In an earlier post I wrote about the tiny number of large houses that were ever built in Wolverton. Since then I have come across some new information about the manor house at Wolverton built by Sir Henry Longueville in 1586.
In the early part of the 18th Century, Sir Edward Longueville, faced with a mountain of debt, resolved to sell the Wolverton estate. We know that in 1713 he succeeded in this by completing a sale to Dr. John Radcliffe for £40,000. What I did not know was that there was earlier interest from the Duke of Newcastle and there are a number of documents now kept in the Nottinghamshire Archive which show that the Duke’s interest was serious as many details of the estate, the rents, the value of properties, potential taxes were set down together with a number of questions that needed an answer. In the end the Duke decided to offer £30,200 in the year 1710. This was unacceptable to Sr Edward and since the Duke died the following year in 1711, I imagine that negotiations did not continue.
The Wolverton historian can find a great deal of good information in these documents and here I am going to concentrate on what we can learn about the house.
Of the earlier buildings we know next to nothing. It is probable that the Longuevilles improved and enlarged the earlier medieval property during the 15th century. The only reference we have to the building is from the Tudor traveller and writer John Leland, who was passing through around 1540.
The Langevilles of later tymes hath lyen and bilded fairly at Wolverstun in Bukinghamshie (nere Stony Streatford).
We can only interpret “bilded fairly” as that the house was of sufficient size for Leland to take notice.
Later in the century Sir Henry Longueville decided to embark on his own building project at a cost of £12,000 – a very significant sum of money. This was in 1586. Once again we are short of any drawing or description until Thomas Hearne, writing in 1711 tells us this much:
It stood near a large mount, thrown up East of the Church, & it was a magnificent Edifice, being 145 Feet in length & built with good Free-stone. It had 9 large transome windows in the Front, of good polished Free-stone which was very regular; it had in the first Range a spacious lofty Kitchen, Buttery, Hall & Great Parlour, in which last room were painted in the large Escucheons (sic), the Arms of the Longueville Family with their matches quartered & impaled. There were also some arms in the windows of painted glass; particularly of Wolverton & Roche: the first of which bore, B. an Eagle displayed A determined by a Bendlet G. K. the other, viz. Roche, gave G. 3 Roaches A. This front part, as seems to me, built by Sir Hen Longueville in Queen Elizabeth’s time: and Sir Henry & his lady Elizabeth Cotton’s Arms, being placed there in 2 Shields, with this date, 1586, seems as if they were the builders, and that it was begun to be built then; it cost, as I have been informed, above 12 thousand pounds in those days. At each end were several Rooms of an antient tower structure, which were chiefly made use of, & particularly those on the south wing, by Sir Edward Longueville. I visited him in 1711: & several rooms in the new building were never finished, or properly furnished, as appeared to me.(Theses notes made by William Cole a century later.)
The document in the Nottinghamshire archive is able to offer us supporting detail.
The House is 60 yards in front with two Wings about 15 yards in lenght (sic). Built of Stone is very Strong & in perfect good repair. The Gallary which is a very noble one, the floore was never layed down, all offices that are necessary as Wash houses, Brew house, dary house, larders, Granarys, Wood Barns, Stables for 20 horse, Coach House with 20 Bay of Barning with a Worke House, two Duffcoates & several Houses very necessary for any use in good repair.
We can read from this that the house was stone built with a frontage of 180 feet (Hearne says 145) with two wings at each side of 45 feet. It is not clear which of the “offices” are included in the wings of the great house but it is probable, given the size of the stables and coach house, that this building and almost certainly the dovecotes are separate structures. From Hearne’s description we might infer that the kitchen and buttery (larder) made up one wing of the building. I am guessing that a second floor gallery was designed around either the hall or the “great parlour” but that this floor was never completed, although this phrase never layed down is open to different interpretations.
The photograph below is a survivor from that period of Elizabethan building. It was built in 1572 at Trerice in Cornwall and is considered a small house of its type. I am posting it here to offer some general idea of how the Longueville house may have appeared.
When Hearne talks of a south wing we might read into that an eastern or south-eastern frontage for the house, possibly parallel with the course of the Old Wolverton Road. The location of the house may have been that piece of level ground opposite the Rectory, in other words between the present Rectory and the old castle mound.
Hearne’s observations are probably accurate but his interpretations can be modified. the window with the date of 1586 is more likely to have been the completion date rather than the date building began; the windows are usually the last part of house building. His observation that the greater part of the building seemed unfurnished may have more to do with Sir Edward’s straitened circumstances than the fact that the building was not completed and that he had been selling off furniture to pay debts and was confining himself to one wing of the building. £12,000 was an enormous sum of money to spend on a house in Elizabethan times, and even if that sum had been exaggerated, there should have been plenty of money to complete the building to the satisfaction of Sir Henry and his wife.
We are told in the Nottingham Archive document that the building was strongly built, which doen’t quite square with the fate of the building in 1726. It is impossible to say who wrote this document. If it had been prepared by one of Sir Edward’s men as a prospectus then a certain amount of puffery might be expected. In any event, only a few years later, the Radcliffe trustees took a different view. In a letter dated 24th October 1715 William Bromley (one of the Trustees) wrote in a letter that the Great House was:
very ruinous, & since it is now never likes to be used as a Gentleman’s Seat you’l consider whether it may not be advisable that it be taken down, & the materials disposed of.
Many of the buildings on the estate were in poor state of repair and when it came time to rebuild the Rectory this course of action recommended itself to the Trustees. Parts of the old mansion can be found in the Rectory which is still standing today.