Hinchingbrooke House is on the outskirts of Huntingdon, once Huntingdonshire now part of Cambridgeshire, in the south-east of the United Kingdom. The first known building on the site was a Norman church dated to about the year 1100. By about the year 1200 it had been converted to a Benedictine Nunnery and remained so until the dissolution in 1536. Remains of the nunnery still exist in the present building, notably the stone coffins of two nuns which can still be seen under the stairs of the present building.
However it is as a Country House that Hinchingbrooke is best known. When the nunnery was dissolved in 1536 it passed to Richard Williams, alias Cromwell, who made many additions, converting the nun's church into a series of downstairs rooms with a long gallery above.
His son, Henry Cromwell, added a medieval gateway taken from Ramsey Abbey to make a grand entrance, and a service wing containing a kitchen, pantries and service rooms. It was a grand enough house for Queen Elizabeth to visit and stay the night in 1564.
His son Oliver, later Sir Oliver and uncle to Oliver Cromwell the Lord Protector, then took on the house and it was he who built the shown on the graphic on this page. King James I stayed at Hinchingbrooke in 1603 on his way to take the throne and appreciated his visit so much that he returned frequently over the next twenty years.
However, burdened with debt, largely as a result of Henry's renovations, Sir Oliver was forced to sell the house and grounds in 1627 to the Montagu family who owned it until 1962. The estate was sold to Sir Henry Montagu, 1st Earl of Manchester, and the house and manor to Sir Sidney Montagu (father of the 1st Earl of Sandwich). The latter paid £3000.
On the 27th March 1639 Charles I again visited Hinchingbrooke House when he was on his way north to fight the Scots in the 1st Bishops' War - the third reigning monarch known to have stayed at Hinchingbrooke.
There is a great deal of evidence about life in the following generation because between 1661 and 1663 Samuel the great diarist was secretary to Edward Montagu when he became Earl of Sandwich.
Many improvements were made to Hinchingbrooke at this time before the Earl was killed at sea when at war with the Dutch in 1672 (an incident which is recorded on a stained glass window in the House).
The fourth Earl was next to make an impact on the house. He succeeded to the title and the house in 1729. It was this fourth earl, John Montagu, who famously invented the sandwich and sponsored Captain James Cook's voyages of exploration.
Evidence of Cook's gratitude can be found in islands off the east coast of Queensland, Australia called Brampton, Hinchingbrooke and Sandwich.
At this time Horace Walpole described it as 'old, spacious, irregular, yet not vast or forlorn'.
The fourth Earl made Hinchingbrooke a lively and entertaining place, hosting many festivities with his mistress Martha Ray while his wife was in a mental asylum in Windsor. Martha Ray's death was caused by a jealous suitor, one Captain Hackman, who killed her in the foyer of the Opera House at Covent Garden, a crime for which he was executed.
In 1830 there was a serious fire which destroyed large areas of the house. Parts were rebuilt but the result was something of a compromise.
In 1962 Hinchingbrooke was sold to the county council who used some of the grounds for a hospital and a police control centre, some as a Country Park, while the house itself and the immediate grounds were restored and altered to become Hinchingbrooke School in September 1970. For more
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