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The Priory

A Grade II Listed Building in Louth, Lincolnshire

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Coordinates

Latitude: 53.3681 / 53°22'5"N

Longitude: 0.0034 / 0°0'12"E

OS Eastings: 533396

OS Northings: 387567

OS Grid: TF333875

Mapcode National: GBR XYGH.JB

Mapcode Global: WHHJT.0LXS

Entry Name: The Priory

Listing Date: 18 February 1974

Last Amended: 10 December 2013

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1359887

English Heritage Legacy ID: 194957

Location: Louth, East Lindsey, Lincolnshire, LN11

County: Lincolnshire

District: East Lindsey

Civil Parish: Louth

Built-Up Area: Louth

Traditional County: Lincolnshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Lincolnshire

Church of England Parish: Louth

Church of England Diocese: Lincoln

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Summary

Gothick villa built 1812-1818 to the designs of the owner Thomas Espin.

Description

Gothick villa built 1812-1818 to the designs of the owner Thomas Espin.

MATERIALS: stuccoed principal garden front with exposed areas revealing ashlared stone, and subsidiary side and rear elevations of brick, painted white overall. Roof recovered in tiles. The building is said to incorporate salvaged masonry and materials from Louth Park Abbey and the old Town Hall.

PLAN: the two-storey building has an irregular but approximately rectangular plan. The principal rooms occupy the north-facing range and the subsidiary rooms the south end. This end originally consisted of a central spine with rear wings projecting at right angles on either side but the space in between was infilled in the 1970s.

EXTERIOR: the principal elevations are in a picturesque, ornamental Gothick style. The north-facing three-bay façade has a symmetrical composition with a central gabled bay flanked by octagonal piers which rise into wide turret-like, crenellated octagonal finials with lancet-panelled sides. It has a crocketed parapet pierced with quatrefoils and a central moulded shaft rising through the apex surmounted by a decorative finial. The projecting single-storey porch has stepped angle buttress with small cinquefoil recesses in the base which probably held boot-scrapers. It has a parapet with turret finials similar to the gable, except it is crenellated and the quatrefoils are recessed rather than pierced. The pointed arch doorway has a deep hollow moulding and a hoodmould terminating in headstops in the form of human heads. The recessed pointed arch double-leaf timber door is embellished with blind Gothic tracery. Above the porch is a window of two-lights with cinquefoil heads set in a pointed arch surround with a deep hollow mould and a hoodmould similar to that on the porch. On either side of the central bay are single-storey canted bays which are flanked by octagonal piers and surmounted by the same parapet as the porch. Each face of the bay is lit by pointed arch sash windows with radial glazing bars (said to have come from the old Town Hall) set in hollow-moulded surrounds with joined hoodmoulds. The right (west) return of the single-storey bay has a five-sided bay window, added later, which has casements with timber glazing bars. The left (east) return is blank. Behind, the return gabled walls of the two-storey central bay have the same pierced parapet as the front gable and are lit by a two-over-two pane sash, the upper sash arched, under a hoodmould. The left (east) side has a single-storey projection with a canted bay window containing two-over-two pane sashes under shallow pointed arches. The whole projection is of exposed ashlared stone and has a crenellated parapet pierced with quatrefoils.

The remainder of the side and rear elevations are subsidiary and much plainer with little or no Gothick detailing. On the east side (after the Gothick projection just described), is the 1970s extension of two gabled bays lit by casement windows, followed by a single gabled bay lit by C19 three-light windows with Tudor hoodmoulds. The west side has a similar 1970s extension, three window bays wide, with a covered porch. This is followed by a gabled bay with two single-storey gabled projections, possibly former coal-stores, which have shallow pointed arch doorways and C20 doors. The first floor is lit by two eight-over-eight pane sash windows with cambered brick arches. The rear elevation, facing south onto the road, is lit on the ground floor by three two-over-two pane sash windows and on the first floor by two four-over-eight sashes, all under stuccoed wedge lintels.

INTERIOR: the principal rooms on the north side of the house are elaborately Gothick in character and have survived virtually unaltered. The central doorway opens into the small entrance hall which is laid in stone tiles, each corner punctuated by a black diamond-shaped tile containing a red square, and the whole edged with a band of red and yellow encaustic tiles. The hall contains the open well stair which has winders at the first turn and two iron balusters per tread, rising into cusped arches forming an arcade. It has square timber newel posts and handrails, all carved to give the impression of crenellation. Above the wall string is a small quatrefoil-shaped recess under a Tudor hoodmould which contains a clock that is said to have been set by Thomas Espin every night for the hour at which he desired breakfast. The hall and the two flanking rooms have deep hollow moulded cornices with plaster embellishments of different designs.

On the right side of the hall is a crocketed ogee arch opening with finials and slender shafts attached to the jambs. This leads into a small vaulted ante-room which has a pointed arch timber door with blind Gothic tracery, also with an ogee arch surround, giving access to a highly decorated reception room. The bay window on the north side is in a vaulted alcove with a deep hollow moulding and a Tudor hoodmould that has a decorative hollow moulding and corbels. The canted bay on the west side is a later addition formed by opening up the original alcove which has a shallow pointed arch opening with similar treatment as described above. The east wall has a moulded stone chimneypiece with a four-centred arch opening and carved spandrels. The grate has been removed and replaced with a gas fire. This is flanked by pointed arch alcoves which have decorative hoodmoulds. There is also has a picture rail and a moulded octagonal ceiling rose with panels of long-lobed trefoils. On the left side of the hall is the former library, entered through a door with a Tudor hoodmould. It is in most respects identical to its counterpart except the east wall has been fitted with elegant bookcases with pierced Gothic tracery. This room is now used as a hotel bar, and a counter has been installed in front of the bookcases. The elaborate timber chimneypiece is painted to resemble yellowish/ brown marble and has a moulded shallow pointed arch opening with carved spandrels and mantelpiece embellished with billet moulding. The inset is lined with turquoise tiles and two large painted tiles depicting scholarly-looking gentlemen. The grate has also been replaced with a gas fire. The headstops on the hoodmoulds in this room are thought to be portraits of Thomas Espin and his brother John. Both these rooms retain their original floorboards.

The two other principal rooms to the rear are not Gothick in character but still have finely detailed fixtures and fittings. The room directly behind the entrance hall has a tiled floor laid in a geometric pattern, probably added later in the C19, and a wide frieze of decorative plasterwork. The former library opens on the south side into another reception room which has a brown and white marble fireplace with a square opening and a mantelpiece supported by consoles. The sides and hearth are lined with red tiles and the small cast iron grate is intact. The canted bay window on the east side has a deeply moulded cornice and the whole room has a frieze of decorative plasterwork. There are some arched openings and small cast-iron grates elsewhere in the house but the other rooms are comparatively plain and retain few of their original fittings.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: at the north front of the house is an octagonal moulded stone sundial, painted white, and further to the north a flight of six stone steps with four square piers, also painted white. The piers have a recessed lancet on each face and are surmounted by pyramidal stone caps.

On the east side of the house is a curious little brick building thought to be the remnants of the original steam house which provided hot water via underground pipes to the house. It has a mono-pitched roof that is clad in corrugated iron and slants downwards to the north side which has two C20 doors. The west return wall faces The Priory and is more decorative as a consequence, having stepped buttresses at the corners with tumbled in brickwork, and a pair of windows with pointed arch brick surrounds. Chimney stacks rise from the south-east and north-west corners, the latter one now truncated. The south side has a C19 four-panelled door, and the remains of two iron pipes protrude from the bottom right hand corner of the wall. On the south side is a quarry-tiled area enclosed by a low wall in modern brick. The interior, which was only seen from the window, has a quarry-tiled floor and wooden shelving.

Slightly further to the south there is a salvaged medieval stone crocketed finial with gablets on each of the four sides. It has been fixed into the ground.

History

The town of Louth in Lincolnshire, often referred to as the ‘Capital of the Wolds’ has Saxon origins, and at the time of the Domesday survey was one of Lincolnshire’s 7 market towns, with a population of 600. Its medieval core is still discernible in the town’s street pattern, and was bounded by the River Lud, the streets of Gospelgate and Kidgate to the south and Church Street to the east. Street names including the suffix ‘gate’ abound in the medieval core, which is signed from a great distance in every direction by the spire of St James Church, completed in 1505, the tallest such spire of any parish church in England. Louth’s medieval prosperity was derived from exporting wool and grain, and its magnificent parish church is testimony to the wealth generated by agriculture in the region, and by Louth’s relative proximity to the east coast.

The town’s population was reduced by three-quarters by outbreaks of plague in the 1630s, and by the early C18 economic prosperity had understandably waned considerably. However, the opening of the Louth-Tetney canal in 1770 heralded a new era of prosperity, and the growth of industries related not only to the region’s agriculture such as malting and grain processing, but also activities such as tanning, boatbuilding and warehousing. Much of this development took place around the canal terminus at Riverhead, and the growth of the town eastwards, along Eastgate, James Street and Walkergate.

In 1848, the East Lincolnshire Railway came to Louth, extending trade and communication links beyond those of the canal, and further enhancing the town’s economic strength. An expanding population stimulated the development of terraced housing and villas, churches, chapels, schools and a range of public buildings all graphically captured in the remarkable ‘Louth Panorama’, a two section painting produced by a local man, William Brown in 1844. The Panorama presents a view of the town from high in the spire of St James’ Church. It portrays Louth at the height of its development and prosperity, shortly after the arrival of the railway, set in its surrounding rural landscape, with the east coast seascape in the background. The structure of the town has changed remarkably little since the Panorama was created, and Louth has mercifully escaped the large-scale post-war redevelopment experienced by many communities in England. Louth remains a thriving historic market town with a high proportion of well-preserved C19 buildings.

The Priory was the home of Thomas Espin (1768-1822), an accomplished topographical artist and draughtsman, amateur architect and mathematician. He was born at Holton Beckering and received his education in Wragby before moving in 1790 (with his brother John) to Louth where he became a schoolmaster at Dr Mapletoft’s free school on Northgate. Thomas travelled all over Lincolnshire making drawings of cathedrals, churches and ruins which were much admired on publication. He also produced a plan of Louth in 1808 and supervised the rebuilding of the belfry windows of St James’s Church in 1805. In the same year Thomas bought a plot of land called Brick’s Close on Eastgate, and from 1812 to 1818 he built The Priory to his own designs, naming it after his childhood home. The white building is clearly visible on Brown’s Panorama of 1844. It seems likely that its design was inspired by Thomas’s work on St James’s as the façade of The Priory with its two-storey central bay with pierced parapet, flanked by single-storey crenellated bays, strongly resembles the east front of the church. The crocketed ogee arch surrounds surmounted by finials that are used throughout the principal rooms were probably also inspired by the church’s magnificent ogee arch west doorway.

In payment for designing a new town hall (since demolished), Thomas had been given salvaged masonry and material from the former Town Hall and from the ruins of the C12 Louth Park Abbey. The Cistercian Abbey, situated about a mile from Louth, had been founded in 1139 by Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln but all that now remains are extensive earthworks, the ruined walls of the chancel and the base of a nave pillar. Thomas is said to have incorporated the salvaged materials in The Priory, and he used them to create a folly at the side of his new lake in the grounds. He also designed a Gothick summerhouse, located on the east side of the lake, which at his request became his mausoleum. When The Priory was completed in 1818, Thomas transferred the school there which became known as a Mathematical, Nautical, Architectural and Commercial Academy. His library occupied the east room at the front of the house, and the boarders are said to have slept in the long room to the rear of the ground floor. After Thomas’s death in 1822 The Priory was run as a classical commercial boarding school under Alexander Tallents Rogers. It was then used as a retirement home from 1955 to 1977 before being converted into a hotel with extensions added on the east and west sides.

Reasons for Listing

The Priory, a Gothick villa built 1812-1818 to the designs of the owner Thomas Espin, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest: it is an accomplished example of an early C19 villa of fine quality. Its principal elevation is influenced by the symmetry of the Georgian period but it is decorated with Gothick details characteristic of new architectural tastes. Whilst this exuberant delight in Gothic motifs is the predominant characteristic of its design, some of the detailing nevertheless respects the more authentic interpretation of medieval precedents;

* Architect: The Priory is the very personal creation of its architect and owner, the notable scholar and antiquarian Thomas Espin, whose presence is especially felt in details such as the portrait headstops in the library and the built-in clock he set on his way upstairs at the time he wished for breakfast;

* Interior: the plan form and interior decoration of the principal rooms display a high quality of design. The staircase hall and two flanking rooms (the former library and reception room) are particularly notable for the completeness and ebullience of their Gothick treatment, which includes finely crafted joinery and ornate plaster mouldings;

* Intactness: the principal north range of the building has survived with a high degree of intactness, as have the subsidiary features, and it is the completeness with which the elements of this Gothick creation has been preserved that contributes so strongly to its special interest;

* Group value: The Priory has considerable group value with the mausoleum and ruin, situated picturesquely around the lake, which were designed by Espin and form important elements in his Gothick idyll;

* Historic interest: it is visible on Brown’s famous Panorama and contributes strongly to the extremely well-preserved pattern of housing development representative of the peak of Louth’s C19 economic prosperity.

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