Gainsborough Old Hall – Gainsborough, England - Atlas Obscura

Gainsborough Old Hall

Gainsborough, England

A medieval relic whose great hall once hosted Mayflower pilgrims, one of Henry VIII’s ill-fated wives, and plenty of royal intrigue. 


Once host to Mayflower pilgrims, kings, queens and royal intrigue, Gainsborough Old Hall stands as a lonely medieval relic in a postindustrial landscape, a reminder of the wealthy history of Gainsborough, a slightly dilapidated former inland port town on the banks of the River Trent.

Situated on the Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire Border, Gainsborough Old Hall is an unusually intact and unmodified example of an English medieval manor house. Dating to 1460, the house has been open to the public since 1949, notable for its well preserved kitchen and impressive timbered great hall.

The house, built as a show of wealth by the local Burgh family, was designed to impress. King Richard III was entertained in the great hall in 1484, and King Henry VIII was also a visitor. Henry VIII’s sixth wife, Catherine Parr, lived here with her first husband, Sir Edward Burgh, and it was reputedly during a stay in Gainsborough Old Hall that one of Henry VIII’s ill-fated fifth wife’s alleged indiscrete romances took place, which lead to her ultimate execution by her husband the king.

Despite the link to this tragedy, the legendary Ghost of the Grey Lady, who is said to haunt the tower of the hall, is not thought to be that of Catherine, but rather the love sick daughter of one of the lords, who was locked in the tower to prevent her escaping with her low-born soldier lover. The legend says she died there alone and broken hearted.

In 1596, Gainsborough Old Hall belonged to the Puritan Hickman family, who were unimpressed by the perceived Catholic leanings of the supposedly protestant Church of England. Going firmly against the law of the land and crown, there is evidence that a local dissident preacher, John Smyth, was allowed to preach sermons to fellow separatists in the great hall. Some of these Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire Separatists were among those local people who sailed on board the Mayflower to New England in 1620 to found a new colony.

Know Before You Go

Gainsborough has two Train Stations, Lea Road and Central. Central is the closer of the two stations to the Old Hall. Gainsborough has ample car parking, with Lord Street Car Park being the closest.

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