History of the Estate
There has been a residence on this site for almost 1,000 years. Over the years the Hall has changed, buildings have been added and demolished, the Estate which was once many thousands of acres has shrunk and it has had a wide variety of owners and tenants, and a few famous names have visited too.
- Although mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, the oldest building on site is our Stone Building, built for Philip de Marmion of
Tamworth Castle, in 1285.
- Elizabeth I visited the Hall in 1575, when she stayed for a week and knighted the Hall’s owner Sir Francis Willoughby in the Great Hall
- The Hall was home to the noted naturalists Francis Willughby FRS and John Ray who wrote and published, among others, the first book
The first residents of the manor of Middleton that we have documentation of are Saxons by the names of Pallin and Thurgot, who are mentioned in the Domesday Book. Middleton then passed to Hugh de Grandmesnil, a Norman lord, who was a companion of William the Conqueror and also fought at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. For his service at the battle Hugh was given 100 manors of which the majority were in Leicestershire and made him the largest landholder in that county.
The Middleton estate then passed to the de Marmion family. They owned the Middleton manor from 1095 to 1291. The de Marmions were the Standard Bearers of England, jousted in the Kings colours, and had the role of Kings Champion at the coronation of the new monarchs. During their ownership of Middleton the estate was leased to the Knights Templar in 1185 and the Prior and convent of Studley in 1259. Robert IV de Marmion (c. 1150 – 1218) was also known as Robert “the Justice”. He was appointed Head of the Itinerant Justices of England by King Henry II, but had his lands seized by the crown in 1215 when he deserted King John and sided with the Barons in the First Barons’ War. Shortly after King John’s death an agreement was made between Robert de Marmion’s sons and the crown and their lands were restored to them. The last of the de Marmion lords was Philip and following his death in 1291 Middleton was left to his widow as a dower house. Following her death in 1313 Middleton was given in equal shares to Philip’s three surviving co-heirs.
Philip de Marmion’s granddaughter Joan married Alexander de Freville and they inherited one third of Middleton. The succeeding three generations were all named Baldwin. Lord Baldwin de Freville III was a soldier and took part in the Hundred Years War. He was highly regarded by Edward the Black Prince who made Baldwin his Seneschal of Xantoigne in 1364. In 1362 he purchased the other two-thirds of Middleton from the other heirs.
Middleton then passed to the Willoughby family through marriage to the last Baldwin de Freville’s daughter Margaret. Middleton remained in the ownership of the Willoughby family for about 500 years. Following the death of Lady Margaret in 1493 Middleton was entailed on her grandson Sir Henry Willoughby. He was made a Baronet at the Battle of Stoke, near Newark, and was also a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre having travelled to the Holy Lands. His youngest son Sir Hugh Willoughby spent his childhood at Middleton Hall. He was an explorer who unfortunately froze to death when his ship got lost trying to find a North-East passage to China. Sir Henry’s eldest son Sir John inherited Middleton. He took part in the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536. He was succeeded by his nephew Henry. Henry died at Kett’s Rebellion in 1549 in Norfolk, leaving 3 very young orphaned children in the care of his late wife’s brother Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk, the father of Lady Jane Grey. Henry’s son Francis built Wollaton Hall in Nottinghamshire and also created the ironworks and Middleton Pool at Middleton Hall. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I in the Great Hall at Middleton Hall in 1575. One of his daughters, Margaret, married Robert Spencer, 1st Baron Spencer of Wormleighton, which means that this Francis was the 10 times great grandfather of Lady Diana Spencer who married HRH Prince Charles. Two of our most famous residents were the great naturalists Francis Willughby (who spelt his name this way) and his tutor, friend and collaborator John Ray. Francis’ work on birds ‘Ornithologia’ and on fish ‘Historia Piscium’ were published after his death by John Ray. John Ray tutored Francis’ children whilst he stayed at Middleton Hall and remained at the Hall for a number of years after Francis’ death. It was at Middleton that he developed his original works on Natural History including his ‘History of Plants’. Francis’ son Thomas became the 1st Baron Middleton, an honour which was bestowed on the family because of his father’s achievements. Wollaton Hall then became the primary seat of the Lords Middleton and later Birdsall House in Yorkshire. During this time Middleton had a number of tenants.
The tenants of Middleton Hall included: Sir Francis Lawley, MP for Warwickshire and reputed to have been instrumental in the development of the Tamworth breed of pig; John Peel, MP for Tamworth, a cousin of Sir Robert Peel; Hanbury Barclay; Reverend Robert John Hodgkinson; and Egbert de Hamel.
Middleton Hall was sold in 1925 to John Averill a farm landlord and industrialist. His family were the last residents of Middleton Hall. John Averill’s daughter Dorothy married Harry Wheatcroft, the famous rose horticulturist.