Empingham Village Hall


A speculative history of Audit Hall.

The hall almost certainly started out as a threshing barn, perhaps between 1700 - 1800. It was a high quality barn and must have been part of the Mackworth estate, perhaps servicing several farms and itself being serviced by the local mill, although to date no such associations have been proven.

A quoin under the south-west eave bears the initials I S M and the year 1677. Commonly, the top letter (S) would be the initial letter of the surname, and the other two would be the initial letters of the husband’s and wife’s given names. It is unlikely that the stone records the date that the barn was built, since such a stone would have been set in a more noticeable position, and the high quality of the carving is not in keeping with what was originally an agricultural building.

Internally, a 'fireplace' surround in the east wall bears an inscription 'Jonathan Hall' and the date 1686(?) in a lettering style that seems consistent with the date. There is now no chimney connected to the fireplace but the exterior east wall exhibits evidence that a chimney stack servicing the fireplace may have once existed. However, the fireplace occupies a position where a door opposing the existing door in the west wall might have existed.

Such opposing doors were typical of threshing barns - to encourage a through-draught and the removal of chaff. It is probable that the fireplace and a chimney were constructed as part of the late 19th century conversion discussed below and that both the quoin stone and the fireplace surround-stone were taken from Normanton estate buildings demolished in preceding decades. The chimney was probably removed when more modern methods of heating were installed, probably in the early 20th century. Further evidence of materials being brought from elsewhere are the wainscot, the double entry doors from the lobby, and the wooden lintel under the large north window.

The single storey extension now housing the toilets and kitchen, the hall roof structure, and other features are certainly late 19th century. Indeed, the available evidence suggests that the name Audit Hall may be turn-of-the-century in origin and its use as a community facility even later.

A 1884 survey map (part of the first national Ordinance Survey, started in 1840) of Empingham does not show the single storey extension on the east side. The map does show the hovels attached to the east wall and a connected larger building, and the courtyard and buildings to the north east of the hall, all of which still exist.

Ernest Mills, in his memoir ‘Empingham Remembered’, says that Earl Ancaster bought back the hall which had been sold in 1924 and allowed it to be used as a village hall until it was deeded over in 1939 The preamble of the 1939 Deed of Conveyance records that Ancaster bought the hall in 1926 and if so the history of the hall as community resource would not have been before that date. It was also said that before 1924 tenant rents were taken to Prebendal House and that Audit Hall served as an office, where the books of the estate would have been laid out and various management functions might have been housed, perhaps giving rise to the name 'Audit Hall'.

Local memory said that the hall had once been a barn and it had been converted and used for dancing by the gentry, that an orchestra came down from Drummond Castle (the castle came into the Eresby/Ancaster estate by marriage in the early 19th century). There is no doubt that the building was substantially altered in the late 19th century, when it was re-roofed and the single story extension on the east side added. The ventilation grills in the walls are Victorian in design and are typical indicators of the installation of a suspended floor, more suitable for the use of dancing. However, it seems improbable that such a use regularly occurred, given the proximity of Prebendal House. Perhaps local memory was recalling a specific event.

In 1892 Gilbert Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby was created 1st Earl Ancaster, an indicator of his place in the ruling establishment. It would have been entirely consistent with his standing, wealth, and ambition that, on the occasion of Queen Victoria's jubilee in June 1887, that he would have held lavish celebrations, preparations including the conversion of a barn into a ballroom, installing a floor, stopping up doors, re-roofing, adding windows and a fireplace, and building an extension to house cloaks and attendants.

The Stamford & Rutland Mercury for the two issues after 22nd June, report Jubilee festivities which took place in the villages surrounding Empingham; but reported none in the village itself. Why this should be so is open to speculation but, given that Empingham was a tied village, all activities were undoubtedly subject to the approval of the Normanton estate, which might have reserved the occasion for its own.

On the supposition that the conversion from barn to hall was consequential to the Jubilee celebration, it is probable that after 1887 the modernised barn, now a hall, would have been put to business uses which gave rise to the name Audit Hall and which continued until the sale of the village. Of course, a pre-1887 citation of the use of the name would disprove the theory.

The sale in 1924 was made necessary by the state of Ancaster finances, which would suggest there had been insufficient resources to maintain the hall – a state of affairs born out by another reminiscence of Ernest Mills; that he was told by Mr. Hibbet (said to be a trustee but not mentioned in the original 1939 deed of conveyance) that the hall was not a bargain, since it needed a lot of money spending on it.

The hall does not seem to have had a central place in village affairs prior to 1924, in that there are no known photographs or reports of activities in the hall before that date. The 1924 auction plan of the Normanton estate then showed the extension which now houses the toilets and kitchen and, adjacent to it, a triangular green patch of ground in the angle between the extension and the hall itself. Subsequently a store room was built on that ground, also including one of the bays of a row of what were probably hovels in the days of the barn but which later served at washhouses for the adjacent homes.


Much of the above is speculative and further research may provide evidence upon which a more authoritative account can be composed. Do you have photographs, documents, or information about the previous life of Audit Hall? If so, would you permit copies to be made, to form an archive and possibly a permanent exhibition in the hall?

Please email empinghamvillagehall@gmail.com or contact any committee member if you have something to contribute.

Copyright 2011 M.Nason. With acknowledgement to Nick Hill of English Heritage.