Longthorpe Tower was built around 1300AD, the building itself is a well-preserved example of a rare medieval 'solar tower', but inside the wall and ceiling paintings transport the visitor to another time!
The Tower was part of a larger manor house built by the Thorpe family, who went from peasants to knights in just three generations – a remarkable example of medieval social mobility.
During the reign of King John, the Thorpe's were peasants who purchased their freedom. Over the ensuing generations the family invested in the education of their heirs and strategic marriages.
Around 1300AD, Robert Thorpe was responsible for adding the Tower to the original manor house, and he commissioned the spectacular wall paintings between 1320AD and 1340AD.
Robert Thorpe rose to become lay steward of the powerful Abbey of Peterborough, and later worked for the king and received a knighthood.
In the late 14th century, the Thorpe family line died out and Longthorpe manor passed to their relatives. However, this family seem never to have used it as their primary residence.
There follows a period of uncertain ownership and later, for an unknown reason, the entire scheme of painting was whitewashed over, lost to history.
The famed wall paintings were unknown at this time.
Longthorpe Tower was used by the Home Guard in WWII as a lookout for incendiary hits on Peterborough and approaching enemy aircraft/parachutists.
On reclaiming the Tower as a farm building following the end of the war, the paintings were discovered by the tenant (Horrell’s Dairies).
Their significance was quickly realised, and a programme of cleaning and preservation by E. Clive Rouse took place between 1946 and 1948. Rouse also made a scaled watercolour record of the paintings which are a valuable resource, as they often show detail that is hard or impossible to see today due to fading.
Such was the importance of the discovery that in 1947, the owner, Earl Fitzwilliam, presented the Tower to the nation, and it was taken into the guardianship of the Secretary of State. From 1984, it has been in the guardianship of English Heritage.