History – A Birdsall Love Story
In 1719, Thomas Willoughby, a younger son of the 1st Lord Middleton and MP for Cambridge, was travelling over the Yorkshire Wolds from Nottingham to Hull when he lost his way in a heavy snowstorm. He sought shelter and followed a light he saw in the distance which led him to Birdsall House. The Sotheby’s gave Thomas shelter for the night and introduced him to Elizabeth, their daughter and only child: the pair fell in love, marrying the same year.
Birdsall House has been the home of the Willoughby family since 1729 when Thomas and Elizabeth Willoughby inherited the house from Elizabeth’s parents. They set about converting the original Tudor house into a grand stone Georgian building.
The house is constructed on what was, until the dissolution of the monasteries, a monastic site. The Sotheby family acquired the Birdsall land from the church in around 1540 and built a small Tudor house. The original five bay windows and central door of the house form the Long Hall of the current Birdsall House.
Thomas and Elizabeth’s son Henry added a new wing in 1775 incorporating new State Rooms, the Oval Room and the Ballroom, which was added between 1790 and 1800. It is said that the width of the Oval Room was equal to that of an outstanding jump made by Henry Willoughby’s horse.
In 1873 Henry, 8th lord Middleton employed the renowned Victorian architect Anthony Salvin to further extend the house. Salvin added a matching wing to the Georgian wing (now the dining room) on the other side of the house and also added a further storey to the main block of the house along with a service wing on the far side of the house. This was the period when Birdsall House ran at its height.
Birdsall House was originally within the village of Birdsall – the remains of village buildings can still be seen in the park in front of the house along with 12th century church ruins. The village was moved to its current location in Georgian times and a new church was built in 1824, a little way away from the immediate surroundings of the house.