Exploring The Real Wolfhall

Nicola and the wolfNicola here, talking about a recent visit to a place steeped in history. “At the edge of Wiltshire’s ancient Savernake forest lies a house steeped in Royal history.  Shrouded in mystery and lost to the mists of time, Wolfhall stands, a testimony to the rise and fall of the Seymour family, so crucial to the heart of the Tudor monarchy and the history of England itself…” So reads the enticing introduction on The Real Wolfhall website, drawing in all of us who have a fascination with Tudor history.

Long before Hilary Mantel made the name “Wolf Hall” famous all over again in her Booker prize winning novel, many readers like myself had lapped up stories of the Seymour family in the writing of authors such as Jean Plaidy and any number of books about the wives of Henry VIII. Wolfhall is an iconic name that has been in my imagination for as long as I’ve been reading historical fiction and romance. When I wrote The Phantom Tree, about Mary Seymour, the daughter of Thomas Seymour and Catherine Parr, it felt appropriate to set part of it at Wolfhall and draw on that rich history.

You can imagine then my state of over-excitement when I received an invitation to visit the real Wolfhall. For a long time I had Savernake believed like so many people that the original medieval manor had been lost, demolished in the later 16th century when the Seymours built a new, grander house a few miles away. To discover that part of the Tudor house still stood on the site of the original manor was amazing news.

I set off on my adventure in a day in early May. The route took me through the ancient Savernake Forest which even today is a very atmospheric place to visit with its enormous oak trees and grand avenues. There’s something about forests that lends them to mystery and history. They feel like wild and lawless places where the past is only a step away. The fact that there is a house called Wolfhall in an old forest conjures up the image of packs of wolves slinking between the trees… Except that Wolfhall was actually named after the Saxon personal name Ulfela. Oh well, you can’t have everything.

Georgian wolfhallMy satnav takes me to exactly the right place and there I see what looks like a very elegant Georgian house, and Debra Melsom of the Friends of Wolfhall waiting for me. After a chat and a cup of tea with the Friends about the work they are doing to restore the house and garden, and to excavate the parts of the Tudor manor that have been lost, it’s time for the tour. I must admit that I had a whole other-wordly feeling at actually being somewhere I had read about in so many novels. It was unreal in the best, possible way.

The Wolfhall that you see today is, like so many historical buildings, a mixture of different periods. We know from the records that the original manor, where Jane Seymour and her brothers grew up and where Henry VIII stayed in 1535, was a very substantial building. Documents record it as a double courtyard house with a number of grand principal bedchambers as we ll as two galleries, including a long gallery, a gatehouse, a chapel with a resident priest, servants quarters and kitchens, stables, dairy, kennels and barns. There were also eight gardens with charming names including the primrose garden, box garden, my young lady’s garden, my old lady’s garden, and an arbour plus eight orchards. The scale of the house can be inferred from documents which describe that Edward Seymour, later Duke of Somerset, removed 30 beds from Wolfhall to Beauchamplace (later Somerset House) in London.

Outside, where the Friends are sewing the wildflower meadow and have plans to restore the gardens, you can clearly see the Tudor Wolfhall part of the house. This survived when a great deal of the original manor was demolished because it became a farm. Over the years a Georgian wing was built on plus some Victorian additions. Excitingly, the archaeological work in the garden trenches has not only revealed other Tudor foundations but also some medieval glass from the 14th century.

Down the sewersInside the house has a definite atmosphere. It’s not unfriendly but it’s very strong. Standing at the base of the stair, which is in the same position as the Tudor staircase once stood, I feel a whisker away from the past. I’m told, however, that the biggest clue to the scale and design of the house lies beneath our feet. Yes, it’s a brick-built Tudor sewer that is one of the best-preserved in the country. Dominic, a direct descendent of Edward Seymour and the 32nd generation of the family, offers to show me, and as I’ll do anything in the name of historical research, I don a hard hat and head down the sewers. We end up somewhere underneath the gardens in an area where the excavations have revealed the foundations of a Tudor tower and other substantial walls. It’s totally fascinating stuff.

So often when I visit a historical site the interpretation has already been done, the phases of building are clear and so is the history Archaeology Wolfhall behind it. At Wolfhall there is so much more to explore and discover. It’s a very exciting time!

I’d like to thank the Friends of Wolfhall for allowing me to use their photographs and for sharing their knowledge and expertise so generously. If you’d like to become a Friend and find out more about the real Wolfhall click here!

Are you a fan of Tudor history? What do you think of the drama of Henry VIII and his marriages? Team Anne Boleyn or team Jane Seymour – or neither?

125 thoughts on “Exploring The Real Wolfhall”

  1. +++I’ll do anything in the name of historical research,+++
    LOL, Nicola! And I totally believe you would. *G* What a fascinating place, though I’m disappointed about the origin of the name. Also fascinating that you were guided by a member of the 32nd generation to live there! I expect to see a Tudor sewer in a future book of yours.

    Reply
  2. +++I’ll do anything in the name of historical research,+++
    LOL, Nicola! And I totally believe you would. *G* What a fascinating place, though I’m disappointed about the origin of the name. Also fascinating that you were guided by a member of the 32nd generation to live there! I expect to see a Tudor sewer in a future book of yours.

    Reply
  3. +++I’ll do anything in the name of historical research,+++
    LOL, Nicola! And I totally believe you would. *G* What a fascinating place, though I’m disappointed about the origin of the name. Also fascinating that you were guided by a member of the 32nd generation to live there! I expect to see a Tudor sewer in a future book of yours.

    Reply
  4. +++I’ll do anything in the name of historical research,+++
    LOL, Nicola! And I totally believe you would. *G* What a fascinating place, though I’m disappointed about the origin of the name. Also fascinating that you were guided by a member of the 32nd generation to live there! I expect to see a Tudor sewer in a future book of yours.

    Reply
  5. +++I’ll do anything in the name of historical research,+++
    LOL, Nicola! And I totally believe you would. *G* What a fascinating place, though I’m disappointed about the origin of the name. Also fascinating that you were guided by a member of the 32nd generation to live there! I expect to see a Tudor sewer in a future book of yours.

    Reply
  6. Thank you for the wonderful tour and the Wolfhall website link. Fascinating.
    As to your question about Henry’s wives – I feel sorry for all those gals – especially Catherine Howard (just because she was so young). And I can’t help but admire Anne of Cleves and Catherine Paar just for making it through with their skin still intact. Not a great time for women.

    Reply
  7. Thank you for the wonderful tour and the Wolfhall website link. Fascinating.
    As to your question about Henry’s wives – I feel sorry for all those gals – especially Catherine Howard (just because she was so young). And I can’t help but admire Anne of Cleves and Catherine Paar just for making it through with their skin still intact. Not a great time for women.

    Reply
  8. Thank you for the wonderful tour and the Wolfhall website link. Fascinating.
    As to your question about Henry’s wives – I feel sorry for all those gals – especially Catherine Howard (just because she was so young). And I can’t help but admire Anne of Cleves and Catherine Paar just for making it through with their skin still intact. Not a great time for women.

    Reply
  9. Thank you for the wonderful tour and the Wolfhall website link. Fascinating.
    As to your question about Henry’s wives – I feel sorry for all those gals – especially Catherine Howard (just because she was so young). And I can’t help but admire Anne of Cleves and Catherine Paar just for making it through with their skin still intact. Not a great time for women.

    Reply
  10. Thank you for the wonderful tour and the Wolfhall website link. Fascinating.
    As to your question about Henry’s wives – I feel sorry for all those gals – especially Catherine Howard (just because she was so young). And I can’t help but admire Anne of Cleves and Catherine Paar just for making it through with their skin still intact. Not a great time for women.

    Reply
  11. I want to thank you for the first tour in which I have participated (sort of) where a sewer was a destination.
    You have give us a terrific feeling of seeing what you saw. Thank you.

    Reply
  12. I want to thank you for the first tour in which I have participated (sort of) where a sewer was a destination.
    You have give us a terrific feeling of seeing what you saw. Thank you.

    Reply
  13. I want to thank you for the first tour in which I have participated (sort of) where a sewer was a destination.
    You have give us a terrific feeling of seeing what you saw. Thank you.

    Reply
  14. I want to thank you for the first tour in which I have participated (sort of) where a sewer was a destination.
    You have give us a terrific feeling of seeing what you saw. Thank you.

    Reply
  15. I want to thank you for the first tour in which I have participated (sort of) where a sewer was a destination.
    You have give us a terrific feeling of seeing what you saw. Thank you.

    Reply
  16. Oh, how fascinating, Nicola! You must have had shivers and goosebumps standing amid such history. I love that sense of standing in a place that I’ve read a lot about. It’s definitely otherworldly.
    And love the sewer adventure! As Mary Jo says, I expect to see that in a future book (along with a dashing hero who is modeled on Seymour’s descendant!)

    Reply
  17. Oh, how fascinating, Nicola! You must have had shivers and goosebumps standing amid such history. I love that sense of standing in a place that I’ve read a lot about. It’s definitely otherworldly.
    And love the sewer adventure! As Mary Jo says, I expect to see that in a future book (along with a dashing hero who is modeled on Seymour’s descendant!)

    Reply
  18. Oh, how fascinating, Nicola! You must have had shivers and goosebumps standing amid such history. I love that sense of standing in a place that I’ve read a lot about. It’s definitely otherworldly.
    And love the sewer adventure! As Mary Jo says, I expect to see that in a future book (along with a dashing hero who is modeled on Seymour’s descendant!)

    Reply
  19. Oh, how fascinating, Nicola! You must have had shivers and goosebumps standing amid such history. I love that sense of standing in a place that I’ve read a lot about. It’s definitely otherworldly.
    And love the sewer adventure! As Mary Jo says, I expect to see that in a future book (along with a dashing hero who is modeled on Seymour’s descendant!)

    Reply
  20. Oh, how fascinating, Nicola! You must have had shivers and goosebumps standing amid such history. I love that sense of standing in a place that I’ve read a lot about. It’s definitely otherworldly.
    And love the sewer adventure! As Mary Jo says, I expect to see that in a future book (along with a dashing hero who is modeled on Seymour’s descendant!)

    Reply
  21. When you say sewing a wildflower meadow did you perhaps mean sowing as in planting?! I loved the visit as I too thought there was no house there anymore.

    Reply
  22. When you say sewing a wildflower meadow did you perhaps mean sowing as in planting?! I loved the visit as I too thought there was no house there anymore.

    Reply
  23. When you say sewing a wildflower meadow did you perhaps mean sowing as in planting?! I loved the visit as I too thought there was no house there anymore.

    Reply
  24. When you say sewing a wildflower meadow did you perhaps mean sowing as in planting?! I loved the visit as I too thought there was no house there anymore.

    Reply
  25. When you say sewing a wildflower meadow did you perhaps mean sowing as in planting?! I loved the visit as I too thought there was no house there anymore.

    Reply
  26. That was a fascinating look at a wonderful building. I love what you said about the atmosphere. When I visit old places like that, the first thing I do is stand in a room and try to ‘feel’ the people who went before me. I just love history and have visited many of our lovely historical sites here in Ireland. It’s my favorite pastime. The sewers!!! I would definitely have to pass on that one!

    Reply
  27. That was a fascinating look at a wonderful building. I love what you said about the atmosphere. When I visit old places like that, the first thing I do is stand in a room and try to ‘feel’ the people who went before me. I just love history and have visited many of our lovely historical sites here in Ireland. It’s my favorite pastime. The sewers!!! I would definitely have to pass on that one!

    Reply
  28. That was a fascinating look at a wonderful building. I love what you said about the atmosphere. When I visit old places like that, the first thing I do is stand in a room and try to ‘feel’ the people who went before me. I just love history and have visited many of our lovely historical sites here in Ireland. It’s my favorite pastime. The sewers!!! I would definitely have to pass on that one!

    Reply
  29. That was a fascinating look at a wonderful building. I love what you said about the atmosphere. When I visit old places like that, the first thing I do is stand in a room and try to ‘feel’ the people who went before me. I just love history and have visited many of our lovely historical sites here in Ireland. It’s my favorite pastime. The sewers!!! I would definitely have to pass on that one!

    Reply
  30. That was a fascinating look at a wonderful building. I love what you said about the atmosphere. When I visit old places like that, the first thing I do is stand in a room and try to ‘feel’ the people who went before me. I just love history and have visited many of our lovely historical sites here in Ireland. It’s my favorite pastime. The sewers!!! I would definitely have to pass on that one!

    Reply
  31. I don’t “like” very many people of the Tudor period, but the period does fascinate me.
    As everyone has said, it was a fascinating tour. As you said of your visits in Britain, most places here in the U. S. are already planned and ready for viewing. Seeing the planning stages probably brings the history closer.
    Although they usually keep themselves private, sometimes at Biltmore, you can meet a descendant of Lord Burghley.

    Reply
  32. I don’t “like” very many people of the Tudor period, but the period does fascinate me.
    As everyone has said, it was a fascinating tour. As you said of your visits in Britain, most places here in the U. S. are already planned and ready for viewing. Seeing the planning stages probably brings the history closer.
    Although they usually keep themselves private, sometimes at Biltmore, you can meet a descendant of Lord Burghley.

    Reply
  33. I don’t “like” very many people of the Tudor period, but the period does fascinate me.
    As everyone has said, it was a fascinating tour. As you said of your visits in Britain, most places here in the U. S. are already planned and ready for viewing. Seeing the planning stages probably brings the history closer.
    Although they usually keep themselves private, sometimes at Biltmore, you can meet a descendant of Lord Burghley.

    Reply
  34. I don’t “like” very many people of the Tudor period, but the period does fascinate me.
    As everyone has said, it was a fascinating tour. As you said of your visits in Britain, most places here in the U. S. are already planned and ready for viewing. Seeing the planning stages probably brings the history closer.
    Although they usually keep themselves private, sometimes at Biltmore, you can meet a descendant of Lord Burghley.

    Reply
  35. I don’t “like” very many people of the Tudor period, but the period does fascinate me.
    As everyone has said, it was a fascinating tour. As you said of your visits in Britain, most places here in the U. S. are already planned and ready for viewing. Seeing the planning stages probably brings the history closer.
    Although they usually keep themselves private, sometimes at Biltmore, you can meet a descendant of Lord Burghley.

    Reply
  36. Charmian, I think that Nicola just made a typo and meant “sowing,” since that suggests tossing handfuls of seed around while planting suggests a more orderly process of putting specific plants in specific places. I plant my flower boxes, but if I had a meadow, I’d happily sow handfuls of wild flower seeds about. Sewing, not so much. *G*

    Reply
  37. Charmian, I think that Nicola just made a typo and meant “sowing,” since that suggests tossing handfuls of seed around while planting suggests a more orderly process of putting specific plants in specific places. I plant my flower boxes, but if I had a meadow, I’d happily sow handfuls of wild flower seeds about. Sewing, not so much. *G*

    Reply
  38. Charmian, I think that Nicola just made a typo and meant “sowing,” since that suggests tossing handfuls of seed around while planting suggests a more orderly process of putting specific plants in specific places. I plant my flower boxes, but if I had a meadow, I’d happily sow handfuls of wild flower seeds about. Sewing, not so much. *G*

    Reply
  39. Charmian, I think that Nicola just made a typo and meant “sowing,” since that suggests tossing handfuls of seed around while planting suggests a more orderly process of putting specific plants in specific places. I plant my flower boxes, but if I had a meadow, I’d happily sow handfuls of wild flower seeds about. Sewing, not so much. *G*

    Reply
  40. Charmian, I think that Nicola just made a typo and meant “sowing,” since that suggests tossing handfuls of seed around while planting suggests a more orderly process of putting specific plants in specific places. I plant my flower boxes, but if I had a meadow, I’d happily sow handfuls of wild flower seeds about. Sewing, not so much. *G*

    Reply
  41. LOL! Perhaps I should have said “almost anything…” There are a few exceptions. It is a fascinating place, and also fascinating that Dominic, 32nd generation, looks rather like Edward Seymour! Some family resemblances can be very strong.

    Reply
  42. LOL! Perhaps I should have said “almost anything…” There are a few exceptions. It is a fascinating place, and also fascinating that Dominic, 32nd generation, looks rather like Edward Seymour! Some family resemblances can be very strong.

    Reply
  43. LOL! Perhaps I should have said “almost anything…” There are a few exceptions. It is a fascinating place, and also fascinating that Dominic, 32nd generation, looks rather like Edward Seymour! Some family resemblances can be very strong.

    Reply
  44. LOL! Perhaps I should have said “almost anything…” There are a few exceptions. It is a fascinating place, and also fascinating that Dominic, 32nd generation, looks rather like Edward Seymour! Some family resemblances can be very strong.

    Reply
  45. LOL! Perhaps I should have said “almost anything…” There are a few exceptions. It is a fascinating place, and also fascinating that Dominic, 32nd generation, looks rather like Edward Seymour! Some family resemblances can be very strong.

    Reply
  46. Hi Sue, yes I think that seeing a building in the throes of conservation, whilst discoveries are still being made, is extraordinary. It’s also pretty amazing to meet the descendants and think about their family tree!

    Reply
  47. Hi Sue, yes I think that seeing a building in the throes of conservation, whilst discoveries are still being made, is extraordinary. It’s also pretty amazing to meet the descendants and think about their family tree!

    Reply
  48. Hi Sue, yes I think that seeing a building in the throes of conservation, whilst discoveries are still being made, is extraordinary. It’s also pretty amazing to meet the descendants and think about their family tree!

    Reply
  49. Hi Sue, yes I think that seeing a building in the throes of conservation, whilst discoveries are still being made, is extraordinary. It’s also pretty amazing to meet the descendants and think about their family tree!

    Reply
  50. Hi Sue, yes I think that seeing a building in the throes of conservation, whilst discoveries are still being made, is extraordinary. It’s also pretty amazing to meet the descendants and think about their family tree!

    Reply
  51. This sounds fascinating, I would have loved to explore the house and grounds with you. I love the names of the gardens!
    It is hard to think of a team I’d want to root for during the Tudor period though, it was so violent and cutthroat within the royal families!

    Reply
  52. This sounds fascinating, I would have loved to explore the house and grounds with you. I love the names of the gardens!
    It is hard to think of a team I’d want to root for during the Tudor period though, it was so violent and cutthroat within the royal families!

    Reply
  53. This sounds fascinating, I would have loved to explore the house and grounds with you. I love the names of the gardens!
    It is hard to think of a team I’d want to root for during the Tudor period though, it was so violent and cutthroat within the royal families!

    Reply
  54. This sounds fascinating, I would have loved to explore the house and grounds with you. I love the names of the gardens!
    It is hard to think of a team I’d want to root for during the Tudor period though, it was so violent and cutthroat within the royal families!

    Reply
  55. This sounds fascinating, I would have loved to explore the house and grounds with you. I love the names of the gardens!
    It is hard to think of a team I’d want to root for during the Tudor period though, it was so violent and cutthroat within the royal families!

    Reply

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