Wingfield Manor is a deserted (since the 1770s) and ruined manor house some 4 miles from the town of Alfreton in the English county of Derbyshire. There is a working farm that forms part of the old manor.
It is now in the care of English Heritage, though only viewable through pre-booked guided tours one Saturday a month during the summer.
Wingfield Manor was built around 1450 for Ralph de Cromwell, 3rd Baron Cromwell, then Chancellor of England, on the site of a 12th-century castle and was bought by the second Earl of Shrewsbury. The design was the inspiration for Hampton Court Palace in London.
The sixth Earl of Shrewsbury was entrusted with the care of Mary, Queen of Scots, when she was detained from 1569 onwards, in his various houses around Derbyshire, Wingfield among them. It may have been here that she met Anthony Babington, whose family lived at Dethick nearby, who organised the abortive Babington Plot, a Recusant Catholic plot against Elizabeth I. The walnut tree in the north courtyard is reputed to have grown from a seed left when Anthony Babington smeared walnut juice over his face to disguise himself and enter the castle to see Mary, Queen of Scots. Unfortunately, the tree is not old enough for this story to be true.
At the time of the English Civil War (1642–48), the manor was in the hands of the Earl of Shrewsbury, a Parliament supporter. The Manor was taken by the Royalists in 1643 and then, after a siege, retaken by Parliament in 1644. It was located in what was then a strategic position near a main north-south artery of the country. It was partially demolished at the end of the Civil War, and then renovated some years later for Immanuel Halton, an astronomer. It was later further damaged when stone was taken for building Wingfield Hall, in the valley below.
The remains include a usable tower, part of a greater tower that included, before the English Civil War, one of the earliest flushing systems in England. A cistern of water, positioned at the top of the tower, was emptied through the toilet area into the moat. The remains of the great hall, once one of the largest in the country, contains an oriel window, where coloured glass would once shine through and illuminate the high table. The undercroft below the great hall was used for the storage of wine, beer and food, and had stairs on each corner going up to the great hall. The kitchens were connected to the great hall by a passageway. The remains of two bread ovens can be seen, along with two large fireplaces. Along the curtain walls and on the towers can still be seen the damage caused by cannonballs. One in particular on the north wall, shows by its shape, the direction of fire, indicating the direction of the cannons used in the 1644 siege, four 32 pounders, borrowed for the occasion. Initially these cannon were positioned on the hill to the east, the site of an old Roman fort, but the distance was too great and the only damage incurred was to a half moon battery outside the main gate, which is overgrown but still visible. There is also a great stone barn, notable for the internal timbering; and the gate above the entrance to the north court contains a carved representation of moneybags, the symbol of the exchequer, Lord Cromwell.
Mary, Queen of Scots, at Wingfield
In August 1569 the Earl of Shrewsbury was anxious to move Mary from Wingfield. He wanted to take her to Sheffield because Wingfield needed cleaning. There were over 240 people in residence and the manor "waxed unsavoury." At Sheffield, the Earl had two houses, Sheffield Castle and Sheffield Manor and could easily move the queen between them when cleaning was necessary. Mary was still at Wingfield at the time of the Rebellion of the North in November 1569. The Earl of Shrewsbury heard of a plot to release Mary at that time. The Earl of Northumberland and his wife had come to stay nearby at Wentworth House. The alleged escape plan involved the Countess of Northumberland pretending to be a nurse and coming to attend Christine Hogg, the pregnant wife of the embroiderer Bastian Pagez. The Countess was "something like the queen in personage" and would take Mary's place while she escaped.
Queen Elizabeth wrote to the Earl of Shrewsbury on 14 March 1570 giving permission for him to move Mary back to Wingfield because the water supply at Tutbury Castle was inadequate. The Earl had hoped to take Mary to Chatsworth House and also made preparations there.
Media related to South Wingfield Manor at Wikimedia Commons
- A brief history and numerous photographs
- Page at English Heritage
- Information for teachers: English Heritage
- The Architecture of Wingfield Manor by J. Alfred Gotch
- Mary Queen of Scots
- Mary and Babington
- Photos of Wingfield Manor and surrounding area on geograph
- Map sources for Wingfield Manor