Billing Hall

Ecton, United Kingdom

Billing Hall

Billing Hall was a manor house in Billing, Northamptonshire, England. Records of the manor, the predecessor to Great Billing Hall, date back to the 12th century. It was originally owned by the Barry family and Baron Dundalk built it in 1629. It became the county seat of the Earls of Thomond, descendants of Brian Boru, King of Ireland in 1002. With the arrival of the Elwes family in 1779 the history of Great Billing became inextricably linked to them. Perhaps the Hall's most famous resident was Gervase Elwes, the English tenor, who died in a rail accident in Boston, USA in 1921.

In the mid-1500s the religious ethos of Billing was changed for the next 300 years by the Reformation. The local Priory was dissolved and the churches became Anglican. The Cromwellian Revolution was strongly backed in this area and even following the restoration of the Monarchy a very strong Nonconformist element continued on. Slowly, any of traces Catholicism vanished and by 1800 they were confined to a few recusant families, itinerant workmen mostly from Ireland, served by a small number of discreet priests. This changed, however, with the arrival of the Elwes family. In 1779, Robert Cary Elwes, of Roxby, Lincolnshire bought Billing Hall, which by then had been rebuilt in the Palladian style by John Carr for the property's previous owner, Lord John Cavendish, in 1776. Close by the Hall, at Billing Lings, Elwes bred horses including two Derby winners, Mameluke in 1827 and Cossack in 1847. The estate was eventually taken over by his grandson Valentine Cary-Elwes who was received into the Catholic Church in France in 1874. Immediately he erected a chapel at the Hall and encouraged his estate employees to attend Mass there. His son, Dudley Cary-Elwes, subsequently 5th Bishop of Northampton 1921-1932, described how his father persuaded the Bishop to post a priest to the village. The former parish priest of Wolverton, Father (later Canon) Blackman, had just become available and was deemed ideal. He stayed as priest until 1907. The Elwes family at one time owned the whole of the village of Great Billing with the exception of one house and five cottages.

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