that the Parliamentary Commander Sir Thomas Fairfax, was billeted at the home of William Wymondsold (the largest house in Putney – formerly located on the site of Putney train station).

After the Restoration of the Monarchy, several members of the Wymondsold family were noted Royalists and were favoured by a succession of monarchs. Charles II was said to have favoured Sir Dawes Wymondsold, and during the 1660s and 1670s William Wymondsold was recorded as a ‘Royal Ayd unto the King’ (‘Ayd’ being in the form of finance), and in 1684, King James II knighted Robert Wymondsold.

Meanwhile, life was continuing at the Priory Farmhouse in Deeping St James. By the early 18th century, the manor of Deeping St James had passed to the Whichcote family. They were a prominent local family, who were later based in Aswarby Hall near Sleaford (now demolished). By 1776, the manor was held by Sir Christopher Whichcote, and a surviving rent receipt reveals the occupant of the priory farmhouse was Mr John Pawlett.

Rent receipt for Priory Farm – 1776

Rent books and further records reveal John Pawlett was living at Priory Farmhouse, while farming over 400 acres of surrounding land. John Pawlett was also actively involved in the local community and was recorded as an acting vestryman (early council member) and was an overseer of the poor, responsible for distributing poor relief to those in need within the parish. John’s son, also named John, followed his father at Priory Farmhouse, and also in his involvement in community affairs and later, during the 1840s, he became chief constable of Deeping St James.

The Pawlett family continued at the Priory Farmhouse throughout the 19th century, when it was recorded with several names, including ‘Priory House’ and ‘The Priory’. The 1851 census reveals John Pawlett, junior, with his wife Elizabeth, living at ‘Priory House’ and John was farming ‘250 acres and employing 6 labourers outdoors’ and in addition, their son, Edmund, was also farming ‘400 acres and employing 15 labourers outdoors’. The family also had three live-in servants.

1851 census – Priory House

Edmund Pawlett followed his father at Priory House and by the time of the 1871 census he was farming 800 acres and employing 20 men and seven boys. Edmund Pawlett did not marry and the 1881 census shows he was still living at ‘The Priory’, 66 years old, and by this time he was farming and enormous area of ‘2900 acres and employing 40 men and boys’.

1881 census – The Priory

Like his father and grandfather before him, Edmund Pawlett played a key role in the life of the local community and, along with providing employment for many local men, he was involved in the formation of the school board in 1876, on which he continued to serve into the 1880s. Edmund passed away in 1885 and for the first time in over 100 years the house became the home of a different family and it passed to farmer, Richard Ward.

Ordnance Survey map – 1886

Richard Ward and his son, Albert, continued to farm at ‘The Priory’ through to the early 20th century, but by the 1920s the impact of the First World War, along with changes in the ownership of the farm and house, brought about several changes. By the 1950s it had passed through several owners and, in 1959, it  was sold again and became the home of Mrs Doris Hall. Mrs Hall continued at the Priory Farmhouse for almost 30 years and in 1987 she sold it to the Rickard family. By this time, the 17th century house was in much need of care and attention. The Rickard family set about restoring and renovating the house and its many historic features.

Now known as St Benedicts Priory, the Grade II* listed house has seen many alterations and changes, but it still retains a number of original features, including a dogleg staircase with turned balusters, as well as an original studded door, and moulded stone mullion windows. It also has a few features that give a glimpse of the former history and the association with the Benedictine priory.





When a king pops in for tea

In thinking about the next blog post I was inspired by the upcoming 90th birthday celebrations for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and I set my mind back through my earlier house histories searching for something with a royal link. However, sadly, I’ve never had the opportunity to research Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle, but I have researched a farm house in Nottinghamshire with a surprising link with King Edward VIII!

The Beeches (image courtesy of Chestertons)
The Beeches (image courtesy of Chestertons)

The Beeches is situated down a quiet country lane on the outskirts of Nottingham and was first built as a small cottage called Home Farm Cottage attached to the estate of the Manvers family of Holme Pierrepont. One of the earliest occupants was farmer, William Richards, recorded in the house at the time of a survey of the estate in 1803. His son, George, took over the cottage and farm during the 1820s, where he continued with his family through to the 1850s. The 1851 census reveals George Richards in the house, 69 years old, ‘cottager for 8 & 1/2 acres of land’, along with his wife Margaret and their granddaughter, 13 year old Ann.

1851 census - George and Margaret Richards
1851 census – George and Margaret Richards

George continued at The Beeches until he died at the age of 89 in 1871 when it passed to his son William and his wife Elizabeth. However, during the 1870s the Richards family left The Beeches, still known as Home Farm Cottage, and it became the home of dairy farmer, William Slack.

The map below shows Home Farm Cottage, today’s The Beeches, to the right of the lodge to Holme Pierrepont Hall as it was at the turn of the 20th century.

Ordnance survey map
Ordnance survey map, 1900

During the late 19th century, the 4th Earl Manvers set about renovating the small Home Farm Cottage, as well as adding additional farm buildings to house his herd of pedigree Shorthorn Cattle. In the early 1900s the house became the home of ‘cowman’, Christopher Dobson, along with his wife Hannah and their three children. The Dobson family continued at the house through the years of the First World War to 1918-19, but by the 1920s the house had become the home of William Shelton. Shelton became known as the gentleman farmer and is believed to have apparently worked in white gloves! It was at this time, during the 1920s, that the house was extended and its name changed from Home Farm Cottage to The Beeches.

King Edward VIII
King Edward VIII

It was also at this time that it is believed, the Prince of Wales, future King Edward VIII would pop in and visit The Beeches for a cup of tea. He would often visit Lamcote House (also owned by Earl Manvers) when he was visiting his mistress, Freda Dudley Ward.

Sheila Loughborough, Edward VIII, Freda Dudley Ward, and George VI

He would also visit Holme Pierrepont and it was during these visits that an old farmer recalls the prince visiting The Beeches!

At the onset of the Second World War, the Manvers Estate, which had been in financial trouble for some time, was placed on the market, including the ‘very attractive farm, formerly the Home Farm of the 4th Earl…and used by him for his world-renowned herd of Shorthorns…Together with a delightful house and model farm buildings’.

Still today, the house is situated in a quiet area on the outskirts of Nottingham, but despite its seemingly ‘simple’ history as a farmhouse, it is a fantastic example of a house that can have an unexpected history. It is uncertain how many times the Prince of Wales would pop into the kitchen of The Beeches and sit down for a cup of tea, but it is certainly a great story!

The Beeches
The Beeches