Doddington Hall: A Building History

Essay by Rodolfo Acevedo Rodriguez

Doddington Hall, situated on the western edge of Lincolnshire, six miles west of Lincoln, provides an opportunity to experience two major currents of architectural design that characterise the evolution of the English country house. The three-storey house was built between 1593 and 1600 for Thomas Tailor, registrar of the Diocese of Lincoln.1 It remained unaltered throughout the seventeenth century, except for the garden, which underwent alterations in c.1648 under the ownership of Sir Thomas Hussey.2 In 1759 John Hussey Delaval inherited Doddington estate and began to plan a remodelling of the interior of the house. Building works began in the spring of 1760 and were predominantly complete by the autumn of 1762, although additional works, including the reconstruction of the adjoining medieval church, continued until 1775.3 By the time the church was reopened Sir John Hussey Delaval had shifted his attention back to Ford Castle in Northumberland, where alterations had been taking place since 1761.3 How the works unfolded at Doddington can be understood from the surviving accounts and letters compiled by William Portes, steward to Sir John.5 From Portes’s letters and documentation we learn that, as at Ford Castle, no architect was employed for the job.6 Instead, Portes commissioned a team of craftsmen and directed the work according to Sir John’s personal instructions. Among those employed by Portes was Thomas Lumby, a master carpenter from Lincoln.7 Lumby, who acted as the principal contractor – issuing estimates and receiving payment for the surveyed works – had previously worked at Lincoln Cathedral under the direction of the architect James Essex and had evidently developed excellent joinery skills.8 However, although he was competent, Lumby was also habitually lazy and unreliable. Perhaps, had he not been as dilatory as records show, we might have seen more evidence of his creative mind.9

The completion date of the house, as indicated by the date 1600 embossed on the lead roof of the central cupola, followed the construction of a series of prodigy houses built for prominent figures of the period (fig. 1). They include: Worksop Manor (c.1580–6), built for George Talbot, sixth Earl of Shrewsbury; Wollaton Hall (1580–8), built for Sir Francis Willoughby; and Hardwick Hall (c.1591–7), built for Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury.10 While there is strong evidence to attribute the design of these three houses to Robert Smythson (1535–1614), there are no surviving records to connect Doddington Hall with Smythson, although there are stylistic traits that suggest he may have supplied the design.11 The plan of Doddington is closely related to Worksop. Its design follows the typical H-plan arrangement and has no courtyard, just like Hardwick. Externally, Doddington is as rigorously symmetrical as some of the other schemes drawn by Smythson, namely Wollaton and Hardwick. However, whereas Worksop, Hardwick and Wollaton bear facades richly embellished with moulded stringcourses, statue niches and spires, Doddington’s facade is by contrast relatively plain. The articulation of stone quoins and mullioned windows, thoughtfully aligned to form a coherent set of elevations, conjure a degree of structural integrity akin to that experienced in building-culture of the early Renaissance. The distribution of the fenestration, centred around a system of rectangular panes, speaks for a generation of Elizabethan designers who increasingly employed their own ideas of classicism by way of abstraction, even if some of the more decorative features, specifically the round-headed arch and the two flanking Tuscan columns, appear to have received literal interpretations. Similarly, the three domed cupolas, all placed at equidistance so as to appear congruent with the rectangular bays below, impart an air of civility, while the relatively large windows looking towards Lincoln add a sense of purpose to the design. On the other hand, the use of polygonal profiles, similar to those shown in John Thorpe’s drawing for Noseley Hall in Leicestershire, serves as a clear indication that the castle-style towers of the late Middle Ages, whose chivalric connotations had played a dominant role in the English architectural vocabulary since their introduction in the thirteenth century, were still considered significant in the late sixteenth-century country-house movement (fig. 2).12

Doddington in the County of Lincoln, from Britannia Illustrata series, plate 63

Figure 1.
Jan Kip after Leonard Knyff, Doddington in the County of Lincoln, from Britannia Illustrata series, plate 63, 1707. Etching, 35.2 × 49 cm. The British Museum (M,21.63).

Digital image courtesy of Trustees of the British Museum. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Design for a house in Noseley

Figure 2.
John Thorpe, Design for a house in Noseley, 1606. Drawing. Sir John Soane’s Museum, London (SM Volume 101/148).

Digital image courtesy of Sir John Soane’s Museum, London. (All rights reserved)

By the time Doddington was built, the particular desire to emulate the architecture of the Gothic-castle had already been revealed at Burghley House, Lincolnshire (1575–8), where Sir William Cecil erected his own design for a west front with projecting towers and polygonal cupolas on top.13 What makes Doddington distinguishable from other castle-house precedents, however, is the deliberate break between the straight, regular, three-storey module and the cupolas standing above – a division rendered more apparent with John Hussey Delaval’s removal of the semi-circular gables protruding from the parapet, which had previously disguised the ridges of the original roof, as captured in Johannes Kip’s engraving of 1707.14 Whether Sir John’s decision to remodel the parapet in 1762 carried a specific aesthetic intent or was simply part of a renewal of the roof is more difficult to confirm. In William Portes’s opinion, the alterations on the exterior made the house ‘look all round as if it were a new building’, indicating that they formed part of a response to the meet demands of the new elite for structural economy, compact living quarters and recreation (fig. 3).15

East Front, Doddington Hall

Figure 3.
East Front, Doddington Hall, Lincolnshire.

Digital image courtesy of Doddington Hall & Gardens / Photo: Rodolfo Acevedo Rodriguez. (All rights reserved)

Internally, the plan of the house is not as rigorously symmetrical as the exterior. The ground floor comprises a central porch that leads directly into the Great Hall, on the side where a screened passage, almost certainly constructed with a timber screen, formerly stood. The kitchen and office rooms are connected by a corridor running the length of the buttery and pantry; a similar example of this arrangement survives at Montacute, Somerset, where an equally significant house was built for Sir Edward Phelips in c.1598, possibly to the design of William Arnold.16 On the north side of the ground floor, beyond the high end of the Great Hall, are two rooms with the main staircase between them. As demonstrated by the eighteenth-century inventories taken at Doddington, the north-west chamber facing the ‘pleasure’ garden, previously used as a Parlour, was later transformed into a Dining Room, once the earlier ‘wainscot’ panelling was replaced with a more up-to-date eighteenth-century scheme.17 Meanwhile, the smaller room on the opposite side of the stairs, formerly known as the Drawing Room, became the Parlour (the ‘Green Parlour’) after the mid-eighteenth-century remodelling (figs. 4 and 5).

Entrance Hall, Doddington Hall

Figure 4.
Entrance Hall, Doddington Hall, Lincolnshire.

Digital image courtesy of Doddington Hall & Gardens / Photo: Rodolfo Acevedo Rodriguez. (All rights reserved)

Brown Parlour, Doddington Hall

Figure 5.
Brown Parlour, Doddington Hall, Lincolnshire.

Digital image courtesy of Doddington Hall & Gardens / Photo: Rodolfo Acevedo Rodriguez. (All rights reserved)

As with nearly all doorways in the house, the original Tudor doorways facing the stairs hall were made square and fitted with bolection-moulded casings matching the dado rails and cornicing around the house. Most of the doors were replaced with raised-and-fielded-panelled leafs and were painted white or mahogany, depending on the colour scheme of each room. Those facing the great hall were painted mahogany and fitted with pulvinated friezes and broken pediments on top, presumably to give prominence to the principal points of entry and to highlight the significance of the space. Curiously, the north-west doorway, seemingly connecting the Great Hall with the north-west Dining Room, is not an opening but rather a dummy fashioned in the same manner as the adjoining doorways to give the impression the plan is completely symmetrical. Of all the eighteenth-century alterations, arguably the most ambitious was the reconstruction of the timber staircase (the ‘Best Stair Case’), which was planned in May 1760 and completed in October 1762.18 Here, Lumby revealed his eye for structural economy by introducing a new set of stairs, in the Imperial style, that rise by a single flight and return by a double one, thus maximising the span of each flight and eliminating the need for more than one intermediate landing.19 The result is remarkably effective considering the stair tower was originally built to accommodate an open-well staircase with quarter landings, which by design minimises the width of each flight, as demonstrated with the Great Staircase at Ham House, Richmond upon Thames, an early seventeenth-century house whose plan is related closely to Doddington (figs. 6 and 7).20

Staircase to the first floor, Doddington Hall

Figure 6.
Staircase to the first floor, Doddington Hall, Lincolnshire.

Digital image courtesy of Doddington Hall & Gardens / Photo: Rodolfo Acevedo Rodriguez. (All rights reserved)

Staircase to the second floor, Doddington Hall

Figure 7.
Staircase to the second floor, Doddington Hall, Lincolnshire.

Digital image courtesy of Doddington Hall & Gardens / Photo: Rodolfo Acevedo Rodriguez. (All rights reserved)

Upstairs, the largest portion of the first floor is occupied by the Drawing Room, formerly the Long Dining Room, which has almost the exact same plan as the Great Hall below.21 During the remodelling the scheme of plasterwork on the ceiling of this room was made similar to that in the Great Hall, although the entrances were not furnished with highly ornate doorcases. Instead, a chimneypiece with lugged-and-shouldered sides was made the central feature, allowing for the surrounding walls to be systematically decorated with carved gilt sconces, mirrors, papier-mâché ornamentation and recent paintings of members of the Delaval family. By the mid-eighteenth century the two apartments directly south of the Drawing Room were used as guest accommodation – the adjacent room, now known as the Yellow Room, was furnished with tapestry hangings, while the smaller rooms beyond served as additional bedchambers.22 Within the north range, on the same level as the Drawing Room, are two identical apartments, both of which were intended as high-status chambers. The room facing the rear garden, now known as the Holly Room, was occupied by Lady Hussey Delaval in the 1760s and was also furnished with woven tapestries. This room was later referred to as the ‘Yellow Worked Chamber’ in the 1786 inventory, since it also contained a four-post timber bed with yellow hangings on it.23 The chamber facing the church, now known as the Tiger Room, was occupied by Sir John and was described – also in 1786 – as the Tapestry Room, as it contained another set of tapestry hangings depicting a wild boar and a lion.24 Although we know more about the history of these tapestries, owing to a recent programme of research and conservation, the owner’s motivation for rehanging them in these particular rooms is subject to further debate (figs. 8–10).25

  • Drawing Room, Doddington Hall

    Figure 8.

    Drawing Room, Doddington Hall, Lincolnshire.

    Digital image courtesy of Doddington Hall & Gardens / Photo: Rodolfo Acevedo Rodriguez. (All rights reserved)

  • Tiger Room, Doddington Hall

    Figure 9.

    Tiger Room, Doddington Hall, Lincolnshire.

    Digital image courtesy of Doddington Hall & Gardens / Photo: Rodolfo Acevedo Rodriguez. (All rights reserved)

  • Tapestry Room, Doddington Hall

    Figure 10.

    Tapestry Room, Doddington Hall, Lincolnshire.

    Digital image courtesy of Doddington Hall & Gardens / Photo: Rodolfo Acevedo Rodriguez. (All rights reserved)

The second floor and uppermost storey is largely occupied by the Long Gallery, which runs the entire length of the central range of the house and connects the stair hall, as well as the two bedchambers on the north range, with more chambers on the south. This 62ft-long room is now painted yellow, but there are traces of peacock blue on the walls and mouldings indicating that this colour was part of the mid-eighteenth century scheme of interior renovation. The plasterwork in this room is more intricate than in the rooms below, its design helping to draw the gaze upwards and onwards, encouraging the observer to proceed through the room. Indeed, the ceiling design appears to have been part of a wider strategy aimed at animating spaces and entertaining visitors. Those who entered the Long Gallery through the north door would have been invited to contemplate a series of full-length portraits, arranged sequentially from left to right, featuring images of members the Delaval family. The likelihood that this theatrical effect was envisioned from the outset is clear from the building accounts, which reveal that the insertion of the east wall and the levelling of the ceiling joists were items included in the initial estimate.26 As part of the construction of the wall, provisions were made for a series of rounded-arch alcoves, which occupied a place between the paintings and were presumably used to accommodate ceramic objects. Why Sir John chose to block the east wall windows as opposed to the windows on the opposite side may be explained by the fact that two original fireplaces were already occupying large sections of the west wall. The position of the house in relation to the path of the sun, which meant afternoon light could illuminate the gallery and the collection of decorative objects inside, may also account for the decision to hang the paintings on the east wall (fig. 11).

Long Gallery, Doddington Hall

Figure 11.
Long Gallery, Doddington Hall, Lincolnshire.

Digital image courtesy of Doddington Hall & Gardens / Photo: Rodolfo Acevedo Rodriguez. (All rights reserved)

By the mid-1760s Doddington Hall would have embodied two very distinct but equally significant architectural styles that together reflected John Hussey Delaval’s preference for a simple, logical way of living. To the eighteenth-century observer the exterior of the house would have appeared largely intact, perhaps even old-fashioned, and this would have reflected Sir John’s appreciation of a bygone age. The same sentimentality towards the old would have been clear at Ford Castle, where Sir John adopted a simple Gothic idiom to revive the medieval character of the building. Yet, despite his measured approach to construction, Sir John conducted a much more thorough set of alterations in the interior of Doddington Hall, which, by design, enabled the Delaval family to dwell amid the vast Lincolnshire estate in the comforts of a modernised, state-of-the-art Georgian interior, even if the distribution and proportion of the Elizabethan rooms governed some aspects of daily life. Thus, by deliberately retaining the sixteenth-century appearance of the house, Sir John paid respect to the history of the house and the period it represented. In addition, by converting what appears to have been an austerely decorated interior into a series of rooms boasting expressive features and recently commissioned paintings, Sir John revealed his taste for the neo-classical style and the cultivated mindset associated with it. The fact that the greater portion of the house has remained unaltered since the remodelling took place makes it possible for us to comprehend how compelling was the combination of these two architectural vocabularies in the eighteenth century. At the same time, its present condition allows us to appreciate the extent to which Sir John’s transformation was respected by the ensuing generations that lived at Doddington Hall (fig. 12).

West Front, Doddington Hall

Figure 12.
West Front, Doddington Hall, Lincolnshire.

Digital image courtesy of Doddington Hall & Gardens / Photo: Rodolfo Acevedo Rodriguez. (All rights reserved)


  • Rodolfo Acevedo Rodriguez

    Rodolfo Acevedo Rodríguez is an artist, architect and architectural historian with an interest in the recording and interpretation of historic buildings. He is a practicing member of The Royal Institute of British Architects, an affiliate member of The Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers and a fellow of The Society of Antiquaries. Between 2016 and 2020, he carried out research on Boughton House, Doddington Hall, Petworth House, Thornton Abbey Gatehouse, Trewithen House, Wentworth Woodhouse and West Wycombe House. A contributor of ‘Art & The Country House’, Rodolfo has written a number of essays and transcriptions of architectural records.


  1. Nikolaus Pevsner, John Harris and Nicholas Antram, Lincolnshire, The Buildings of England, 2nd rev. edn, London: Penguin Books, 1989, p. 253.

  2. Sir Thomas may have also carried out minor alterations inside the house: H. Avray Tipping, ed., English Homes of the Early Renaissance, Elizabethan and Jacobean Houses and Gardens, London: Country Life, 1913, p. 387.

  3. In 1776 the church was used for the funeral of Sir John’s only son: John Cornforth, ‘A Building Baronet – II’, Country Life, vol. 188, 10 February 1994, pp. 46–9.

  4. In 1776 the church was used for the funeral of Sir John’s only son: John Cornforth, ‘A Building Baronet – II’, Country Life, vol. 188, 10 February 1994, pp. 46–9.

  5. Held at the Northumberland Archives: NA 2DE.20/1–17.

  6. At Ford Castle Sir John relied on James Nisbet of Kelso to procure the building works: Cornforth, 20 January 1994, pp. 46–9.

  7. H. M. Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 16001840, 4th edn, London: Yale University Press, 2008, p. 663.

  8. Among Lumby’s most notable works is the Bishop’s Throne at Lincoln Cathedral: R. E. G. Cole, History of The Manor and Township of Doddington, Lincoln: James Williamson, 1897, p. 149.

  9. Portes’s letters contain various complaints about Lumby’s absence and failure to employ enough men: NA 2DE 20/1/2, 4, 17.

  10. Construction at Worksop involved the enlargement of an earlier hunting lodge, whereas at Wollaton the house was built as new: Mark Girouard, Robert Smythson and The Elizabethan Country House, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1983, pp. 81–2, 110. Foundations for the New Hall at Hardwick were laid in 1590 and the last payment for glazing was made in 1596: David Adshead and David A. H. B. Taylor, eds, Hardwick Hall: A Great Old Castle of Romance, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2016, p. 19.

  11. The fact that Robert Smythson designed a screen for Lord Shrewsbury makes it probable that he produced the design for Worksop as well: Mark Girouard, Robert Smythson and the Architecture of the Elizabethan Era, London: Country Life, 1966, p. 101.

  12. Thorpe’s design for Noseley is dated 1606: London, Sir John Soane’s Museum, SM Volume 101/148.

  13. Mark Girouard, Elizabethan Architecture: Its Rise and Fall, 15401640, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009, p. 6.

  14. L. Knyff and J. Kip, Doddington in the County of Lincoln, the Seat of the Honble Sr. Thomas Hussey, Barrtt, London: David Mortier, 1707.

  15. Letter from William Portes to Sir John Hussey Delaval written on 7 August 1762: NA 2DE 20/1/27.

  16. Arnold may have also been responsible for the design of Carnborne Manor in Dorset: Girouard, 2009, p. 389.

  17. Inventories for 1753, 1760 and 1786 are held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford: MS Top. Lincs. c. 13, MS Top. Lincs. e. 6; John Crook, ed., The Wainscot Book: The Houses of Winchester Cathedral Close and their Interior Decoration, 1660–1800, Hampshire Record Series 6, Winchester: Hampshire Record Office, 1984.

  18. Work on the staircase included alterations on the landings and the construction of balustrades, stringboards and handrails: BO MS Top. Lincs. c. 14/56, 59.

  19. For the history and development of staircases in Britain see James Campbell, ‘The British Staircase’, in James Campbell and Michael Tutton, eds, Staircases, London and New York: Routledge, 2014, pp. 75–140.

  20. William Murray’s staircase at Ham, built between 1637 and 1638, replaced the original staircase built for Sir Thomas Vavasour: David Adshead and Christopher Rowell, ‘Seventeenth-Century Decorative Woodwork at Ham House’, in Christopher Rowell, ed., Ham House: 400 Years of Collecting and Patronage, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2013, pp. 67–83. Both house plans are particularly similar in the way the staircases are positioned: David Adshead, in P S Barnwell and Paula Henderson, eds, Architect, Patron and Craftsman in Tudor and Early Stuart England: Essays for Malcolm Airs, Donington: Shaun Tyas, 2017, pp. 62-74.

  21. The Drawing Room was recorded as the ‘Long Dining Room’ in 1753 and 1760: BO MS Top. Lincs. c. 13.

  22. The Yellow Room appears to have served as accommodation for Sarah Hussey, Countess of Tyrconnel, around 1786: BO MS Top. Lincs. e. 6, ff. 12–13.

  23. The 1786 inventory lists ‘1 Four post Oak bedstead with red white and yellow Hangings, lined with Yellow Sattin’: BO MS Top. Lincs. e. 6, f. 9.

  24. The 1786 inventory does not list the tapestry hangings as an individual item, but the description of the room suggests they were still in place at that time: BO MS Top. Lincs. e. 6, ff. 8–9.

  25. The conservation of the tapestries was conducted as part of the ‘Hands on Tapestries’ project; for more information on the tapestries see Leah Warriner-Wood, ‘Tapestry in the Eighteenth-Century Country House Interior’, unpublished doctoral thesis.

  26. ‘Estimate for the several rooms in Doddington Hall’, including the Long Gallery, was given on 24 May 1760: BO MS Top. Lincs. c. 14, ff. 44r–50v.



by Rodolfo Acevedo Rodriguez
20 November 2020
House Essay
CC BY-NC International 4.0
Cite as
Rodolfo Acevedo Rodriguez, "Doddington Hall: A Building History", Art and the Country House,