Grand designs: Wake’s daughter and her Yorkshire pile

MARVELS OF THE MINSTER: The last resting place of six Archbishops, what used to be known as Croydon Parish Church was also the burial site of members of the church leaders’ families, as DAVID MORGAN’s latest research has discovered

Ormesby Hall, the former home of Dorothy Pennyman, is one of the jewels of the National Trust

For many families in the 18th century, marrying your daughter off to man with good prospects was very important.

One conversation between father and daughter in Croydon Palace in the early 1700s may have gone along the lines of:

“Dorothy, my dear, that rather pleasant and personable young man James who has dined with us on several occasions recently, came to call on me this afternoon.”
“Oh, papa, that was very kind of him.”
“He was the one, my dear, whose family have an extensive estate somewhere up north.”
“I remember him telling us all about it; how it has been in the family since the 1500s and how they…”
“Dorothy, I’ll come straight to the point. He has asked for your hand in marriage and I have given him, and you, of course, my blessing.”
“Oh papa, I am so happy, even if I do have to go and live near Middlesbrough.”

For many 18th century families, finding a suitable wife for your son meant being certain about your future daughter-in-law’s background. Only a very few conversations, though, between father and son would have gone as this one did.

“Welcome back James. Good news I hope?”
“Indeed, papa, Dorothy’s father has consented to our marriage.”
“Splendid, splendid. I always knew she was the one for you. Just think what the neighbours will say, my boy, now that you are going to have the Archbishop of Canterbury as your father-in-law! Everyone will want to come to dinner if His Grace is being entertained here. What times we shall have!”

Archbishop William Wake: spent extensively on church buildings

Dorothy Wake and James Pennyman were married on July 14, 1722. They set up home in Ormesby Old Hall, the Pennymans’ estate in the north of Yorkshire. Dorothy was the fourth daughter of William Wake, the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1716 to 1737.

James was the eldest son of Sir James Pennyman of Thornton. The Pennyman family had been living in North Yorkshire for generations, 1495 being the oldest surviving family will. Ormesby Hall was situated in the heart of their estate and a description of the property in a Victorian publication is fascinating.

It was a “curiously built” house. There was an older part that consisted of a square two-sided building, with a courtyard, which in the late 19th century contained the servants’ offices. These rooms would have been originally been built as rooms for the family.

The newer part of the house, built with yellow sandstone to match the older construction, “looks ugly from the outside but is most comfortable to live in with many of the rooms panelled and with mouldings and decorations of a style that is now difficult to obtain.”

The Pennyman family coat of arms, as seen in Ormesby Hall

Then comes a most telling sentence. “This new part of the building was constructed by Dorothy Pennyman, daughter and co-heiress of William Wake, Archbishop of Canterbury.” Perhaps, being used to life in Lambeth Palace, Dorothy had decided that an upgrade was needed.

William Wake died in January 1737, hence the description of Dorothy as co-heiress. William and his wife Ethelreda did have one son, but he died young. Dorothy and the surviving sisters were the recipients of generous bequests from their father, who died a rich man. Bearing in mind that Dorothy would have brought a handsome dowry north with her when she married, this additional money would have helped to pay for the new build at Ormesby.

James Pennyman died in 1743, aged 50, just after the construction had begun. Dorothy and her husband had no children; widowed Dorothy carried on running the estate and building it up, literally, brick by brick we might even say.

If the family and people around her were surprised at Dorothy’s capabilities and knowledge in construction, then they knew little of what she had experienced before her marriage. While at Lincoln and later at Lambeth Palace she would have seen her father planning and overseeing all manner of building projects.

From the monument to James Pennyman that his widow, Dorothy, instructed in her will

At each diocese where he was Bishop, he spent large sums of money on public buildings. On becoming Archbishop, he had surveys completed of his palaces, including Croydon, spending £11,000 on repairs by 1732, worth about £2.5million today. Croydon Palace benefited hugely from Wake’s restorative programme.

Dorothy continued to live at Ormesby until her death on December 2, 1754, aged 55. In her will, she directed that a monument be placed in the local church to her late husband. She, however, choose to be buried with her parents in Croydon Parish Church.

Because of the fire at the church in 1857, her memorial stone was destroyed and Dorothy’s visible commemoration was lost. Many years later, the Wake family had a new memorial stone erected for William and Ethelreda, but Dorothy’s name was not included.

Ormesby House passed through generations of the Pennyman family until the 1960s when it was given to the National Trust. Today it is one of the jewels of the North in the Trust’s portfolio. Visitors can walk around the 250-acre estate with formal gardens, extensive grass and woodland.

Inside the building itself, each room has been carefully restored. The quality and skill of the craftsmen that Dorothy employed were exceptional. Dorothy may not have a memorial in Croydon Minster any more, but the finest of monuments to her is the Palladian mansion just a few miles from Middlesbrough.

When travel restrictions have been lifted and you find yourself in North Yorkshire, do pay a visit to Ormesby and remember the Archbishop’s dear daughter Dorothy.

Read more: 200-year-old documents reveal story behind the graves
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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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