Exploring Two Great English Heritage Properties in Lincolnshire – Gainsborough & Thornton Abbey

The history of and the historic properties of the UK is something I’m passionate about and I am so excited that we have the opportunity to explore some of these places. I shall tell you more about an English Heritage pass at the bottom of this post because it also gets you into many other properties across the UK at a discounted price. There are a few small English Heritage properties in Lincolnshire, some of them are free to visit. In this post, I will be reviewing two larger English Heritage properties in the area which are Gainsborough Old Hall and Thornton Abbey and Gatehouse.


English heritage in Lincolnshire

When you become a member of English heritage you are also sent a guidebook telling you all about their properties. This is really useful and with the area maps for reference, I was able to plan our day trip according to what I thought Jamie would enjoy visiting in Lincolnshire.

The first place we visited was Gainsborough Old Hall. This is somewhere I’ve wanted to visit since we moved to the area but I knew it wasn’t a full day trip so I had been putting it off. But with a pass in hand, I knew we would also have time to do something else that day. I chose for us to also visit Thornton Abbey and Gatehouse as it looked stunning from the photos in the book.

Gainsborough Old Hall – English Heritage Property #1

Exploring Two Great English Heritage Properties in Lincolnshire - Gainsborough & Thornton Abbey
Gainsborough Old Hall is so big I couldn’t fit it in one photo

The Hall reminds me of buildings in Stratford Upon Avon and certainly isn’t your typical north Lincolnshire building. Gainsborough Old Hall is right in the centre of Gainsborough, a few miles north of Lincoln. We were quite surprised at its location opposite townhouses and just around the corner from the shops.

Houses over the road from the hall.

The hall is over 500 years old and is one of the best-preserved timber-framed manor houses in England. Their websites states how it is often described as a ‘hidden gem in Lincolnshire’. They are not wrong, it truly is. It was visited by two famous Kings Richard III and Henry VIII. It also has links to the Pilgrim fathers that sailed on the Mayflower to Boston, USA.

Our Visit to Gainsborough Old Hall

You enter via the gift shop and café and we were given a written guide to help us around the rooms. We were offered an audio guide which we saw most people using with headphones. We decided that Jamie would prefer it if we weren’t otherwise engaged. They now use iGuides which are also visual, therefore great for kids. There is no extra charge to use these.

You are recommended a route to follow and it is worth following this so you don’t miss anything out. The first main room you enter is the Great Hall. This really did have the wow factor. This is the kind of room we would have loved our wedding reception in.

The Great Hall
An out of character but impressive window in the Great Hall

I have to say that most of our visit had the wow factor and myself and my Mum were very impressed by the house. It really, hand on heart, is worth a visit. I don’t know if my photos will do it justice but it was a lovely place to visit. Full of fascinating rooms and history. There are plenty of easy to read signs providing you with further information. Jamie loved exploring and was keen to be the leader to see what other exciting rooms he could find.

One of the most impressive kitchens I’ve ever seen

After a couple of smaller rooms you make your way down to the kitchen and we were so impressed by it. They had set it out so well that it felt like you were stepping back in time. I was enthusiastically explaining everything to Jamie but I’m not quite sure he really understood how impressive it was.

After spending some time in the kitchen you then wander up and down staircases to other rooms in the hall.

Other notable rooms are the bedroom with the small window looking over the great hall. This is perfect for spooking anyone that’s down below as they have no clue where the sound is coming from.

The impressive bedroom next to the Great hall.

It is worth making the short walk up the spiral staircase to the roof of the hall. The view is lovely and it was worth the opportunity to see the house from a different perspective.

Out on the rooftop

They vary their exhibitions throughout the year. During our visit, they had costumes there from the TV series Wolf Hall. These were fascinating and Jamie thought they looked very ‘uncomfortable’.

Costumes from Wolf Hall

Mum read most of the guide to us but Jamie was really captivated by the story of the ghost of the ‘Grey Lady’. You will have to visit yourself so you can find out about her, Jamie said it was his favourite thing about our day out.

Downstairs near the café, they have a section about the owner helping some of the Pilgrim Fathers on their pilgrimage on board the Mayflower. This is something I feel they need to touch upon more in nearby Boston so it was nice to read about them. The dining room next to this room is well worth a look.

We stopped for our lunch in the café which was tasty and fairly priced. After this, we drove onwards to our next stop. More information on Gainsborough Old hall can be found at the end of this post.

Thornton Abbey and Gatehouse – English Heritage property #2

The gatehouse at Thornton Abbey in Lincolnshire

This was a good 45 minutes drive from Gainsborough as it’s right up near Immingham and the Humber estuary. But I figured that we may as well do them both on the same day as at some point along the line it did save us some driving time rather than doing them on different days. It was our English Heritage exploring day after all.

The car park for the gatehouse is tiny and we only just managed to get a space. The Gatehouse itself takes up a much bigger section in the English Heritage guidebook than the hall yet we probably spent longer at Gainsborough. But this should not deter you from visiting because I have honestly never been anywhere quite like it. The gatehouse is breathtaking in design. I could have taken 30+ photos.

Exploring Two Great English Heritage Properties in Lincolnshire - Gainsborough & Thornton Abbey
The stunning design of the gatehouse

Once you have paid or shown your pass in the small shop (toilet facilities are also available) you enter the gatehouse via a large wooden staircase.

The Gatehouse at Thornton Abbey

Entrance to the gatehouse

The 14th Century three-storey gatehouse is the largest and one of the finest in the country. The abbey was one of the richest in the country and the gatehouse certainly reflects that even today.

It was so much fun wandering the corridors, peering out of the arrow slits and walking up and down staircases. There was so more to wander around and see than there looks to be. There are even rooms with fireplaces within the gatehouse.

The ‘spooky’ corridors
Unexpected fireplaces
There’s a few display cabinets to look in, including locally found items.


The Abbey

Little remains today of Thornton abbey, however, there are extensive earthworks that give you an idea of its vast structure. The church itself is said to have been constructed starting back in 1264. Just two walls of the chapter house walls remain.

Chapterhouse walls

To get to the Abbey you have to walk across working farmland. For us, this involved walking past sheep. Of course Jamie had to stop for a chat with them.

A view from the Abbey to the Gatehouse

There are a few signs dotted around the site telling you more about the abbey and giving you an idea of how it used to look.

We spent quite a while wandering around and exploring. It was fun to think what each area was used for or could have looked like. The oddest thing was the grass, it was so spongy in places that you felt like you were literally walking over empty spaces. The gatehouse didn’t look quite so lavish from the other side as we walked back. It was still incredibly impressive though. This concluded our visit. I have to say we were pleasantly surprised by both properties and I would certainly visit them both again, especially with an iGuide at Gainsborough old hall.


English Heritage Pass

With an adult, English Heritage pass you are entitled to take along up to 6 children for free under 19 years old and within the family group. You can join monthly for £4.50 or annually for £54. Two adults would pay £8 monthly and £96 a year. They have reduced senior and student rates. You can find out more by following this link.

Become a Member of English Heritage and make savings today

An English heritage pass gives you unlimited entry to over 400 historic places. You also receive money off many other places such as Harewood house and also places owned by Welsh heritage (Cadw) and Scottish heritage (Historic Scotland). Plus Ireland (OPW), Isle of Man (Manx national heritage) and New Zealand (Heritage New Zealand).

Entry on the day

Both of the English heritage places that we visited are not free to enter. You can either visit with a pass or pay for entrance on the day you visit. To visit Gainsborough Old hall without a pass it would cost £8.50 for an adult, £4.20 for a child (5-18 years – under 5’s are free) and £6.70 for a concession. A family pass is £21.20 (2 adults and up to 3 children). Prices are subject to change. The hall is open nearly all year round except for a couple of weeks in December. Please check before visiting.

To visit Thornton Abbey and gatehouse without a pass it would cost £5.40 for an adult, £3.20 for a child (5-18 years – under 5’s are free) and £4.90 for a concession. A family pass is £14.00 (2 adults and up to 3 children). Prices are subject to change. The gatehouse and Abbey is mostly shut on weekdays and just opens at the weekend, it is open most school holidays. Please check before visiting. For other family-friendly days out ideas at English Heritage properties please see – Top 15 English Heritage Sites to Visit as a Family.

UK Family Days Out

Disclaimer: We were given an annual family pass for the purpose of my review. All words, photos and opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. It will cost you no extra to click to book on any of our links.

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Exploring Two Great English Heritage Properties in Lincolnshire – Gainsborough & Thornton Abbey


  1. Ooooh this is right up my street, I love English heritage and national trust places. I love the gate house and the old walls, and the abbey… just the architecture is stunning! I really enjoyed reading all about the properties too so thanks for sharing 🙂

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