The village of Lyddington lies on the northern edge of the valley of the River Welland where the Hlyde, from which Lyddington takes its name, forms a tributary valley. The forest of Rockingham provided an ideal hunting ground for the Norman kings and was the basis of the Bishops of Lincoln decision to develop their estate at Lyddington. Located conveniently near the centre of the diocese, the rural palace became an important seat of ecclesiastical administration. The palace served the princes of the church up to the sequestration of episcopal property by the Crown in 1547. It then passed to the Cecils of Burghley in 1600 and the surviving buildings were converted by Sir Thomas Cecil into the Jesus Hospital, later known as the Bede House, to house pensioners. The buildings served this purpose and continued to be occupied until 1930. It was acquired by the Ministry of Works in 1954 and has since been restored.
Originating as the medieval wing of the palace, archaeological evidence suggests that the surviving buildings are only the end cross wing of a great 14th century hall. It is thought likely to have been built by Bishop Burghersh who was given licence to crenellate in 1336. The main upper chambers were refenestrated and re-roofed in the latter part of the 15th century. The archaeological evidence has also revealed that the position, splendour and size of the former hall was greater than that constructed by the Archbishop of Canterbury at Mayfield in Sussex. Running along the front of the building is a lean to verandah which was erected in 1745 to provide some shelter for the old folk of the bede house.
At the top of the stair to the ceremonial apartments is a landing with two very fine doorcases (above). Dating to the early 14th century, they survive from the newly crenellated residence of Bishop Burghersh. The shields in the spandrels may well have been painted and gilded but no trace of this now survives.
The Chapel (above) was probably once part of the bishop’s private chapel. Originally there was a window in the wall (now blocked) which would have allowed those in the Great Chamber to hear mass. The room was later used by a bedeswoman and the invalid chair also dates to this period.
The Great Chamber (above) was the most magnificent room in the bishop’s private quarters. It later became the common hall of the bedehouse. The room is bathed in light from the mullioned and transomed windows which date to the late 15th century. Below the exceptionally beautiful early 16th century cornice (below), the walls had fine tapestries and hangings. This room was where the bishop received eminent guests – high clergymen, heads of monastic houses, courtiers and kings.
When the palace was converted in 1601, the great chamber became the bedesmen’s common hall. The residents would gather here to say prayers and recite the Lord’s Prayer. Four times a year they would also listen to the warden reading the rules of the bedehouse. With the dispersal of the bishop’s household it is probable that the fine furnishings were stripped out with anything of value being sold to supplement the royal coffers.
The Presence Chamber is a room in which medieval bishops conducted their business. The room has a blocked doorway that originally lead up to the presumed gallery above the great hall. The room features a fine fireplace (above) with five carved panels datable by analogy to 1480-1520. With its ornamental fireplace and handsome ceiling, the room would have been impressive and furnished with a canopied bed, rich hangings and decorated chairs. Bishop John Longland was possibly the last bishop who occupied the room. He was King Henry VIII’s confessor and was caught up in the king’s struggle against the Church. The king and Catherine Howard stayed at Lyddington in 1541 and met with his privy councillors before continuing north. After the conversion of the palace in the 17th century, this room and those beyond it were used by the warden of the bedehouse.
In the medieval palace, the attic floor was probably no more than roof storage. Moulded tie beams indicate that these were visible before the fine ceiling of the great chamber was inserted. Part of the floor is laid in gypsum plaster on reed – a flooring technique common in the east Midlands from the late medieval period onwards. The attic floor has a series of fine knee-braced collar trusses with curved windbraces to the single level of butt purlins. The fine roof structure dates to the mid 15th century and was probably built by Bishop Alnwick before his death in 1449. Gabled dormer windows were inserted in the 17th or 18th century and a small iron fireplace indicates that at least one of the attic rooms was used and heated in the 19th century.
Lyddington Bede House is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade I Listed.