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The Hall - notes

Sketch by Grace Pashler
Sketch of Rushden Hall by Grace Pashler c1935 (taken from a photocopy)

Rushden Echo, 23rd July 1915, transcribed by Gill Hollis

The wind was so strong at Rushden on Saturday that a heavy branch of a tree in the grounds of Mr. A. H. Sartoris, J.P. was broken off and thrown across an outbuilding, the roof of which was smashed.

Rushden Echo, Friday 26th October 1917, transcribed by Kay Collins

Over twelve bushels of chestnuts have been collected by the Rushden Boy Scouts in the grounds of Rushden Hall, at the invitation of Mrs. Sartoris. Secretary C Cox, Scoutmaster Fountain, and Assist. S.M. Parkin were in charge of the boys. The chestnuts are required for munition purposes.

Extracts typed from J E Smith's notebooks
Rev Hawksley of Rushden (before Rev Downe) - Mrs Cox told me she remembered him, but of course she said she knew Mr Downe better, also that Captain Brown & his two sisters lived at the 'Hall' before Mr Sartoris & that Rev Hawksleys’ son was Chaplain at 'Ale Asylum’ - he was born Rushden Rectory. Mrs Corby’s husband was keeper at the Asylum & knew Rev Hawksley well, but said he had been dead about 9 years.

Rushden Echo, 20th January 1922, transcribed by Kay Collins

Rushden Historic Notes - Major Markham on Rushden Hall

In the ''Northamptonshire Notes and Queries" appears an interesting article on Rushden Hall by the editor, Major C. A. Markham, F.S.A.

The Hall, he says, stands near the church, almost in the centre of the town, and built entirely of a local limestone, which is almost white; the roof is of small red tiles. The greater part of the house was no doubt built in the 16th century. Major Markham gives a detailed description of the chief apartments and of several relics of special interest. The fire back in the hall was found among the ruins of that portion of Higham Ferrers Castle which was the last to fall into decay was taken from the rubbish after being there for over 50 years and was bought by a local blacksmith who sold it to the owner of Rushden Hall. It bears the initials E.R., and the arms of Edward VI.

One of the most interesting things in the house is what is called the Queen's Chair. It was purchased at a sale of furniture in a farmhouse at Fotheringhay, and had been in the same family for a great number of years. The belief was that the chair had come from Fotheringhay Castle, and there is a legend that it was used by Mary Queen of Scots during her imprisonment. This belief, says Major Markham, made the seat an almost sacred object for generations, and it was never used except by the head of the family upon great occasions such as Christmastide, marriages, christenings, or the like.

Rushden Hall stands on the site of an earlier house said to have been built by John o'Gaunt in the 14th century; until recent years there was in the centre of the ridge on the north front, a short octagonal chimney known as John o'Gaunt's chimney, which may have formed part of the original house.

The Rushden Echo and Argus, 4th June 1948, transcribed by Jim Hollis

Old Hall May Become a “Showplace”
Views Sought On Big Rushden Plan

The future use of Rushden Hall will be discussed by Rushden Rotarians at their meeting on Friday, following the recent appeal of the Urban Council for the views of local organisations.

All organised bodies in the town have been asked to make their suggestions before July, and the report outlined at the Council meeting in May has been circulated as a basis for discussion. Restoration of the Hall, including internal adaptations and equipment for public use, is estimated to cost up to £6,000, and allowing for possible grants and decorations, a loan charge of about £300 a year is anticipated.

As to the possible use of the old house, the Clerk to the Council (Mr. A. G. Crowdy) finds it unsuitable for Council offices or a lending library. He thinks a small museum might be established there by a suitable society, and that youth work and an art society might be fostered in the building, and that a refreshment service for people using the grounds might be provided.

The idea already adopted in principal, however, is for the establishment of a community centre embodying these and other activities. It is felt that the centre should be developed and managed by a voluntary body, on which the Council would be represented, and which would be responsible for paying the rent.


A community centre would enable citizens to meet on an equal footing, and enjoy social, recreational and educational activities, the concept of “education” including “putting people in the way of making their own entertainment and bringing out latent abilities.”

The report suggests that a kitchen and canteen, a common room and rooms for group meetings and classes could be provided at the Hall, and that the outbuildings could be converted into workshops and a gymnasium.

It is expected the financial grants would be obtained from educational authorities, and that a whole time warden or secretary would be needed.

Through the interest of the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings, the Hall has been inspected by Mr. Marshall Sisson, F.S.A., F.R.I.B.A., in whose opinion it is definitely suited for community centre purposes, and has “great possibilities,” possessing “just the atmosphere and character needed.”

Mr. Sisson adds: “If simplified in plan and redecorated the house would have great character and might, in fact, become a most attractive ‘show-place’ while at the same time fulfilling a modern need against a background of historic tradition.

“Rushden can be considered most fortunate in possessing a building with such tradition, charm and character in an admirable setting in the centre of town, and it is much to be hoped that the Council will be able to repair and adapt it for some such purpose as that now suggested.”

The Rushden Echo and Argus, 18th June 1948, transcribed by Jim Hollis

Hall Plan is Backed

Rushden Trades Council approves the suggestion that Rushden Hall be utilised as a community centre – providing the Urban Council puts “the house in order” first.

This was decided at Wednesday’s monthly meeting, when Mr. H. Bailey (secretary) read the committee’s recommendation.

He told the delegates it was felt that there was a great need in the town for small meeting rooms and for other cultural facilities which had been recommended by the Urban Council.

The chairman (Mr. E. G. Dodd) and Mr. H. Wills supported the suggestion of the amalgamated bands of the town for a floral hall.

Other delegates were keen too, on the idea of a swimming pool in the place of the outlying buildings – “The one in use is like a duck pond for a town the size of Rushden,” observed Mr. W. Brown.

The secretary pointed out that a swimming pool would of necessity come under the heading of a long-term policy, and the Council wanted to know what could be done now.

Another opinion was that any military compensation for the use of the grounds should be put towards the cost of the Hall renovations.

The Rushden Echo and Argus, 21st January 1949, transcribed by Jim Hollis

Rushden Hall As Social Centre?

Whether the restoration of Rushden Hall was the motive of the project or only a convenient factor in its favour, was debated on Tuesday when a Rushden town’s meeting declared for a community Association and elected a committee to further the idea.

The Urban Council, whose chairman (Mr. J. H. J. Paragreen) convened the meeting and presided, had offered the use of the Hall, and financial assistance for its adaptation, in the event of an association being formed.

Several speakers had addressed a crowded meeting in the Council Chamber on the pros and cons of a Community Centre when Mr. J. M. Bailey, M.C., M.B.E., declared that the Council might have given “a closer lead.”

“May I ask,” he said, “what the Council intend to do with the Hall if they don’t get a Community Centre?”

The Chairman: We haven’t got as far as that.

“It looks to us,” resumed Mr. Bailey, “that because you have got a derelict building and don’t know what on earth to do with it you are trying to create an organisation to use it.

“We would never have had this meeting if we had not had the Hall. But we know full well that if sufficient money is forthcoming there will be dozens of organisations who will be glad to make use of the Hall, and at the same time we shall be preserving something which is more beautiful than anything we shall ever put up.”

“Mr. Bailey is definitely wrong,” replied A. F. Weale, the chairman of the Parks Committee. “When we found the building going into decay we were determined to repair it, but it was no good doing that work and then finding that we had done it along the wrong lines. It is logical to find out first of all to what purpose it should be put.

No Ruin

“If you say definitely that you do not want a Community Centre we shall find ways and means of reconstruction. I can assure you the Council will not allow the old building to become a mere ruin.”

When the chairman asked: “Are you in favour of a Community Association?” many hands went up for the proposal and none against.

The committee members are Mr. A. N. Groome, Mr. J. M. Bailey, Miss Margaret Neal, Mrs. Ferguson (chairman of the Townswomen’s Guild), Mr. P. W. Wills (Rotary Club), Mr. Goodall (W.E.A.), Mr. Cyril Faulkner, Mr. G. T. MacPherson (Toc H), Miss W. M. Clipson (St. John Nursing Division), and Mrs. G. W. Marriott (Rotary Inner Wheel), with the Chairman, Vice-Chairman and Clerk of the Council, and the Chairman of the Parks Committee.

The Rushden Echo and Argus, 18th February 1949, transcribed by Jim Hollis

Social Centre Scheme Should Grow

Progress of the Community Association scheme on which the future use of Rushden Hall may depend is likely to involve gradual building up, but the committee appointed at the town’s meeting in January is hopeful of ultimate success.

Within the next few days local organisations will receive a circular asking them to state their attitude and requirements, and immediate headway will depend upon their answers.

The committee formed last month has held its first meeting and has appointed Mr. A. Norman Groome as chairman, with Miss Margaret Neal as temporary secretary.

“We are going all out to get something done,” said Mr. Groome yesterday. “We may start slowly, but the movement will probably grow and build itself up.

“If we are to start a Community Centre we want sufficient people who would take rooms and pay a small rent which would make it an economic proposition. That is why we are making a survey of existing organisations and their requirements. I also thought we would make a ‘snap’ survey of private houses as well.

“We are very much in the air at the moment, but we hope, if there is sufficient interest, to widen the committee and bring in the people who would actually use the Centre.”

The question of using Rushden Hall as a Centre is being left in abeyance until the scope of the project takes shape.

The Rushden Echo and Argus, 12th March 1948, transcribed by Jim Hollis

Too Much ‘Arranging’ For The Aged?
Pensioners’ Plan Raises Debate

Old people would prefer ease and liberty of choice rather than organised clubs, in the opinion of Councillor A. F. Weale, who said “the world it going mad over organisation” when the question of an “Old People’s Forum was raised at the meeting of Rushden Urban Council.

The C.W.S. Pensioners had requested that a town’s meeting should be called by the Council to consider he establishment of a social centre at Rushden Hall.

The General Purpose Committee suggested that the matter would be best dealt with by the pensioners themselves, but Councillor E. A. Sugars maintained that it was a fine opportunity for the Council to take the lead. He moved an amendment that the chairman should be asked to call a town’s meeting.

Councillor F. E. Brown said that the committee had in mind that the Hall was not suitable, and could not be made suitable without the expenditure of a large amount of money. The opinion was expressed in committee that there would not be a sufficient large number of old age pensioners who would want their life arranged to the extent planned.

“When people reach the age of some of us,” said Councillor Weale, “we feel that organisation has had its day. We have seen enough organisation. If we could give them ease and liberty of choice rather than organising them into clubs, it would be far better for them.”

Councillor Waring spoke of the difficulty of striking a happy medium between regimentation and total neglect of the old people

The amendment moved by Mr. Sugars was carried by eight votes to six.

The Rushden Echo and Argus, 8th July 1949, transcribed by Gill Hollis

Progress on Rushden Hall Problem

Rushden Community Association Committee, on completing its initial review, has forwarded to the Urban Council a report on its inquiries.

Mr. A. Norman Groome, hon. secretary, informs us that all organisations that might be interested in the scheme have been contacted. A list has been made of those needing accommodation for meetings such as could be provided when Rushden Hall is restored.

Interest in the establishment of a Community Centre is less keen than the desire to see the Hall restored and in good use, but it is thought that if the Council will now give a new lead on the basis of the information supplied, the work of the Committee will be strengthened.

The Rushden Echo and Argus, 16th February, 1951

Council Seeks Grant for Hall

Meeting in committee on Wednesday night, Rushden Urban Council received new information about the terms on which the Ministry of Education will grant £1,000 toward the cost of repairing Rushden Hall – estimated at £4,840.

Desiring to accept the grant, the Council adopted a resolution assuring the Ministry that they will assist any proposal for establishing a Community Association to enjoy the facilities at the Hall.

Application will be made for consent to the raising of a loan, and Professor A. E. Richardson will be asked to advise on the placing of a contract for the expeditious completion of the work.

plan for new Hall grounds gatesThe Rushden Echo, 4th May 1962

This plan for the entrance to Rushden Hall Grounds will further erase memories of a controversial subject at several meetings of the Urban Council last year—the former lodge, which stood inside the present entrance. The council recently decided to surrender 305 square yards of land to the County Council, and it expects that this scheme for a new wall, railings and lawns will materialise from the immediate plan to widen High Street South. The photograph is of the actual drawing which received the council’s consideration.

The Evening Telegraph, 28th December 1979, transcribed by Jim Hollis

Hall Study –Is It Too Late?

How on earth can the council consider spending £9,000 for the white elephant feasibility study on the north wing of Rushden Hall?

This was aptly described by a council officer, according to an ET report, as being in a shocking state.

If repairs were absolutely necessary, why had not the project been mentioned earlier?

Now a cost of £180,000 over and above the cost of survey was mentioned.

This will undoubtedly rise to a quarter of a million pounds eventually – and where would the cash come from?

I noted a remark, attributed to the Council’s chief executive, that if and when the work was completed it would make a nice situation for his department.

This would only make a further sprawling of contact points from the real council buildings. Access would be up a lonely, ill-lit drive, an uninviting and daunting prospect for elderly or infirm people but ideal for muggers.

I hope these few thoughts will be pondered over by citizens and councillors alike and trust that others will feel that such hare-brained schemes will be halted in their tracks before any further ones are innovated.

If we have money to spare let it be used on other and more important pursuits but with correct priority.

86 Bedford Road,

Evening Telegraph, 30th May 1981, transcribed by Gill Hollis

Our Landmark Gets An Overhall

The most famous and historically interesting of all Rushden’s buildings is again to become part of the life of the town – and the county.

Rushden Hall, first known of as a manor in the thirteenth century, looks set – after a £100,000 facelift – to become the new offices for East Northants Council.

Interesting and important though that news itself is, it’s also a point of pleasing symmetry for the town whose history is ancient, varied and very rich.

The first mention we have of the Hall was as a manor in the Domesday Book, published by the recently arrived Norman King, William I in the eleventh century.

There was land for twelve ploughs, 30 areas of meadow and a mill in the village of Rushden, which originally took its name from the situation of the Saxon settlement along the banks of the brook which still runs through the middle of the town. The ‘rushy valley’ was the home of several families dependent upon agriculture for their livelihood.

They were joined by the Danes and at the time of the Norman Conquest, they had their own priest and were an established church. From then on, life at Rushden Hall flourished.

Though a private manor, by the early 13th century, it seems certain that it was associated with officers of Higham Castle and later with the son of Edward III, the notorious and hugely rich John of Gaunt. John was probably the most powerful man in England of his day – and probably far more feared even than his father.

Who knows what sinister and far-reaching conferences may have taken place within the walls of Rushden Hall – forever affecting the life of the nation.

Then came the Pemberton family, who occupied the house for 200 years. The first of them, Robert Pemberton, arrived in 1461, becoming High Sheriff of the county in 1480, and usher of the chamber to Richard III. The last of the Pembertons to live at the hall was another High Sheriff, Sir Lewis who died in 1639. It then became the home of a John Ekins from Irchester.

The Ekins were a family steeped in political tradition, and this was never clearer than during the bloody Civil War.

They ignored the calls of Charles I and stood squarely behind Oliver Cromwell.

A change of heart came about with the Fletcher family, who occupied the Hall from 1755. Thomas, the father, appears to have been the very model of a Georgian squire. Bluff and hearty, he loved nothing better than the gentlemanly pursuits of hunting, shooting and fishing.

Rushden Hall thus became, for the moment, a far less political establishment.

Thomas also took a great interest in horse racing, and there are strong reasons to suggest that he gambled more heavily than ever a man of his means could afford.

In 1836, his descendant John Fletcher was forced to sell the hall ‘for the benefit of creditors.’

By now, the hall had established itself as the kind of home in which any man of fame and fortune would be proud to settle.

Thomas Williams, a man of great wealth, came to live there in 1822, becoming High Sheriff in 1829. Not only was he rich. He was also a devoted father and, in the best tradition of nineteenth century England, he liked his families large. By the time of his death in 1881, the grand old man, then 85 had married twice and produced 21 children. But the Williams’ were the last of the great dynasties to live in the hall.

Various families came and went until in 1931, Rushden Urban Council purchased it from John Todd.

The diversity of its owners, their changing fortunes, and the originality of its own history, are all clearly reflected in the hall.

Architecturally, it is a complex mixture of styles, both inside and in the face it presents to the world.

Happily, the early 16th century arches within the front hall survive from the great hall of the Tudor house.

The imposing east front with its ‘Dutch’ gables and semi-circular bay windows, definitely post-Jacobean, were probably additions by Sir Lewis Pemberton, in about 1630.

Thomas Williams, as a rich Victorian might have been expected to carry out many alterations.

The centre bay was added to the east front and he remodelled the south facade, erecting the embattled porch and divided the great hall into other rooms – something today’s purists can only deplore.

The old lodge and gates date from this period, and Thomas added the arms of the Williams, Berthon and Cunningham into the ceiling of the front hall.

A later owner, F. U. Sartoris added the gabled projections to the north-west, incorporating a new kitchen and servants’ quarters, a second bay on the south front and a stable block.

The interior of the hall has far from lost the reminders of its ancient past, however.

The two staircases possess original balustrades from the seventeenth century, reconstructed, and the linen-fold panelling and ‘Flemish’ overmantle came back from Bristol.

As a reminder of its more ancient associations, the fire-back beneath the overmantle depicts the arms of Edward VI, the boy-King and son of Henry VIII, and came from Higham Castle.

The present century has not treated Rushden Hall much more kindly than it has treated any-where else.

World wars and ravaging inflation dealt a stunning blow to the building which was fortunately arrested before it grew too dilapidated.

It was the rear half of the building which suffered most, but a £50,000 renovation scheme several years back improved matters dramatically.

Tory councillor Alan Goulsbra estimated that the total cost of restoring lingering problems to the structure and preparing the way for the council’s arrival would be about £100,000 but a majority decision has now been reached in the chamber to undertake the conversion.

Rushden Hall is a listed building, but even so Mr. Goulsbra admitted that it is the new positive role as an office for it that has made him personally feel justified in voting that the money be spent on the restoration.

But then, again, he said that there is “something rather pleasing” about the work of government being done in what is both a practical and historic setting.

Though it is true that the torch-lit conspiracies and battle plans laid by medieval chieftains in Rushden Hall are a long way different from those of modern councils, it has to be added that the main difference is really one of time.

New priorities have taken their place in the governments, local and national, of today.

2013 new section

In 2012 part of the boundary wall along the northern side of the grounds, above the Scout Hut off Skinners Hill, fell down following harsh weather during the autumn.

It was repaired in 2013, and was carried out by stone masons D P Tebbutt.

Although it looks quite different today, it will soon weather to blend in with the old section, and hopefully will last as long as the old wall.

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