Nestled in the picturesque parish of Little Casterton in Rutland, Tolethorpe Hall is a beautiful country house that dates back to the 11th century. Much has changed over the last thousand years, but throughout that time the site has remained home to some very important families and institutions. Today, you can find the Stamford Shakespeare Company at Tolthorpe Hall, as they use its impressive grounds and structure to perform some of Shakespeare’s most important works.
For nearly 800 years, Tolethorpe Hall was home to some important local families, most notably the Browns from 1503 until 1839. Robert Brown, born in 1550, became the leader of an organization known as ‘The Brownists’ who argued for reforms to the Church of England in the 1570s and 1580s. This led to Robert Brown taking a temporary and self-imposed exile to the Netherlands until he returned to England to work for the now reformed Church of England as a parish priest and schoolmaster. The Brown family continued to live in and maintain Tolethorpe Hall until the mid-1800s when it was eventually sold to a prominent local banker, known as Charles Ormsten Eaton.
When the Eaton family purchased the property, it was in dire need of restoration and modernization, and major construction works were undertaken upon the hall and its surrounding grounds and gardens. This included the addition of a Jacobean style wing to the east side main hall and a smaller one added to the west. This gave the hall its impressive appearance and the grandeur and decadence that such a historically significant home deserves.
The Modern History of Tolethorpe Hall
From the late 1800s until the late 1970s, the hall was inhabited by a variety of families, often renting the property from the Eaton family. Eventually, much of its surrounding land was sold to local farmers, and the hall, its gardens and its grounds were sold to the Stamford Shakespeare Company.
They began to re-sculpt the gardens around the hall to create an outdoor amphitheatre for the performances of plays. The raked outdoor auditorium is the perfect setting for many of Shakespeare’s greatest works, and the hall itself often has a role to play in performances of plays like Romeo and Juliet and Othello.
The restoration of the hall and its gardens has ensured that it will remain for people to enjoy for more centuries to come.
Things to See and Do at Tolethorpe Hall
The Stamford Shakespeare Company perform three plays over the summer months, often two by Shakespeare and one by another accomplished playwright. Their season starts in early June and performances run until late August.
All plays are performed on their open-air stage and are viewed from the raked auditorium that is fully covered to protect patrons from sudden summer showers. They also offer fantastic meals in Tolethorpe’s dining halls before performances, but book a table early to avoid disappointment. Many visitors bring their own picnic with them to enjoy in the gardens before settling in the auditorium for a performance.