13 August 2018

#Research: Medieval Markenfield Hall

The medieval moated manor house of Markenfield Hall, three miles south of Ripon in North Yorkshire, is the last surviving of six said to have encircled the cathedral city. It is open to the public a mix of only 30 afternoons a year, so ours was a date not to be missed. 

Markenfield Hall: south-west corner view to the gatehouse

The property – about 600 acres, then, as it remains today – pre-dates the Norman Conquest of 1066. William the Conqueror’s 1086 Great Survey (the Domesday Book) states that pre-conquest it belonged to Grimr and was worth 20 shillings; post-conquest to Bjornullfr (note the Scandinavian names) from William de Percy, and was worth 10 shillings. Its change in worth goes some way to indicate the upheaval, not only of the invasion but of the devastating scorched-earth ‘Harrying of the North’ of 1069-70 in retribution for the northern shires continued rebellions against the new order.

The present manor house, of three known, dates from 1310. Its present gatehouse is Tudor and stands on the foundations of an earlier structure. Until the 18th century it still had a workable drawbridge. There was also an outer moat, now long filled in, no doubt enclosing the farm buildings which would have stood in exactly the same spot as the newer stone and the modern animal housings, just outside the drawbridge. A double moat was not excessive. The ink on Magna Carta wasn't a hundred years dry; John de Markenfield was a “king’s man” and the country was close to civil war as the northern barons flexed their considerable muscles. Also, the Scots were raiding annually to great effect.

The courtyard - by a photographer who can't get her angles right.

The peak of the blocked original entrance beside the arched windows
Markenfield Hall remains a family home, the family’s home after a re-purchasing following a spot of treason during the reign of Elizabeth I, which is why it is open to the public only a few designated days a year. The courtyard, though much changed, retains its original usage: stores, workshops and stables (now garage) to the left of the gatehouse, visitors’ accommodation (now the farm manager’s dwelling) to the right, the family’s great hall, kitchens and ancillary buildings ahead. As with all buildings of the period, for defensive reasons the original entry was made direct into the first floor via a covered outer stairway, the peak of its porch still visible in the wall of the great hall.

Visitors poring over files of the renovations in the great hall
Today’s entry is made via the ground floor undercroft, which lost much of its vaulting after being seized by the Crown and when internal walls were inserted to create usable rooms. A 20th century oak staircase now leads up to the great hall, renovated over a number of years into an enormous lounge.

Visitors are encouraged to sit on the sofas and read the various histories of the people who lived here as well as of the Hall itself, before passing through the household chapel, still used, and into the first of the bedrooms, part of the original medieval solar, the private receiving chamber.


Most stately homes and enormous castles feel like museums, but Markenfield Hall is on a scale to be enjoyed. As the quirky use of its nooks and crannies brings a smile – the vaulted utility room with its modern appliances; the cramped lock-up built into a buttress now a downstairs toilet – the lives of the men and women who lived here down the centuries brings widening eyes. Markenfield Hall has stood through a lot of history, and much of it remains ghosted into its fabric ready to catch the eye – and the imagination.


Note:  Click on the images to bring up a larger view. All photos (c) Linda Acaster.

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