VJ Day & The Legend of Teapot Hall

Legend has it that on VJ Day in 1945, airmen returning home to RAF Coningsby from celebrations in Horncastle decided to set fire to one of Lincolnshire’s most unusual buildings, known as Teapot Hall. The hall stood in Dalderby by the junction with the lane to Scrivelsby, and with its steep thatched roof, would have made an incredibly bonfire.

With the 75th anniversary approaching, we set out to investigate the legend and see if any truth could be found.

1930s Fight for Preservation

Although now all but forgotten, Teapot Hall was once one of Lincolnshire’s most famous buildings. Architects and historians puzzled over its age and construction, with leading expert believing it to be a rare survival of the earliest type of construction. It used a cruck frame, with pairs of curving timbers joined together in an A-frame, it was all roof and no walls!

Before the war, Teapot Hall featured in architectural books and journals, and there was even a model of it in London’s Geffrye Museum of Domestic Life in the 1930s.

But in 1937 the cottage was declared unfit for habitation by Horncastle Rural District Council, and its last occupants left. Local people recognised its importance and there were repeated calls to preserve it. Attempts were made to interest the National Trust, and that same year the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) was said to be working to prevent demolition and preserve it.

Whilst demolition was held off, preservation was another matter and the building continued to decay. With the Boston Guardian reporting on 27th July 1938 that urgent action was needed and suggested Teapot Hall:

“might be pulled down and rebuilt in its present state in the grounds of Tattershall Castle, so bringing together two unique examples of domestic architecture in the Horncastle district”.

In 1939 the Lindsey Local History Society announced that it was drawing up a list of notable old buildings that might be “protected from slum clearance and road-building schemes”. Teapot Hall was at the top of the list, and the public were invited to submit their suggestions to the county architect Philip Walter Birkett (also architect of the Holmeleigh Children’s Homes in Horncastle).

Unfortunately it was not until 1947’s Town & Country Planning Act, that the Government eventually brought in measures to legally protect historic buildings, and the ‘Lists’ we know today began by identifying buildings deemed worthy of salvage during London’s Blitz.

The Truth

On the 16th May 1945 the Skegness Standard reported the sad news:

“Unfortunately Teapot Hall has now been practically destroyed by a fire which occurred last week, the origin of which is not known. It was noticed to be on fire at night, and although the National Fire Service were quickly in attendance, the whole of the thatched roof was soon a mass of flames and was even smouldering some days afterwards. Nothing is left of Teapot Hall but a few of the main timbers which supported the roof and what was considered by many a unique example of the early builders art, has disappeared”.

So there is certainly at least a grain of truth to the legend, Teapot Hall really was burnt down in the 1945, but it was during the week of VE Day, not VJ Day. The article says the cause was unknown, but could wartime censorship have meant they could not identify the offenders? Maybe they only confessed later, or perhaps it was all an accident and the coincidence in dates led to gossip that lives on as legend.

So How Old Was Teapot Hall?

20th century plan of Teapot Hall. Source: SLHA

To this day historians continue to debate whether Teapot Hall was really an ancient medieval house, or a more recent folly.

Some have suggested that it might have been built by the Dymokes of Scriveslby during the 18th or 19th century as a picturesque lodge for visitors to their estate. The lane it stands besides leads to Srivelsby, and its equally picturesque Lion Gate. This gate dates to 1530 but it was rebuilt and lion added along with the round cottages in the early 1800s. This may have been inspired by the great landscape designer Humphrey Repton who at this time advised the Dymoke’s on how their parkland could be improved.

In his books on landscape gardening, Repton advised adding picturesque cottages or lodges to the remote gates on an estate, which could otherwise appear “very naked and uninteresting.” He also recommended that such buildings ought to relate to the character and architecture of the house to which they belonged, in order to respect “the laws of unity of design.”

What could be more romantic to greet visitors arriving at the home of the King’s Champion, than a thatched lodge designed to look like it had stood since feudal times? This photograph shows Teapot Hall when there was still a gate across the lane to Scrivelsby, supporting the idea that it was once a gate lodge.

What could be more romantic then to greet visitors arriving at the furthest gate of the home of the King’s Champion, than a thatched lodge designed to look like it had stood there since feudal times? This photograph shows Teapot Hall when there was still a gate across the lane to Scrivelsby, supporting the idea that it was once a gate lodge.

What could be more romantic then to greet visitors arriving at the furthest gate of the home of the King’s Champion, than a thatched lodge designed to look like it had stood there since feudal times? This photograph shows Teapot Hall when there was still a gate across the lane to Scrivelsby, supporting the idea that it was once a gate lodge.

Whilst events 75 years ago mean the real Teapot Hall is sadly no longer with us, this unique building lives on in countless postcards, paintings, and even china models produced by Lilliput Lane.

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