RAINTHORPE HALL

Rainthorpe Hall and drive
Rainthorpe Hall and drive

The house 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 Domesday Book records the Manor of Reynesthorp, owned by the Hastings family. 900 years later it was back in the hands of a family named Hastings! In between it has had a chequered history: "sometimes it was a small but 'grand' house and sometimes a large farmhouse with grand pretensions".

Rainthorpe Hall was owned by the Appleyard family from 1444. Their house was almost completely destroyed in a fire in 1500 and was rebuilt in the years that followed. Anne Appleyard - half-sister of Amy Robsart, whose ghost is said to haunt the Hall - inherited Rainthorpe, which passed into the hands of the Chapman family when she married Alexander Chapman, her first husband. 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 new integral kitchen and some new windows, so that it became a typical E-shaped Elizabethan grand house.

For the next 350 years it had many owners, most of whom occupied it as it was. '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.

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

In 1853, Rainthorpe Hall was bought by the Hon. Frederick Walpole MP, a younger son of the 3rd Earl of Oxford. He was a collector of good taste and added carved panelling and fireplaces. After he died in 1878 the Hall was bought by Sir Charles Harvey, Bt, who continued to embellish it with very old panelling and stained glass, some from churches and older than the house! There is part of a painted rood screen in a small room off the landing. Sir Charles rebuilt the stables (1879), created a nursery wing over the kitchen (1885) and changed some of the windows. 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.

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 1934 it was bought by J Maurice Hastings who decided to make the interior more like it might have been in Elizabethan times. It then passed to his son George 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.

More information on the Historic England  website.


THE GHOST OF AMY ROBSART

On a door in the main hall is carved (in Old French) "The shade of the great Robsarts still cherishes Raynsthorpe". Amy Robsart was born in 1532, the daughter of Sir John Robsart, a Norfolk knight, by his marriage to Elizabeth, widow of Roger Appleyard of Stanfield Hall near Wymondham. Anne Appleyard, who inherited Rainthorpe Hall, was a daughter of Elizabeth's first marriage, so an older half-sister of Amy. As a child, Amy Robsart often stayed at Rainthorpe. 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 1650 Amy was found dead at the foot of the staircase at Cumnor Hall near Oxford. The rumours were then 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 for long enough to ensure Dudley did not become a queen's consort!

Today, Amy's ghost is still said to haunt Rainthorpe Hall - but as the happy, playful footsteps of a child who found happiness there before an arranged marriage with a tragic end.