History of Alford Manor House
Alford Manor House was built, we suspect, by John Hopkinson in 1611.
We know that William Cawley was a subsequent owner, who sold the property
on, in maybe as early as 1638, to Sir Robert Christopher. Robert Christopher
fought on the Royalist side in the English Civic War, and was rewarded
with a knighthood in 1660 by the newly restored King Charles II. With
the knighthood came new-found wealth. He was sufficiently wealthy
to leave money in his will for the tomb and alabaster effigy of himself
and his wife which surmounts it, in St. Wilfrid's Church: he also
left funds for the foundation of almshouses in the town and for the
Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School.
The house was inherited by his granddaughter, Lucy, who married John
Manners, Duke of Rutland. Thereafter Alford Manor House was inhabited
by tenants, one of whom was John Higgins, who arrived in about 1820.
He was a friend of Charles Darwin's father, Robert, and was the local
Land Agent. He established his office in the nineteenth century annex
which you can see on the east wing of the house.
It was his descendent, Dorothy Higgins, a doctor and member of Alford
Town Council, who bought the property in 1958 and gifted it to the
town in 1967. Alford Civic Trust was established then to manage and
look after the property.
The house itself is unusual in its construction: most properties of
the period were built, using a wooden frame with wattle and daub infill,
or with a brick infill, so that the wooden beams would be visible
from the outside as well as from inside the property. However, Alford
Manor House was encased in brick, and the brick was not merely ornamental:
it was tied into the structure of the building via wall plates and
Before the major restoration of 2003-2006, which cost £1.7 million,
it was mistakenly believed that the house started life in 1540 as
a mud-and-stud building which was later encased in brick: we now know
this to be incorrect. Unusually, for a house of this size, it has
a thatched roof, and this makes Alford Manor House reputedly the largest
thatched manor house in England. The unusual composite construction
makes it, from a structural point of view, one of the most important
buildings in the country too. The wooden frame and reed and plaster
walls look back to the architecture of the middle ages and Tudor times.
The restoration work was timely: it was revealed that many of the
wall-plates had rotted away and that many of the floor joists were
no longer in contact with the walls, so that both walls and floors
could have collapsed at any moment.
The high cost of maintaining the building was met, in the early days
of the Civic Trust, by renting out the first floor to Lincolnshire
Wildlife Trust, and by establishing Alford Folk Museum on the remaining
floors: when the Wildlife Trust vacated the premises the museum spread
to the first floor as well. Both provided a useful income flow.
The artefacts are now in store so that the house itself, which is
the most important and notable asset, can become the focal point of
public attention, and so that visitors can see what has been achieved
with the £1.7 million. Many of the artefacts will be returned
next year, but the main intention is to furnish the rooms in period
style, thus enhancing the visitor experience.
All this, of course, depends upon the necessary finances being available,
which is why we depend chiefly on you, the public, for patronage and
donations, both of which are highly appreciated.