Fascinating history of hall

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One of only four Northamptonshire towns listed in the Doomsday Book as having a population of more than 50, Finedon has always had a rich heritage with many fine buildings littering its streets.

Two of the most spectacular it has had to offer are the manor house, Finedon Hall, which is today residential apartments and the collapsed Volta Tower.

Finedon Hall fell into a state of disrepair in the 1970s and 80s

Finedon Hall fell into a state of disrepair in the 1970s and 80s

Both buildings have had chequered histories, as Malcolm Peet, chairman of Finedon Local History Society explains. The Volta Tower was constructed in 1865 as a memorial to William Digby Mackworth, son of the lord of the manor and owner of Finedon Hall, who died in 1863.

“He was drowned off the coast of East Africa when his boat went down. The boat was called the Volta, and so the tower was built in his memory and named the Volta accordingly.”

The tower stood proudly on Station Road, where a bungalow now stands next to the cemetery, until 16 November 1961 when it collapsed unexpectedly.

Initially built as a memorial, rather than a home, the tower had been turned in to a residential property by the time of its collapse and was being lived in by Mr and Mrs Northern.

Florence Northern lost her life in the accident.

It is rumoured the tower collapsed because it was constructed without mortar, with the bricks simply interlocking like in a dry stone wall, however Mr Peet has another suggestion.

“I think the structural integrity was damaged by the local iron pits or something like that,” he says.

On the day the tower fell Mr Peet learned of the tragedy when he returned home from school in Wellingborough on the bus.

“I remember coming back on the bus from Wellingborough and seeing the newspaper headlines that said: “Finedon Tower Collapsed”.

“As we were coming home we were all looking to see which tower we could see. When we spotted the water tower we knew it must be the Volta Tower.

“Everybody in the town was extremely shocked.”

For a time in the 1980s it looked like Finedon Hall would also be wiped from the town’s landscape as it fell in to serious disrepair.

The grand manor house, which is said to date back to Elizabethan times, was passed down the lines of two families for the majority of its history.

It began in the hands of the Mulso’s who occupied the land from the 1400s and built the property sometime between 1550 and 1600.

It then passed to the Dolben family, who through marriage became the Mackworth Dolbens, and they kept possession until the 1900s when the last female descendant Ellen died.

She was a spinster and there was no family line to continue the long traditions begun by her family, so in 1912 the hall and remains were sold off.

The contents were sold separately and the land was broken up into different packages and also auctioned.

The hall passed through many hands in the following century. It was owned by George Keeble, a Mrs Maskew and Finedon resident Major Greeves who never actually lived in the property.

In 1936 use of the hall was given to the Free French and it was used as a rehabilitation facility for allied troops.

French leader General Charles de Gaulle even visited the facility, which was being run by Col. Pierre Mallinger, who bought the hall following the war and used it as a base to conduct research into tropical diseases.

When he died in 1971 the property was bought by developers who failed to do anything with it and as the years progressed nature began to ravage the building, so that by the early 1980s its roof and walls were collapsing and it was looking extremely derelict.

“It was actually quite dangerous for a while, but thankfully the parish council were determined to save the building, and planning permission was granted to turn it in to apartments,” Mr Peet says.

In the early 1990s the land beside the hall was transformed in to new homes.

One of the hall’s most famous residents is poet Digby Mackworth Dolben, who lived from February 8, 1848 to June 28, 1867. He owes his reputation to his cousin, Robert Bridges, poet laureate from 1913 to 1930, who edited a partial edition of his verse, Poems, in 1911.

Digby died tragically, drowning in the River Welland, aged 19 as he was preparing to go to Oxford.