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Before The Civil War




Melbourne was a Royal Manor until its sale by James I in 1604, and had an unfinished Lancastrian castle built between 1311 and 1322. The castle was demolished in the early 17th century, leaving Melbourne Hall as the most important house in the parish. The Hall was built as a Bishop’s palace and its origins can be traced to 1133 when Henry I founded the Bishopric of Carlisle and appointed Adeluff, Prior of Nostell in Yorkshire, as its first bishop. The church and rectory of Melbourne appear to have been granted to Adeluff as part of the original endowment of the bishopric, and Melbourne’s outstanding Norman church must have been built either by Adeluff or the King himself.


In the 13th and 14th centuries, successive bishops of Carlisle came to Melbourne as a refuge from the troubled Scottish border, when they used the church as a cathedral and Melbourne Hall as their palace. One particular bishop, Walter Malclerc, had great influence on the development of the village and obtained a royal grant for a yearly fair and a weekly market in 1230. The parish church was never entirely finished, and it was probably Bishop Walter who brought it to a presentable conclusion. He may also have been the first bishop to build a house on the site of Melbourne Hall, a few yards to the east of his church.


By early 15th century Carlisle was more peaceful. Melbourne was no longer needed as a residence by the bishops, which enabled them to lease their palace and estate there to laymen. Thomas Cromwell, Lord Chancellor of England, took the earliest known lease in 1530 for ten pounds a year. Another eminent lessee was Gilbert Talbot, 7th Earl of Shrewsbury, who took a lease of the rectorial estate at Melbourne in 1589, for the ‘yearly and ancient rent’ of £45


These people had houses of their own and unfortunately neglected a clause in their leases that bound them to maintain the house at Melbourne ‘with thacking (thatching) and daubing in all things necessary’. In 1595 Sir Francis Needham of London, the current lessee, decided to make his home at Melbourne, but the house and outbuildings were by this time fallen into ‘exceeding greate decaye, especially the mansion house which is utterly ruined and nit inhabitable withoute greate and chardgable reparacions’. John Harpur of Swarkerstone and Raphe Sacheverell of Stanton by Bridge, both J.Ps, estimated that more than £200 needed to be spent on the house.


Sir Francis pulled down and rebuilt a large part of it within the next two years. The oldest surviving masonry in the house is probably of this period. The result, known from various plans and documents, was a house with much the same layout as it has today. The principal ‘Great Hall’ was aligned east-west in the area of the present Dining Room and Study, and there were east and west wings projecting to the south in the place of the present ones. As it does today, the west wing contained the kitchen and sculleries, while the east wing housed the best rooms.


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