Witney Museum & Historical Society
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Page last updated: February 19th 2012
Page first published: February 19th 2012
Minster Lovell Hall
Scene of a murder mystery, tragedy, or an elaborate hoax?
A little over three miles from Witney, to the east of Minster Lovell
village, stand the ruins of Minster Lovell Hall. Ruined the old hall
might be, but the size and layout of what remains, and its tranquil
setting beside the river Windrush tell us that the hall must have been
a fine residence.
Originally the site of a priory, the first manor house was built by
William Lovell in the 1440s and extended by his grandson, Francis
Lovell. In the manner of the time, the house was built surrounding
three sides of a square, comprising a Great Hall, a chapel,
chambers for Lord Lovell and apartments for other family members.
The kitchen, buttery, bakehouse and stables were set slightly to one
side. Enough remains of the walls, doorways and passages that
visitors can picture the manor house as it might have looked in its
prime and helpful sketches are in place to facilitate one's imaginings.
Minster Lovell Hall was for a time the main residence of the Lovells,
but Francis Lovell forfeited the estate in 1485, after his involvement in
the Battle of Bosworth, and the manor house was given to Henry
Tudor's uncle, Jasper Tudor.
By 1602, Minster Lovell Hall had passed into the possession of a
lawyer, Sir Edward Coke, and remained in the Coke family until
the 1740s, when it was abandoned in favour of another property at
Holkham, in Norfolk. By 1747, much of the manor had been
dismantled, with the stone being used in building work elsewhere,
and what remains today is in the familiar, semi-demolished state
of manor houses and abbeys all over England.
No one knows what ultimately became of Francis Lovell.
Immediately after the Battle of Bosworth, he was listed amongst
the fallen, though he was recorded as having fought at the Battle
of Stoke Field two years later, from which he was seen escaping.
After this, very little is known, but in 1708, when the skeleton of a
man was found in a secret chamber at Minster Lovell Hall, the
legend grew up that this was Francis Lovell, who had been hidden
in the chamber by a trusted servant. The story goes that he
became trapped and died of starvation after the sudden death of
the only servant who knew of his secret chamber. However, as the
manor had already passed to Jasper Tudor at the time Lovell was
last seen, this seems unlikely and so Lovell's final end remains a
However, a puzzle still remains and it would be excellent to
discover answers to questions such as:
Who was the person whose skeleton was found and how
did they end up being locked in a secret chamber?
Was the body mummified or was it a skeleton?
What happened to the remains?
Where was the secret chamber and what other uses did it
serve other than a gruesome tomb for a nameless
What is the real history behind the stories?
It would be very interesting indeed to find copies of the original
records referring to the supposed find in 1708.