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.
The first residents of the manor of Middleton that we have documentation of are Palli and Thurgot, who are mentioned as residing here in the late 11th Century 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 de Marmions
The Middleton estate passed to the de Marmion family, who owned the Middleton manor from 1120 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, part of the estate was leased to the Knights Templar in 1185 along with the Prior and convent of Studley in 1259.
Robert IV de Marmion (c. 1155 – 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 French King. Shortly after King John’s death 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 five generations were all named Baldwin. Lord Baldwin de Freville II 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, Sir Baldwin de Freville II inherited one sixth of Middleton, and his successor Sir Baldwin de Freville III inherited another sixth of the Middleton Estate, which meant the de Freville's owned two-thirds of the Middleton
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, two-thirds of the Middleton estate was entailed on her grandson Sir Henry Willoughby., and in 1495 Henry purchased the remaining third meaning that for the first time since 1291 the Middleton estate was under sole ownership.
Henry's youngest son Sir Hugh Willoughby spent his childhood at Middleton Hall. He was an explorer who died at sea in search of the North-West Passage, it is believed he and his crew died from carbon monoxide poisoning. 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 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 the then HRH Prince Charles (now HRH King Charles III).
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 1924 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.
The last 40 or so years of Middleton Hall’s history have been arguably the most dramatic. The Hall and grounds have been transformed from an unloved ruin to historic gem by the team of volunteers at the Middleton Hall Trust.
Having been a beloved family home for the Willoughby family for 500 years Middleton Hall was sold in the mid-1920s, and then sold on again in the 1960s to a rubble magnate and became prey to the effects of the gravel extraction that dominated the stretch of the Tame before it enters Tamworth.
For the latter half of the twentieth century Middleton Hall was allowed to fall into serious decay. When, in the late 1970s, a group of ramblers came across its crumbling shell. The hall had stood abandoned for less than 20 years and yet in that time it was thought that irreparable damage had been done, by the elements and by vandals. The Grounds had become overgrown and wild and the buildings were barely standing. By the time Middleton Hall was given Grade II listed status, its grand stained glass windows had been smashed, its woodwork was rotting away and some roofs and floors were missing.
There is however a happy end to this story as for the past 30 years, Middleton Hall has been lovingly transformed thanks to the skill and devotion of a large team of volunteers. Since the Middleton Hall Restoration Trust, a registered charity, was set up in 1980, volunteers have put in hundreds of thousands of hours of work to rebuild, renovate and restore the site. And there is still a huge amount of work to be done and the Trust always welcomes new volunteers to continue its valuable historic and conservation work.
During the early days of the Trust volunteers had to become history detectives. They set about researching the history of Middleton Hall and developing an archive of drawings and photographs which were to become the blue prints on which the restoration plans were drawn up, for both the Hall, the walled gardens and the grounds of the estate. The Hall’s Georgian facia was stripped back to reveal disintegrating evidence of a once striking example of Tudor architecture. The buildings, which span 700 years of English domestic architecture, were sympathetically and painstakingly reconstructed using traditional techniques of the periods and where possible returned to the form of their original construction. The 42 acres, which include two walled gardens, a moat, evidence of the Hall’s industrial and agricultural past and the earliest man-made lake in Warwickshire has been carefully nurtured by the Trust volunteers. The grounds are noted for the variety of wild flowers and the wildlife they attract from bats, moths and a wide variety of breeding birds.