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Middleton Hall

   
Town/City : Tamworth
County : Staffordshire
Country : England
Post code : B78 2AE
Phone : 01827 283095
Web Site :  www.middleton-hall.co.uk

Middleton Hall is set in 42 acres of the peaceful North Warwickshire countryside and run by an independent charitable trust.

 

 

We are open to the public as a Museum and Gardens, we host public events, Weddings and Private parties. Middleton has two entries in the Domesday book and the oldest building on site dates from 1285. Elizabeth I stayed at the Hall for a week in 1575 and it was home to the father of natural history, Francis Willughby FRS and John Ray. Our more recent history tells the story of the Hall's restoration by an intrepid group of volunteers who formed the Middleton Hall Trust. We are a Site of Special Scientific Interest with nature trails around the oldest man-made lake in Warwickshire. We have beautiful formal gardens often visited by Gertrude Jekyll including one of the earliest examples of a heated Walled Garden in the country. We open to the public as an historic house and gardens but also host weddings, private parties and tours.

 

History of the Estate

 

There has been a residence on this site for almost 1,000 years. Over the years the Hall has changed, buildings have been added and demolished, the Estate which was once many thousands of acres has shrunk and it has had a wide variety of owners and tenants, and a few famous names have visited too.

Although mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, the oldest building on site is our Stone Building, built for Philip de Marmion of
Tamworth Castle, in 1285.
Elizabeth I visited the Hall in 1575, when she stayed for a week and knighted the Hall's owner Sir Francis Willoughby in the Great Hall
The Hall was home to the noted naturalists Francis Willughby FRS and John Ray who wrote and published, among others, the first book
on ornithology.
The first residents of the manor of Middleton that we have documentation of are Saxons by the names of Pallin and Thurgot, who are mentioned in the Domesday Book. Middleton then passed to Hugh de Grandmesnil, a Norman lord, who was a companion of William the Conqueror and also fought at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. For his service at the battle Hugh was given 100 manors of which the majority were in Leicestershire and made him the largest landholder in that county.

The Middleton estate then passed to the de Marmion family. They owned the Middleton manor from 1095 to 1291. The de Marmions were the Standard Bearers of England, jousted in the Kings colours, and had the role of Kings Champion at the coronation of the new monarchs. During their ownership of Middleton the estate was leased to the Knights Templar in 1185 and the Prior and convent of Studley in 1259. Robert IV de Marmion (c. 1150 1218) was also known as Robert "the Justice". He was appointed Head of the Itinerant Justices of England by King Henry II, but had his lands seized by the crown in 1215 when he deserted King John and sided with the Barons in the First Barons' War. Shortly after King John's death an agreement was made between Robert de Marmion's sons and the crown and their lands were restored to them. The last of the de Marmion lords was Philip and following his death in 1291 Middleton was left to his widow as a dower house. Following her death in 1313 Middleton was given in equal shares to Philip's three surviving co-heirs.

Philip de Marmion's granddaughter Joan married Alexander de Freville and they inherited one third of Middleton. The succeeding three generations were all named Baldwin. Lord Baldwin de Freville III was a soldier and took part in the Hundred Years War. He was highly regarded by Edward the Black Prince who made Baldwin his Seneschal of Xantoigne in 1364. In 1362 he purchased the other two-thirds of Middleton from the other heirs.

Middleton then passed to the Willoughby family through marriage to the last Baldwin de Freville's daughter Margaret. Middleton remained in the ownership of the Willoughby family for about 500 years. Following the death of Lady Margaret in 1493 Middleton was entailed on her grandson Sir Henry Willoughby. He was made a Baronet at the Battle of Stoke, near Newark, and was also a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre having travelled to the Holy Lands. His youngest son Sir Hugh Willoughby spent his childhood at Middleton Hall. He was an explorer who unfortunately froze to death when his ship got lost trying to find a North-East passage to China. Sir Henry's eldest son Sir John inherited Middleton. He took part in the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536. He was succeeded by his nephew Henry. Henry died at Kett's Rebellion in 1549 in Norfolk, leaving 3 very young orphaned children in the care of his late wife's brother Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk, the father of Lady Jane Grey. Henry's son Francis built Wollaton Hall in Nottinghamshire and also created the ironworks and Middleton Pool at Middleton Hall. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I in the Great Hall at Middleton Hall in 1575. One of his daughters, Margaret, married Robert Spencer, 1st Baron Spencer of Wormleighton, which means that this Francis was the 10 times great grandfather of Lady Diana Spencer who married HRH Prince Charles. Two of our most famous residents were the great naturalists Francis Willughby (who spelt his name this way) and his tutor, friend and collaborator John Ray. Francis' work on birds 'Ornithologia' and on fish 'Historia Piscium' were published after his death by John Ray. John Ray tutored Francis' children whilst he stayed at Middleton Hall and remained at the Hall for a number of years after Francis' death. It was at Middleton that he developed his original works on Natural History including his 'History of Plants'. Francis' son Thomas became the 1st Baron Middleton, an honour which was bestowed on the family because of his father's achievements. Wollaton Hall then became the primary seat of the Lords Middleton and later Birdsall House in Yorkshire. During this time Middleton had a number of tenants.

The tenants of Middleton Hall included: Sir Francis Lawley, MP for Warwickshire and reputed to have been instrumental in the development of the Tamworth breed of pig; John Peel, MP for Tamworth, a cousin of Sir Robert Peel; Hanbury Barclay; Reverend Robert John Hodgkinson; and Egbert de Hamel.

Middleton Hall was sold in 1925 to John Averill a farm landlord and industrialist. His family were the last residents of Middleton Hall. John Averill's daughter Dorothy married Harry Wheatcroft, the famous rose horticulturist.

 

Middleton Hall Restoration

 staffs middleton2

The last 30 years of Middleton Hall's history have been arguably the most dramatic. The Hall and grounds have been transformed from an unloved ruin to historic gem by the team of volunteers at the Middleton Hall Trust.

The restoration has been carried out by volunteer labour over the last 35 years.
English Heritage granted the Trust special dispensation to restore the buildings to the state of their original construction.
Our next big project is the 'Tudor Barn' which is part of The Courtyard.
Having been a beloved family home for the Willoughby family for 500 years Middleton Hall was sold in 1925, and then sold on again in the 1966 to Amey Roadstone and became prey to the effects of the gravel extraction that dominated the stretch of the Tame before it enters Tamworth.

For the latter half of the twentieth century Middleton Hall was allowed to fall into serious decay. When, in the late 1970s, a group of ramblers came across its crumbling shell. The hall had stood abandoned for less than 20 years and yet in that time it was thought that irreparable damage had been done, by the elements and by vandals. The Grounds had become overgrown and wild and the buildings were barely standing. By the time Middleton Hall was given Grade II listed status, its grand stained glass windows had been smashed, its woodwork was rotting away and some roofs and floors were missing.

There is however a happy end to this story as for the past 30 years, Middleton Hall has been lovingly transformed thanks to the skill and devotion of a large team of volunteers. Since the Middleton Hall Restoration Trust, a registered charity, was set up in 1980, volunteers have put in hundreds of thousands of hours of work to rebuild, renovate and restore the site. And there is still a huge amount of work to be done and the Trust always welcomes new volunteers to continue its valuable historic and conservation work.

During the early days of the Trust volunteers had to become history detectives. They set about researching the history of Middleton Hall and developing an archive of drawings and photographs which were to become the blue prints on which the restoration plans were drawn up, for both the Hall, the walled gardens and the grounds of the estate. The Hall's Georgian facia was stripped back to reveal disintegrating evidence of a once striking example of Tudor architecture. The buildings, which span 700 years of English domestic architecture, were sympathetically and painstakingly reconstructed using traditional techniques of the periods and where possible returned to the form of their original construction. The 42 acres, which include two walled gardens, a moat, evidence of the Hall's industrial and agricultural past and the earliest man-made lake in Warwickshire has been carefully nurtured by the Trust volunteers. The grounds are noted for the variety of wild flowers and the wildlife they attract from bats, moths and a wide variety of breeding birds.

 

The Walled Gardens A tribute to John Ray

 

The gardens as you see them today are a tribute to John Ray the 'Father of English Botany' who lived and worked at the Hall in the seventeenth century. John Ray is famous among botanists but little known to the wider world. His impact on the development of natural science, however, was great as he was the first person to describe and classify plants into a system that formed the foundations of natural science until DNA classification became possible.

The Walled Gardens were established by Thomas Willoughby, the first Baron of Middleton, in the early 1700s. Walls, constructed with bricks handmade on site, were built around the existing formal gardens. These gardens were used to grow the produce required to support those that lived here, the Willoughby family and its servants. In order to do this all year round hollow walls were constructed so that they could be heated and the growing season extended. The walls were built in 1718 and are among the oldest of their design in the country.

'The walled garden was full of fruit trees, free standing and against
the walls and the beds full of vegetables. '

Mrs E I March remembered the gardens as they were c1920.

Like Middleton Hall itself, the formal gardens were derelict in 1980 when the Middleton Hall Trust was formed. Yet they had been the inspiration of naturalists Sir Francis Willoughby and John Ray when Middleton was their seventeenth century home. Thanks to years of hard work and dedication by our team of volunteers the gardens have been lovingly restored and their history researched and documented.

The original produce growing function of the gardens has given way to the decorative delights of herbaceous borders. The larger of the gardens is laid out in a Union Jack pattern radiating from a central pond and fountain. Large, triangular, colour-themed herbaceous borders are planted with cool colours at the front of the garden, through darker shades, to hot colours at the back. The walls are planted with roses and fruit trees. A pergola, framing the pond's fountain, is planted with roses, clematis and wisteria, providing interest all through spring and summer. At the corner of the garden there is a restored two floor eighteenth century Grade II listed gazebo originally built for viewing the garden. The garden includes plants that John Ray would have known and studied and which were growing in the gardens during the 1600's. It is an intimate space where one can sit and enjoy the sounds of the insects it attracts.

staffs middleton3

image: copyright Ian Thwaites Photography

 

 

 

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