Hinchingbrooke House is on the outskirts of Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire,
in the south-east of England. The first known building on the site was
a Norman church dated to about the year 1100. By about the year 1200 it
had been converted to a Benedictine Nunnery and remained so until about
1536. Remains of the nunnery still exist in the present building, notably
the stone coffins of two nuns which can still be seen under the stairs
of the present building.
You might like to visit our House Virtual Tour
However it is as a Country House that Hinchingbrooke is best known. When
the nunnery was dissolved in 1536 it passed to Richard Williams, alias
Cromwell, who made many additions, converting the nun's church into a
series of downstairs rooms with a long gallery above.
His son, Henry Cromwell, added a medieval gateway taken from Ramsey Abbey
to make a grand entrance, and a service wing containing a kitchen, pantries
and service rooms. It was a grand enough house for Queen Elizabeth to
visit and stay the night in 1564.
His son Oliver, later Sir Oliver and uncle to Oliver Cromwell the Lord
Protector, then took on the house and it was he who built the Great Bow
Window shown on the graphic on this page. King James I stayed at Hinchingbrooke
in 1603 on his way to take the throne and appreciated his visit so much
that he returned frequently over the next twenty years.
However, burdened with debt, Sir Oliver was forced to sell the house and
grounds in 1627 to the Montagu family who owned it until 1962.
There is a great deal of evidence about life in the following generation
because between 1661 and 1663 Samuel Pepys the great diarist was secretary
to Edward Montagu when he became Earl of Sandwich.
Many improvements were made to Hinchingbrooke at this time before the
Earl was killed at sea when at war with the Dutch in 1672.
The fourth Earl was next to make an impact on the house. He succeeded
to the title and the house in 1729. It was this fourth earl, John Montagu,
who famously invented the sandwich and sponsored Captain James Cook's
voyages of exploration. Evidence of Cook's gratitude can be found in islands
off the east coast of Queensland,
Australia called Brampton, Hinchingbrooke and Sandwich.
The fourth Earl made Hinchingbrooke a lively and entertaining place, hosting
many festivities with his mistress Martha Ray while his wife was in a
mental asylum in Windsor. Martha Ray's death was caused by a jealous suitor,
one Captain Hackman, who killed her in the foyer of the Opera House at
a crime for which he was executed.
In 1830 there was a serious fire which destroyed large areas of the house.
Parts were rebuilt but the result was something of a compromise.
In 1962 Hinchingbrooke was sold to the county council who used some of
the grounds for a hospital and a police control centre, while the house
itself and the immediate grounds were restored and altered to become Hinchingbrooke
School in September 1970.
Hinchingbrooke House is open to the public during the summer months on
Sunday afternoons. For a view of the weather in Cambridge, only 20 miles
away, click here.
More details about the House
may be found in a booklet written by Roger Mitchell and available from
the school or the curator, John Cronin.
Other Historical Links -
Hinchingbrooke's Local History Pages -
of the House
The House through