HISTORY & HERITAGE OF STOKE ROCHFORD HALL
A number of houses have stood on the site of Stoke Rochford Hall. The present house was built for Christopher Turnor (1809-1886) using his considerable family fortune. Turnor had succeeded his father in 1829 as a spirited 20-year-old owning 20,664 acres and a rental income of £27,000.
He sat as Conservative M.P. for South Lincolnshire between 1841 and 1847, and married Lady Caroline Finch-Hatton (the daughter of the 9th Earl of Winchilsea and Nottingham) in 1857. Turnor requested plans from the Scottish architect William Burn in 1839 and finally agreed a contract in April 1841.
William Burn (1789-1870) had worked in Sir Robert Smirke’s London office before returning to Edinburgh to join his father Robert Burn. He was prominent at designing country houses including Blairquhan (Aberdeenshire), Falkland House (Fife) and Revesby Abbey (Lincolnshire). He had replaced Anthony Salvin as architect for nearby Harlaxton Manor where most of the interior was designed by him¹. It was this work that probably alerted Turnor to Burn’s talents and construction started and completed by 1845. The pleasure grounds were designed by William Andrews Nesfield (1794-1881).
The result was agreeable but the house never really excited architectural historians. Mark Girouard called it “a competent but not very interesting re-creation of a symmetrical Jacobean house, with a big service wing to one side.” Simon Jenkins described it as “a poor man’s Harlaxton, except that it is hardly poor.”
Christopher Turnor used Stoke Rochford Hall as his main residence but his son, Edmund Turnor (1838-1903), preferred the family’s other country house, Panton Hall at Wragby (demolished in 1964) choosing to let Stoke Rochford to tenants. For a time the house was rented by Harry Wyndham Jefferson, an accomplished sailor who won a gold medal at the 1900 Paris Olympic Games.
Edmund Turnor was also M.P. for South Lincolnshire as well as being a J.P. and High Sheriff of Lincolnshire in 1894. He was a practical agriculturalist and participated on numerous farming bodies. He married Lady Mary Katherine Gordon, the daughter of the Marquess of Huntly and sister of the Countess of Ancaster in 1866. He was a distinguished landowner and much liked by his tenants. According to the Nottingham Evening Post, who reported his death in 1903, that ‘he would make himself acquainted with the grievance of his smallest tenant, and would use his knowledge and experience to attain a satisfactory solution of the cause’. Turnor met an unfortunate end while shooting with Mr Montagu Waldo-Sibthorpe, at Hatton, near Wragby, where he suddenly collapsed and died.
Stoke Rochford passed to his nephew and heir, Christopher Hatton Turnor (1873-1940) who genuinely cared for the house.
Christopher Turnor was a J.P. and became Mayor of Grantham in 1928 where is became known as the man who originated the cheapest housing scheme in England with houses rented at 3s 9d per week and attracting the attention of local authorities from all over the country.
He took up residence at Stoke Rochford Hall in 1907 following his marriage to Sarah Marie Talbot Carpenter, the only daughter of Admiral the Hon W.C. Carpenter of Kiplin Hall in Yorkshire. His interests lie chiefly in agriculture and rural education but he still managed to write a number of books on land and food problems. Turnor applied his knowledge to the study of agriculture on scientific lines and managed to combine theory and practice most effectively on the estate.
Turnor regularly placed Stoke Rochford Hall and its grounds at the disposal of the Kesteven education and other authorities to use as a summer school and for conferences. He had trained as an architect under Edwin Lutyens and Robert Weir Schultz and was responsible for constructing a green glass fireplace in the Newton Room and carving a scenic Mediterranean design in the balustrade of the main staircase. (Turnor had designed the Watts Gallery in Surrey and would build the Stoneham War Shrine in Hampshire between 1917-18)
His death at Torquay in 1940 coincided with the requisition of Stoke Rochford Hall by the War Department. For 18 months it became the headquarters of the Second Battalion of the Parachute Regiment and legend says the ill-fated Arnhem ‘drop’ of 1944 was conceived in the library.
The heir to the Stoke Rochford estate was Major Herbert Broke Turnor but he would never live at the house. Instead the house was leased to Kesteven County Council in 1948 and used as a teacher training college. The estate would eventually pass to Alistair McCorquodale and his wife Rosemary, daughter of Major Turnor, in 1954.
The teacher training college closed in 1978 and the lease was sold to the National Union of Teachers (NUT) as a National Education and Conference Centre.
In January 2005 Stoke Rochford Hall was almost lost forever. A fire started in the roof behind the clock tower but the cause was never established. Over a hundred firefighters pumped water from the lake for over four hours before having to retreat for safety. The wood panelled Grand Hall and library were lost as floors caved in and most of the interior of the south side of the building was destroyed. Fortunately, several pieces of priceless furniture, paintings and antiques were saved.
The house was restored between 2005 and 2008 at a cost of £12 million and overseen by English Heritage. To the casual observer the result is impressive. No traces of the fire remain and the Grand Hall and Library have regained their grandeur.
Stoke Rochford Hall was used by the NUT as a hotel and conference centre for 38 years. Parts of the interior looked institutionalised, and it never quite pulled it off as a high class hotel, but the house is a fine example of Victorian architecture. Less can be said for the approach to the hall which is spoilt by unsightly modern additions.
In 2016 the 999-year lease was sold to Talash Hotels Ltd.
The Stoke Rochford estate is owned by Neil McCorquodale, the son of Alistair and Rosemary.
Stoke Rochford Hall in 1901 (Country Life)
Fire at Stoke Rochford Hall in 2005 (Austin Newport Group)
Stoke Rochford Hall in 1875 (Flickriver)
A fire starts in the roof at Stoke Rochford Hall (Grantham Target)