Markenfield Hall - A hidden medieval moated manor house near Ripon
The story of Markenfield Hall is a fascinating one. This medieval moated manor house situated on the outskirts of Ripon, really is one of Yorkshire’s “hidden gems”, remaining largely un-touched over its 700 year history.
I first visited after my fellow guide Nick Smith from Yor Tours arranged for us to visit the Hall whilst we were training as Guides many years ago. He’s an official Friend of Markenfield Hall and a huge advocate for this very special place.
Markenfield Hall is the seat of the Grantley family, (builders of the nearby Grantley Hall, now a thriving 5 star luxury hotel). It is still a family home to the widow of the 7th Lord of Grantley – Lady Diedrie and her second husband Ian Curteis.
Before Covid-19, Markenfield Hall opened to the public for just a few open weekends a year. I would definitely suggest when lockdown ends it is worth checking out and diarising these dates as it is truly worth the visit.
A brief history
Markenfield Hall would have been one of the most recognised houses in Yorkshire in the 1700’s but the building of a turnpike road, now the A61, means that the is Hall is now tucked away along a mile long winding drive which adds to the drama of the approach.
The main part of Markenfield Hall, is dated to 1310 when John de Markenfield, was granted a licence to crenellate. This essentially means that the house was allowed to be fortified and the architecture to look like that of a castle.
But research by the Yorkshire Archaeological Trust shows some early stone vaulting at Markenfield Hall is in a Romanesque style which is believed to date to the early 1200’s.
Early influence in the region
From the 12th Century the Markenfield family had a great influence in the North of England by marrying into wealthy and powerful families. The male Markenfields and their retainers were involved in many international events from battles overseas, to events closer to home such as wars, uprisings and religious upheavals.
There are no portraits of the early family or records but historians have gradually pieced together the interesting story of the house and the Markenfield family.
Back to John de Markenfield in 1310. He was formerly a clerk to the King Edward I, but eventually rose through the ranks to become Chancellor of the Exchequer to Edward II. As a collector of debts he was never a popular man and was accused of various malicious activities during his life, being excommunicated by the Pope for holding a man of the cloth prisoner in a dispute!
The family continued to be important players in the area up to Tudor times.
The Markenfields’ and The Rising of the North
Born in 1532, Thomas Markenfield V, was the last of the Markenfields to live at the Hall. He was very religious, his father having taken him on the Pilgrimage of Grace as a boy to protest against Henry VIII’s break from the Catholic church. Outwardly the Markenfields pretended to have embraced the new protestant faith but secretly clung onto their Catholic heritage making a pilgrimage to the Holy Lands in the 1560’s. During his Pilgrimage, Thomas was admitted into the Order of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, one of the highest orders of the Catholic faith.
Thomas Markenfield V returned to Yorkshire with a Catholic priest Dr Nicholas Morton. At the time, Queen Elizabeth I had outlawed Catholic worship and made attending protestant church services law. But with Yorkshire still being a strong Catholic supporting region, there was a lot of opposition and secret masses were believed to have been held at Markenfield Hall.
At this time Mary Queen of Scots, a potential heir to the throne was imprisoned in Castle Bolton in the Yorkshire Dales and local Catholics - the Norton family joined forces with Thomas Markenfield in plots to free Mary. Elizabeth’s network of spies became wise to this an Mary Queen of Scots was moved south to Tutbury in the Midlands.
Image credit: Queen Elizabeth I - National Portrait Gallery
This didn’t stop the uprising. Richard Norton, a prominent local landowner and actually Thomas Markenfield’s uncle, raised an army of Catholic supporters and marched on Durham, destroying a protestant communion table and celebrating Catholic mass. He then marched to Markenfield Hall with 6,000 men and Thomas Markenfield’s army joined them to march on Ripon. Here they burnt protestant prayer books and held another Catholic mass. This action formed part of what is now known as The Rising of the North.
As they marched south an army loyal to Elizabeth was raised to meet them. Mass desertions followed after the Queen offered to pardon members of the uprising if they returned home (although this did not include the leaders such as Markenfield and Norton). The leaders fled to Scotland but Elizabeth’s Royalist army invaded Scotland looking for the rebels and levelled the castles and homes of those suspected of protecting the rebels.
Thomas Markenfield and his sister escaped to Flanders and he was granted a pension by Philip II of Spain before dying in Brussels. Thomas Markenfield’s estates were forfeit to the Crown and his wife Isabel ended up living close to the Hall, using a pension from her brother William Ingleby of Ripley to survive.
Once the Rising of the North was put down, Queen Elizabeth set about punishing many of those involved and up to 300 local men were hung on Gallows Hill in Ripon in 1570 as a warning against future rebellion.
Sir Richard Norton died in Flanders of wounds gained during his capture by English troops. This actually saved him from his fate of being hung, drawn and quartered, but sadly a number of his sons were captured and subjected to this fate.
The next owners
Queen Elizabeth granted Markenfield Hall to one of her loyal and trusted advisers, so Markenfield became the property of Sir Henry Gates, who had been High Sheriff of Yorkshire and a prominent member of the Council of the North.
The home then passed onto his daughter Katherine and her husband Sir Charles Egerton, then onto their son, also a Charles and his wife Griselda.
When Charles & Griselda died in the mid 1600’s, Charles’ distant cousin John Egerton, the 2nd Earl of Bridgewater inherited the estate. The Earls & Dukes of Bridgewater continued to own Markenfield Hall into the 1700’s. Finally Francis Egerton the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater did not have an heir so in 1761 sold much of his estates including Markenfield Hall and invested the money in building and engineering projects – you may have heard of the Bridgewater Canal.
The Fletcher Norton Family
In 1761 the Markenfield Hall estate was purchased by lawyer and MP Fletcher Norton for £9,400. He later became speaker of the House of Commons, but he never actually lived at the Hall, preferring to live at the nearby Grantley Hall.
He was said to have bought the Hall out of family loyalty, as he was a direct descendent of Sir Richard Norton (Thomas Markenfield’s uncle).
Fletcher Norton was known for not worrying about causing offence and is rumoured to have upset both King George III and Prime Minister Pitt the Elder during his time. Even having gained the nick name “Bull Face Double Fees”, he eventually gained a peerage in 1782 and chose Baron Grantley of Markenfield – a title the family still hold to this day.
The fact that Markenfield Hall is so well preserved can be put down partly to the fact that the Hall was sub-let to a series of Tenant farmers after these times, none of who had the means or inclination to make any changes to the Hall.
Three generations later the 3rd Baron of Markenfield and another Fletcher Norton did start to make alterations to Markenfield Hall with local architect JR Walbran adding an internal staircase and removing the first floor entrance to the Great Hall.
But his main additions were the Victorian farm buildings which greet visitors, designed as two courtyards attached to the Tudor long barns. Whilst the Hall is grade I listed, the farm building are now grade II listed.
The Hall’s restoration
Whilst the inner moat around Markenfield Hall can still be seen, in Medieval Times there was an outer moat too. There is also evidence of a small medieval settlement to
the south of the Hall where farm workers and servants would have lived. The land where the settlement existed is protected and cannot be ploughed or used for crop growing.
The estate in total includes 600 acres of farmland and woodland with land use mixed between cattle and sheep grazing and mixed arable. The Foster family have been farming the lands since 1882 (Andrew who farms the land today is the 6th member of the family to own the tenancy) and the Foster family actually lived in the Hall until the 1960’s.
Restoration of Markenfield Hall started in earnest in 1980 after the Foster family had moved out of the Hall into the modernised East Wing. Various tenant farmers had boxed in or roughly plastered over ancient walls and architectural features and the electrical wiring was dangerous.
There was nothing for it but to strip everything out of the house and return to the original stone walls and vaulting before any restoration could begin. The 7th Lord and Lady Grantley eventually restored many of the rooms within the main block into a comfortable family home.
Sadly Lord Grantley died in 1995, but Lady Diedre then married the writer Ian Curteis and 5 years later the second phase of restoration began with a mission to revitalise the Grand Hall, Chapel and Undercroft. This work was finished in 2007 before Lady Diedre and Ian started work on the Gatehouse.
All this work had to be approved by English Heritage who whilst initially nervous about the work were positive about the sympathetic plans to return the hall to its former self and a passionate speech by a local conservation office helped work proceed where he talked of “bringing the house to life again”.
The final stage of the restoration, hopefully due to finish in 2030 is the landscape around the Hall, burying overhead cables, removing farm yard clutter, reverting to grassland and grazing animals around the hall instead of arable and possibly returning areas to their original status as a deer park.
Lady Diedre and her husband praised the Historic Houses Association for the help and support during the restoration and were delighted to win their Restoration Award in 2008 for their work on the Great Hall.
As mentioned the historic property is still a home and only opened on occasional weekends. But when people do attend a recurring theme in the visitor book is – “This is a loved and lived in home, not a museum”.
This is backed up with John Goodhall’s comment in Country Life magazine that “Markenfield remains one of the most celebrated medieval residences in England…It is at last being loved and cared for as it should be".
I hope you get to attend one of the open weekends - my wife, daughter and mother in law enjoyed their visit. The Hall is also open for use or hire for special events too. It really is a hidden gem and I cannot think of another beautifully preserved moated manor houses in England with it’s fascinating 700 year or more history.
For more information about Markenfield Hall – visit https://markenfieldhall.com