Creating a manorial complex during the dissolution of the monasteries

Remaining buildings in the Tudor manorial complex at Willington

In 1536 there were still more than 800 monasteries in England, including 12 in Bedfordshire. Then, under the orders of Henry VIII, monasteries across the country were dismantled and just four years later none remained. The impressive Tudor buildings still standing today at Willington show how owner John Gostwick was able to profit from the dissolution of the monasteries to transform the original medieval manor-house into a splendid sixteenth century manorial complex.

In his position as Treasurer and Receiver General of the First Fruits and Tenths, John Gostwick was responsible for collecting and accounting for all the money which was due the king as a result of the dissolution of the monasteries. 

Gostwick, who was knighted by King Henry VIII in 1540, would also have had access to the redundant building materials. Indeed, Gostwick was personally involved in the dissolution of Warden Abbey, Bedford Greyfriars and Elstow Abbey and in 1540 he bought the Newnham Priory site. 

There is some evidence that Gostwick used lead from Greyfriars to cover the Willington church roof and medieval tiles from Elstow for the church floor. Whilst it is thought he bought new stone for the church exterior, recycled building materials from different monastic sites are likely to have been used for the farm buildings.

By the early 1540s the impressive new complex was complete and still today, over 450 years later, four of these buildings remain.

Gostwick’s buildings today

The church is the largest of Gostwick’s remaining buildings at Willington and is considered historically important because of its links to Sir John and the use of recycled materials. 

The church features wooden Tudor ceilings with carvings of stylized roses, faces, religious figures and other symbols. Amongst the impressive memorials to John Gostwick is a copy of the jousting helmet he is said to have worn when accompanying Henry VIII on a visit to the French king, Francis I.

The church is still an active part of the community holding regular services, social and cultural events. The Stables and Dovecote are now looked after by the National Trust and can be visited by the public. The manor house, described as ‘sumptuous’ when newly built, is now privately owned.