by Cheryl Brewster
The site of Moat Hall on Holywell Lane, Braithwell is one of the most historic sites in the village and yet shrouded in mystery and hearsay. The site currently comprises of a partially moated ruin, a cottage, a well and a building converted to garages but its history reveals a long and varied use of this site and the buildings dating back to the 13th Century. The ruin – the original Moat Hall, is a scheduled monument being an important example of a moated site containing the in situ foundations of medieval buildings. It is seen as the best-preserved medieval grange site in the County.a Whilst the cottage, once a dove cote, is a Grade II listed building. The actual position of the site in relation to the Braithwell is of vital importance as it is at the lowest part of the village and a source of clear spring water which flows through it in a beautiful clear limestone stream as well as having easy access to ground water through a well and moat.
It is certain that the site belonged originally to the monks of nearby Roche Abbey, a Cistercian Monastery, which in the early 13th Century had lands at Braithwell for pasturing sheep until the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th Century. The land was granted to the monks by Thomas, son of Atrop de Braithwell and originally comprised of a number of buildings that possibly extended beyond the present site and ruins.
Moat Hall was once an ecclesiastical building and thought to be a hospital or convalescence house for the monks at Roche Abbey. It was originally a substantial timber framed 2 storey building with 3 arches at the east end on the ground floor and a large stone fireplace at the west end. In between the two halves of the building was an impressive doorway, facing due south, with the stone remains of the chamfered and pointed archway, that surrounded the door, still standing. Opposite this main entrance two moulded stones built into the masonry of the opposite wall suggested that formerly a small door pierced the north side so there was once a small passage dividing the building into two almost equal portions.
It is thought that the eastern side of the building with the arches would have been a chapel with an altar whilst the western side with the fireplace would have been the dwelling place/kitchen. This assumption is based on other similar ancient buildings in the country. The whole site was originally surrounded by a moat and entry to the door was across a drawbridge.
The cottage, now known as Moat Cottage, was a dovecote with remains of the dove nest holes still visible in the loft of the building. Doves were kept by monks as a source of meat and were common on such sites. The third building, now garages/converted, was originally the site of a Tithe barn that was used for grain storage.
It is clear at some point, probably in the 16th Century, that Moat Hall was converted from a Chapel and dwelling into one building to be used as a farm house or grange for the surrounding estates. The three gothic arches on the west side were built around and incorporated into the building. A report from the Doncaster Gazetteb reports that in 1849-50 a visitor talks of ‘entering the house through the beautiful doorway and climbing an old oaken balustrade into a lofty and commodious room.’ Later in the early 19th Century, the Hall was converted into 2 or 3 separate tenements or terraced houses in which villagers lived. A kitchen range was fitted into the fireplace in the western wall during this time. However, the building fell into ruin over the following years and a report from the Doncaster Gazette in 1932c speaks of the dilapidated state of the building with the roof collapsed and only 2 of the 3 tenements being habitable. The Hall was then almost demolished in 1938 under the ‘Slum Clearance Order’. However, its complete destruction was halted as the historic parts of the building were preserved leaving a stone wall to waist height and the 3 arches now revealed and the grand doorway. Mr Crawshaw who lived at Moat cottage in the 1940’s spoke about the removal of the original oak balustrade and nail studded oak front door that were destroyed at this time. In 1942 it is reported that the 3 window arches were removed to a house in Maltby where they form a folly or garden feature at the house of a Mr H. Brown. There was much
tidying of the site during this time and unfortunately a number of stone features including a stone spiral stair were moved.
The tithe barn continued to used as a barn right up to the 1940’s with a report of it having a pan-tiled roof at that time. It was reportedly used as a village hall for a while before being converted to storage and garages.
A mystery surrounding Moat Hall stems from an article on Sir Walter Scott’s famous novel ‘Ivanhoe’ called ‘Ivanhoe country in South Yorkshire’ by Dr Holt Yates. In which he matches places in the novel with real locations in the county. He asserts that St. Edmunds Chapel in Ivanhoe is in fact Moat Hall, Braithwell where the character Athelstane was detained. Other stories from the village about the site include the long standing legend that there is a tunnel or passageway connecting Moat Hall to Roche Abbey. Also there’s a story still in the minds of some villagers that there was a cellar below the Hall that was discovered and was full of wine which was quickly consumed by everyone from the village!
Memories of Moat Hall by village residents: -
Millie Crawshaw told me that around 1937 her father dug up two bronze images of monks in the garden. they were 6-9 inches in height. they went to a museum but despite enquiries I can find nothing about them. She also says a young man came to paint a picture of the old Moat Hall for a museum and again this can’t be traced. Mrs Crawshaw made him tea and cakes during his stay and he painted her a small picture too. Unfortunately, this too has been lost.
When John Vyncent came to live at Braithwell he lived first at what they call ‘Over Hall” – did he build a room to the west measuring 32’ x 18’, as David Hey says or did he build it ‘over-all’? The Moat Hall was reputed to be one storey originally. Did overall mean a second storey? The whole building to the east measures 32’ x 18’ so who can tell? Quite fascinating and something I am afraid we shall only be able to speculate on. All purely conjecture but how wonderful to have this history in our village. Allan says that he is certain that Moat Hall is the same building as the ‘Overhall’ mentioned in these old texts.
Allen says that there was a small lake in the field next to Moat Hall that was in, what was, Pickins field. It was opposite where Holywell Crescent is now.
The Moat Hall site has always been a point of historical interest for the Braithwell villagers and the source of many mysterious stories. As children 1950s/60s we would visit the site from Braithwell village school each year in summer term to look at the Moat Hall ruin and the interesting partial moat and look into the Well - always exciting. Classes included sketching the ruins and area which were painted up later in classes.
My own personal memories of the site start with my Grandmother – Edith Brewster (nee Smith) who lived in one of the tenement cottages when the Moat Hall was divided into two or three dwellings. She moved there from outside of the village in the late 1800’s as a child with her sisters and parents. I understood that her Dad - Robert Smith, took on the job of part-time Wesleyan preacher at the village Chapel and she talked about walking across the field at the back of the Moat Hall site to the Chapel on ‘Chapel Lane’ (Austwood Lane). She described the house as a terraced cottage and I remember her saying life in the house was cramped, with her 3 sisters. I also remember thinking that they had to draw water from the well as it wasn’t on tap!
There was a Lake in the field next to Moat Hall (opposite to where entrance to Holywell Crescent is now) that was permanent water when I was a child, my Dad (George Brewster) talked about ice skating on it when he was a kid in the 1920’s. The old Beech trees that border the stream on the other side of the wall to Holywell crescent were always a point of interest for village kids who would hang about the stream and the lake, long before the Holywell crescent site was built on and the area was marshy land. My dad said that the village kids would climb these trees and carve their names in them.
a Monument schedule of repair works November 2014 List Entry Number 1012461
b Doncaster Gazette Article dated 22nd September 1932; Entitled - Where Athelstane Awoke in His Coffin?
c Rotherham Advertiser - 26th March 1938; Entitled - A Fifteenth Century Building – Braithwell’s Moat Hall Saved from Demolition