Fineshade Abbey


Location   Fineshade
Year demolished   1956  
Reason   Wartime damage after use as POW camp  
See all images: Gallery

Relatively little is known about Fineshade Abbey - another of the ranks of excellent country houses which led quiet existences. Fineshade occupied a beautiful position in a heavily wooded area of Northamptonshire which probably gave it its name.

Originally this position was the site of Castle Hymel which was demolished at the beginning of King John's reign around 1200 by Richard Engayne the elder, Lord of Blatherwycke. Engayne built a Augustinian priory slightly to the north-west of the castle, called the church of St. Mary of Castle-Hymel though it soon afterwards became known as Fineshade. The Engayne family endowed various land to the priory until they owned a significant estate stretching as far as Blatherwycke nearly four miles away. For over 300 years the priory continued its work - bar some allegations of excess in the mid-14th century and a fire in around 1420 - until the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Richard Harrington, who became prior in 1526, was one of the few to accede to the demands of the king and he, along with six fellow canons, acknowledged the supremacy of the king on 26 August 1534. This did not save the house as on Palm Sunday 1536 Humphrey Stafford wrote to Cromwell from Blatherwycke to ask that he be gifted the priory (and the lands, no doubt). Not that Stafford was a selfish man - in the same letter he also asked that the house of canons in Worspring in Somerset be given to his father!

The final surrender came in 1545, the prior now one Thomas Luffenham who received a pension of 10 marks for his acquiesence. After the dissolution, the priory and lands passed to John, Lord Russell who quickly sold them on to Sir Robert Kirkham who turned the buildings into a home. The Kirkham's had owned extensive lands in and around Warmington in Cambridgeshire but had sold them to move to Fineshade. It's this connection which explains how the stone for the chapel at Fineshade came from Fotheringhay Castle which was demolished around 1625.

It remained with the Kirkhams until 1748 when it was sold to the trustees of William Payne King. He made extensive alterations to the house in 1750 including a particularly fine dining room with fine stucco and carved wood decorations. On his death it passed to his widow, Anne Maria, who remarried to the Hon. Edwin Sandys on 26 January 1769. Having no need for the estate, he sold it in the same year to the Hon. John Monckton (b.1739 - d.1830), son of the 1st Viscount Galway, and half-brother of the famous General Monckton. One interesting theory is that the particularly fine dining room was possibly designed by James Paine during Monckton's ownership as he worked for Monckton's brother at Serlby Hall1.

Fineshade Abbey was one of a number of significant estates owned by the Monckton family across Staffordshire and Yorkshire and was inherited by Edward Henry Cradock Monckton (b.1812 - d.1878) and then George Edward Monckton (b.1868 - d.1936). The seeds of the later financial difficulties were sown when Edward Monckton gifted significant sums of money to each of his 13 children to enable them to establish themselves in the world. Although George inherited the house and estate, the lack of significant capital plus the economic difficulties of the 1930s, forced the sale of the timber and land, leaving a much reduced estate unable to sustain the house. George did manage maintain the house and it was in good condition when he eventually sold the house in the 1930s. The last years of the house are less clear. It was sold to an American (name unknown) who spent substantial sums to upgrade the house including central heating. However, in WWII it was used first as a hospital before becoming an open prison for German prisoners of war, who extensively defaced it. By the end of the war, it was a near-derelict condition and with rising costs in the 1950s it was sold to the Corby development company who were going to develop it as a housing estate.

The development plan never took place and so Fineshade Abbey a demolition sale was held in November 1955, with the house coming down in 1956. However, as always with these houses, fragments remain. A carved doorcase with pediment can be seen in the library of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce in London. Of the site itself, an open lawn marks the space where the house once stood, with the stables and other ancillary buildings now reused for other purposes leaving yet another estate without a focal point.

1 - 'An Inspector Recalls' - Derek Sherborn (2003) - pg.184