Gainsborough Old Hall

Gainsborough Old HallIn an old old corridor in an old old great hall walks a lady dressed in Tudor grey, the ghost of the daughter of the Lord of the Manor who fell in love with a soldier.  When her father discovered the affair he locked her away in a dark tower until she simply pined away from loneliness and despair. To this very day the ghost haunts the corridor and tower, waiting in vain for her lover to return.

Eyewitnesses have seen her walk through walls. Your grandchildren will undoubtedly wish to see the very spot. And the ghost may well be real. Fifty or so years ago the wall was stripped to reveal an ancient Tudor entrance.

Truth is stranger than fiction.

Making a bookIf there is a theme concerning my contributions to our “days out with the grandchildren” series it is my attempt to get the children to love visiting places from “long ago”. This may take the form of them marching to a World War 2 drill sergeant or being drenched in a water park on a grand country estate. On this occasion, given that we are approaching Halloween, may I suggest taking them somewhere dark with a ghost and dead things hanging from walls.

The house is the grand medieval Gainsborough Old Hall, a timber framed English Heritage property in the Lincolnshire market town of  that name. Our commercial world is full of fake Halloween cobwebs, grotesques and gargoyles. How much better to visit one of the best preserved grand houses in the country, stretching as far back as 1460. It is indeed a miracle of preservation, a “hidden gem” as its supporters rightly refer to it. Eschewing anything to do with bright lights there is a definite atmosphere about the place that cannot be faked. I would not spend the night there!

Daisy pilgrimYou may well not see the ghost. She is an elusive spirit, but you will see the contents of the miraculously preserved great kitchen from the medieval period where four of our grandchildren – Rose (9), Matilda (7), Daisy (6) and Max (5) – could hardly believe the food our ancestors ate. Long before there were tins, freezers and McDonalds, if we were very very lucky, we ate hare, peacock, swan and indeed all manner of beasts. And there they are, arrayed on tables or hanging in a well stocked larder.

“Is that a real pig, grandpa?”

“Of course not, it's a wild boar.”

The children can touch the stag, feel the feathers of the game birds. Once upon a time, and I can still remember it, our butchers were much like this.

There's much to see: a tower to climb, a place to dress up in the clothes of the Pilgrim Fathers, whose links to the Hickman family are disclosed on the tour, and a four poster bed to clamber into and scream just a bit. The kids are just as bad! If you look carefully you may discover why Cadbury's Chocolates have a “Roses” brand of confectionery.

Tudor foodAs ever my advice is to scrutinise the calendar and discover what events are being staged. Events cost the same as non-events so be canny, check it out first on-line. We all visited the Hall on a dreadfully wet and blustery day in August to discover the staff in full costume, baking and cooking in a traditional manner, sharing the secrets of the Tudor kitchen.

Then it was down to the school room where the kids made Tudor biscuits and, naturally enough, ate them. Not a scrap left for hungry grandpa. Finally they made and took home a “leather” bound book in the authentic Tudor style full of authentic Tudor recipes. The staff were remarkably friendly and it passed a very wet summer's day.

But we never saw the Grey Lady. English Heritage offer no guarantees.

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Ian Lumsden

Retired deputy headteacher & writer

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