I first visited Wingfield Manor with a group of friends in 1976 - thirty seven years ago! In those days it was one of those casual affairs where you knocked at the farmhouse door and asked to look around. There may have been an honesty box to leave donations, I can't quite remember but all was relaxed and we could wander at will. I visited again a couple of years later with Paul as I wanted to show him how interesting it was. In those days we caught a bus from Mansfield to Alfreton and walked to the village of South Wingfield. Much later we'd visited the church at South Wingfield looking for some of Paul's ancestors but had never been back to the Manor. It was high time for a return visit.
Wingfield Manor is now looked after by English Heritage but it still belongs to the farmer and there are certain areas where photography isn't allowed as there is a private house and gardens in the middle. Apparently the residents of the house get very irate if cameras are pointed at their private area which is quite understandable. We booked on a tour and received instructions through the post on where to park and where to meet. There is an off road lay by a few hundred yards up the road and you walk down to the farm gate and wait for the guides, there are wonderful views of the Manor on the way down. It is then quite a walk up from the road to the ruins themselves.
As we stood in the meeting place one of the guides described for us a scene of the arrival of a body of people to view the Manor as it was in the 1430s when an earlier twelfth century castle was being reconstructed as a 'palace' by one of the most powerful men in England. Ralph, Lord Cromwell was Treasurer in the court of King Henry VI and we were asked to imagine his arrival at his hill top residence with an entourage of family, friends and servants almost his whole household moving around the country from residence to residence.
When Lord Cromwell died in 1456 he left no heirs so the property passed into the hands of the Earls of Shrewsbury prominent landowners in the area.
|The Great Chambers|
|One of the windows of the Great Hall|
|Views over the surrounding countryside|
|Tantalising peeks at what lies beyond|
In the Inner Courtyard we stood as our guide told us of the times Mary, Queen of Scots was confined at the Manor under the keeping of the sixth Earl of Shrewsbury who was the fourth husband of the famous Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, daughter of John and Elizabeth Hardwick and known as Bess of Hardwick. The guide read a passage from Phillipa Gregory's book The Other Queen which described a meeting in the courtyard between the Earl of Shrewsbury and Mary, Queen of Scots although of course a purely fictional encounter the writing brought the whole place to life.
At the outbreak of the English Civil War Wingfield Manor was owned by William Cavendish, Earl of Newcastle who was the grandson of Bess of Hardwick from her second marriage to Sir William Cavendish. In 1644 the Manor came under siege by Parliamentarian forces under the Earl of Pembroke, the guides pointed out some of the areas where the walls had been hit by cannonballs. The royalist troops surrendered and the manor was captured for Parliament. After its capture the building, like so many others during the war, was 'slighted' which means it was semi-demolished.
You can still climb to the top of the tower from which there is a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside.
We took it in turns to go to the top as only about four people at a time can get up there safely.
In 1976 when I first went up this tower with a couple of friends I had a strange thing happen to me. Given that my birthday is at the end of August and my friends and I visited the day after my birthday and that there were apples on the trees in the courtyard and several windfalls on the floor, when I looked down at two of my friends who were standing under a tree, for a split second I saw white blossom on the trees and their clothes were no longer white and denim blue but deep russet red and mustard yellow. I've often wondered what would have caused this mirage, probably I was still in haze after the birthday party of the evening before but I've never been able to explain it and often feel rather silly telling the tale but there I've told it anyway. On our recent visit I went up the tower and looked down at the trees, still bare and blossom-less after the harsh winter and late spring and saw only the rest of the party wandering around under the trees and the guides waiting for us last few stragglers to come down.
The guided tours, which happen only one day each month, last for just over two hours. There are no facilities on the site and it is wise to take a bottle of water and to wear sturdy shoes. The two hours pass quickly because the guides are so informative and enthusiastic and have such a lot of history to impart and tales to tell.