Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Nocton Hall - 'Prosperity' Robinson

Rt Hon FJ Robinson MP

Lady Sarah married the Rt Hon Frederick John Robinson on September 1st 1814. He was the second son of Lord Grantham and educated at Harrow and St John’s College, Cambridge.

The public career of 'Prosperity Robinson is well known. Initially MP for Ripon and Joint Paymaster of the Forces, he was Chancellor of the Exchequer between 1823 –1827. He became Viscount Goderich of Nocton on April 28th 1827 and was Prime Minister from August 1827 to January 1828. He later inherited the title of Earl of Ripon (1833) and as a member of Sir Robert Peel’s cabinet, moved the second reading in the House of Lords of the Bill for the Repeal of the Corn Laws on May 25th 1846.

One of the things at Nocton to claim the attention of the Robinsons, was the premature decay that had overtaken the church, built only 40 years before. The Minutes of the vestry meetings between 1818 – 1821 record many repairs and improvements. Mr Robinson seems to have borne two-thirds of the expense while the balance was defrayed by a rate. About the same time, the Lady Sarah arranged for all the village children to attend the school – where Justina Brackenbury (then Mrs Edward Seeley), had succeeded to her father – on payment of a penny a week, Lady Sarah paying the difference herself.

The first ordnance survey map of Nocton was published in 1824. About this time the old road to Dunston by Burton Plantation was closed and the present Bridle Path provided in its place. On the ordnance map the carriage drive from Nocton Hall to Dunston Pillar is clearly defined.

In 1832, the Nocton, Potterhanworth and Branston Commissioners contracted a steam-engine to try and improve the workings of the scoop-wheel. An old wind-engine had been used initially to lift the waters from the Fen, but was found to be inadequate. They obtained an Act of Parliament giving them further powers of taxation, successfully opposing an application of the Witham Drainage Commissioners for an injunction to restrain the use of steam. The appellants alleged that the greater quantity of water to be thrown into the river with greater velocity would imperil the safety of the banks.

On Thursday June 12th 1834, the steam engine of 40 horse power which cost £4,000 was put in motion in the presence of a vast number of persons. It’s operations were soon impeded for want of water, as it made light work of clearing out the quantity which had been accumulated for the experiment.

Fire damages Windmills and Old Hall

In 1827 the old windmill was taken down and a new one erected on Mill Corner, but this was burnt down in October 1833. The third mill was erected on the same site and pulled down in 1904.

Following the destruction of the mill and another by fire, the Earl of Ripon – as the Lord of Nocton had become – ordered a fire engine of the latest design. This had only just arrived from London when, on Tuesday July 15th 1834 a more serious fire broke out at the Hall.

Lord and Lady Ripon had arranged to come from Carlton Gardens on the Thursday as they were expecting a visit from the Bishop of Lincoln, but about nine o’clock on the Tuesday evening as Richard Semper and other labourers were coming from the Fen, they saw flames bursting from the roof of the Hall.

The alarm was given and the new fire engine brought out, all to no purpose. The lead roof was lined with reeds which burnt fiercely and the molten lead descended on all sides. The water from the engine produced no sensible effect and the servants turned their attention to rescuing what furniture they could. Among the salvage was a chest from the library ticketed ‘to be saved first in case of fire’. It proved to contain the playthings and other relics of little Eleanor Robinson the only daughter of the house, a promising child who had died in 1826 at the age of eleven.

Sketch of the ruins of Nocton Hall - AWN Pugin

When the flames were finally extinguished about noon the following day, only a low fragment of the outer walls remained. The damage was estimated at £25,000.

The 'Poor' House

In 1833 the Poor House was built at the east end of Wellhead Lane and after passing from this use, was used as the village Post Office for many years.

The Old Post Office

Old Ten Row

In 1840 the Old Ten Row was built and in 1841 (7 years after the destruction of the old Hall) Lord and Lady Ripon received a petition from the tenants begging them to rebuild the Hall and offering – as an inducement – to do all the carting of the materials.

Old Ten Row

Rebuilding the Hall

William Shearbourne of Dorking (son of Joseph Shearbourne, the Estate carpenter), was engaged as architect and instructed to prepare plans somewhat on the lines of Longhills House near Branston where Lord and Lady Ripon often stayed since the destruction of the old Hall.

On October 26th 1841 the foundation stone was laid by Viscount Goderick, the son of the Earl and Countess, who was only fourteen years old having been born at 10 Downing Street while his father was Prime Minister. The wall facings were of local stone from Dunston and the mouldings and dressings were of Ancaster stone. After the stone laying ceremony all the estate tenants were entertained to dinner in the school and all the old women of Nocton and Dunston were regaled with a tea party.

Lord Ripon withdrew from public life and died at his other residence on Putney Heath on January 28th 1859. He was buried at Nocton on February 4th 1859.

Foundation stone on Nocton Hall

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