Sunday, 25 October 2015


On the day that the clocks have changed and the golden leaves are floating down from the cherry tree in the back garden, I'm returning to a damp summer's day and the trip the bf and I made through Lincolnshire to Gunby Hall.
Leaving Sleaford we went deeper into the county crossing the fens and the wide Witham valley stopping next at Tattershall and the great complex there of castle, church and almshouses.  They are the work of Ralph Cromwell, Treasurer of England, and originally the complex was bigger still with buildings to house the college of priests and a grammar school.  Some of this was not even started by the time of Cromwell's death in 1456 and it was left to his executor Bishop William Waynflete to complete the work - the Cromwells were childless.
The parish church, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, was completely rebuilt from 1469 onwards.  John Cowper was appointed mason 1474.  It is a vast glasshouse of a church, the architecture a little chill - there is no cusping at all in the tracery, but the interior as a real nobility.  It would have been sumptuous when all the windows were filled with stained glass, but most of what remained after the Reformation was removed in the 18th century to decorate St Martin's in Stamford.  The leftovers have been collected in the chancel east window. Unfortunate too that it never benefited from the hand of a Gothic Revival architect such as 'somethingofthechameleon' favourites G F Bodley and Sir J N Comper who would have filled it with gorgeous things as the architecture demands.  Of the surviving Medieval fitments the best is the Pulpitum built in 1528 Robert de Whalley, less than ten years then from the beginnings of the English Reformation.
And now to the castle.  Odd to consider that really not much of the castle survives, except that what does survive is stupendous: the great donjon tower built by Ralph Cromwell, an almost fairy tale vision of Late Medieval architecture.  It was part of a massive remodeling of an existing fortress, however apart from the moats, and the gatehouse, everything else has gone - chapel, hall, walls, towers gatehouses.  All gone.  Just grass and a few foundations.  For the survival and restoration of the tower we have to thank the Tory politician and Viceroy of India Lord Nathaniel Curzon, who in the early years of the last century rescued the spectacular fireplaces from being shipped to the U.S and commissioned the Scottish born Arts and Crafts architect William Weir to re-floor and re-roof the tower.  New stained glass was installed, and Ernest Gimson and/or the Barnsley brothers designed and made new bridges for the moats and display cases for the small museum installed in the remains of the gatehouse.  All this done, Curzon handed over the castle to the National Trust.  Curzon also bought furniture, including tapestries for some of the rooms.
The tower is an ingenious piece of Medieval planning: each floor has one enormous room in the centre surrounded by smaller spaces in the corner towers or else buried in the thickness of the massive walls.  It is also one of the earliest brick structures in Britain.  In one year of construction 322,000 bricks were supplied for the donjon alone.  A colossal undertaking.  And it was not Cromwell's only house.  The mortar, I believe, was once painted red to match the bricks, and each of the corner turrets was originally topped with a short spire. At the very top of the tower, (it is 110 ft high), is unexpectedly a courtyard, almost like a cloister.  From the battlements there were incredible views of the county - the great low lying ridge of the Lincoln Edge to the west climaxing in the north-west with Lincoln cathedral, the Minster, proud and glorious on her hill, and then in the south across the vast level expanse of the fens the mighty finger of Boston Stump, and all the time the weather, a great bank of cloud piling in from the west like we were in the midst of some Neo-Romantic, visionary, painting.  I think I nearly cried with the sublimity of it all.

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