Visit to Beaumanor Hall

5 August 2018

The final summer outing for Thurcaston and Cropston Local History Society was to Beaumanor Hall. Our guide John told us the history and showed us the house and grounds.  What we see today is the Victorian house with obvious signs of its more recent past.

After the Norman Conquest William the Conqueror gave the land to his nephew as a hunting estate, but the first house was not built until 14th century. The estate was purchased by the Herrick family in the 1550s.  The first Sir William made his fortune in gold, silver and jewellery.  Each subsequent owner was also called Sir William, when the 6th Sir William died without a male heir the 7th, a bachelor from Wolverhampton inherited. In the 1830-40’s he pulled down the Georgian house (which no one had liked) and engaged a well-known architect of the time William Railton (Nelson’s Column) to build a new one. With a quote of £6,000 the house eventually came in over budget at £37,000!

Our tour started in the bar – originally the office from which Sir William ran the estate.  When he fell in a hunting accident (at the age of 82) he was brought back to the office and died with his wife beside him.  It was the first time she had been allowed into the office.  She continued to run the estate until her own death in 1915. In 1939 it was requisitioned by the War Office (and later bought by the Army) and used as a listening station and centre for military intelligence during World War II.  More recently in the 1970’s the hall was bought by Leicestershire County Council (LCC) to be used (and remains) as an education and conference centre.

The Library and the Morning Room retain much of their Victorian splendour with heavily decorated and carved wooden ceilings and marble fireplaces, however a similar ceiling in the drawing room did not survive the army occupation.  The magnificent stained glass window illuminating the Grand Hall and staircase was boarded up during this period and remains unscathed.  Upstairs the grand proportions can be seen, but the rooms have been repurposed first by the army and later by LCC.

Following a refreshment break we headed down to the cellars to see the working areas of a great house, including the bread kitchen, laundry rooms and meat preparation room.  One cellar has been set up as an air raid shelter, providing atmosphere for the final section of the tour.  In the grounds are a number of outbuildings that were part of the WWII listening station (Station Y) which intercepted and forwarded messages to Bletchley Park. These were made to look like agricultural buildings and farm cottages to disguise their real purpose from the air.  We saw inside Morse Cottages which had been used by radio operators.  This concluded an extensive and most interesting tour.