carpet of snowdrops near the ruinous grotto at Thornton College

The Grotto can be found in a wood in the west end of the grounds of Thornton College. At the time of its construction the grotto would have been more visible than it is today and would have had a view of the river. In the spring there is an area carpeted with snowdrops. (Photo left 1969 of Tanya Egan and Terry Green.)

In the late 1700s it was the vogue for the gentry to have a folly or grotto built in the grounds of their country houses, either on the sky line or in the garden to enhance the view. The Ruinous Grotto at Thornton was a kind of summer house with seating all round.

It was built in the late 1700s by Dr. William Cotton and his son-in-law Thomas Sheppard (Lords of the Manor from 1779-1821) as part of the building programme that ravaged the church.

The Gentleman's Magazine (December 1801) however, applauded the alterations, describing the church as 'a neat and commodious building and a pattern for all churches and chapels, for the purpose of true devotion'.

It is presumed that the church's chancel and chantry chapels were pulled down because of structural damage. It was more economic to make the church smaller as the parish had shrunk. The demolished parts were taken to build the grotto.

The door of the grotto was gothic. The windows and the glass dated from the 14th century.

The magnificent carved sides of Robert Ingylton's tomb-chest, together with mediaeval floor-tiles and fragments of stained glass, were carted off from the church to embellish the curious grotto, where they were discovered in 1945.

In 1946, after 150 years of relegation in fragments to the garden grotto, Robert Ingylton's tomb-chest was reassembled, returned to the church and placed in the nave, to be joined in 1994 by the effigy of the 14th century priest discovered beneath the floorboards in the north aisle.

The Ruinous Grotto
The Ruinous Grotto


The red arrows on the picture (above right) indicate where iron anchors and cement are. It is thought that they held the faces of dragons. In 1945 Major Owen Evans made a note saying that he saw a wood dragon face hanging on one of the points (see sketch).

Statues are thought to have been in the arches on either side of the Gothic door. These may have been sold in the 1904 sale of the estate.

The blue arrow shows the position of the stone corbel (see pic below)

stone corbel

The stone corbel above the door came from the church. Another one of similar size was found during the 1994 restoration work on the church. (Now mounted inside the church on west wall of the south aisle.)

Frost has severely damaged it. This picture shows its condition in 1962.

Click here for information about the other stone corbel.

tiled roof (part of the Ruinous Grotto)

All the walls were capped with red hand made tiles, possibly made at the local Thornton brickworks. Note the iron anchors and cement. pic. July 2002.

The walls of the grotto are made from local limestone. The central arch shows the collapsed cave (with rubble from the pinnacle above the cave structure).

Originally there was a sloping Welsh slate roof. Presumably there was a gutter at the back. The roof began to collapse in the 1940s and nothing of it now remains.

Correspondence from the County Archaeological Society about the discovery of Robert Ingleton's tomb chest by Major Owen Evans on 26th December 1945.

On the floor were a number of tiles of a type known to have been made at Penn in Buckinghamshire during the 14th century. The four tiles form a pattern as follows:-

A bird's head in each corner. Four squiggles in the centre and closed within a circle out of which grew 12 multi-foils enclosed within a larger circle.

These were surrounded by larger, later red and black tiles made in Victorian times.

Another single tile was also found. It is presumed that it might have come from the church.

tileTile type 2
Shown below are pictures of Robert Ingylton's tomb inside the Ruinous Grotto, taken in 1946.

The pigments and gold have worn off the carvings although there are still traces of chevrons and bars on the shields. The window frames survive in the grotto but the glass was vandalised many years ago

The tomb chest

End of Tomb Chest and pieces of mediaeval stained glass (now destroyed)

The tomb chest

Side of Tomb Chest

opposite end of the tomb chest

Opposite end of the Tomb Chest

the tomb chest

Remaining side of Tomb Chest

 Collapsing ceiling with lath and plaster giving way

Collapsing ceiling with lath and plaster giving way

Pictures taken by Chapman of Buckingham, 1945.