Wingfield College

Historic Wingfield Property in England – Has Fascinating History
Evidence Indicates Dates to before William the Conqueror

This is probably the oldest Wingfield property in England. The building has two floors, total 5,000 sq. ft., 7 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, great hall, drawing room, library, print room, playroom, study, sitting room, kitchen/ breakfast room, cloakroom, formal and informal grounds plus traditional out­buildings with garaging, studio and beautiful grounds.

It sits on 9 acres in the village of Wingfield, adjacent to St. Andrew’s Church and near the Wingfield Castle. It is believed the present Wingfield College was built on Wingfield owned property going back to, and possibly before 1066. History reveals there were 4 manors in Wingfield, one of which was on the site of the College. The earliest Wingfield at that time was Roger de Wingfield who held senior posi­tions in the Royal Household. He was the uncle of Sir John de Wingfield III.

Sir John, the chief counselor and close friend to the Black Prince, married a rich heiress, Alianore daugh­ter of Sir Gilbert de Glanville. He came into possession of considerable prop­erty, plus he received a significant part of the ransom received for the French king captured at the battle of Poitiers in 1356. This affluence provided monies not only for the College, but to upgrade the church and later to build the Wingfield Castle.

With Sir John’s sudden death by the plague in 1361, the Black Prince attended the funeral. Sir John’s will gave instructions that his wife Alianore and his brother Sir Thomas de Wingfield as executors to build the college and upgrade the church.

There was nothing in the charter about modifying an existing building, but it is believed that the present college was built in 1362 with a major expan­sion of an existing Wingfield manor (hall-house). There are also indications that parts of this house were still in existence when the college was built in about 1362, on this property according to Rev S. W. H Aldwell in his book, Wingfield; It’s Church, Castle and Col­lege, 1925 .

It continued as a college for 180 years, until the dissolution of the Mon­asteries. In 1542 it reverted to the Crown becoming a private house. There is an extensive list of Masters of Wingfield College during this period.

Being carefully and extensively re­stored in 1971, contributed to its spe­cial architectural and historical interest. Cleverly set behind a Palladian facade from the 1760s, are fascinating medi­eval interiors with a spectacular par­tially galleried Medieval Great Hall and a mixture of Tudor and Georgian rooms. At this time Wingfield College, was described by Pevsner as “a handsome house of 1700,” before it was discov­ered to be the original Wingfield Col­lege founded in 1362.

The old college represents the ori­gins of education in England and is a reflection of great wealth and power of medieval East Anglia. The site of the old college is of rare historical and archeo­logical interest and is associated with many important and colorful individu­als. Wingfield College has received a significant entry in Simon Jenkins’ re­cently published “England’s 1000 Best Houses.”

In 1971 with just 2.5 acres it was placed for sale and purchased by Ian Chance. It was featured in “Country Life” on January, 7 1982 issue. The former college has been retained as the property and home of Ian Chance who calls it the “Old Wingfield College.” and is presently adjacent to the nearby Wingfield Arts Center formed in 1981. All four of the Wingfield tours to En­gland visited the village of Wingfield and were generously permitted inside the Wingfield College by Ian Chance allowing them to see the Great Hall and some of the ancient examples of con­struction.

If you believe the Ancient Suffolk Rhyme: “Wynkefeld The Saxon held honor and fee, ere William The Norman came over the sea,” you will also believe this was Wingfield property and there before 1066.

During the Middle Ages one of the commonest institutions in England was the secular college. They remained a popular and practical idea until their extinction in the wake of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1542. One of the colleges in the village of Wingfield gives us an opportunity to assess the history as it relates to the Wingfield family and even reveal the pre-college existence of significant parts of the building as a manor house.

It was clear from the foundation charter of the college that Sir John Wingfield had already decided to estab­lish a college before his sudden death by the plague in 1361. He had hoped to oversee the establishment of the col­lege during his lifetime, but when he died, the instructions in his will pre­vailed. His wife, Alianore (Ellinore) and his brother, Sir. Thomas as executors, were directed to build the college and upgrade the church.

But first, what is the purpose of having a secular college? Simply, the main expectation for which Sir John desired was to found his Col­lege of Secular Chaplains to insure that masses and prayers were said daily for his soul and the souls of his heirs – this was becoming an increasing practice in those days and was founded on the belief that “more things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.” Sir John’s foundation charter was not just a chantry to sing for his soul, but there were to be three secular chaplains (“to have the cure of the souls of the parish)” and up to nine priests. There were also three foundation cho­risters who were to receive an educa­tion. In addition to the daily duties of the priests at the college, a school was to be attached to the college in which suitable education was given to the boys coming from the neighborhood. It also insured a resident Parish priest to look after the spiritual needs of the Church and people, no little thing in those days when many of the clergy were non resident.

Sir John was indeed a most interesting member of the family. He was a fine soldier and is best known for his association with the Black Prince as his chief counselor and close friend. Sir John married a rich heiress, Alianore; daughter of Sir Gilbert de Glanville, and by this marriage he came into possession of considerable prop­erty. He also received a significant part of the ransom for the French king captured at the Battle of Poitiers (1356) which undoubtedly subsidized many of the costs that went into the upgrades and renovations.

So it was by Sir John’s will that the College was founded and the adjacent ancient church was rebuilt into a Colle­giate Church. When Sir John died without a male heir his estate passed to his daughter, Katherine and then into the hands of the de la Poles when she married Michael de la Pole. It is ironic that Sir John himself had acquired much of this same property through his marriage to Alianore, a female heir.

The actual long Latin document setting up the college and its statutes survives in Norwich and Eton today. It was drawn up by The Bishop of Nor­wich and sealed on June 6, 1362. The actual directions were taken over by Dame Alianore and Sir Thomas de Wingfield (his brother) for fulfillment. Nothing was specified in the charter about a building for the college but it has been believed for years that the family’s hall-house (manor) was handed over and from it evolved the college. Sir John’s will provided only that the old 12″‘ century Hall of the Wingfields was to be the site of the college. The Rev. S. W. H. Aldwell indicated in his book Wingfield: Its Church, Castle, and College in 1925 (Re-published by the WFS in 1994) that his instincts told him the present college was really part of a farm house that had disappeared four centuries before.

In 1971, when the old college was being remodelled into a home by Ian Chance its new owner, an amateur draftsman climbed into the roof space of the east wing of the building, saw and noted the exposed timbers were those of an old style of building, i.e., carved crown-post, massive arch-braces and collar-beams. However the discovery was disregarded and it was a decade later that it became possible to interpret the significance. After stripping off the obscuring layer of post-medieval mate­rials and viewing the medieval carpen­try it was inspected by an expert, Cecil Hewett of the Royal Commission. The further observance of details and the general symmetry of the upper floor timberwork, indicated even more of the building to be historically important, in spite of much later additions made in or near 1700. So the great hall shows, without doubt, to be of a medieval construction style and that was prob­ably built in the early 1300s, then altered in the Tudor period and again in 1971.

All of this proves that the Wingfield College building is more historically important with earlier beginnings than generally suspected and there can be no doubt that Wingfield College was formerly a Wingfield manor house that was handed over for rebuilding into the college after Sir John’s death.

Today the historic building is called “Old Wingfield College.”

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