The Pennyman family home
In the early 18th century Ormesby Hall and its surrounding parkland were at the centre of a large farming estate stretching up to the banks of the River Tees. Today, the estate stands alone, as a rural enclave in the suburbs of Middlesbrough.
For nearly 400 years, Ormesby was the home of the Pennyman family, who acquired the estate in the early 17th century. The present house was built for James and Dorothy Pennyman in the 1740s, but incorporates parts of the earlier house within its service wing.
Most of the men in the Pennyman family were called James and so when we refer to them we add their middle name, such as James Worsley or James Stovin or a descriptive name such as ‘wicked’ Sir James!
Inside the hall you’ll find fine plasterwork and carved woodwork interiors from two periods of the 18th century: the bold Palladian decoration of the 1740s contrasts with more delicate Neo-classical plasterwork ceilings in the Drawing and Dining Rooms, commissioned by Sir James Pennyman, 6th Baronet, in the 1770s. The 6th Baronet also built the imposing stable block and laid out the park, with its plantations and main entrance lodge.
The 6th Baronet, often known as wicked Sir James had a rich inheritance, with estates in Stainton, Tunstall, Maltby and Sadberge, and houses at Thornton and Beverley, as well as at Ormesby. However, he spent large amounts of money on politics and gambling and became bankrupt in 1792. All the contents of Ormesby Hall were auctioned to pay off his creditors, and the house was shut up for sixteen years. The family fortunes never fully recovered from his recklessness, and his successors had limited resources to invest in their home.
His son, Sir William Pennyman, 7th Bt, reclaimed the Hall and built East Lodge in the 1820s, but made few other improvements to the property. He left most of his personal possessions to his sister’s family, but his heir, James White (Worsley) Pennyman, bought back several items of furniture for the hall.
James White started to lease land at the northern end of the estate for housing associated with the new town of Middlesbrough, to make the estate a more viable proposition. He and his son, James Stovin, made the final alterations to Ormesby Hall, adding the front porch, the Dining Room extension and the corridors connecting the service wing and main building.
Though the estate shrank from the mid-19th century, the Victorian Pennymans were dedicated landowners, living on the Ormesby estate all year round and immersing themselves in the life of the local community. This pattern continued into the 20th century, even though most local people now depended on industry rather than the land.
Colonel James (Jim) Pennyman, the last owner, joined other local landowners to set up schemes to help unemployed miners in the 1930s. His wife, Ruth, promoted the arts in the area and set up local drama groups, making Ormesby known for its theatrical productions. Their projects attracted composer, Michael Tippett, and the innovative theatre director Joan Littlewood to Ormesby.
Jim had to sell land in the 1920s to pay death-duties for his father and his first wife Mary who died in childbirth, then the majority of the remaining Ormesby estate was compulsory purchased after the Second World War. When the Colonel died without children in 1961, he left Ormesby Hall, its parkland and home farm to the National Trust. His widow, Ruth, lived on at Ormesby and continued to pursue her theatrical activities until her death in 1983.