Monday, December 01, 2008

Artifacts of Kettlethorpe

Pevsner, p. 413, describes the parish church of Ss Peter and Paul at Kettlethorpe thusly:

Small, unbuttressed W tower, the W doorway with Perp parts. Nave basically medieval, but mostly of 1840-5, with windows of 1896 by Herbert Kirk. Chancel of stone, also with Victorianized windows (E 1874, the others 1896). Bare interior, a N aisle formed by two iron rods. In the N wall of the chancel a reset C15 angel corbel with shield bearing the royal arms, supporting a moulded octagonal capital...

Visitors to Kettlethorpe may be disappointed to discover that the medieval-looking structure they are visiting is not in fact identical with the church in which Katherine heard services. In fact, the only medieval structure remaining at Kettlethorpe is a portion of its gatehouse:

Anthony Goodman has described the gatehouse as a hint of unexpected magnificence while Pevsner notes that Of the C14 house of the Swynford family only the gateway remains, of stone, with battlements and typically C14 sunk mouldings. The back later strengthened by brickwork. In the r. wall a blocked C14 archway in situ. I've read speculation somewhere that the arch may have been partially disassembled and reassembled, speculation being that the lower portions were reassembled with greater authenticity than the upper portion but I'm not easily finding that reference now.

The medieval Kettlethorpe manor, which also no longer exists, is said to have been typical of Lincolnshire manor houses in that it eventually was moated and guarded by its gateway entry like this example at Baddesley Clinton.

It probably didn't start out quite so impressive. To the left is a diagram of a typical 14th century manor house. You can see the reconstructed interior of a typical hall here. You'll notice there are no moats and no gatehouse-walled enclosure. The manor house that Katherine first came to inhabit was probably very much like the depiction above: it likely was composed of the main hall (the larger rectangular building) which served as the communal eating, sleeping, and interaction focus for those living on and working on the manor grounds. By Katherine's time, the main hall, constructed of brick or stone with a timbered roof, had an open fire, wooden tables behind which were curtained off rudimentary sleeping quarters (on straw beds), and one end was the raised dias where the lord of the manor and his family would eat and receive visitors. Off either end of the main hall were located the solar, which was the private living quarters for the lord of the manor and his family, and the kitchen and buttery, where food was provisioned and prepared. Oftentimes, there might be a small chapel as well, and some manor houses also included secondary private living spaces above the buttery.

However, becoming the Duke's mistress in the early 1370s brought its advantages for Katherine Swynford: John of Gaunt ordered the delivery of some 60 oaks to Kettlethorpe in 1375 (John of Gaunt's Register 1372-76, no. 1608) for the benefit of Katherine's apparent building programme, and Richard II later gave her permission to enclose a park of 300 acres in 1383 (Cal. Pat. Rolls 1381-85, 317).

The gatehouse is adorned with charming little gargoyles, seen in this close-up photo taken by Roger Joy (unless otherwise credited, the photos are (c) Roger Joy.) This particular gargoyle (there's a matching one on the other side) looks like he's about to fall off! Roger Joy has an interesting theory about this gargoyle -- that he was originally attached to the medieval parish church across the way, a theory made all the more plausible by an examination of a 1793 painting of the medieval church (before it was pulled down and reassembled):

(Sorry the image is so small; the original is not but Google/Blogger is resizing it I suppose; the painter is Claude Natts, who did a companion piece of Kettlethorpe Hall, but the Hall had unfortunately already been completely reconstructed unlike the church).

Here is an image Roger took of the Mavesyn Ridware Church tower adorned up top with, you guessed it, gargoyles! And the 1793 painting does appear to show little juts off the tower's edge, so perhaps Roger is correct about the gargoyles currently gracing Kettlethorpe Hall's gatehouse.

Both the Mavesyn Ridware Church image as well as the 1793 painting provide us with clues as to the appearance of Kettlethorpe's medieval church: both possessed a grand, dominating tower and stone tracery windows which no doubt held splendid medieval stained glass, none of which unfortunately remains at Kettlethorpe, but, fortunately for us, somebody thought enough of those window remnants to regift them to building efforts at the church at Messingham, where they can still be viewed today. All stained glass images below are (c) Gordon Plumb, are used with permission, and he says you're not to use them to any profit, as I am certainly not.

Here we have the window commemorating the story of Doubting Thomas before the risen Christ that originally graced Kettlethorpe's church. Much of this glass has been dated to ca. 1340-50 and thus you are looking at much of the same didactic windows that Katherine saw more than 600 years ago.

Here is a close-up of the Doubting Thomas scene; the next close-up is one of several delightful musician images that occur throughout many of the Kettlethorpe glass pieces:

Note the richness of the colors in the 600+ year old glass: gold-golds, cobalt blues; the care taken in depicting the manches or exaggerated sleeve-lengths then-fashionable on the musicians. Of particular interest is the process by which the yellow/gold color of glass was made:

Mr. Plumb tells me that the yellow to orange tones here were produced by ...using the stain to colour robes, hair etc. Yellow-stain became known in Europe from the early 14thC - its first dated use is in Normandy. It was used in a window in York Minster in the early 14thC and it rapidly became a tool of the glass painter since it obviated the need to cut a small piece of yellow pot-metal glass each time and it allowed even difficult shapes to be easily depicted

Here is another example of Kettlethorpe glass at Messingham -- the Harrowing of Hell, again featuring architectural motifs, musicians (fiddling whilst Hell burns?!) and vivid colours.

Detail from The Harrowing... with more musicians!

Finally, we have this image of St. John and his Eagle.

UPDATE: Below is a photo Roger took of what is apparently the sole remnant of interior carved decorative stonework from the medieval church at Kettlethorpe, as referenced above. It is a corbel of an angel holding a shield with the English royal arms and dates from the 15th century. Thus did Katherine's descendants work to remind everyone who entered the church just how closely allied were the Swynfords with the royal family.


La Lectrice said...

These stained glass windows are so beautiful and so timeless - it is good to see so many in one post.

Judy Perry said...

Thank you for your kind words!

All credit for those stained glass photos rightly goes to Gordon Plumb; you can find an *enormous* amount of his photos on Flickr (


Graham said...

A very interesting and informative posting Judy. Many thanks.

Judy Perry said...

Thanks for visiting again, Graham!

Elizabeth G. said...

Hi! I am re-reading Katherine, by Anya Seton. I read it for the first time many years ago. Today, some Internet browsing on the subject brought up your blog.

Nice to meet you!

Thank you so much for posting about Kettlethorpe. I've always wondered what it looked like.

Are there any paintins of Katherine?

Take care,Elizabeth

Judy Perry said...

Hi Elizabeth!

You might be interested in joining the Katherine Swynford Society. Unless you live in the UK, the only membership benefits you'd receive is the quarterly journal (but UK members take part in various outings to historical sites). For more information, email Roger Joy at

There is also an online Yahoo discussion group:

No, regrettably, there are no authentic portraits of Katherine, although one Chaucer researcher believes that the woman in the lower left corner of the Troilus & Cresseyde Frontispiece may be Katherine (you can find that image here: or --click on Troilus Frontispiece text link).

JENNIE said...

I have read 'Katherine' by Anya Seton many times and lately the Alison Weir book. I would like to join the Katherine Swynford Society but can't seem to access the website. Any ideas please?

Buttercup said...


Yes, you can email Roger Joy who is the head of the society. Unfortunately, our web provider suddenly and unilaterally yanked our site (it was a freebie hosting). We are working to get another one up and running.

Here's Roger's email address:

Good luck! If you cannot reach him, please let me know and I will follow-up with him.

Dona Warden said...

I am so glad to find your site. I first read Katherine in 1972 and have since read it at least 25 times. She seems to pull at me. I've read everything I can find on her and so glad I found you!
It is sad that history has not treated her as well as it should have, considering all she has done for the history of the UK. Afterall her blood line still runs in peoples veins today. She was a wonderful and gracious lady of the times.
Thank you for all the information you have put out on her.

Judy said...

Hi Dona,

Thank you for your appreciative remarks :-)

I also have a fledgling site at that you might like and a FaceBook site as well (



Adele said...

Happy to find this blog! It's very informative. I'm a direct descendant of Katherine and John of Gaunt through their daughter Joan. I will look forward to reading new posts on Katherine.

Marta said...

I first read "Katherine" in the '70s. I went on to study Medieval History at UCLA. All because of that book!
I love this site!

Marta said...

I read "Katherine" in the '70s, and I loved it so much I eventually studied medieval history at UCLA. Loved your website, and I'm going to join the society. I'll have to go back to the UK and find all this!