West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Local History


By JOHN O. E. HOLMES – 2004



Pontefract New Hall

Transcript from a book prepared for the visit of the Yorkshire Mechanics’ Institute, June 1881 by Richard Holmes and T. W. Tew.

The Priory and other property of the Cluniac monks of St. John the Evangelist fell at the suppression of the monastery into the possession of the Crown, and shortly afterwards that portion locally situate in Pontefract was granted to Lord G. Talbot, as appears by the Particulars on the preceding pages. This Lord Talbot, as was commonly the case with such grantees, was anxious to destroy the shell of what had been; and appears to have been determined to get the materials away from the site by any means. He accordingly commenced at once to use the ruins of the Priory as materials in the construction of the New Hall; for on no other hypothesis is the appearance of carved Early English and even Norman work in the walls of a sixteenth century building to be accounted for.

The E.N.E. Courtyard front of the Hall had over the principal gateway, engraved in stone, the armorial bearings of the Talbot family. The shield had twenty-eight quarterings, and had as supporters, a Talbot one side, and a horse on the other. Over the shield was an Earl’s Coronet and the motto of the Talbots in Old French – "Preste d’accomplir". The different bearings of the shield indicate that the Talbot family had intermarried with the families of De Gournay, Mandeville, Butler, Beauchamp, Stafford, Nevile, Burnel, Cavendish, Rutland, Hardwick, Hastings etc etc; but on the shield, and engraved on the stone, all but obliterated, was a date – 1591.

There are several reasons upon an examination of the structural details of the Hall, for thinking the mansion to be of an earlier date than 1591. The New Hall is finished with a Gothic string course peculiar to the reign of Henry VIII and solid parapet peculiar to the close of the reign of Henry VII; whereas most large mansions of the date of 1591 have an imitation of an Italian cornice, and an open parapet. Then the windows in the Hall, although the sections of the mullions and the transoms (ovolo fillet) point to the reign of Henry VIII, and although most large mansions erected in the latter part of the eighteenth century have lofty windows, high enough for two or sometimes three mansions, yet the windows here being of moderate dimensions in height, 6ft 6in and 7ft 8in, they point to the close of Henry VII’s reign. Then the "tout ensemble" of the New Hall has a castellated appearance, which also gives the impression of a Tudor rather than of an Elizabethan building.

The principal entrance to the New Hall and the North Tower, fell with a tremendous crash, on 19th January 1828. The whole of the E.N.E. frontage was then taken away; and with the materials a new farmhouse was built by John Brice, and no trace consequently now remains of the entrance Front, its embattled walls, its turret and its gateway entrance, in which Italian columns and cornice would most likely have been found, if built late in the century - an absolute decision is difficult. But the reasons above stated and the absence in the building itself of all scroll or scrap work, or other Elizabethan feature, lead to the conclusion that the design is of older date than that engraved upon the stone shield. Two other characteristics of these mansions are the introduction of wainscoting instead of tapestry very early in the sixteenth century, and the use of plaster mouldings and enrichments, together with the increasing use of Italian details and Italian mouldings. Now, plaster mouldings have been largely used in the ceilings of the New Hall, and the 5in. mouldings still adhering to the walls in some of the rooms are the lower mouldings of plaster coves to the ceilings. The ceilings again have been divided into panels by the plaster mouldings, the main floor beams forming the larger divisions of the panelling. This division of the ceilings into plaster panel compartments, was the practice in this style of mansion, and it continued to prevail until the introduction of the coffered ceilings of later Italian taste.

The New hall has too much the appearance of a Tudor edifice to have been built so late in the sixteenth century as the date on the stone shield. The mansions built towards the close of the sixteenth century show the Elizabethan style having unmistakable Italian features in their external decorations, and especially in their principal entrance. This change is very perceptible if, for instance; the Wolsey part of Hampton Court, 1514, be compared with Longleat, 1579, and with Hardwick Hall, 1579, which last, though properly a 17th century edifice, is in the same style as the later edifices of the 16th century. An example also of the early plaster ceilings of the 16th century is in the withdrawing room of the 1514 portion at Hampton Court, and there was another illustration of the ceilings of this period to be seen in an old house in Fleet Street, very near Temple Bar, which is said to have been a palace of Henry VIII’s, but really belonged to Prince Henry, eldest son of James I. It is now occupied by a hairdresser.

Before the year 1485, the commencement of the reign of Henry VII, domestic architecture in England can scarcely be said to have had any existence; the mansions that had been erected were rather military than domestic; they were fortresses not dwellings. With this monarch’s marriage however, the terrible feuds between the Houses of York and Lancaster came to an end, and a period of internal peace introduced a mode of living, and with it a new style of domestic architecture. Englishmen began to look for convenience rather than strength in their private mansions, and elegance and social comfort began to be preferred to fortified security. The growing feeling of domestic safety greatly influenced the principal men of the time, in erecting magnificent structures, well and solidly built and carried out in a grand and imposing style of architectural decoration.

The chief characteristics of the Halls of this, and the following reign, showed little therefore of the fortified ingredients of their predecessors, beyond as in the New Hall, the parapets with which the walls were surmounted; and these indeed appear to have been preserved more for ornament than use. In the new class of domestic mansions the thickness of the walls was reduced from nine feet and six feet, as at Pontefract Castle, to 2ft. 10in. as at New Hall. The size of openings, from being mere arrow holes for light, air, or defence, became enlarged windows, with other more modernised arrangements influenced by the requirements of domestic comfort and convenience, rather than of fortified security. In Henry VIII’s reign 1509-1547, there is no lack of examples of Halls and mansions. This King was not only himself a builder, but he encouraged his nobles to follow his example. King Henry himself built or repaired as is said, eleven Palaces and Halls.

The New Hall is accordingly one of the many large baronial houses built for magnificent display, and not like the Castle of Pontefract, for defence, though retaining the external appearance of a castellated mansion. That the New Hall could not have been commenced so late as the closing years of the sixteenth century, an enumeration of a few of the edifices of that date will conclusively demonstrate. First on the list then towards the close of the fifteenth century, in Henry VII’s reign, was built "Tattershall Castle", by Cromwell, the first of the great Cromwells. Thornbury Castle, Gloucestershire, was only commenced by Edward Strafford, Duke of Buckingham, about the year 1511, and left unfinished at his death in 1572, appearing never to have been roofed. The older part of Hampton Court 1514, by Cardinal Wolsey; Layer Marney Hall, in Essex, built by Sir Henry Marney, afterwards Baron Marney, about 1520; Compton Winyate House built about the same time as Layer Marney, the materials of Fulbroke Castle being appropriated by Sir William Compton for the purpose: This house is now one of the mansions of the Marquis of Northampton. Then, later in the century are Kenilworth Castle, 1575; Burleigh House near Stamford, the seat of the Marquis of Exeter, 1577; Longleat Wiltshire, 1579, the principal residence of the Marquis of Bath: Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, built by Elizabeth of Shrewsbury, 1597, now the seat of the Marquis of Hartington; and lastly Wollaton Hall 1616, Lord Middleton’s mansion, near Nottingham. The pure Italian style however, of King James the first’s reign was rapidly gaining the ascendency, and was destined to be permanently introduced by Inigo Jones in the early part of the 17th century. From a citation of these examples of the growth of domestic architecture during the sixteenth century it appears that the New Hall could not have been designed so late as the date on the stone shield, which may therefore be a date inscribed when the mansion was roofed in, and was approaching completion for residence.

There is another curious circumstance connected with the construction of the edifice; the timber, where it is used as balk in beams, lintels, or discharging pieces, has very old mortice holes in it, evidencing that it has done duty before in some older building than the New Hall, and that it must have been brought from some ecclesiastical building. An examination of the outside stone walls also shows that at least three different kinds of stone are used in their construction. The lower portion of the south corner of the principal front is constructed of Sherburn free stone; the South East wing of the same kind of stone as the Castle from the Pontefract rock of Smith and Sedgwick, and which from the age of its older weather stains must have been brought from some old building; on the W.N.W. front this weather-stained stone is mixed with the Pontefract Magnesian Limestone. The Pontefract Lime and the Sherburn stones are used in lesser proportions than the older weather-stained stone of the Pontefract rock, as if these two classes of stone had been used to make up a deficiency in the older Pontefract rock stone. Now if this older weather–stained stone be the material taken from the Priory of St. John’s on its demolition, the date of the New Hall must be earlier in the century than the date of the stone shield. When the North Tower fell, and the E.N.E. portion of the principal entrance to the Hall was removed in 1828, this shield of arms was taken away by Mr. Alderman Perfect to his garden in Ropergate, where for many years it adorned the arched passage from his house under the road to his garden. In 1861, Mr. Wood of Monkhill, the then owner of the garden, ascertaining the history of this shield, offered to return it to Lord Harewood, by whom the offer was naturally accepted, with many expressions of thanks. The shield was accordingly taken to Harewood, where it can still be seen.

The principal entrance to this mansion was from the E.N.E. The main approach was by a carriage drive from the old road from Leeds by Ferrybridge and by the north of the windmill on St. Thomas’s Hill to Ferrybridge; and there appears to have been a porters lodge and gateway, under which visitors passed on their way to the main entrance of the Hall. The plan of the mansion comprises, besides the building, an enclosed garden to the S.S.E., 122 feet by 105 feet, terminating on the south and east corners with towers, each 20 feet 6 inches, by 19 feet 6 inches. On the W.N.W. side there is another walled garden, 310 feet by 170 feet; the communication with the two gardens being by a gateway. The arch to this garden gateway is Gothic or Pointed on the outside, with a face arch apparently added inside, and in Elizabethan or rather the style of King James I’s reign, 1604. In the garden wall on the west side are two large ovens for baking bread, both in excellent order. The largest is nine feet, and the smaller four feet in diameter. Both are lined with brick and dome-shaped, and they were intended to be the bakeries to the mansion. The Hall was supplied with water from a well on the N.N.W. corner, filled up some twenty years ago, but there is a new well on the other side of the mansion for the use of the farm, sunk through the Lower Magnesian limestone into the bed of the Pontefract rock. This well is 40 feet deep and the supply of water in it, even in a dry season, is 10 feet. Part of the extended E.N.E. side is flanked with extensive stabling. Above are granaries, and the roof is constructed of oak timbering of extraordinary solidity.

The plan of the New Hall consisted of a basement, a ground floor, and first and second stories, the basement consisting of cellars, kitchens and offices of various kinds. The outside dimensions of the ground floor plan above the plinth are S.S.E. front 105 feet, W.N.W. front 58 feet 8 inches. The ground floor consisted of an entrance hall of noble proportions, a vestibule into the S.S.E. garden, staircase and general living rooms. On the first storey are some state apartments, and on the second a magnificent ballroom, 90 feet long, running the length of one wing of the Hall. The other principal rooms are on an equally large scale, and there are also most suitable offices and convenience for a considerable family establishment.

The bay of the S.S.E. front between the ground floor and first storey is ornamented by a stone shield, engraved with armorial bearings. The quarterings are nearly obliterated, but the shield differs in many of them from the shield removed from the E.N.E. front. Over this shield is a Barred Helmet and a Talbot. Some of the quarterings belong to the family of the Pierrepoints, Stapleton of Carlton, Pembroke, Nevile, and the Talbot family. Beneath on the same front there is (on the right of the mansion) a crest (a Talbot passant), and on the left, a Horned Bull rampant, the crest of the Dukes of Kingston. The height of the bay mullioned windows to the ground floor is 6 feet, and to the first floor 7 feet 3.

Internally the height from the kitchen floor of the basement to the floor of the entrance hall is 11 feet 6 inches, from the floor of the entrance hall to the floor of the first storey 13 feet 10 inches. The height of the first storey from its floor to the level of the floor of the second storey is 18 feet 8 inches. The depth of the plaster moulding to the ceilings of the ground and first storey is 5 inches. The depth of the cove to the ceiling of the first storey, from plaster moulding to floor level of the second storey is 3 feet 6 inches, making the vertical height of the first floor walls 15 feet 6 inches. The total height from the kitchen floor to the floor of the second storey is 44 feet. The ballroom on the second storey is in three divisions, by two pairs of folding doors; the width of the door openings being 14 feet 6 inches. The height of the second or ballroom storey cannot be measured, the walls being in a dangerous state. The four towers, one at each corner of the Hall, each measured 13 feet 3 inches by 10 feet 6 inches, and the tower at the south corner was a staircase tower leading from the basement up to the leaden roof of the building. The stairs were of solid oak. The newel posts measured 5 inches square and they were sunk-panelled, tending to strengthen the conclusion that the mansion is older than the date on the shield; since in Elizabethan and the succeeding styles of architecture, the swelled or balluster-formed newel was almost invariably used, and the staircase ballusters are usually similar in form, showing the increasing prevalence of Italian forms and details. The windows of the Hall were glazed throughout with glass in small squares and of a dark green colour.

On the ground floor the entrance hall was 46 feet long by 25 feet 8 inches wide, the audience room was 21 feet 3 inches by 20 feet 6 inches, the serving room was 23 feet by 15 feet, the withdrawing room was 22 feet by 19 feet 6 inches, the private room was 19 feet 6 inches by 16 feet 9 inches, the parlour was 18 feet 6 inches by 12 feet 3 inches, while the grand staircase, 6 feet wide, occupied a space of 19 feet 3 inches square.

Truly a grand old mansion, a fitting residence for a gentleman of rank and wealth; and which judging from the few fragments left of its cornice coves, has had an interior of great magnificence. The plastering and plaster moulding still adhering to the walls, though the building has been unroofed for nearly four score years, are standing proofs of excellence in materials and workmanship. Whatever may have been the reason, this mansion was never completely finished, nor does it appear that any member of either the Talbot or the Pierrepoint family really resided in it. The Civil War of King Charles put a sad stop to the building and the completion of domestic edifices in the style in which it was built, and perhaps to this cause may be partly attributed the non- residence of those for whom it was designed. We find, however, that Henry Talbot, fourth son of Lord George Talbot, the grantee of the Priory property, who had become Earl of Shrewsbury and married Gertrude, daughter of Thomas Manners (Earl of Rutland), had a daughter named Gertrude after her grandmother. She married Robert Pierrepoint who, on June 29th 1628, was made Baron Pierrepoint, and on May 25th 1629, was created Earl of Kingston-upon-Hull.

This Kingston family retained the property for some generations but it ultimately went by purchase to another branch of the same Pierrepoints. For, about the beginning of the eighteenth century Sir William Dawes sister, Elizabeth, married William Pierrepoint. This lady, Elizabeth Pierrepoint, widow of William Pierrepoint, Nottingham, bought the New Hall with the other property formerly belonging to the Priory, of the Duke of Kingston. She bequeathed this property to her nephew, Sir D’Arcy Dawes, son of her brother Sir William Dawes. Sir William Dawes was a man of exemplary conduct. On 24th March 1713, he was translated from the Bishopric of Chester and became the 77th Archbishop of York. He died April 30th 1724 and was buried at Cambridge. Sir D’Arcy Dawes married one Sarah Roundell and they had an only child, Elizabeth, who married in 1746 Edwin Lascelles, and thus the New Hall, the Priory Lands, with the Pontefract Rectorial Tithes, and the Pierrepoint Tithes of Glasshoughton, came into the possession of the Right Honourable the Earl of Harewood. When on 21st March 1646, the soldiers of the Commonwealth entered the town of Pontefract, they took possession of the New Hall, Monkhill and Baghill, and soon began to dig trenches and erect strong earth works, not only round the Castle, but round the mansion also. During the third siege too, the Castle and the Hall were surrounded by these entrenchments and on 14th December 1648, the works were wholly completed. These lines of circumvallation, consisting of a double rampart and a ditch between, with redans and bastions for defence, enclosed an area round the Hall of 462 by 350 yards. The S.S.E. angled bastion in the earth works round the Hall commanded the road from Ferrybridge, and was a defence to the outlying Tanalian guard, 130 yards distant, while the guns from Colonel Dean’s fort commanded the New Hall and protected it from any attack by surprise from the Royalist garrison in the Castle. The Hall however, did not escape with impunity. It was hit several times by the cannon balls from the Royalist guns, and a cannon ball weighing 5lbs was taken out of one of the W.N.W. walls of the mansion not many years ago.

After the Civil War, the building was neglected, but it was not until the present century that its dismantlement began, when the country was in the midst of troubles foreign and domestic. In March 1812, the Luddite riots began in Nottinghamshire, and spread into the other manufacturing districts, causing such great mischief and alarm, that the noble owner of the New Hall, partly because the lead on the roof was continually being stolen by petty depredators, but chiefly, lest the Luddites should strip it for melting into bullets, had it entirely taken off. The timbers were then exposed to the weather, and soon the whole fabric began to crumble into its present ruin, becoming a prey to the bats and the owls. Year after year portions of the upper part of the fabric fall and year after year the destruction of the whole becomes more imminent. Every storm leaves traces of its violence, and not a winter passes without doing somewhat towards reducing the wreck into a heap of fragments. And thus this well designed structure, the proposed abode of nobles, remains a monumental warning of the punishment of Sacrilege.

©John O.E. Holmes, 2004


Other studies by John Holmes

Pontefract Elections
Pontefract Mill Hill Sand Tunnels
Pontefract and its Manors Part One


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