Buckden Towers

Historical notes about Buckden Towers and Buckden Palace, Huntingdonshire, England, UK


a.k.a. Buckden Towers

Buckden Palace

Buckden Palace (circa 1911)

Buckden Palace (circa 1911)

The church and Buckden Palace, formerly the seat of the Bishops of Lincoln, stand at the west end of Church Street. It is not known how early the bishops had a residence at Buckden, but the fact that the manor was held in demesne in 1066 is suggestive that it was then a residence of the bishop. There is no doubt that by the middle of the 12th century the bishop had a house here at which he held a court, and from this date there is ample evidence of periodical visits of the bishops to their palace here. Bishop Hugh de Welles (1209–35) is said to have rebuilt the house and Bishop Robert Grosseteste (1235–52) to have built the great hall. This house, however, was burnt down in 1291, but was at once rebuilt, for Thomas de Beyvill had licence in June of that year to supply oaks from the Forest of Weybridge for rebuilding 'the bishop's manor of Buckden, lately burnt by misadventure.'

According to Leland, Bishop Scott, alias Rotherham (1472–80), built the new red brick tower, completely altered the hall, and did much else besides, but it is obvious that Bishop Russell (1480–1494) finished the great brick tower, and he certainly built the entrance gatehouse. It was probably Bishop Smith (1496–1514) who rebuilt the chapel to half its former size upon the western end of the earlier foundations.

Bishop Chaderton (1595–1608) let the palace go to ruin, but Bishop Williams (1621–1641) spent large sums on the buildings, and in the grounds he formed fishponds, gardens, which he had found 'rude, waste and untrimmed,' and a raised walk between two rows of trees all round the Little Park. Williams fell into disgrace with the king, and Kilvert, the Solicitor to the Star Chamber, was sent down to Buckden and seems to have lived here for three years 1637–1640, doing much damage. A survey taken in March and April 1647, for the Trustees for the sale of Archbishops' and Bishops' Lands, gives a very interesting account of the house at this time; it included a hall (65 feet by 37.5 feet) with two rows of stone pillars, partly covered with lead and partly with stone slates, and having a porch vaulted with stone; a small cloister; a Great Chamber (49 ft. by 23.5 ft.) with a 'round high roof' (probably a trussed-rafter roof with a boarded ceiling); a wainscoted chapel (22 ft. by 21 ft.) with chambers adjoining and over it; a winter parlour; a kitchen, etc., a great brick tower (50.5 ft. by 27 ft.) four stories high called the King's Lodging; and a gatehouse; all the above inclosed by a moat. There was also an outer court inclosed by a brick wall, with an outer gateway; outbuildings; gardens and a fishpond; the Little Park with three fishponds, and encircled by a raised path and a double row of trees; the Great Park with Keeper's House and about 200 deer. Towards the southern side of the outer court stood the Chancellor's Lodging.

Thomas Winniffe, the puritan bishop appointed in 1641 to succeed Bishop Williams on his translation to York, petitioning the Protector in 1654 for payment of arrears of rent, etc., wrote: 'During the late wars I was always at my house at Bugden, in Parliament quarters, and submitted to all the Ordinances, and was never charged with delinquency; I paid taxes, and had great charges in the quartering of soldiers, so that without these arrears I shall be unable to subsist.' Writing, after the Restoration, of Bishop Williams's work at Buckden, Bishop Hacket asks: 'What remains of all this cost and beauty? All is dissipated, defaced, pluckt to pieces to pay the army, etc.' Alderman Pack, the grantee under the Commonwealth (1649–60), pulled down many of the buildings.

The episcopal residence at Lincoln having fared even worse, and Buckden being 'about the midst of his diocese,' Bishop Saunderson, upon his appointment in 1660, though finding a great part of the palace demolished, 'and what was left standing under a visible decay,' partly at his own expense, set about erecting and repairing 'with great speed, care, and charge.' He apparently built a large group of rooms in the site of the cloister, north of the Great Chamber and westward of the chapel.

Bishop Laney, who succeeded, found Buckden 'the only place where there was a house standing fit to receive him,' and divided his days between Buckden and Westminster. The palace remained the favourite abode of his successors, and Bishop Barlow (1675–91) spent so much of his time at Buckden before his death there and burial in the same grave as his predecessor, Bishop William Barlow, that he was nicknamed the Bishop of Buckden. Bishop Pretyman-Tomline (1787–1820) added a private library with a morning room above it on the north side of the chapel, and filled up the moat on all sides except the west. Bishop Kaye, the last bishop of Lincoln to have this county included in his see, resided at the palace until the transfer of Huntingdonshire to the diocese of Ely in 1837. In 1839 the process of demolishing the palace began with about half the main building and part of the gatehouse, and the Great Tower was at the same time dismantled. The remaining buildings and small park were annexed to the vicarage in 1842, and were sold by the vicar in 1870 to James Marshall, who was succeeded by Sir Arthur W. Marshall. It was purchased from him by Rev. Dr. Joseph Edleston and is now held by Mr. Robert Holmes Edleston.

Bishop Kaye (1827–1853) added a turret staircase on the north side of the Entrance Hall.

In 1871 the Great Chamber and Bishop Smith's Chapel were pulled down, a modern house was built in the grounds, and the western part of the moat was filled up and the bridge demolished.

Ground Plan

Ground Plan of Buckden Palace

Ground Plan of Buckden Palace

The existing remains consist of the gatehouse, the outer gateway, the boundary walls on the south and west sides of the outer court, the walls of the great brick tower, the walls which formed the inner side of the moat; and the foundations of the Great Chamber, the early chapel (49 ft. by 16.75 ft.), some buildings to the north of the gatehouse and some of those of the Great Hall. These foundations have been exposed during the years 1921–1925 and have since been brought up to the ground level with concrete, while Bishop Smith's chapel has been partly rebuilt, and the walls of the moat surmounted with a balustraded parapet.

Numerous drawings and photographs of the old buildings remain. The Great Chamber, mainly of late 13th-century date, had on the north three original two-light windows rather high up in the wall (they must have been blocked up when Bishop Saunderson built his new rooms against them, and uncovered again when these rooms were pulled down); on the south side was a large chimney stack between two four-light windows with transoms, of c. 1500. The east end had a large oriel window mostly of wood and modern, but the stone canopy over it was of c. 1500.

Site Plan

Site Plan of Buckden Palace

Site Plan of Buckden Palace

The west wall was very thick with a blocked doorway in the centre. The high-pitched roof covered with tiles and the ancient gables with their finials still remained, but a floor had been inserted to provide attic bedrooms lighted by dormer windows. A basement had been converted into kitchens.

Smith Arms

The Armorial Bearings of the Smith family.

The Armorial Bearings of the Smith family.

Argent a cheveron sable between three roses gules.


Bishop Smith's chapel was of brick; the east window set in a projecting bay was of three cinquefoiled lights under a four-centred head having a plain label moulding; the north wall had two square-headed two-light windows, which must have been blocked by Bishop Pretyman-Tomline's library, and the south wall had a three-light window with a four-centred head. It had a flat ceiling supported upon heavy moulded beams; the walls were covered with Georgian panelling, and the altar rails had twisted balusters. Two carved poppy-heads were incorporated in the pew-inclosures, one of them bearing the arms of Bishop Smith—a cheveron between three roses.

Above the chapel was a chamber of contemporary date, having a three-light window under a square label in the east wall; a two-light and a single-light in the north wall, and two single-lights in the south wall, all having cinquefoiled lights under square heads. A string-course on the gable indicates a flat, lead-covered roof, but at some late date an attic with a steep tiled roof had been added.

These upper rooms were approached by an octagonal turret at the south-west corner; and at some later date a smaller turret or octagonal porch had been built to the south of the other.

The great brick tower, or King's Lodging, had a basement vaulted with brick and three main floors, and was covered with a flat, lead roof. Roof and floors have gone, but the red brick walls diapered with simple patterns in black bricks still stand; each floor is marked by a stone string-course, and the walls are surmounted with embattled brick parapets with stone copings. On the south side is a large chimney stack having plain fireplaces in each floor. The windows are of stone and of three lights and two lights; the lights of the upper windows have plain square heads, and the others have two-centred cinquefoiled heads under square labels. At each corner of the tower are large octagonal turrets carried up one story above the main building and finished with embattled parapets; those at the north-east and north-west corners are staircases, that at the southeast contained garderobes, and that at the south-west apparently cupboards.

The principal floor had been occupied as the king's dining room, the northern end cut off by a screen, the walls panelled and the ceiling supported upon heavy moulded beams with large carved bosses at the intersections—one of which had Bishop Russell's rebus, a thrush or throstle with the motto 'Verus celluy je sui,' the other had the bishop's arms. The upper stories were divided into several rooms.

At the angle between this tower and the Great Chamber, and at the west end of the latter, was a passage and staircase, possibly erected by Bishop Saunderson, of red brick with an embattled parapet with three-light and two-light windows.

Bishop Saunderson's main group of rooms seems to have consisted of an entrance hall, two living rooms, staircase and a small open courtyard, and chambers above; it appears to have had brick walls with threelight windows, embattled parapets and tiled roofs. The large octagonal staircase turret built by Bishop Kaye on the north side rose above the main parapet and was itself embattled.

Bishop Pretyman-Tomline's library and morning room had brick walls with sash-windows and a hipped tile roof; there was a large chimney on the north side, and the east end was finished with a semioctagonal bay.

The gatehouse of red bricks diapered with black and with stone dressings has a four-centred archway on the west, above which are Bishop Russell's arms formed in coloured bricks; in the stage above is a three-light window with two-centred cinquefoiled heads under a square label; the top stage has a similar window, but of two lights; and the whole is surmounted with an embattled parapet. The side facing the inner courtyard is similar to the other. At the north-east corner a square staircase turret rises one story above the main roof.

Azure two chevrons or between three roses argent.


Azure two chevrons or between three roses argent.


This gatehouse was flanked north and south by a two-storied range of buildings. That on the south still remains, and has two-light windows similar to the others, embattled parapets and tiled roofs; the south gable has a stepped parapet, and the bishop's arms in coloured bricks under a crocketed ogee label. The northern range has been pulled down, but its foundations remain; it appears to have been very similar to the other, but was twice as long and had an open loggia on the east side and a large octagonal staircase turret projecting from its north-east corner. The room on the south side of the entrance tower was the almonry, and the hatch still remains; the rooms on the north side were the dairy, brewery, etc. The upper rooms were secretaries' and registrars' rooms and offices.

The bridge was of two semicircular arches, almost entirely of brick and with plain brick parapets. From the north-east corner of the southern range to the south-west turret of the great brick tower ran a red brick embattled wall against the moat, with a parapet-walk raised on arches on its inner side.

The outer gateway, entirely of brick, has a four-centred arch in the east and west walls and is surmounted with an embattled parapet; there is a small lodge on the south side. The red brick wall inclosing the outer court at this point has, at the south-west corner, a diagonal buttress with an ornamental top.

Victoria County History - Huntingdonshire Printed 1932