I recently had the pleasure of visiting a 17th century house, St Benedicts Priory, in the village of Deeping St. James in Lincolnshire. Today it is Grade II* listed and retains many original features including a Jacobean staircase, stone fireplaces and even the original heavy studded front door with large bolt. The house, for sale with Chesterton Humberts, also sits on the site of the original priory that was established in the 12th century. The house holds a wealth of history going back 400 years.  

The 12th century priory was attached to nearby Thorney Abbey, but sadly suffered the same fate as many of the church lands under Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The lands attached to the priory were granted to Thomas, Duke of Norfolk (Anne Boleyn’s uncle) in 1540; however it was over 50 years later that the current building was constructed, in the early 1600s. Along with many buildings of this style and period, the stone was actually taken from the demolished ecclesiastical buildings and reused.

At the time the house was built, the Manor of Deeping St. James was held by the Wymondsold family. An original document held in the Lincolnshire Archives dated 1659 clearly shows the transfer of land “late called the cell of Thorney otherwise called the late priory of Deeping St. James” from William Wymondsold to his grandsons. William Wymondsold spent most of his time in Putney, outside of London and held a number of prominent positions. In fact, he was High Sheriff of Putney during the Civil War and he was present at the Putney Debates in 1647.

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By the early 1700s the manor of Deeping St. James and the ownership of the house (at this time simply known as the Manor Farmhouse) passed into the Whichcote family. The Whichcote family originated with Sir Jeremy Whichcote, created baronet by Charles II in 1660 and the family seat in the 18th century was at nearby Aswarby Hall.

Up until this time it has been difficult to trace the occupants of the Manor Farmhouse, but in the 1770s we find that the house was the home of gentleman farmer, John Pawlett. During this period, the house sat amongst 400 acres of farmland. John Pawlett also owned further land of his own and by 1807 was recorded as occupying land worth over £700. John Pawlett played an active role in the village of Deeping St. James as a vestryman (early council member) and his son, also John, became an overseer of the poor, responsible for the distribution of poor rate funds in the parish. The younger John Pawlett also rose to become chief constable of Deeping St. James during the 1840s.

The 1841 census shows that John Pawlett was recorded at the Manor Farmhouse, aged 55 with his wife, Elizabeth and their two grown up sons, Samuel and Edmund. By the 1850s the farm and farmhouse had passed to John’s younger son, Edmund and 10 years later, the 1861 records Edmund in the house as a farmer of between 700 and 800 acres, employing 20 men, 14 boys and 4 women. The Pawletts were obviously a substantial family holding a high position in the village, with a large portion of land and employing many workers. Edmund also followed after his father and grandfather in holding a prominent position in the running of the village and was also one of the key men involved with the formation of the school board in the village, in 1876.

By the 1880s Edmund’s position and wealth had increased. The 1881 census records Edmund, aged 66, occupying the house, now known as ‘The Priory’ with three live-in servants. He farmed 2900 acres and employed 40 men and boys. However, Edmund never married and when he passed away in 1885 the farm and house passed to new occupants, Richard Ward and family. In fact, it appears that part of the farm was actually purchased from the lord of the manor at this time.

At the turn of the 20th century, the Priory farmhouse had passed to Richard’s son, Albert and by 1919 had again passed on, this time to Albert’s son, John and his wife, Alberta. However, during the mid 20th century the farm passed through a number of occupants, but by the late 1980s it came into the hands of owners who saw the great value in this historic house. They spent a number of years restoring the house and made alterations, including changing the name to ‘St Benedicts Priory’, so that today the house is fitted with all the comforts for a 21st century family.

Today, St Benedicts Priory retains some fabulous historic features inspiring any visitor to picture the many people who have walked up the 400 year old staircase or turned the lock in the thick 17th century door.

* More details on St Benedicts Priory

* Read the full history of the house