Phase IX - 1558 to 1725

The Moated Site 4) Post-Medieval



Fig 45: Wood Hall in the seventeenth century


The widowed Margaret Gascoigne was left the use of Wood Hall during her life, though the property remained with the Gascoigne family, having been left to young Alice Gascoigne, who was probably the first Lady Margaret’s youngest daughter. The second Lady Margaret held in her own right from Sir William, property in Womersley and the surrounding area, as her widow’s portion.


It was only about a year later, in 1557, that she was married for the second time, to Peter Stanley, to whom her property was then transferred. He is a mysterious figure who may well have been in Sir William Gascoigne’s service. Whatever his origins, he made his mark on the County, becoming a Justice of the Peace, and earning a reference from the Archbishop of York as 'a great fornicator . . . . a man of none account . . .'. He was involved in a number of legal disputes with, among others, members of the Gascoigne family, over property (including Wood Hall) and tithes. It was, however, finally established that Wood Hall belonged to Alice and not to her step-mother Margaret, and it was through Alice, and her daughter Alice Hazelwood’s marriage to Christopher Twistleton in 1600, that Wood Hall became the property of the Twistleton family.


The Twistleton family seems to come to prominence in the local area in the sixteenth century. Most of their Yorkshire property lies further east, around Drax and Snaith, with Wood Hall as an outlier. The first Twistleton known to have lived at Wood Hall is George, a cousin of Alice’s Christopher, who married Prothesia Gascoigne, herself a cousin of the Wood Hall Gascoignes, in 1611.


The Wood Hall that George and Prothesia enjoyed had been transformed from a late medieval hall into a two-storey house at the very end of the sixteenth century. A staircase was built opposite the main door, leading to an upper floor which must have been inserted at this time, on the same level as the existing solar. One side of the stair was fixed into the timber framing of the bay; the other side was enclosed with stoothing. The floor beneath the stair was dug out to a depth of 0.47m and partly flagged with stone, creating a cool cupboard. The existence of shelves can be deduced from the fact that only the centre of the space was stone-flagged. There was no need to extend the flagging to an area protected from wear by shelving.


The construction of the staircase effectively changed the dais area and the open hall into two ground floor rooms; that to the north of the staircase may have added to the original private apartments, retaining the hearth. The room south of the staircase, containing the original main hearth, may have become a kitchen, with the service rooms to the south.


At least one of the newly created rooms, either on the ground floor or a first floor chamber, had intricate plaster friezes above wood panelling, and a very decorative ceiling with curved floral ribs and bosses in the shape of rope-edged lozenges, lions’ heads and cones. Parts of two friezes were recovered, but it is not unknown for parts of two different patterns to be used in the same room. The frieze motifs included lions and gryphons supporting blank discs, grapes, flowers, acorns and holly. All these motifs, from the same moulds, were used at other places in the West Riding of Yorkshire, including Tickhill Castle House near Doncaster. Those recovered from Wood Hall should date to the last decade of the sixteenth century - c 1595 (David Bostwick pers. comm.).



Fig 46: Part of a plaster frieze under excavation



Fig 47: Motifs from the decorative plaster ceiling


Fragments of a slightly later plaster panel, with heraldic-type strapwork, were also recovered from the excavations, dating to the mid-1630s. This panel probably belonged to an over-mantel, and may have been installed when the smoke hood above the hearth in the west wall was renewed.


By this time Wood Hall was already showing signs of a gentle decline. At some time in the first quarter of the seventeenth century the gatehouse collapsed, its western tower slipping forward and tilting towards the south. This caused the roof and part of the upper storey to cascade into the moat. The gatehouse was patched up but never completely rebuilt, though one of the tower bases was probably used as a 'porter’s lodge'; the drawbridge was probably no longer functional but the bridge itself continued in use.


The final major addition to the house took place in c1670, when a substantial brick chimney was inserted into the house, almost within the old screens passage and offset to the east of the roof ridge. Hearth Tax returns for Womersley suggest that this alteration took place between 1665/6, when Mr Strangeways, who seems to have been tenant at Wood Hall since the Civil War (possibly c 1643), had 4 hearths, and 1672/4, when the then tenant Mr Foster, who had married Prothesia Twistleton (a grand-daughter of George and Prothesia), is listed as having 6 hearths.



Fig 48: Wood Hall c 1674. Mr Foster benefits from his new brick chimney.

(P Scholefield)


The bricks for the chimney were made on site at Wood Hall, in a simple clamp kiln located in the pasture annexe north of the moat. Clay was dug from a pond close by, and sand may have been obtained from Area 14, a contemporary garden whose bedding trenches contained significant quantities of burnt material, as if ash and fire debris had been deliberately deposited in pre-existing trenches. Archaeo-magnetic dating places the firing in the middle of the seventeenth century, while clay tobacco pipes recovered from the kiln agree with a date c.1670. A crossing was constructed over the north arm of the moat to bring the cartloads of brick from the annexe to the house. Most were used in the construction of the chimney, but some were used to line a well in the rectangular garden bed that replaced some of the linear beds in the Gascoigne’s pleasure garden, sometime in the seventeenth century.




Fig 49: The seventeenth century brick kiln in the pasture annexe north of the moated platform


The last suggestion of any repairs to the house at Wood Hall comes from window leading bearing the stamp 'EW 1687' (or 1681). After that Wood Hall seems to have gone into a gradual decline. Two Quaker families, the Dickinsons and the Masons, are recorded at the site for 10 years - c 1690 to 1700 - followed by a tenant named Dennis from c 1700 to 1720/25. According to correspondence dated c1707, during Dennis’ tenancy two families were dependant on Wood Hall. It may be, however, that the site remained unoccupied for some time after c 1710.


The house that had been built in the fifteenth century as John Neville’s hall was demolished in the second or third decade of the eighteenth century. The entire building, as well as the remnants of the gatehouse, was carefully demolished and as much re-usable material as possible was salvaged. Of the stonework, everything was removed to ground level at least, and most was robbed out entirely. The house site was cleared completely and levelled, and part at least of the salvaged building material removed from the site. It seems likely that other buildings on the site, including the early hall, suffered the same fate.


To allow the passage of heavy carts loaded with stone and timbers, the old bridge was stripped of its decking, and the base used as the foundation for a causeway built up of small rubble and demolition debris under a corduroy of cut birch boughs. This was held down at either side by salvaged baulks of timber, and surfaced with a layer of 'picked over' sand and mortar from which the larger stone had been removed. Quantities of household debris - pottery, treen, glassware and leather goods - were used partly in the causeway and partly to back-fill the sunken buttery. Sherds of the same pottery vessels, found in both the causeway makeup and in the buttery fill, show that these layers were deposited at the same time.



Fig 50: The corduroy of birch boughs supported the road surface of the causeway which replaced the

bridge in the early eighteenth century.


There does, however, seem to have been a slight difference in time between the demolition of the tower and of the rest of the house. This is demonstrated by the fact that the entire interior area of the house was covered with crushed plaster debris, but there was none actually in the buttery fill. This seems to suggest that the tower was taken down at least to buttery vault level, and the buttery void backfilled, before the rest of the house was carefully demolished. Probably all the roofs and the top of the chimney were removed first, and then the upper floors of the tower. Good timbers, windows and the staircase would be next as the walls were lowered, and lastly the wooden panelling from the ground floor rooms. The smashed plasterwork was carefully swept into the hollow of the under-stairs cupboard, and the remnants of laths and timbers burnt on the hearth base at the north of the building. There was no longer a dwelling-house at Wood Hall.


The descent of Wood Hall through the seventeenth century is complicated by the confusion of the Civil War period and the Commonwealth. George Twistleton and Prothesia lived there after their marriage in 1611. George seems to have owned the property, probably as a gift from his father, George Twistleton of Barlow, to whom it had come through Christopher’s marriage to Alice. Prothesia’s George is recorded as having lived at Wood Hall for 48 years or more.


George and Prothesia had four children, John, George, Alice and William. John seems to have died childless, so Wood Hall apparently descends through George’s line. The property is inherited in 1647, at the eldest George’s death, by a George Twistleton who should be the son of the second George, and should have been born in 1644/5. Unfortunately there is no surviving record of his birth. However, in c 1669 Cecil Twistleton, the daughter of John Twistleton of Barlow, marries George Twistleton of Wood Hall, who ought to be the grandson of George and Prothesia recorded as 'of Wood Hall' in 1683 - and, incidentally, Cecil’s second cousin.


Cecil and George seem to have been a somewhat profligate pair. Writing his will in 1679, John Twistleton more or less disinherits his daughter, who he says has been 'very disobedient', and married against his and her mother’s consent. John has taken out mortgages on Wood Hall to pay George’s debts, paying out more money than Cecil might have expected to inherit from him, and so he secures Wood Hall for her son, his grandson, Fiennes Twistleton, by putting the boy and the estate under the supervision of trustees. George and Cecil survived into the early part of the eighteenth century, and it was not until after his mother’s death in 1723 that Fiennes sold Wood Hall to the Harvey family, who had purchased the Womersley estate in the 1670s.


Tobiah Harvey, the grandson of a Yorkshireman and son of a London vintner, was a prominent lawyer in the late seventeenth century. He was a barrister of the Inner Temple, and may well have known the sons of Yorkshire families such as the Gascoignes, Hazelwoods, Jacksons and Twistletons. He bought the Womersley estate in the 1670s, although he does not appear to have lived there until the early eighteenth century. He was very conscious of his rights and dues as Lord of the Manor, and entered in to a long correspondence reviving Peter Stanley's old dispute regarding tithes due from Wood Hall and the use of Gale Common. It is from this correspondence and associated legal documents, some now preserved in the archives at Birr Castle, County Offaly, Eire, the home of the Earls of Rosse (descendants of the Harveys), as well as from material housed in the Borthwick Institute at York, that much of the complicated seventeenth century history of Wood Hall can be deduced. It was after Tobiah’s death that his son William was able to return Wood Hall to the Womersley estate.




Phase X - 1725 to 1988



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