Hunsdon House

Has been described as a Certain Fortified Manor House, and also as a Certain Palace (Royal), and also as a Certain Tower House

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains

NameHunsdon House
Alternative NamesHonesdon; Hunsdon Tower; Turris manerij de Howndesdon
Historic CountryHertfordshire
Modern AuthorityHertfordshire
1974 AuthorityHertfordshire
Civil ParishHunsdon

Country House. Mid C15 moated brick tower house of Sir William Oldhall; altered 1527-34 for Henry VIII; altered and extended to W by Carey family in first half of C17; W parts demolished by Josias Nicolson c1745 and moat filled in c1788; raised and extensively rebuilt, and replanned with main entrance at E, by Nicolson Calvert 1805-11 in castellated form; interior remodelled, windows altered and elaborate cast iron verandah added on S c1861 for James Wylie. A large rectangular red brick block, of 3 storeys and cellars, with low 2 storeys service wing extending to W looking into a walled yard with 2 storeys crenellated NW gate house and octagonal 2 storeys SW tower. The main block has 2 parallel hipped slate roofs concealed behind an embattled parapet, and large, pointed, diagonal buttresses at each corner. The broad, projecting, 3 storeys, E porch appears to have had similar buttresses removed. A square, brick, stair- turret projects in the angle on the N side and runs up above the parapet. The exterior of the block has been refaced extensively but at the W end, and on the return on the N wall up to a rectangular bay, the old brickwork has been only disguised by red mortar tuck-pointed in white, which has weathered to reveal the old walls. These are characterised by a broad stone string at 1st floor level, diapering in black headers above this, tall stone arrow-slits often set at the angle of the buttress and wall, and small square stone windows, now blocked. The present large windows have presumably obliterated others. The top storey and parapet above a hollow moulded string course are later additions. The stone arrow-slits have ogee-cusped expansions at top, bottom and half-height. They are copied elsewhere around the building using brick for the plain vertical jambs. The present C19 windows have plaster surrounds and 2-light or 3-light moulded wooden mullioned and transomed windows

Of the oldest period are the cellars under the E parts, notably 1 with a lofty pointed arched brick vault covering 48'6" by 18'6" lying N-S with a doorway into the base of an octagonal garderobe shaft. Elsewhere are brick masses presumably to support the 100' great tower of Oldhall's house described by William of Worcester in 1478 (Itineraries ed and trans J H Harvey (1969) Oxford). The very high Ground floor rooms have fine Classical interiors of the later C19 with modelled plaster ceilings, cornices and friezes, moulded woodwork, and marble fire surrounds. A heavy, triple arched, 2 storeys screen of marbled columns with astylar caps gives onto the stairwell. Chimneypiece in dining room dated 1882. Lintel built into garden gateway to W inscribed 'HH 1593'. S side of octagonal SW tower a summerhouse with pointed arched openings. A house of the greatest historical interest (Pevsner (1977) 210). It incorporates fragmentary remains of 1 of the most important medieval houses in the county, the architectural history of which has recently been traced by the RCHM (Typescript). A royal residence with extensive parks for hunting, forming the centre of the honour of Hunsdon from 1532 and associated with all the Tudor monarchs from Henry VIII until Elizabeth granted it to her cousin Sir Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon in 1558/9. The house has a suite of C19 interiors of special interest. It forms a picturesque historic group with the parish church. (Listed Building Report)

Gatehouse Comments

Although not baronial the original tower was substantial and Sir William Oldhall, while not a baron, was a member of the royal council and had more money and power than many nobles.

- Philip Davis

Not scheduled

This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law

Historic England Scheduled Monument Number
Historic England Listed Building number(s)
Images Of England
Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceTL419127
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  • Goodall, John, 2011, The English Castle 1066-1650 (Yale University Press) p. 356, 370, 386, 461, 509n59
  • Emery, Anthony, 2006, Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales Vol. 3 Southern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) p. 384, 407
  • Emery, Anthony, 2000, Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales Vol. 2 East Anglia, Central England and Wales (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) p. 196-7, 259-61
  • Thurley, Simon, 1993, The Royal Palaces of Tudor England (Yale University Press) p. 49, 80, 81
  • Colvin, H.M., Ransome, D.R. and Summerson, John, 1982, The history of the King's Works Vol. 4: 1485-1660 (part 2) (London) p. 155-7
  • Pevsner, Nikolas and Cherry, Bridget, 1977, Buildings of England: Hertfordshire (Harmondsworth) p. 141-2
  • Page, Wm (ed), 1912, VCH Hertfordshire Vol. 3 p. 324-5 online transcription
  • RCHME, 1910, An inventory of the historical monuments in Hertfordshire (London: HMSO) p. 128 online transcription



  • Coulson, C., 1994, 'Freedom to Crenellate by Licence - An Historiographical Revision' Nottingham Medieval Studies Vol. 38 p. 119
  • Partridge, C., 1984, 'Excavations at Hunsdon House: an interim report' Hertfordshire's past Vol. 217 p. 15-24

Primary Sources

  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1909, Calendar of Patent Rolls Henry VI (1446-52) Vol. 5 p. 77 online copy
  • Harvey, J.H. (ed), 1969, Itineraries of William Worcestre (Oxford: Clarendon Press) p. 49-51