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The Pennymans of Ormesby Hall

Side view of the Entrance Front façade of Ormesby Hall, Yorkshire, on a sunny day
The Entrance Front of Ormesby Hall, Yorkshire | © National Trust Images/Matthew Antrobus

Home to the Pennyman family since 1599, the history of Ormesby is one that spans multiple generations and many different lives. Uncover their stories, from ‘wicked’ Sir James to generous Colonel Pennyman, survivor of the First World War. Learn about Mary Pennyman, whose time with the Scottish Borderers Widows and Orphans Fund is still shaping our understanding of the conflict to this day.

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 as a reminder of a time gone by and as a green oasis in the suburbs of Middlesbrough.

A family home

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 the 3rd Baronet and his wife, James and Dorothy Pennyman, in the 1740s. It incorporates parts of the earlier house within its service wing.

Adding to the house

The 6th Baronet added to the house created in the 1740s and also built the imposing stable block and laid out the park, with its plantations and main entrance lodge. Two buildings were eventually joined together around 1870 to become the Ormesby Hall you see today.

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 and the more delicate Neo-classical plasterwork ceilings commissioned by Sir James Pennyman, 6th Baronet, in the 1770s in the Drawing and Dining Rooms.

The Pennymans

The Pennyman family originated in Stokesley and had moved into Ormesby by the sixteenth century. Some of the early records show that in 1569 Robert Pennyman was hung for his part in the Pilgrimage of Grace.

The later Pennymans had better relations with royalty and were loyal Royalists and committed supporters of Charles I. They marched against the Scots with Charles I and raised a regiment in support of him, also fighting at the battle of Edge Hill and Nottingham in the English Civil War.

A full-length portrait of Sir James Pennyman of Ormesby Hall wearing a tricorn hat, dark blue coat, waistcoat, breeches with gold facings and leaning on a long cane
Sir James Pennyman, 6th Baronet of Ormesby Hall, painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA | © National Trust Images

Changing fortunes

After the defeat of the King, the Pennyman family was fined by parliament for supporting the monarchy, causing them to sell off land to pay the fines.

However, in 1664, after the restoration of Charles II, James Pennyman was knighted and became the 1st baronet of Ormesby. His son Sir Thomas Pennyman, 2nd baronet was Lord Privy Seal to William III and High Sheriff of Yorkshire.

Sir James Pennyman, 6th Baronet

Sir James, the 6th Baronet, was a politician who sat in the House of Commons for 26 years from 1770 to 1796. Often known as ‘wicked’ Sir James, he had a rich inheritance with estates in Stainton, Tunstall, Maltby and Sadberge, and houses at Thornton and Beverley, as well as at Ormesby.

Unfortunately, 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 16 years. The family fortunes never fully recovered from his recklessness, and his successors had limited resources to invest in their home.

Sir William Pennyman, 7th Baronet

His son, Sir William Pennyman, 7th Baronet, reclaimed the Hall and built East Lodge in the 1820s, but made few other improvements to the property. He died without an heir in 1852 meaning that after 180 years, he was the last Baronet of Ormesby.

He left most of his personal possessions to his sister’s family. The estate, including Ormesby Hall, was inherited by Sir William’s aunt’s eldest grandson, James White Worsley. James changed his name to Pennyman by royal licence.

James White and James Stovin Pennyman

James White Worsley Pennyman bought several items of furniture for the Hall. He also 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.

James Stovin Pennyman inherited the estate upon his father's death.

James Worsley Pennyman, portrait by an unknown artist hanging in the Entrance Hall at Ormesby Hall, Yorkshire
James Worsley Pennyman, portrait by an unknown artist hanging in the Entrance Hall at Ormesby Hall | © National Trust Images/John Hammond

The last Mr Pennyman

James Worsley Pennyman inherited the estate from his father, James Stovin. Unfortunately it was not to last; in 1924 James died suddenly. The estate passed hands once again, to his son, James Beaumont Pennyman. James would become the last Mr Pennyman of Ormesby Hall.

James, fondly known as Jim, was the eldest son, with a brother Thomas and sister Dorothy. Jim studied at Eton and Cambridge, but chose a commission in the King's Own Scottish Borders Regiment in 1905 instead of pursuing a career in law.

Jim's military service

Jim and his regiment were amongst the first to fight in the First World War. In 1914, Jim was severely wounded but thankfully recovered and later retired from the army as a Major.

In 1915 he married Mary Hilda Burnaby Powell of Sharrow Hall, Ripon. Their families had been friends and Jim went to school with Mary's brother.

Dear Mrs Pennyman

Mary Pennyman was the secretary of the King's Own Scottish Borderers Widows and Orphans Fund, a regiment her husband Jim belonged to. She received hundreds of letters from women whose husbands, sons and brothers had been killed in action during the First World War.

The significance of the letters was recognised by the National Trust, Teesside Archives and the University of Teesside, which started the 'Dear Mrs Pennyman' project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The aim of the project was to digitise over 100 letters which were sent to Mary Pennyman and discover more about the women who wrote them.

When Jim met Ruth

In 1924 tragedy struck twice. Firstly Mary died following childbirth and Jim’s father passed away just months later.

Better times came when Jim married again in 1926 to Ruth Knight and they lived happily together at Ormesby Hall, where Jim managed the Ormesby estate.

Community stalwarts

Jim and Ruth were actively involved with the local community and in the 1930s they helped unemployed miners learn carpentry skills through the ‘Boosbeck Industries’ venture and set up market gardens and livestock schemes. These are just a few examples of their generous nature.

During the Second World War Jim commanded a battalion of the National Defence Corps as Lieutenant Colonel, giving him the title Colonel James Pennyman. He continued with his estate work alongside Ruth, whose love of the arts transformed Ormesby into a home of theatrical performances and workshops.

Ormesby Hall and the National Trust

Jim and Ruth were the last Pennymans of Ormesby Hall and, because they had no children, the Pennyman line ended with them. Upon Jim’s death in 1961 he bequeathed Ormesby Hall, its parkland and home farm to the care of the National Trust, with Ruth continuing to live at Ormesby until she passed away in 1983.

A view inside a furnished room in the house at Ormesby Hall, North Yorkshire

Ormesby Hall's collections

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Ormesby Hall on the National Trust Collections website.

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