Say ‘Hello’ to Henry VIII at Gainsborough Old Hall

On Sunday we decided to take a short drive up to Gainsborough Old Hall. We’d noticed some events advertised for this weekend and despite having lived only 15 miles from Gainsborough for many years, we’d never visited this lovely old manor. So we thought it was time to change things. But before I delve into the exhibition we enjoyed this weekend, I’ll say a few words about the town of Gainsborough and the Old Hall in general.

The town of Gainsborough is situated in the West Lindsey region of the county of Lincolnshire and is 18 miles north-west of the city of Lincoln. At one time Gainsborough was an important port with trade downstream to Hull on the Humber estuary and, at 55 miles from the sea, was the most important inland port in England.

Gainsborough Old Hall was built by the Burgh family around 1460 and is one of the best preserved timber-framed late-medieval manor houses in the UK. It has a wonderful great hall, a strong brick tower, and the original medieval kitchen. Not to mention a ghost corridor. Both Richard III and Henry VIII stayed at the Old Hall. It was sold to the Hickman family in 1596. Today the Hall holds a variety of events and exhibitions and an award-winning schools’ education programme. On the day we visited there were two distinct attractions to enjoy, in addition to being able to look round this wonderful old building.

The site of this Hall is a little different to many other manors and stately homes we’ve visited, in that it’s in the middle of the town and therefore surrounded by streets and buildings. It also means that there is little in the way of grounds – although that would have been different centuries ago. So we headed into the grounds at the back of the Hall and stopped to glance at the information board:

 As we had twenty minutes to spare before opening time, we strolled around the outside taking a few photos here and there…

By the time we’d got round to the front, the hall doors were opening and out came Henry VIII to greet his guests. Oh yes, Henry knew how to turn on the charm!

Then in we went, to be greeted by this cheery display:


Gainborough Old Hall is managed by both English Heritage and Lincolnshire County Council and as we’re members of English Heritage, we had nothing to pay. So we duly followed Henry to hear his first audience of the day.

In the following gallery, I’ve included photos of the Great Hall, where the audience took place, and a couple of photos of Henry still going strong at performances later on. He did six during the day, and I can only say he was brilliant! Not only did he look the part, but his booming voice resonated round the hall, rising and falling perfectly in order to place emphasis where it was needed. Despite his fearsome presence he knew where to add a touch of humour. There was nothing he didn’t know about Henry’s life and he answered questions at the end of sessions brilliantly. He performs this role at venues all over the country, including Windsor Castle. He was attended by a serving woman who added humour to the act as she popped in and out and insisted we all bowed or curtsied and addressed Henry correctly when we spoke to him. ‘Yes, your majesty…’

Following this excellent entertainment we wandered around the house just having a general look round. The original medieval kitchens with two huge hearths, bread ovens, storage areas and a servery was certainly interesting and gave real insight into cooking and meals of that time:

These photos are just some of the different areas of the Hall we photographed as we looked round. In 1541, Henry VIII really did visit Gainsborough Hall, with his fourth wife Catherine Howard, who naturally, still had her head in the right place at that time. (Henry’s tirade about her and several other wives during his audience was superb.)

The ghost, known as the Grey Lady, is thought to be the daughter of the Lord of the Manor who fell in love with a penniless soldier and planned to elope with him. On discovering the plan, her father locked her in the tower where she died of a broken heart. Legend holds that the girl’s spirit still wanders the tower waiting for her lover to come.

Unfortunately, the lady did not come out to say hello to us.

Eventually we arrived in the Upper Great Chamber to see the display of costumes from the TV drama, Wolf Hall, from the novel written by Hilary Mantel. I won’t go into detail regarding actors or their characters here as it would take too long! The exhibition runs from 29th April to 28th August. Many of the photos aren’t too good due to the glare through the large windows but the display itself was excellent.

After a quick bite to eat in the Coffee Shop, we finished our visit with a look at the  Medieval Gardens. Although these cover quite a small area, they are interesting because the species of plants and flowers are mostly those that would have been grown in medieval times. A wall poster in the hall gave a list, which I photographed but it isn’t very clear unfortunately. If you click on it a couple of times it enlarges the flower and herb names across the bottom enough to be read:


Thankfully, the photos from outside are quite clear:

This is a rather long post (although most of it is photos) so I’ll finish off by saying that we had a fascinating trip back in time on Sunday. Now it’s back to 21st century reality.

About milliethom

I am a reader and writer of historical fiction with a keen interest in the Earth's history and all it involves, both physically and socially. I like nothing better than to be outdoors, especially in faraway places, and baking is something I do when my eyes need respite from my computer screen.
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9 Responses to Say ‘Hello’ to Henry VIII at Gainsborough Old Hall

  1. draliman says:

    Looks like a fascinating place to visit! I like the “cheery display” – “Left, shop. Right, shop.” 🙂

    • milliethom says:

      Yes, they seemed determined to push the fact that there were shops to visit! 🙂 I’m glad we eventually got to see the place. We’ve visited dozens that take a few hours to reach and ignored one virtually on our doorstep for years.

  2. anroworld says:

    Fantastic place, dear Millie!! Your style is captivating!

  3. Sheila says:

    I love dreaming about all the history and stories that places like this have seen. It’s amazing that it’s been there since 1460. Henry VIII looks like such a character and I’m glad he brought so much of it back to life!

  4. milliethom says:

    We were completely taken by this man’s portrayal of Henry, Sheila. He had an awesome presence and such a powerful voice that a little girl (who looked about three) sitting on the front row burst out crying. He really brought the Great Hall to life. We spend a lot of time visiting reenactments of all types, and love it! Thanks, Sheila.

  5. What a character that Henry is. He so looks the part too and I can imagine his sense of humour! (chortle) I loved the look of the costumes in the display too. Perhaps in another life, I was Elisabethan??? as I would secretly love to have a gown like that, although I’d have nowhere at all to wear it! Sounds like it was a lovely day out for you all. And you got a history “fix” too! Very enjoyable read.

  6. Joy Pixley says:

    I love it! Especially the kitchen and the foods! I think I mentioned to you earlier than I recently read “Food in Medieval Times” by Adamson, and it’s wonderful to match the written ideas to the visual representations. What period is the furniture and dishware from, though? It looks older than 1460 to me. I would love to hear the man portraying Henry too, that sounds marvelous.

  7. inesephoto says:

    Fascinating. Even the garden is medieval 🙂

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