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.
Dorothy Higgins was John Higgins' descendent. Dorothy Higgins, a radiographer and member of Alford Town Council, 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 floor joists.
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. The main intention is to furnish the rooms in period style, thus enhancing the visitor experience.