Middle Ages and Tudor Period
Medieval Deer Park
At some point in the History of Sheffield Manor Lodge, probably in the 12th century, a small hunting lodge was built in the middle of the great deer park of the Lords of Hallamshire. Covering an area of nearly 2,500 acres (extending from the site of today’s Cathedral to Darnall and Handsworth), this was not only one of the largest parks in England, but also one of the oldest, predating the Norman Conquest in 1066. The site for the hunting lodge was chosen because of its prominent position at the highest point of the deer park, commanding a fine prospect of most of the park and much of Hallamshire beyond.
The massive deer park served the early Lords of Sheffield Manor Lodge as a larder, providing meat and skins from various animals (including deer, sheep, cattle, rabbits, wildfowl and fish), wood and timber for building and fuel as well as building stone, coal and ironstone. The right to hunt and later to farm and mine this valuable resource was jealously guarded by subsequent Lords of the Manor for hundreds of years, right through to the 20th century.
A Tudor Mansion
The early hunting lodge was regularly extended – at least six building phases have been identified prior to the early 16th century. George Talbot, the fourth Earl of Shrewsbury, was the first Lord of the Manor to take an active personal interest in local affairs, and expanded and upgraded the existing lodge considerably, so that by the beginning of the 1500s quite an extensive complex of buildings, a grand Tudor manor house, was in existence.
It was also George who added one of the earliest long galleries in England to the site during the 1520s – the remains of this impressive building can still be seen today. Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII’s chancellor and one of the most influential people in England at the time, was lodged in a newly built tower at the end of this long gallery in November 1530. He was on his way to London to stand trial for high treason (Wolsey had been unable to secure the king an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so that he could go on and marry Anne Boleyn) when he stopped in Sheffield for 16 to 18 days. The Cardinal and the Fourth Earl had daily meetings and long discussions in the long gallery, until Wolsey was taken very ill with violent pains in the stomach towards the end of his stay, and eventually died in Leicester three days after leaving Sheffield.
6th Earl, Bess of Hardwick, and Mary, Queen of Scots
The fourth Earl’s grandson, another George Talbot, inherited the title as Lord of the Manor in 1560 and quickly became one of the wealthiest and most influential nobles at the court of Elizabeth I (the Queen referred to him as “My Goode Old Manne”), but he chose to live and to direct his affairs from his properties in Sheffield. He married the second-richest woman in the country, Elizabeth “Bess” of Hardwick, in 1568, although this marriage was rather a contractual arrangement than a romantic match. Bess was a dynamic, ambitious and ruthless character for whom George was no intellectual match.
During the 1570s, the sixth Earl and his wife undertook a major programme of remodelling the manor house, adding a new prestigious brick wing and, in 1574, the Turret House – a new gatehouse and the only building that remains today. This might have been a response to the fact that a few years earlier, the newly-wed couple had become custodians of the most famous and dangerous political prisoner of the age – Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary had fled from captivity in Scotland to seek the support of her cousin Queen Elizabeth who, however, knew of the threat Mary imposed to her crown and therefore wanted her to be safely locked away.
Overall, Mary was held captive in Sheffield for 14 years, visiting the Manor Lodge for the first time in June 1573 and eventually being located there for the best part of her imprisonment. She was guarded “so strictly … that unless she could transform herself into a mouse or a flea it was impossible that she could escape”, as Gilbert Gifford wrote in 1573. However, Mary was still to be kept in the manner of a Queen, being allowed an entourage of 41 people who took up ten rooms or receiving two barrels of wine per months which she not only drank but also bathed in.
The stresses imposed on George’s and Bess’s partnership by the pressures and worries of maintaining a vigilant watch on this important prisoner for 14 years took their toll. When Mary left, the couple lived apart, George had lost all his chances of further political advancement and the strain of caring for Mary had bankrupted him. He died at the Manor Lodge in 1590.