Speakers: Margaret Greiff and Brenda Hooper
19 October 2021
There is always a good turn-out when we can find truly local topics for our meetings and that was again the case in October, when two of our long-standing members updated us with their research into some of the most significant buildings in Thurcaston’s history.
First, we heard from Margaret Greiff about the largest house in the village, which has been known successively as the Mansion House, the Rectory and the Grange. Strictly speaking, Thurcaston was never a manor in its own right but was a tenancy of the manor of Groby, with a requirement to pay rent in the form of a certain number of hens each year at Candlemas. However, the tenant behaved as the lord of the manor in practice. Margaret presented a case that the Mansion House was originally built soon after 1276, when John Falconer of Keyham married the heiress to the Thurcaston estate. His name appears in legal documents connected with Thurcaston from that time and he might also have been responsible for improvements in the church that have been dated to the 13th century, such as the addition of a tower and the north aisle.
The house probably became the Rectory in the mid-1400s, when the Falconer family lacked a male heir and the ownership of Thurcaston passed with one of their daughters to a family in Staffordshire. In 1583, Elizabeth I’s spymaster Francis Walsingham bought the Thurcaston estate and gave it to the newly founded Emmanuel College in Cambridge. We are fortunate that several of the rectors appointed by Emmanuel have left us descriptions of the Rectory. For a long time, it remained a large, half-timbered hall of 8 bays, open to the roof, which would have been similar in size and appearance to Leicester Guildhall. It was not until 1735 that the Rev. Arnald substantially rebuilt the property in brick, with many sash windows and the attractive curved frontage that it retains today.
By 1927, much of the glebe land attached to the Rectory had been sold and it became too expensive for the rector to maintain. A new rectory was built further along Anstey Lane and the old Rectory was renamed the Grange. It has since passed through a succession of private owners and Margaret showed us several photographs taken by Zoe Byford, who grew up there.
Next, Brenda Hooper told us the story of Thurcaston’s lost Manor House. There is a well-known painting by the Leicester artist John Flower of “an old house at Thurcaston” but until recently it was not clear exactly where it was located. Then Brenda and Margaret discovered a watercolour in the collection of Leicester Museums, which shows the same building from a different angle and makes clear that it stood just behind the church. The house was large, with three gables, and an inscription on a beam recorded that it was built in 1568 by Nicholas Gravenor. However, it can be seen from the Flower painting that in fact he must have added two new gables to an earlier building. (The earlier building was potentially old enough to have been the birthplace of the protestant martyr Hugh Latimer in 1487. The other contender is the house roughly opposite the Memorial Hall that is still known as Latimer House.)
Gravenor did not live in his new house for long, soon building and moving into an even grander house with a moat, at Maplewell. There are occasional later references to the Manor House from records such as Hearth Tax returns and we know that from at least 1770 it belonged to the Hudson and Palmer families of Wanlip Hall. For more than 100 years their tenants were farmers called Weston. In 1852, lightning set fire to the roof of the house and the Leicester newspapers praised the people of Thurcaston and surrounding villagers for the way they worked together to save the building and its contents. The house was eventually dismantled in the 1870s, when Archdale Palmer built a new “Thurcaston Manor” for his widowed mother on the other side of the church, which survives today.