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.