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Gainsborough Old Hall

Gainsborough Old Hall is a stunning half-timbered manor, now owned by English Heritage. Dating back to 1460, this lovely old building is one of England’s best preserved medieval manor houses.

It has played host to kings – both Richard III and Henry VIII have stayed here – and even has its own resident ghost! It is also thought that Gainsborough Old Hall played a part in the story of The Pilgrim Fathers.

Highlights of Gainsborough Old Hall

  • Well-equipped medieval kitchen
  • Stunning half-timbered Great Hall
  • East and West Ranges (wings)
  • Ghost walk corridor
  • History of Gainsborough Old Hall
  • Permanent Pilgrim Fathers’ Exhibition


  • Shop
  • Cafe
  • Disabled access
  • Toilets

Gainsborough Old Hall and The Pilgrim Fathers

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, non-conformist religious movements sprang up across the land. These Non-Conformists, also known as Dissenters or Puritans, wanted to the freedom to worship God without the constraints of the Church of England, which they considered to be corrupt and far too similar to the much hated Roman Catholic Church.

One such group of Non-Conformists was the Separatist Movement, which was especially popular in Lincolnshire .

When Elizabeth was succeeded by James I, all non-conformist religious groups were banned, forcing them to go ‘underground’. Separatists formed covert networks initially in order to worship without interference from the state, and later on, to shelter and support those who were being persecuted.

The leader of the Gainsborough Separatists was The Reverend John Smyth, whose outspoken views soon got him into trouble with the establishment. His license to preach was eventually rescinded by the Bishop of Lincoln, and he was forced to hold religious services in the homes of sympathisers.

In 1596, Gainsborough Old Hall was bought by a wealthy merchant called William Hickman. It is thought that he and his mother Rose, were Separatist sympathisers who allowed The Reverend Smyth to preach at the Hall.

They are also reputed to have offered refuge and support to a group of Gainsborough Separatists as they attempted to flee to Holland via the Lincolnshire port of Boston.

At this time, Holland was a much more tolerant Protestant country that had become a safe haven for Puritans from across northern Europe. In 1620, many of the Gainsborough Separatists left Leiden in Holland and joined others in search of a better life in the New World. These people became known as The Pilgrim Fathers.

The Reverend John Smyth also escaped to Holland, where he helped found the Baptist Church.

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