An early example of a Solar Tower plus the adjacent Manor House although the latter is a private residence with no public access. The highlight is the impressive wall paintings which, although having lost their colour, give a rare insight into the decorative schemes that would have adorned many residences.
Notes: The tower is found just off Thorpe Road. There is no dedicated car park but a variety of options are available including the woodland park highlighted above.
Wall Paintings. The elaborate wall paintings were once a common site in many castles and major residences. It was probably through his service to Peterborough Abbey, which like many religious communities were patrons of the arts, which put Robert in contact with the artisans who painted them.
Longthorpe Tower was built as an addition to an existing fortified manor house in the late thirteenth century by Robert Thorpe. He was a lawyer employed by Peterborough Abbey and it was through his connections there where he acquired the services of the artisans who decorated an elaborate Painted Chamber in the new Tower.
HISTORY OF LONGTHORPE TOWER
The oldest surviving part of Longthorpe is the Great Chamber which was built between 1250-70 by William Thorpe and probably replaced an earlier structure on the site. Certainly his family had held the lands since the late twelfth century as major tenants of Peterborough Abbey. This had been founded in AD 655, rebuilt in 1118 and, by the mid-thirteenth century, was the dominate landowner around Peterborough with vast wealth generated from its holdings and the pilgrims that flocked to see its relics - the blooded robes of Thomas Becket and an arm of St Oswald. It was in the Abbey's service that William's son, Robert Thorpe, made his fortune and funded construction of the Tower between 1290-1300. This was a clear statement as to his social status - the design was a scaled version of Hedingham and Rochester Castles - and was intended to impress. It seems Robert remained unsatisfied however for he left the Abbey's employment in 1317 and went to work for Edward II. He was knighted in 1320 but a decade later was back at Longthorpe. The painted chamber - with its scenes demonstrating Robert's wealth, religious devotion and connections with Royalty - was decorated around 1330.
In the early years of Edward III's reign, the midlands went through a period of significant lawlessness in which unscrupulous members of the gentry utilised gangs of thieves to burgle, kidnap and extort money from their rivals. On 10 December 1327 Robert Thorpe brought a legal case against a number of minor magnates who had attacked Longthorpe, stole £200 worth of property and held him prisoner until he paid £100 ransom. Clearly his tower had proven inadequate against attack.
When Robert died, Longthrope passed through his descendants until William Thorpe died childless in 1391. Thereafter it passed to John Whittlebury, MP for Rutland, but his main residence was in Whissendine and Longthorpe became a secondary residence. Around 1501 it was sold to a London merchant, William Fitzwilliam, and it remained with his descendants until the twentieth century. At some point, perhaps following the Reformation, the Painted Chamber was whitewashed. However, during WWII the tower was used as a base for the Home Guard and it was during re-decoration after the war that the wall paintings, hidden for centuries under the layers of whitewash, were re-discovered. In 1948 Captain Fitzwilliam gifted Longthorpe Tower (but not the adjoining hall) to the nation.