The wheelwright of Wollaton Hall, Nottinghamshire

Wollaton Hall, situated in parkland close to the city of Nottingham in the English midlands, dates from the Elizabethan period. It is now home to Nottingham’s natural history museum.

Wollaton Hall and Park, Nottinghamshire c.1697 by Jan Siberechts Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Wollaton Hall and Park, Nottinghamshire c.1697 by Jan Siberechts
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

In the 1820s and into the 1830s William Burton, a wheelwright by trade, was working at the Hall while renovations were being carried out by the then owner Henry Willoughby, 6th Baron Middleton (1761-1835). William Burton left a letter for a future generation of craftsmen to find, hidden in the fabric of the Hall. His letter, which admittedly falls just outside our remit of writing about the Georgian Era, but only just as it was written less than three months into the reign of William IV, is given below.

Wollaton Hall, Nottingham by Hendrik Frans de Cort, c.1795 Nottingham City Museums and Galleries
Wollaton Hall, Nottingham by Hendrik Frans de Cort, c.1795
Nottingham City Museums and Galleries

September 8th 1830

William Burton Wheelwright, the Son of John & Hannah Burton of the Kings Head Public House Wollaton whose ancesters came from London when Wollaton House was first Built as Blacksmiths.

Born March 4th 1798 having now worked 8 years for Henry Lord Middleton as wheelwright hee his now in his 70th year of age at Birdsall.

The Panneling of the top of the Great Hall now Put up & the Arches Repaired & Strengthened by Iron Rods &c the job was done in a Great Hurry upwards of 40 Hands Employed. We got Plenty of Beer & I hope your not short.

I found no Monney nor non I can Leave.

God bless you & I hope hee has got mee when you find this.

The Wollaton estate encompassed Birdsall House near Malton in East Yorkshire, originally a Tudor building which was remodelled in the Georgian Era, and Lord Middleton was obviously living there while his workmen renovated Wollaton Hall. William hid his letter under the beams of the ceiling of the three story high Great Hall of Wollaton Hall, and God did indeed have him by the time the letter was found, for it remained in its hiding place until 1954 when further renovations to the building discovered it.

Plan of Wollaton Hall, Notthinghamshire, c.1811, by John Bucker FSA and John Chessell Buckler Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Plan of Wollaton Hall, Notthinghamshire, c.1811, by John Bucker FSA and John Chessell Buckler
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

A note from the past

Workmen repairing the roof of the Natural History Museum at Wollaton Hall, Nottinghamshire, have found a letter written to them 124 years ago by a workman employed on the roof the last time it was repaired.

In a large clear hand, William Burton, a wheelwright, address the letter to the workmen who next repaired the building. It was dated September 8. 1830, and he put it under the beams in the roof. In it, he mentioned having worked eight years for Henry, Lord Middleton (the sixth Lord) then living at the Hall… The letter has been framed and will hang in the museum.

William was baptised three days after his birth, on the 7th March 1798 at St Leonard’s in Wollaton, the son of John and Hannah Burton. The portraits of his parents, John and Hannah Burton, who ran the nearby Kings Head public house, hang at Wollaton Hall. Hannah was the daughter of Micah Gelding, a Justice of the Peace.

Mrs Hannah Burton by an unknown artist Nottingham City Museums and Galleries
Mrs Hannah Burton by an unknown artist
Nottingham City Museums and Galleries

John Burton is possibly the same man who is recorded as dying on the 20th November 1842 at Wollaton, aged 73 years and ‘universally respected’.

Mr John Burton by an unknown artist Nottingham City Museums and Galleries
Mr John Burton by an unknown artist
Nottingham City Museums and Galleries

We’re ending with one little non-Georgian piece of trivia regarding Wollaton Hall, lifted shamelessly from Wikipedia and because we just couldn’t resist passing it on. In 2011 the Hall featured as Wayne Manor in the Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, and it is located five miles north of Gotham in Nottinghamshire, the Nottinghamshire village which gave its name to Gotham City.

Acknowledgements:

Nottingham Hidden History Team, where you can see an image of the actual letter.

Other sources:

Nottingham Review and General Advertiser for the Midland Counties, 25th November 1842

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 3rd September 1954

Birdsall Estates

Header image:

South East view of Wollaton Hall, Nottinghamshire, the Seat of the Right honble Lord Middleton by John Buckler FSA and John Chessell Buckler, 1812. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

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