Leigh A. Alston MA (Oxon) Architectural Historian
Letheringham Lodge, Letheringham, Suffolk (TM 275 570)
Historic Assessment (Synopsis, March 2014)
Letheringham Lodge is among the most historically important and picturesque houses in Britain. Built in 1472 by the powerful Wingfield family it was designed as a hunting lodge or ‘gloriette’ from which high-status visitors could watch the hunt and admire the surrounding landscape in the latest fashion of the day. Surrounded by a water-filled moat the house lies on high ground 1 km south of the Wingfields’ principal seat at Letheringham Old Hall and still commands fine views in all directions. The original building was a remarkable timber-framed structure of 29 ft (8.8 m) square, with a jettied upper storey supported by massive, finely carved posts at all four corners. Similarly carved posts projected from the corners of the first floor to support an overhanging roof or cornice in a manner that has no known parallel elsewhere. The original layout of each storey was identical, with a wide gallery to the rear (north), two heated rooms of modest scale but with finely moulded ceilings on both sides of a central chimney, and a small, plain antechamber in the north-eastern corner. Further chambers lay in the roof space, which was probably lit by dormer windows. A rear extension with a massive gable chimney was added in 1610, along with an impressive new staircase, but the property has since remained little altered.
Medieval hunting lodges are exceptionally rare and Letheringham Lodge is of national importance. Recent dendrochronological analysis has dated its timber frame to 1472, some forty years earlier than previously thought, and application has accordingly been made to increase its listing status from grade II* to grade I. The house substantially predates the famous ‘Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge’ in Epping Forest (begun by Henry VIII in 1543), and this application is likely to be successful. Although now known to have been built by his father or grandfather, extensive suites of carved heraldic panelling link the lodge to Sir Anthony Wingfield, who evidently made good use of it at the beginning of the 16th century. This panelling was unfortunately removed in circa 1920 but now survives in Brodick Castle on the Isle of Arran. Sir Anthony was a major figure in the court of Henry VIII, serving as Vice-Chamberlain of his household and executor to his will. His sister-in-law, Lady Bridget Wingfield, was a close friend and confidant of Anne Boleyn. It seems highly likely that Tudor royalty would have enjoyed the many pleasures the building had to offer. It should be noted that the property’s position as the dominant feature of the local landscape, with uninterrupted views in all directions, represents a key part of its historic integrity as a medieval hunting lodge.