Minster Lovell Hall and Dovecote, hidden at the top of a tiny Cotswold village, stands quietly and romantically beside the deep, clear, fast-running River Windrush. It boasts an intact ancient dovecote and several original fish ponds. Inside the entrance, there's an impressive remnant of the original vaulted ceiling.
The scenic setting, surrounded by woodland and tucked behind the equally ancient churchyard of St Kenelm's Church, is perfect for a romantic or a family picnic. There's plenty of room for both. And this is the kind of scene that 18th-century landscape painters loved to capture in oils—so if you are artistically inclined, bring your sketch pad.
The Haunting Hall
A manor occupied this site, in the tiny Minster Lovell hamlet of Old Minster, about 15 miles west of Oxford, from the 12th century. But the ruins now standing are all that are left of a house built by the Lovell family in 1430. Like a lot of scenic English ruins, age and time and weather didn't cause it to crumble. Conflicts and politics did.
The Perils of Taking the Wrong Side
William, Baron of Lovell and Holand who built the house around 1430, was one of England's richest men. His son John was a prominent Lancastrian and a courtier of Henry VI. But family fortunes took a nose dive when his grandson Francis Lovell, John's son and the ninth baron, sided with the Yorkists in the Wars if the Roses, the disputes between the houses of York and Lancaster.
He was made a Viscount by King Richard III. But within two years, Richard was killed and the Yorkists defeated at the Battle of Bosworth. Francis Lovell was forced to forfeit his estates and go into a short exile in France. On his return, he took up the losing side once again in a failed Yorkist rebellion and was never heard of again.
Unless of course, you believe the ghost stories...
The Ghostly Wailer of Minster Lovell Hall
Over the centuries, ghostly wailing has been reported around Minster Lovell Hall and St. Kenelm's churchyard. According to local legend, Francis Lovell, who had joined the losing side in the Wars of the Roses, fled back to his estate and hid in a vault at Minster Lovell Hall. He gave a servent the only key.
The servant died shortly after and no one was left of feed, water or rescue Lord Lovell and his little dog. His skeleton, so the story goes, was found by workmen in 1708, surrounded by moldy books and the skeleton of his little dog at his feet. Could this be the ghost who wails in the night?
Perhaps...but there is another, earlier and grislier tale connected with this place.
The Ghostly Bride
In this story, William Lovell's bride disappeared during a game of hide and seek in the hall on her wedding night. Many years later, a servant found the body of a girl dressed in a bridal gown, well preserved in a leaden cool chest used for food storage. Legend, again, suggests that she hid in the chest during the wedding party and the lid fell shut, trapping her inside. As people tell this tale, it is William, wandering the halls searching for his bride, who moans and wails at night.
Plan a visit
- Minster Lovell Hall is in the hamlet of Old Minster, part of the village of Minster Lovell, about 14 miles west of Oxford on the A40 toward Cheltenham.
- On entering the village, which is essentially one street, look for a brown English Heritage sign and a black and white sign for St Kenelms Church. It's a short drive uphill to a small parking area on the right side of the road.
- After parking, walk right, up the lane to St Kenelm's and you will see Minster Lovell Hall behind it.
- If you are using SatNav or a GPS device, program the postcode: Oxfordshire, OX29 0RR.
- Entrance is free and open year round during daylight hours. It's also dog friendly.
- Find directions and a map at English Heritage
Explore the village or the countryside and make a day of it.
A Fine Day Out Near Oxford
Ghosts or no ghosts, a visit to Minster Lovell Hall, combined with lunch or tea in a nearby pub or gastropub makes a great day's outing in Oxfordshire.
There's not much to the hamlet of Old Minster but its street of flower covered Cotswold stone cottages, some with thatch, is lovely. Arrive in warm weather and you could be lucky enough to witness a local cricket match on the village playing field.
St Kenelm's Church, just beside the ruined hall, was built in the 15th century and has been virtually unchanged since 1450. The church is open to visitors during daylight hours, year round.
The Hall is at the center of a network of local public footpaths that skirt fields with browsing cattle and crystal clear, meandering streams before plunging into dark, rustling woodlands. The Oxfordshire County Council maintains several moderate and well waymarked circular walks in the area. Or try an easy 4-mile walk mapped out by the AA that begins and ends on the Old Minster high street.
The AA - and I - also rate the Old Swan, a 600-year-old pub that is part of a luxury country inn, The Old Swan & Minster Mill. Stop there for a beer or an unpretentious pub lunch featuring local ingredients.