A Heritage Asset Assessment of Letheringham Lodge, April 2014 by Edward Martin


Letheringham Lodge – A Unique Structure

Letheringham Lodge is a unique and internationally significant survival from the late Middle Ages. It immediately stands out from the other medieval moated sites of Suffolk by its small size – at only 0.1 of an acre it is the smallest occupied moated site in the county, but although small, the building on the moated island stands out as not being a normal domestic building. The original part is a perfectly square timber-framed structure that was jettied on all four sides, with large and decorative wooden posts at each corner. This immediately indicates that this was a ‘display’ building – something designed to impress visitors, and to underline this, the building is prominently sited on a hilltop. Historical maps indicate that the Lodge was originally adjacent to or, more likely, actually within a deer park. Both moats and deer parks were important ways of displaying lordly power and prestige in the Middle Ages, so there can be no doubt that the Lodge was envisaged as a special building on a special moated site within a special type of landscape.

The Letheringham deer park belonged to the knightly Wingfield family, who acquired the manor of Letheringham through the marriage of Sir Thomas de Wingfield to the heiress of the Bovill family in the mid 14th century. This Sir Thomas was the younger brother of Sir John de Wingfield of Wingfield in Suffolk, the companion and ‘chief councillor’ of Edward the Black Prince. While their original seat at Wingfield passed by inheritance to the de la Poles, earls and then dukes of Suffolk, Sir Thomas’s descendants seated themselves at Letheringham Hall and were one of the leading families of medieval Suffolk. Sir Thomas’s great-grandson, Sir Robert Wingfield (d. 1453), made a high-ranking marriage to Elizabeth Goushill, who was both a granddaughter of the earl of Arundel and a half-sister of John de Mowbray, 2nd Duke of Norfolk. The Wingfields therefore had close family connections with the two leading noblemen in East Anglia, the dukes of Norfolk and the dukes of Suffolk. Responding to the changing politics of the 15th century, Sir Robert defected from the circle of the duke of Norfolk to that of his rival the duke of Suffolk, and in 1448 he suffered a revenge attack by his wife’s nephew, John de Mowbray, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, who, with others ‘bringing by night carts and wagons with cannons, and other engines of war to Letheryngham, co. Suffolk, besieged the houses of Robert in his manor of Letheryngham, and hurled stones thereat, brake his walls, towers, and stone chimneys, sawed asunder the posts and beams of divers houses in the same Manor, set coals of fire in the litters of his beds within his houses … broke into his house there, and hunted therein, and carried away the deer thereof …’.[1] This is the first certain mention of the Wingfields’ deer park at Letheringham and the spoliation of an enemy’s cherished deer park was a common revenge tactic in this period.  The first mention of the Lodge comes a lot later, in the will, dated 1609, of Sir Robert’s great-great-great-grandson, Sir Thomas Wingfield, who left to his wife Elizabeth the ‘profittes of my parke and Lodge in Letheringham and Wickham’ during their son’s minority.[2]

The 1919 sale particulars for the Lodge mention that on the wide first floor landing there was ‘Old Highly Ornamental Oak Panelling’. Unfortunately this was removed c.1920 and taken to Brodick Castle on the Isle of Arran, Scotland. But luckily it was seen in situ and recorded by the Revd Edmund Farrer in 1915, which enables the existing panelling at Brodick to be confidently identified as having come from Letheringham.[3] Some of the panelling bears the Wingfield coat-of-arms and the family’s double-winged lure badge, but sprinkled about are other carved badges – trefoils, butterflies and stars. The trefoils relate to the arms of the FitzLewis family and Sir John Wingfield (d. 1481) married Elizabeth FitzLewis; his son, another Sir John (d. 1509) married Anne Touchet, the daughter of Lord Audley – and their family badge was a butterfly; his son, Sir Anthony (d. 1552), married Elizabeth de Vere – and their family badge was a star or mullet. The star occurs on the same panels as the Wingfield winged lure, making it likely that the panelling was installed for Sir Anthony Wingfield and his wife. Sir Anthony was an important Tudor courtier – he was, from 1539, Vice-Chamberlain of the Household, Captain of the Guard and Privy Councillor to King Henry VIII, he was made a Knight of the Garter in 1541 and was later an executor of the king’s will. He continued to serve under King Edward VI and was Comptroller of the king’s household by 1550. His wife was the daughter of Sir George de Vere (the younger brother of John, 13th Earl of Oxford) and the sister and co-heiress of John, 14th Earl of Oxford (d. 1526).

Sir Anthony’s close contact with the court of King Henry VIII suggested that his well-decorated Letheringham Lodge was perhaps a combined banqueting house and an observation place for watching hunts in his deer park. There are only a few parallels for ornate banqueting houses or ‘housis of pleasure’ for relaxed dining, entertainment or quiet withdrawal at this time, most notably Henry VIII’s own banqueting howse at Nonsuch Palace in Surrey, which was in existence by 1550.[4] There are also some parallels for simpler hunt-watching places or ‘standings’, like the so- called Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge in Epping Forest, Essex. Cited as a ‘unique example of a surviving timber-framed hunt standing’, this was actually built in 1543 for King Henry VIII.[5] The Nonsuch banqueting house only survives as foundations and Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge is a simpler, less decorative structure than Letheringham Lodge.

As a banqueting house/hunt standing of Henry VIII’s reign, Letheringham Lodge would be an important rarity, but recent dendrochronological dating has dramatically increased its importance. One of the principal corner posts of the building has yielded a felling date of 1472-75.[6] This makes the structure considerably earlier and without any surviving parallel. In construction terms, there are similarities to buildings such as the Grade 1-listed Guildhall at Thaxted in Essex,[7] but there is nothing that parallels the Lodge’s function as a moated and decorative pavilion in a deer park. In 1414-17 King Henry V built a moated pleasure house and garden called Plesant Marys (‘the Pleasance in the Marsh’) in the park beside the Great Pool at Kenilworth Castle; the ‘praty banketynge house of tymbre, that stood thereby in the mere, and bare the name of pleasaunce was taken down’ in Henry VIII’s time and now only the earthworks survive.[8] There are also some other documentary references to 15th-century parkland lodges and ‘towers’ in Britain and some archaeological traces of them, but nothing that survives on the scale of Letheringham Lodge.[9] On the Continent, there are again documentary references to similar sounding structures, with a few pictorial representations, but few, if any, actual surviving buildings. One of the earliest, and the likely forerunner of Henry V’s structure at Kenilworth, was li paveillon dou Marés created by Count Robert II of Artois at Hesdin in Pas-de-Calais, France, in the late 13th century.[10] This like, Letheringham Lodge, was a parkland pleasure building surrounded by water – in this case in a pool beside the River Ternoise – but it no longer exists. Another intriguing ornamental building set within a large pond is shown in the background of an anonymous Upper Rhineland painting of c.1480 entitled ‘Lovers in a Country Scene’.


The tree-ring dating suggests that the builder of Letheringham Lodge was Sir John Wingfield (1428-81). The son of the unfortunate Sir Robert of the 1448 attack, he and his younger brothers were Yorkist supporters in the Wars of the Roses. He was made a Knight of the Bath on the eve of Edward IV’s coronation in 1461 and he is recorded as a privy councillor in 1462-3 and was on a commission to treat with the French at Amiens in 1477, but otherwise his public service was more locally based – he served as Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk in 1453 and 1473 and was on several local commissions from 1470 until his death. He made a good marriage, probably in the 1450s, to Elizabeth FitzLewis, the daughter of Sir Lewis John, a wealthy and influential London merchant and royal official, by Anne, the daughter of John Montagu, Earl of Salisbury. Sir John’s younger brother, Sir Robert, was, however, more active at court, being Comptroller of the Household to King Edward IV; his brother-in-law, Sir Henry FitzLewis, had held the same post under King Henry VI and had married a daughter of Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset. Thus, although only of knightly rank, the Wingfields had ready access to both royal and noble households and are likely to have been aware of the latest fashions in gardens and architecture.

As already described, the interior of the Lodge was refreshed by Sir John’s grandson, Sir Anthony Wingfield, by the insertion of decorative panelling and probably other improvements, sometime after his marriage to Elizabeth de Vere in the late 1510s. In his will, dated 1552, Sir Anthony stated that his younger brother, Henry, ‘shall have the kepinge of the p[ar]ke at Letheringh[a]m as I apoynted him yf he refuse the comptrollershippe of Calice [Calais] whiche I nowayes wold have hym to doo’.[12] Sir Anthony’s grandson, Sir Thomas Wingfield, was serving as Sheriff of Suffolk when he died of smallpox in 1610 and, as previously noted, he willed to his young wife the profits from his park and Lodge. She was Elizabeth, the daughter of Sir Dru Drury of Riddlesworth in Norfolk, a courtier who had been joint guardian of Mary Queen of Scots at Fotheringay 1586-7. Elizabeth appears to have renovated the Lodge, reroofing it and making some additions – the recent tree-ring dating revealed a felling date in the summer/autumn of 1609 for one of the rafters and there is the inscription ‘E.W. 1610’ above one of the doors.[13] Her works to the Lodge may have been connected to her second marriage in August 1610 to Henry Reynolds. This marriage was a failure well before her early death in 1620.[14]  Her son, Anthony, was created a Baronet in 1627, but by this time the family had moved to another of their houses – Godwins Place in Hoo – and then, in the early 1630s, to a new residence called The White House in Easton. The move away from Letheringham probably also meant less use by the family of the Lodge. Sir Anthony died in 1638, just before the outbreak of the Civil War, leaving an heir who was a minor. The estate subsequently declined under owners who were Roman Catholic recusants and frequently away on the Continent and it was sold in the early 1700s. By then the deer park had almost certainly been converted into farmland and the Lodge into a farmhouse, but both continued to be a part of the Letheringham/Easton estate until 1919.


Edward Martin, BA, FSA, MIfA,  2014




[1] Cal. Patent Rolls, Henry VI, vol. 5, p. 236.

[2] The National Archives: PROB 11/115. The park extended from Letheringham into Wickham Market.

[3] Report in East Anglian Miscellany 1919, p. 72 no. 5,542 to p. 79 no. 5,557, also his archive in the Suffolk Record Office, Ipswich: HD 78/2671 – Letheringham.

[4] M. Biddle, ‘The Gardens of Nonsuch: Source and Dating’, Garden History 27 no. 1, Summer 1999, pp. 145-183.

[5]{C} www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/epping-forest/visitor-information/Pages/queen-elizabeths-hunting-lodge.aspx; http://list.english-heritage.org.uk/resultsingle.aspx?uid=1293481

[6] M.C. Bridge, ‘The Tree-Ring Dating of Letheringham Lodge, nr Wickham Market, Suffolk’, Oxford Dendrochronology Laboratory Report 2013/34.

[7] J. Bettley and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England, Essex, 2007, p. 766.

[8] J. Harvey, Medieval Gardens, 1981, pp. 106-7; H.M. Colvin. ‘Royal Gardens in Medieval England’ in E.B. MacDougall, Medieval Gardens, 1986, p. 11; C. Thacker, The Genius of Gardening. The History of Gardens in Britain and Ireland, 1994, p. 35

[9] S. Moorhouse, ‘The Medieval Parks of Yorkshire: Function, Contents and Chronology’ in R. Liddiard (ed.) The Medival Park, new perspectives, 2007, pp. 117-9; O.H. Creighton, Designs upon the Land. Elite Landscapes of the Middle Ages, 2009, pp. 140-5.

[10] A. Hapogian van Buren, ‘Reality and Literary Romance in the Park of Hesdin’ in E.B. MacDougall, Medieval Gardens, 1986, p. 121; P. Henderson, The Tudor House and Garden, 2005, p.75, pl. 9. The building can be seen in a 16th-century copy of a 15th-century panel painting in the Musée National du Château at Versailles.

[11] In the Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt; reproduced in F. Cardini, Europe 1492, 1989, p. 113.

[12] The family had a long connection with the English enclave at Calais – Sir Anthony’s uncle, Sir Richard Wingfield, K.G., was Lord Deputy of Calais 1513-9 and another uncle, Sir Robert Wingfield, was Lord Deputy 1526-31

[13] M.C. Bridge, ‘The Tree-Ring Dating of Letheringham Lodge, nr Wickham Market, Suffolk’, Oxford Dendrochronology Laboratory Report 2013/34.

[14] See: V. Salmon, ‘The other Elizabeth Drury: A tragic marriage in the family of John Donne’s patron’, Proc. Suffolk Inst. Archaeol. XXIX pt. 2, 1962, 199-207