THE LATE MEDIEVAL TOWN
By the time the Beaumonts took over the lordship of the manor in the early fourteenth century, Folkingham had lost all vestige of its earlier importance as a regional administrative centre. The Beaumonts would still have controlled property and lands within former dependent villages, but they were now just part of the wider portfolio of a powerful baron. Even though the Beaumonts continued the tradition of Folkingham being a baronial seat, their sphere of interest was not focused on Lincolnshire. However, they did leave a legacy of their time here in the form of church building. The fourteenth- and fifteenth-century rebuilding of St Andrew’s Church remains a monument to Beaumont patronage, as revealed by the family arms which flank the entrance.
The other Beaumont legacy was the probable development of The Greyhound Inn at the top of the Market Place. As a market town, which also hosted several annual fairs, lying on the main road from Lincoln to London, it is inevitable that Folkingham would have had alehouses. It is argued that perhaps such an alehouse was developed by the Beaumonts in the fifteenth century to become an inn with a sign which professed loyalty to the house of Lancaster.
Folkingham, like many communities, was affected by some of the major events which impacted on life in the later middle ages. One of these was the notorious Black Death, which arrived into Lincolnshire in 1349. The virulent disease caused mortality rates of around 40% among the clergy, and this percentage was probably carried through to the wider community.
Another significant event, which divided rather than decimated communities, was the protracted civil war between the houses of Lancaster and York, which later became known as the Wars of the Roses. The Beaumont family were leading supporters and players for the Lancastrian side and this prominence must have placed Folkingham and its castle at some risk.
UNDER THE BEAUMONTS
Beaumont arm: St Andrew’s Church, Folkingham (left) and St Andrew’s, Billingborough (right).
The heraldic arms of the Beaumont family are displayed on a shield which is now in the porch of Folkingham church and in a stained glass panel in the south aisle at Billingborough.
THE BEAUMONT DYNASTY
Like the de Gant family, the Beaumonts were a great baronial Anglo-Norman family. Like the de Gants, the Folkingham Beaumonts became embroiled in political events at the highest level. While the de Gants had supported Prince Louis and the northern barons against King John, the Beaumonts remained fiercely loyal to the Lancastrian cause in the Wars of the Roses, playing a significant part in the tumultuous events of those years. Like the de Gants, the Beaumonts maintained Folkingham as their baronial seat, and certainly by the mid-fourteenth century century, it was their principal residence.
John Beaumont, 1st Viscount Beaumont (1409-1460) was a major figure in contemporary English politics, who allied the family closely with the Lancastrian cause through the turmoil of the Wars of the Roses. He became a privy councillor, was made a Knight of the Garter in c.1443, became Constable of England from 1445-50 and Great Chamberlain of England in 1450. He was born at Folkingham on 14th August 1409 and it was this John who provided patronage for the rebuilding of St Andrew’s Church around 1435, with its soaring tower on a scale with those at nearby Stamford - his arms also appear in stained glass in the Church of St Andrew in Billingborough.
One the death of William Beaumont on 19th December 1507, the Viscountcy of Beaumont became extinct in both England and France, and due to discord and fighting between his great nephews, the title fell into abeyance.
Artist’s reconstruction of Folkingham Castle viewed from the south.
This reconstruction of Folkingham Castle gives a possible impression of what it may have looked like in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
FOLKINGHAM CASTLE & THE BEAUMONTS
Being an aristocratic family required to give military service to the Crown, it was important that the chief Beaumont residence was well maintained, improved and fortified. To this end the castle was rebuilt in stone after a royal license to crenellate was granted by Edward II to Henry de Beaumont on 26th April 1312. The castle must have been suitably secure and comfortable enough for King Edward III to stay there between 27th April and 5th May 1334.
The fifteenth century, however, began to see a reversal of fortunes for the castle. Either the castle fell gradually into ruin, or perhaps the Yorkists actively undermined its effectiveness, fearful of its potential. Whichever, the decay of the structure was observed by Leland who reported in his Itinerary (c.1540), ‘From Grimesthorpe to Sempringham a 5 miles, and a mile thens sumwhat inwarde on the lifte bond is the castelle of Fokingham, sumtyme the Lorde Bardolphe’s, syns the Lord Bellemonte’s [a contemporary Italian-based derivation of the surname], now longging to the Duke of Northfolk; it hath bene a goodly house, but [now i]t fallith al to mine [ruin], and it stondith even about the egge of the fennes’. It is clear from this that the castle no longer had a meaningful function. It had ceased to be a Beaumont residence and the advent of ownership by a leading statesman (the Duke of Norfolk) with no local interests sealed its fate.
Decorated window, north aisle, St Andrew’s Church.
The fourteenth century heralded an age of invention in church decoration which manifested itself in creative window tracery. This north aisle window has the typical curvilinear forms of the period in its upper tracery.
Medieval stained glass heads in reset roundels, north aisle, St Andrew’s Church.
Only three small reset roundels of medieval stained glass survive in St Andrew’s.These two depict bearded saints. The rest of the medieval stained glass was presumably destroyed after the Reformation.
ST ANDREW’S CHURCH
The grand building we see today, which is on an urban scale comparable with the fifteenth-century churches in Stamford, was very much a product of the patronage of the wealthy Beaumont family through the fourteen and fifteenth centuries.
Evidence of substantial rebuilding in the fourteenth century is clear in the north and south aisles and lofty nave arcades, the aisle windows displaying beautiful flowing decorated tracery characteristic of the period. The fourteenth-century south doorway is flanked by weathered shields (indicating they were once exposed to the elements), the right carrying the rampant lion of the Beaumonts, and the left the three wheatsheafs of the arms of the Earls of Chester. St Andrew’s rarest survival dates from the fourteenth century - dividing the chancel from the nave is an oak rood screen of c.1330.
The exterior of the church is now dominated by the imposing Perpendicular tower, dated to c.1435 and built by John, 1st Viscount Beaumont, which shares similarities of scale and grandeur with that of St Martin’s in Stamford, which was rebuilt in the 1480s by the Bishop of Lincoln. Inside the Folkingham tower are soaring arches culminating in a spectacular cusped tierceron star vault with central oculus, a design also found in Lincolnshire at Morton, St Martin’s, Stamford, and at Long Sutton. The stone used for the rebuilding was a high-quality grey-hued ashlared limestone, probably from Ancaster.
The two-storey south porch was part of the same building scheme as the tower, and features matching pinnacles on its battlements. It contains a room with a fireplace on the first floor, probably for the use of the priest. This is supported by an elaborate, shallow tierceron vault.
Given the presence of a high status baronial family in the town, one would normally expect the local church to contain memorials to them. However, both the de Gants and Beaumonts preferred to be buried in the monastic houses which they founded, or were closely associated with. Thus the de Gants were buried at Bardney and Bridlington, and the Beaumonts at Sempringham Priory. Sempringham.
Fourteenth-century rood screen, St Andrew’s Church.
One of the glories of the church is the carved oak rood screen, which separates the nave from the chancel. Original screens are rare in medieval churches, as most were destroyed after the Reformation. Source: Historic England Archive, 1948.
Tower vault, St Andrew’s Church.
The ambition of John Beaumont’s rebuilding programme in the 1430s is reflected in the spectacular cusped tierceron star vault which rests on soaring arches.
THE GREYHOUND - A MEDIEVAL INN?
We know that there was an inn at the north end of the Market Place in Folkingham from at least the early seventeenth century, while a sixteenth-century reference of an ‘ale house a’top the Market Place in Folkingham’ places it further back in time. However, it is probable that the inn was actually founded much earlier to serve medieval travellers, farmers and tradespeople. Folkingham was on the main Lincoln to London road, hosting two weekly markets, seven annual fairs and the administration of regional justice, so the services of an inn would certainly have been needed. Further, the town must also have had to accommodate the travellers and traders who attended the annual Stow Green Fair, which ran over several days in late June.
The greyhound was a Lancastrian symbol - Henry VI granted a white greyhound as a heraldic supporter to Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond and father of Henry Tudor. As we have already seen, John Beaumont, 1st Viscount of Folkingham, was a key figure in the court of Henry VI. The greyhound most notably featured on the arms of Henry Tudor (Henry VII), who took the crown from Richard III in 1485, and was supported in this action by William Beaumont, 2nd Viscount.
Given the above it is certainly plausible that an inn was founded, or renamed, The Greyhound during this period as a symbol of loyalty to the House of Lancaster by the Beaumont family. The Beaumonts were staunch supporters of the Lancastrian cause throughout, with a prominent role during the Wars of the Roses, so naming an inn thus would have been an overt way of expressing their allegiance. It was common for inn names to express loyalty to royalty and aristocracy, such as the White Hart, which indicated fealty to Richard II.
White greyhound supporting the royal arms of Henry VII.
The royal arms of England are here supported by a white greyhound and a red dragon. Source: Speculum Dominarum, c.1485-1509, British Library.
Artist’s reconstruction of Sempringham Priory as it
may have appeared in the fifteenth century, viewed from the north east.
By the fifteenth century, Sempringham was a large monastic house comparable in size and value to the major foundations of Yorkshire, such as Reivaulx. Source: David Hopkins.
Sempringham Priory was much enlarged from 1301 under the patronage of the Beaumonts of Folkingham, who chose the Priory for their family mausoleum, together with the actions of the priors, John de Hamilton and John de Camelton. However, raising funds through the upheavals of the first half of the fourteenth century proved difficult and building work was still unfinished in 1342, when Bishop Thomas Bek granted an indulgence for the fabric, ‘which had been begun anew at great cost’.
Certainly by the fifteenth century the Priory had grown to to be a house of some stature and the artist’s impression above shows a cruciform double-naved and choired church with central tower and a transept to the north, with a cloister and coventual buildings to the south.
A priory of this size would have exerted its influence over the immediate area, farming and grazing the lands in its keep and operating the mills granted to it.