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History of Gunby Estate, Hall and Gardens

A sepia toned photograph of the west front of Gunby Hall, Lincolnshire, c.1865-70
A sepia toned photograph of the west front of Gunby Hall, c.1865-70 | © National Trust/Robert Thrift

From a deserted medieval village to a dolls’ house looking red brick country house with a Victorian extension. Gunby Hall was home to the Massingberd family for over 250 years before being transferred to the National Trust.

Early days (before the current house)

People lived at Gunby and nearby Bratoft long before the Massingberds arrived, with deserted medieval villages having been found in the archaeology of both Gunby and Bratoft parks.

Recent archaeological investigations suggest that an early Iron Age site, which is thought to have been of some significance due to its scale and to the large amount of burnt deposits found, sits under the gardens of Gunby Hall and extends out into the Glebe Field to the east.

The remains of the medieval village of Gunby (or back then 'Gunnebi') can be seen in the bumpy contours of the park around St Peter's Church.

Gunby Hall is built

Before they moved into Gunby Hall, the Massingberds lived at the medieval moated manor of nearby Bratoft. They acquired the Gunby Estate in the early seventeenth century. The main part of the house was finished in 1700 for Sir William Massingberd, second Baronet, on the site of a small manor house that had once belonged to a family called Gunby.

The new house was built of red brick. Some of the bricks were brought from Holland in 1699 and the rest probably dug from the brickfield that is now the ice house pond in the grounds. The original house is seven by four bays and three full storeys in height, plus a basement and a panelled parapet.

The red brick is adorned with stone dressings in the form of broad string courses and moulded window surrounds; the effect is very formal. The only ornament on the outside is the front entrance, consisting of a doorway with an elaborately scrolled pediment around a cartouche of arms and a keystone with the date 1700 in Roman numerals: MDCC.

The handsome range of coach houses in the stableyard was built in 1735 by William Meux-Massingberd (grandson of the builder of the house), probably at the same time as he installed the large Venetian stair window on the south front.

Gunby Hall is extended

Gunby in 1810

This watercolour of 1810 shows the front with two low walls, each containing a doorway. These walls were removed later in the nineteenth century, though one of the arched doorways is still there today.

The first extension

The first extension to the side of the building was added in 1873 with a two-storey three-bay extension.

Extended again

In 1898 a further two bays were added to the original extension to create the building you see today.

The extension is remarkably sympathetic for that period, carefully maintaining the William and Mary character of the house. However, the windows on the front are in fact plate glass (with mock glazing bars added later), while on the side of the house the late-Victorians could not resist a touch of Ruskin in the style of the windows.

The Massingberds of Gunby Hall

From 1288

Early History

The Massingberd family is long established in Lincolnshire, tracing its descent to Lambert Massingberd of Sutterton on the Wash who was convicted of grievous bodily harm in Boston in 1288.  

Through the marriage of Sir Thomas Massingberd to Joan de Bratoft in 1495 the lands of Bratoft and Gunby and the moated manor house at Bratoft came into the family, surrounded by fish ponds and an extensive park. An Elizabethan garden seems to have adorned Bratoft Manor, of which archaeological remains can be seen in the landscape today.  

Civil War

During the Civil War the Massingberd brothers, Henry and Drayner, fought on the Parliamentary side. Both brothers prospered under the Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell. Drayner went on to found the branch of the family seated at South Ormsby in Lincolnshire.  

Henry served as High Sheriff of the county and was rewarded with a baronetcy by Cromwell. This was probably because of Henry's generosity to the State in maintaining 30 foot soldiers in Ireland for three years, keeping the peace after the bloody campaigns of 1649-51.  

For reasons that are not entirely clear, Sir Henry managed the unusual feat of having his Cromwellian baronetcy re-conferred by Charles II in 1660.

Hand blocked wallpaper at Gunby Hall, Lincolnshire

Gunby's collections

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

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Two cats including a black cat called Fergus and a tabby cat called tabby enjoying a meal in the gardens at Gunby

Planning your visit to Gunby 

Plan your visit to Gunby Estate and Gardens in Lincolnshire. There is no need to pre-book your visit at the moment.

The music room at Gunby Hall showing chairs, a sofa, and a fireplace directly ahead. At the sides you can see old cupboards and on the right hand side there is light flowing through the clear sash windows.

Explore Gunby Hall 

Explore Gunby Hall, which was home to the Massingberd family for over 250 years. The house features intimate living spaces filled with notable objects, artistic works, and homely décor.

The long border at Gunby with a partition on the middle allowing for a pathway underneath an archway. Their is an apple cart full of apples in the middle of the path.

Explore the Gunby gardens 

Discover eight acres of different garden ‘rooms’ with many different colours and textures to enjoy. Throughout each season there is something different to see.

A reflective and calm pond with red and brown autumn foliage surrounding it.

Explore the Gunby estate 

Find out more about the 1,500 acres of the Gunby Estate. Take a walk to discover an ice house pond, remains of a lost village and find evidence of a demolished medieval moated manor.

A picture of the front of Gunby Hall, surrounded by spring greenery

A family-friendly day out at Gunby Estate, Hall and Gardens 

Entertain the whole family at Gunby this spring. Discover unique stories in the house, go on an adventure in the gardens and stop for a bite to eat in the tea-room.

Overhead view of an octagonal table with the figure of Silenus, a drunken follower of Bacchu, in The Library at Claydon House in Buckinghamshire


Learn about people from the past, discover remarkable works of art and brush up on your knowledge of architecture and gardens.