RAINTHORPE HALL

Rainthorpe Hall and drive
Rainthorpe Hall and drive

The current building named Rainthorpe Hall is in Flordon parish, but much of the present-day grounds are in neighbouring parishes. In the past the Rainthorpe estate covered much of the parish east of the railway, including Flordon Mill. The Hall has gone through many changes and owners and, as a guidebook to the property said, "sometimes it was a small but 'grand' house and sometimes a large farmhouse with grand pretensions".

The Domesday Book records the 'Manor of Reynesthorp' (sic), consisting of a small hamlet of no more than 10 households under the ownership of Roger de Rames, who was rewarded with 27 manors in East Anglia by William the Conqueror. That hamlet is now one of the 'lost villages' of Norfolk. Saxon and medieval pottery found about 500 metres NW of the modern Rainthorpe Hall suggest the village may have been centred there, possibly with its own church in the former Church Wood, but by 1450 the village had disappeared and the parish merged with Newton Flotman. Meanwhile, other parts of the Rainthorpe estate had been incorporated into Tasburgh and Flordon parishes, so tracking the history of the Manor is even harder than usual....

The antiquarian Rev Frances Blomefield gives a detailed history of Rainthorpe from the time of William the Conqueror, although he does not give sources and some historians now query many of his dates and findings. He suggests the Appleyard family acquired land here as early as 1361 and that by the 1440s Nicholas Appleyard was appointing the Rector of Newton Flotman and may have built a manor house on what is now the garden of Rainthorpe Hall between the current house and the River Tas, where there is a kink in the parish boundary that brings that site within Tasburgh parish (and thus the church to which many subsequent owners owed allegiance). There was certainly a house on the site, but great uncertainty about any Appleyard involvement! This early house was almost completely destroyed in a fire about 1500 and was rebuilt on the current site in the years that followed. According to Historic England, "The current house was begun in 1503 for the Chapman [family]." This would have been Alexander Chapman and his wife Alice. Their son and heir, another Alexander, was the second husband of Anne Appleyard whose family had owned land around Rainthorpe and were living relatively nearby at Stanfield Hall near Wymondham. Anne Appleyard was the daughter of Roger Appleyard and her half-sister was Amy Robsart, wife of Queen Elizabeth's favourite Robert Dudley, who died in mysterious circumstances and whose ghost is said to haunt Rainthorpe Hall, although that link is decidedly tenuous (see below)! However, the half-timbered Hall built by the Chapman family is the core of the current Hall.

It was the Chapmans who sold the Hall to Thomas Baxter, a prosperous local barrister, in 1579. Baxter set about modernising it - he did away with the medieval-style Great Hall, added two new wings, a porch, a new integral kitchen and some new windows, so that it became a typical E-shaped Elizabethan grand house that now faced east. The memorial tombs of Thomas Baxter (died 1611) and his wife Elizabeth (died 1587) are in Tasburgh church, along with a memorial brass to their daughter who died in 1586. Also in the church is small piece of stained glass that was originally in the Hall depicting the parents of Thomas Newce, the next owner who is also commemorated in a memorial on the north wall dated 1629. It is not known exactly when the Essex merchant Thomas Newce bought Rainthorpe but Thomas Baxter's son, Francis, was still in residence in 1613. The house passed to his son, another Thomas Newce, who was presumably living elsewhere when 'R.M.1641' is carefully carved into one of the porch pillars - probably by a Parliamentary soldier billeted here during the Civil War when they kept their horses in the stone-floored hall! 1643 is carved in the same pillar - but no initials. Interestingly, Thomas Baxter junior was  one of the signatories to a Petition from the people of Norfolk calling for the return of Parliament in 1660.

This (younger) Thomas Newce married twice and after he died his second wife, Mary, married Edmund Bedingfield who thereby became the owner of the Hall and its estate and Lord of the Manor of Rainthorpe. He appointed Rectors to Tasburgh church in 1679 and 1682, but it seems likely that he did not live at Rainthorpe. From the Bedingfield family the Hall was sold to Richard Carter, a Norwich attorney at law, who in 1712 transferred the Manor of Rainthorpe and Rainthorpe Hall and various rights to his son Richard on his marriage to Amy Topcliffe of Hoveton. But this marriage settlement suggests the Hall and its farms were rented out to tenants. It didn't stay with the Carter family much longer - before 1723 it had been sold to Walter Bateman, a worsted weaver from Norwich. He must have fallen on hard times and was declared bankrupt, so Rainthorpe was sold to another worsted weaver and merchant, Richard Wright. However, it seems that these merchants were more interested in rents from tenants and may never lived in the house.

Richard Wright died in 1770, and he was followed by his son Robert Wright, also a worsted weaver and merchant (according to electoral rolls for the Norwich parish of St Laurence). A plan of the Rainthorpe estate prepared for Robert in 1772 is held in the Norfolk Record Office (ref. WLP 10/32) and shows that the estate at that time only comprised 146 acres, of which 143 were let - whether the unlet portion is the Hall and its garden which Robert used as a country retreat is uncertain. But within 10 years Robert was bankrupt, and estate was purchased in 1782 by John Freshfield, another Norwich merchant. He certainly lived at Rainthorpe Hall because his daughter Elizabeth is recorded as getting married in Tasburgh church in 1783, and her address was given as Rainthorpe. 

In 1791, Rainthorpe Hall and most of the estate was sold to by John Gay, a wealthy Norwich lawyer, whose father (also John) had been Lord Mayor of Norwich in 1754 but died in 1787. John junior and his daughter Mary had their portraits painted by John Opie in 1799 - they used to hang in Strangers Hall, Norwich, but sadly they are no longer there. John, named as the Lord of the Manor of Rainthorpe Hall,  promoted the enclosure of land in Tasburgh parish in 1813. John Gay died in 1824 and is daughter Mary (c.1780-1853) inherited the Hall. She was already married to Rev Theophilus Girdlestone (1759-1832), who had been Rector of Swainsthorpe Parish but then became Rector of Baconsthorpe in north Norfolk where he had been born. They may have returned to the Rainsthorpe as a country retreat (one of their 8 children died there) but the estate was mainly let out to tenants. Mary Girdlestone was one of the major landowners of Flordon Parish at the time of the Tithe Award in 1843 (and there is more about her under FARMING). Presumably none of her many children wanted to live there, so she put the estate up for sale by auction on 14th August 1852 in 5 Lots. The cottages (Lots 2 - 4) sold, but two farms and the Hall itself, totalling over 250 acres, did not sell. Mary died the following year and the part of the estate that had not sold was bought by Sir Frederick Walpole MP in 1853.

Rainthorpe Hall interior, postcard dated 6 Aug 1909
Rainthorpe Hall interior, postcard dated 6 Aug 1909
Contemporary caption!
Contemporary caption!

The Hon. Frederick Walpole MP was a younger son of the 3rd Earl of Oxford who set about 'improving' his new acquisition and enlarging the estate. He was a keen antiquarian, a collector of good taste and added carved panelling, doors and fireplaces. A carving on one such door states "the shade of the great Robsarts still cherishes Raynsthorpe " written in old French - although by the time there was a (remote) connection between the Hall and the Robsarts old French was long out of use! 

After Sir Frederick died in 1878 the Hall was bought by Colonel Sir Charles Harvey, 2nd Baronet of Crown Point, (1849-1928) who embellished the hall and substantially expanded the estate and the properties that went with it. He assumed his title in 1870, on the death of his father, Sir Robert Harvey, the 1st Baronet, who had been the senior partner in Harvey and Hudson's Crown Bank in Norwich and had bought the Crown Point Estate, Trowse in 1861. Sir Robert commissioned the building of Whitlingham Hall but before it was completed, his speculation on the Stock Market resulted in a run on the Bank which led to his suicide. To take that story on, the Bank was rescued by the Gurneys, becoming part of Barclays Bank, and the Crown Point estate was bought by the Colman family in 1872.

'Our' Sir Charles Harvey was also the grandson of another Sir Robert: Major General Sir Robert John Harvey, AdC to the Duke of Wellington during the Peninsula War. He had major landholdings in Tharston, and named his various farms and houses after the battles in which he had fought during that campaign - Salamanca, Cuidad Rodrego, El Boden, Vittoria, etc. He is buried in the mausoleum he had built in Tharston churchyard. Thus when Sir Charles bought Rainthorpe Hall he was moving to ancestral stamping-ground! There is more about this Sir Robert Snr and his Tharston links here.

Sir Charles rebuilt the stables (1879), created a nursery wing over the kitchen (1885), changed some of the windows, and even created a theatre within the Hall. He continued to embellish it with very old panelling (there is part of a painted rood screen in a small room off the landing) and stained glass, some from churches and older than the house! The coats of arms of both Harvey and Walpole feature in stained glass, plaster, stone and wood in various parts of the house. It was these men who created the 'pleasure gardens' or small ornamental park, incorporating the 'knot garden' and hazel 'nuttery' which are said to be Elizabethan. Sir Charles also bought several farms and a number of cottages in Tasburgh, Flordon, Newton Flotman and Sazlingham to expand the estate from 237 acres to nearly 1200 acres. He also paid for extensive restoration work and extensions to Tasburgh church between 1897 and 1922 and took an interest in Tasburgh village school, allowing the theatre at Rainthorpe Hall to be used for concerts and plays, and funding the annual school outing.  

White's Directory of 1883 describes the Hall:
Rainthorpe Hall gives name to a small manor extending from this into the parishes of Newton-Flotman and Tasburgh, and is the seat and property of Sir Charles Harvey, Bart., who purchased it from Hon. Frederick Walpole. It is a fine old Elizabethan mansion, built in 1503, and situated in pleasant grounds on the west bank of the river Tas or Taes. It was purchased in 1852 by its late proprietor, who has enlarged and magnificently restored it. Most of the windows contain some curious old painted and stained glass, and the rooms are enriched with fine oak carving and antique furniture of the Elizabethan period. The drawing room is especially remarkable for its cabinets containing many rare specimens of Sèvres and Chelsea china. Here are also two splendidly carved bookcases, and a fine collection of family portraits by Kneller, Lely, and others. 

In 1920 Sir Charles sold off by auction a number of his outlying properties including land at Flordon Hall Farm and Cranes Farm Greenways. After Sir Charles Harvey died in 1928 the remainder of the Rainthorpe estate (some 600 acres) was put up for sale by auction once again - this time in 35 Lots. However history repeated itself, and again the Hall itself and some farms cottages did not sell. But the links with the Harvey family were not totally severed: Sir Charles son Oliver, who became British Ambassador in Paris, was granted a peerage when he retired in 1954 as Lord Harvey of Tasburgh. When he died in 1968 he was buried at Tasburgh.

In 1934 the Hall was bought by J Maurice Hastings who decided to make the interior more like it might have been in Elizabethan times. His wife Rosemary Hastings had been an American heiress whose family had made its money from producing the paper for the printing of dollar bills, but she involved herself in the life of Tasburgh and the area around. Fetes, dances and other events were held at Rainthorpe, the theatre continued to be used for school productions and by the village drama group, and the football club played its early home matches on one of the Rainthorpe fields.  After Mrs Hastings death in 1983, Raynthorpe Hall passed to her son George Hastings and his American wife Melissa. During the 1980s, the walled kitchen garden was leased to a landscape gardener who laid out a series of 'theme' gardens within the original box hedging and gravel paths and the three Victorian glass-houses were restored. After George Hastings died in 1993, the estate was broken up once again, and the Hall and gardens separated from its former park.

There is more information on the Historic England  website.


THE GHOST OF AMY ROBSART

Every old house deserves a good ghost story - and Rainthorpe Hall is no exception! Quite when the story originated and how the ghost of a happy young girl (if she exists) was identified as Amy Robsart is a mystery. But it was probably largely the result of Victorian research into the confused story of Rainthorpe Manor - maybe by whoever carved the inscription (in Old French) "The shade of the great Robsarts still cherishes Raynsthorpe" on a door in the main hall....

Amy Robsart was born in 1532, the only child of Sir John Robsart, a Norfolk knight, by his marriage to Elizabeth, widow of Roger Appleyard of Stanfield Hall near Wymondham. Amy was also the half-sister of John and Anne Appleyard, children of Elizabeth by her first marriage to Roger Appleyard.

Roger Appleyard left a Will when he died in 1528 to ensure his family were well provided for: his widow Elizabeth received, amongst other things, a life interest in Stanfield Hall which would then pass to their son John, and their daughter Anne (then aged 3) received the sum of £400 (about half a million in today's money) in trust. Anne, John and Amy were all brought up at Stanfield Hall - only a few miles from Rainthorpe. It was Anne Appleyard (Amy's older half-sister) who married first James Bigot and after he died married Alexander Chapman of Rainthorpe Hall in 1545 - by which time her half-sister Amy was 13 years old and could well have visited.

Portrait miniature of an unknown lady, possibly Amy Robsart on the occasion of her wedding, 1550
Portrait miniature of an unknown lady, possibly Amy Robsart on the occasion of her wedding, 1550

In 1550. Amy was married to Robert Dudley when both were only 18. However, she was never allowed to accompany him to Court. Ten years later, Dudley had become a favourite of the young Queen Elizabeth, who made him Master of the Horse. Rumour had it that the Queen wanted to marry Dudley, who was already married to Amy. On 8th September 1560 Amy was found dead at the foot of the staircase at Cumnor Hall near Oxford. The rumours began that Dudley had arranged Amy's death - he stayed away in London and although Amy's half-brother John Appleyard attended her funeral, Dudley did not. Berkshire coroner's court returned a verdict of death by misadventure but John Appleyard was not satisfied and in 1567 he made an effort to reopen the issue. By that time Dudley was back in favour and had been made Earl of Leicester, and john was ordered to drop the matter and apologise. However, the rumours were widespread enough and had lasted long enough to ensure Dudley did not become a queen's consort!

Today, according to guidebooks, Amy's ghost is still said to haunt Rainthorpe Hall as the happy, playful footsteps of a child who found happiness there before an arranged marriage with a tragic end. But although there is a family link, it is more likely Amy visited the Hall as a teenager approaching marriageable age who needed to learn more about running a house than running in it!

With thanks to Ben Goodfellow for supplying information from his research into the Manor of Rainthorpe, the Appleyard family and the other families who owned the Hall, and to Nigel Peacock for additional information on the Harvey family in Tharston.