Grantham Civic Society column: Great Ponton manor house was built by rich wool merchants

Ellys Manor House
Ellys Manor House

Ellys Manor House is located adjacent to the church of the Holy Cross in Great Ponton, just off the A1, four miles south of Grantham.

Both the church tower and the house were built by the Ellys family in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. The house is on the site of an earlier medieval manor house, some walls of which are still visible within the house. The Ellys family were rich wool merchants who traded between England and Flanders, the house reflecting their prosperity, as well as the style of the Northern Renaissance. Anthony Ellys was a merchant of the Staple of Calais, and was originally from Swineshead.

The Staple of Calais was a company of merchants granted a total monopoly on wool exports from England, in exchange for its cooperation in the payment of taxes. As domestic cloth production increased, raw wool exports became less important, diminishing the power of the merchants. In 1558, when Calais was lost to the French, the Staple was transferred to Bruges, where the Merchant Staplers continued to enjoy their monopoly on exports.

The church has a gargoyle on the tower that looks down over the house. It is wearing spectacles and is the earliest known example in the country. It is thought to represent the first owner of the house.

The main feature of the house is the magnificent early 16th century wall paintings in the upper rooms, which had been covered in plaster and whitewash. Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, in The Buildings of England, described the paintings, ‘They travel round the whole upper floor, ignoring the later partitions. Red and yellow. Columns form panels in which stylized trees spread large, lush leaves. In some of the space between peacocks and deer. It is a rare English interpretation of French verdure tapestries’. The wall painting also depicts a scene from Aesop’s Fables, the story of The Fox and the Crane.

The house has also retained many of its other original features. It has thick stone walls and high mullioned windows, with large stone fireplaces. The ceilings have large oak beams, many of which carry the remains of their original black and red ochre.

The property, once the rectory for the adjacent church, was in a poor state of repair in the 1940s, when the interior walls were reported as ‘running with water’. When puddles formed on the bedroom floor, the incumbent complained to his superiors and was told to instruct his wife to ‘mop up the puddles with a cloth’.

The current owner has done much to restore the house in the last thirty years, but needs a further significant amount of money to restore the wall paintings, which are part of the nation’s heritage.

The house is open to the public from Easter until 31st October daily from 10am to 5pm by appointment, but closed on Tuesdays.