The Armoury.
The Armoury.

The kitchens and cellars are notable—the beer-cellars wonderful works of tunnelled rock and brick building for long distances beneath the house and terrace: a siege could have been stood out in ales! In these cellars is a beautiful spring that supplies the house with drinking-water. This tunnelling no doubt contributes to the great dryness of the building.

The furniture and plenishings of such a house should be of as abounding interest as its architecture; but poor Wollaton has here fared ill! Judging from old inventories and remarks by Cassandra, Sir Francis did not find the old house plentifully garnished on succession. During a long minority, when only executors are in charge, who knows what pilfering and "mislays" occur? And doubtless many articles—plate, books, etc. —were moved about with the young Willughbys and drifted out of ken. Then the Lord Paget may have taken good care of his daughter.


The Willughby possessions were split up in their many houses,— Wollaton, Middleton, Kinsbury, Coventry, Woodlands, etc.,— and as Francis writes, in 1587, to Henry Earl of Huntingdon, whose nephew his daughter, Dorothy Willughby, espoused that year, excusing himself for not keeping their wedding at his house, "because by reason of his wife's absence, and ye furniture of his house being much decayed, he had not designed keeping house this year," we think, with Cassandra, that he did not care to buy new furniture till the new house was finished, and that then, finding money scarce, he did not add very greatly to his possessions.

And there was a fine stripping of those in the latter days of Willughby. For example: in 1781, when Thomas, Lord Middleton, left to his wife, the beautiful Georgiana Chadwick, everything of which he could despoil his family and heirs; in consequence of which she took to her second husband, and their daughter, afterwards Duchess of Newcastle, property then valued at about £300,000. A pathetic letter from the fifth Lord describes the plight in which he was left by the cruel injustice of his cousin and predecessor.

Owing, therefore, to this and similar causes, there are fewer traces in plenishing of the almost princely wealth and possessions (among which, by the way, it is worth noting have been no kings' gifts) of these Willughbys of Wollaton-Eresby: A few pictures, a little china, and plate (where are the 321 pieces named in the will of that Sir Hugh Willughby of the fifteenth century?), and a good many books, etc. Two ancient cannon recovered from Sir Hugh Willughby's frozen ships, and the canvas mail coat of the navigator; relics in books and garments of the prim-visaged Lady Cassandra Willughby, whose pictured portrait, and that of her infant brother (afterwards Earl of Londonderry), hang in the Dining-room, and from whom our historian of Chandos inherited her name; and a few, how few, alas! of the natural philosopher's collections and books.

The late Lord Wenlock told me that when the seventh Lord Middleton emptied Middleton Hall—selling even the herd of black deer in the park, undeterred by his heirs —the philosopher's library, containing many books given to him by the great scientists, etc., of his time, went ruthlessly with the rest.

Cassandra tells us that in a valuation of Sir Henry Willughby's goods at Middleton and Wollaton "were set down many copes and vestments for ye Chapel, and many extraordinary arms in ye Armory," and the plate was then valued at £447 10s., which was a large amount in his time. But little save a few illuminated volumes represent those early days.

It is said that the old cannon on the front hall steps were taken from a French privateer, probably by the noted Sir Nesbit Willoughby of Mauritius fame; whose picture, with its shaded eye, reminds one of the tale how it was shot out by a French bullet, and hung by a filament on the sailor's cheek! Sir Nesbit tore the eyeball away, tossed it overboard, and crying, "D—n the fellow who fired that shot!" went on fighting. This is but one of many stories of his gallantry.

While Wollaton New House was in process of building, Sir Francis, separated from his wife, seems latterly to have lived in Thurland House, in Nottingham, walking to and fro to watch the progress of his great work. Old Wollaton was probably abandoned in August, 1587, for in that month Sir Francis moved from Wollaton to his house at Nottingham.

In 1587, Sir Francis gives a great feast in his unfinished palace, November 11th, it being Lenton Fair time. "Yt ye Earl of Rutland and his Lady, Sir Thos. Manors and his Lady, Sir Gervas Clifton and do. Sir Anthony Strelly and do. and divers other Gentlemen with their retinue to ye number of a hundred and twenty persons, all dined with Sir Francis at Wollaton New House." The historian gives the subjoined account of things bought for this dinner. Evidently the small fowl were (from their number) for mixed pies!

Account of Things bought for a Dinner, November 11, 1587.
The Provision of Beef and Mutton,  etc., being Killed at Home.





Paid for.






sh. d.


sh. d.
Butter             9 4 6 lbs. of Sugar. 10 0
Eggs     6 10 3  "     " Raisins 0 9
Milk for custards     1 0 3  "     " Corans 1 3
2 Piggs     2 8 3 "     " Pruins 1 0
s Capons     6 2 ½lb. of Pepper 1 0
8 Chickens     2 2 3 of Cynamon 1 4
4 Woodcocks     1 4 " Ginger 0 4
5 Snipes     0 10 " Mace 1 6
4 Plover     0 10 " Cloves 1 0
Bread for ye kitchen     0 8 1 lb. of Bisquit 1 6
Ale to seethe fish in     0 2 Paid for Musk Comfits 2 6




Total £2144



Wollaton Hall gate.
Wollaton Hall gate.