Rothley Court (also known as Rothley Temple)7076

Leicester, England, Leicestershire, Charnwood

Pgds 20120128 162833 Rothley Court Postcard 1

Brief Description

The manor house, formerly known as Rothley Temple, now Rothley Court Hotel, is set behind high stone walls, which conceal it from the road. Manicured lawns and shrub borders surround the house and outbuildings. Beyond them, there is English parkland with fine trees, extending into neighbouring fields which originally formed part of the estate. To the north-west of the house is a walled garden and, to the south, running from the terrace, is a straight path, punctuated by a stone pool and fountain, which leads down to Rothley Brook.


The site dates from the 11th century. Rothley Court (formerly Rothley Temple) was owned by the Knights Templar and subsequently the Knights Hospittaler from 1231 to 1540. From 1565 for the next three hundred years, it was home to the Babington family. The manor house is late-16th-/early-17th-century with remodeling in the 18th century and significant alterations and additions in 1894/95. Since 1959, it has been a hotel.

Visitor Facilities

Open 7 days a week - 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.


Sloping gently, north to south


  • Informal
  • Kitchen Garden
  • Description: The walled garden appears for the first time on William Emes plan of 1782 as `Kitchen Garden?. It is divided into two halves by a path and is screened from the Manor House by a belt of tree planting. It appears on subsequent plans and there is a small greenhouse at the east end. It is not until the 1902 Ordnance Survey map that this is replaced by a much larger greenhouse.
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  • Gate Lodge
  • Description: The gate lodge is possibly by John Ely of Manchester. It has a Swithland slate roof with a brick side and rear chimney stacks. It has crow-stepped gables, mullion windows with leaded lights and there are similar lancet windows above.
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  • Gate
  • Description: Between the right gate pier and the left side of the lodge, there is a linking wall with a Gothic arched doorway and door. There are a pair of wrought iron gates to the drive. The left gate pier is linked to a small round folly tower.
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  • Brook
  • Description: The Rothley Brook lies to the south of the manor house. On the 1729 formal garden plan, there is a small island where the brook widens out. However, on the Emes plan of 1782, the island is no longer present. The small lake is subsequently referred to on later plans as `Rothley Temple Water?.
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  • Country House (featured building)
  • Description: Post-medieval mansion house, mostly 18th- and 19th-century in date though incorporating the remains of 16th-century manor house fabric, the 13th-century preceptory and chapel. There is some 17th-century panelling and an 18th-century staircase. The house is of granite rubble stone, with small parts in red brick, with stone dressings, stone and brick and stone cornice and parapet in part. There is a Swithland slate roof with brick ridge and side stacks.
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  • Chapel
  • Description: The Templar Chapel, which is attached to the house, dates from the 13th century.
Access & Directions

Access Contact Details

Open 7 days a week - 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.


The village of Rothley lies approximately 8 miles to the north of Leicester, just off the A6 Leicester - Loughborough Road. Rothley Court is situated to the west of the village, on the road to Cropston.

Civil Parish

  • Rothley

Detailed History

Domesday Book in 1086 recorded that the Manor and Soke of Rothley with 22 outlying dependent hamlets was held by William the Conqueror. A Manor was an estate held by a lord, with tenant farmers, and a Soke was a term arising under the Danelaw (literally a safe place) and was a linked group of settlements, which gained the benefits of safe and orderly internal government and land transfer.

On 6th July 1281, Henry III made a gift of his rights and lands at Rothley to the Knights Templar, a monastic order of knights founded in the twelfth century for the protection of pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land. His intention was to bequeath his body to the Order for burial and prayers for his immortal soul. By 1235 the village of Rothley was confirmed to the Templars, along with land, the wood, the mill and rents from the villagers. They established a residence about a kilometre to the west of the main village settlement, which became known as Rothley Temple. The site was also associated with a hunting park and there is topographical evidence from the enclosure map suggesting that part of the original boundary survived. They set up a regional Preceptory (headquarters) at Rothley with the primary objective of raising money to meet their religious obligations in the Middle East. A Chapel was added to the Preceptory, which is still in existence. Deeds dating from 1331 list two orchards - "the fruit and herbage of which are worth 20s a year, a dovecote with 6s 8d a year and two mills, one water and one wind, worth 60s a year".

In 1312, Templars were dissolved by Pope Clement V, who pronounced that the lands which they had held should be handed over to the Knights Hospitaller, in order to continue the support of the cause in the Holy Land. The Hospitallers, like the Templars, were warrior monks, and already held lands in Leicestershire, at Old Dalby. They administered their soke at Rothley from there, probably leasing out the demesne to sub-tenants.

Some of the Hospitallers were named within the Rothley court documents, including a number of members of the Babington family, shown as knights in the early-16th century. On 24th June 1529, a lease for 29 years was granted to Humphrey Babington, by the Prior and Brethren of the Order. At the time of the Dissolution of the Knights Hospitaller in 1540, Humphrey retained the manor house and certain of its lands, but the bulk of the estate, which had been owned by the Hospitallers, reverted to the Crown. This lease was subsequently extended but it was not until 1565, during the reign of Elizabeth I, that the entire estate passed to Humphrey Babington, grandson of the above.

The Babington family continued to hold the manor house and the estate through many generations, until 1845.

There is evidence of a formal garden around the manor house from a copy of a plan dated 1729. This was found among the papers of the late Rodney Offley, a Rothley historian, but unfortunately, there is no further corroborative information. To the east of the Manor House is an area titled ‘Green Court' with a barn and dovecote. To the south is a stable and a malt house and to the west are formal gardens. Between these and the Rothley Brook are two stew ponds. There is a mill on the Brook and an orchard beyond, to the south-east.

In 1742, following a kitchen fire, a new wing was built on to the south of the house. The date is shown on a chimney.

In 1776, Thomas Babington (1758-1827), the last Babington owner of the Manor, inherited the estate after the death of his father. He had been well-educated to equip him for this task, attending Oakham and Rugby Schools and then reading Classics, Mathematics and the Law at St. John's College, Cambridge. He was joined at Cambridge by Thomas Gisborne, the son of a Derbyshire landowner and merchant, and William Wilberforce. The three became close friends.

Babington completed his Law studies at Lincoln's Inn in 1779 and then set about the modernization of his estates at Rothley. In 1780, a map of the Rothley Parish was produced by J. Seagrave for the Enclosure Commissioner. Babington's Enclosure Act of 1781 reorganized the land distribution along more efficient lines and released land in small plots to the poorer people of Rothley so that they could have land to grow food.

In 1782, William Emes produced a plan for the estate. Keith Goodway, an authority on Emes, who compiled the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry, comments that the wording on the plan is ambiguous. It reads "with some alterations by William Emes" making it unclear whether the plan shows alterations he had already carried out or alterations that he was proposing. He goes on to say that the plan is not one of his more exciting designs and that it gives the impression that he had to compromise more than usual to meet the demands of agriculture - there are very clear field boundaries and the fields tend to be rather rectangular. The woodlands are sited to screen the kitchen garden, farmyard and possibly a small rectangular drying ground by the house - and the boundaries. The lake has been formed by damming the brook. He states that the cartography of the plan is typical of Emes style.

He goes on to suggest a possible reason for Emes' involvement at Rothley. Thomas Babington's sister, Mary, married Thomas Gisborne (Babington's old university friend) who lived at Yoxhall Lodge, Staffordshire. Yoxhall was visited by Emes when he was Head Gardener at Kedleston. This is a tenuous but possible explanation for the choice of William Emes as a garden designer.

In 1819, a survey plan was produced which appears to shows that some of Emes' proposals had been carried out. Most interestingly, the plan is annotated by Babington with corrections and notes regarding dates of tree planting. For example, Babington writes: "The plan is inaccurate as to the position of the trees in the lawn in front of the Temple. The.... Oaks there were planted in 1805, and a few in 1808. The plants were from acorns gathered by me (T. Bab.) at Hillerston, Devonshire in 1796." Many of the acorns were from Turkey Oaks, Quercus cerris, which are vigorous and very tough, but, unfortunately, are not good timber trees. In an account book for the period 1781-1790, Babington records tree planting "by plain of young oaks" in December 1782 and also "planted in hedge....rows on the enclosure.. 1700 Oaks £8 8s 6d, 607 Elms £6 2s 6d, 50 Beech £0 17s 0d, 20 Lombardy Poplars £0 5s 0d" also "setting acorns with the price of them 10d a strike = £4 3s 0d".

In her memoir "Rothley Temple in the Old Time", Babington's granddaughter, Eliza Coneybeare, recalled "My Grandfather was very fond of his young trees, and my brother Edward, who was the happy possessor of a javelin, and always imagined himself an old knight.... was forever rushing about, making the javelin quiver in the trunks of these trees, his supposed enemies, and much to the detriment of the bark." She went on to write: " Well, Edward on this occasion had climbed some cherry trees in the paddock behind the house. These cherry trees had grown to the size of forest trees, and added much to the beauty of the Temple in the spring, when they were one mass of white blossom, which turned afterwards into the most delicious little black cherry.... The boys of the family or about the stable yard were for ever set to climb the trees and throw down the cherries, which we gathered up in large baskets and carried off to eat in the boat, which was generally moored on these occasions under the thick branches of the paddock oak, stretching far over the water."

At the same time as developing his estate, Thomas Babington became involved with Wilberforce's campaign for the Abolition of Slavery and worked with him and Gisborne to prepare evidence and plan strategy. In 1787, he married Jean Macaulay, whose brother, Zachary was also prominent in the anti-slavery movement. In 1800 Babington became MP for Leicester till 1818. He died in 1837.

In 1842, a plan was produced by John Bromley, a Derby surveyor, for the executors of the will of Thomas Babington. A sale had finally been agreed of the entire estate to Babington's son-in-law, Sir James Parker, the Vice Chancellor of England. The map, with the accompanying valuation schedule, formed the basis of the sale.

In 1852, Sir James Parker died and the estate passed to his son, Harry Rainy Parker, a farmer and magistrate. During his ownership, the manor house was occupied by tenants. The 1861 and 1871 Censuses both record that there was only one gardener. Little was done to the property during this period.

In 1893, Harry Rainy Parker sold the entire estate in lots. The sale catalogue described it as: "The Interesting Old Manor House, known as ‘Rothley Temple'. There was a "finely-timbered park of about 30 acres" approached by "long carriage drives, one with lodge entrance". The gardens were described as "Pleasure Grounds, Stone-walled Kitchen Garden, Orchard and Lawns, inexpensive to maintain, two men being sufficient". An illustration of the property and its grounds appeared in the Illustrated London News of 4th November.

The Temple and its grounds were purchased in 1893 by Frederick Merttens (1849-1935), a German émigré, who had left Prussia because of the rise of militarism. He had become a successful Manchester cotton merchant. In 1894, he set about developing both the house and the grounds. The garden front of the house and a new wing were designed by John Ely of Manchester. A new gate lodge, turret, piers and gates were constructed, possibly also by John Ely. By 1897, Merttens and his wife were fully resident at the Temple and three children were born.

The 1901 Census shows 2 gardeners, father and son (William and Harry Marsh) residing in the Gardener's cottage and another gardener (William Selway) in the Groom's cottage. This would indicate that Merrtens had developed the gardens by this time.

Merttens set about planning a new housing development, Rothley Garden Suburb, which formed part of a growing national movement for garden cities. This was to be on his lands to the north and north-west of the Manor. The business model was based on selling individual plots of land but only allowing the erection of houses according to conditions in keeping with the required ethos of the project. The Great Central Railway was completed in 1899 and Merttens had persuaded the railway to build a station at Rothley, close to his estate, rather than at the nearby village of Swithland. The plans included a golf course, Rothley Park, to the west of the Manor, and this was opened in 1912.

However, by 1901, Merttens had developed health problems and his London doctor told him that living in Leicestershire was not conducive to his health: he must go and live on the snowline in Switzerland. In three weeks, Merttens sold the animals, dismissed the staff and decamped to Montreux. He died in 1935.

The 1902 Ordnance Survey map shows the new wing and gate lodge as well as a formal path, leading from the house to the brook. The fountain on this path is shown. This features on postcard images from this period. There are extensive greenhouses in the walled garden. None of these elements feature on the OS map of 1885.

Around 1902, Ernest Henry Broadhurst, a cotton trade executive (of Tootal, Broadhurst & Lee), became the tenant of the Temple and continued to live there until the death of his wife in 1949.

In "The King's England - Leicestershire and Rutland", edited by Arthur Mee and originally published in 1937, there is the following description: "... hidden away in its high-walled grounds near the village of Rothley is Rothley Temple, famous as the birthplace of Lord Macaulay. On close inspection, it reveals itself as one of those fascinating houses of English domestic architecture which have added to themselves throughout the centuries, the new blending happily with the old..." There then follows a description by George Trevelyan: "The stately trees, the grounds (half park, half meadow), the cattle grazing up to the very windows; the hall with its stone pavement rather below than above the level of the soil, hung with armour rude and rusty enough to dispel the suspicion of its having passed through a collector's hands...."

During World War 2, the Rothley Home Guard had their HQ in the turret building in the old stables area, near to Westfield Lane.

Shortly after the death of Ernest Broadbent's wife Catherine, in 1949, the owners, Merttens' sons, as Directors of Rothley Temple Estates Ltd., found an alternative tenant, a Mrs. Ward, who leased the Temple as a nursing home. In 1956, the Church opened a new Vicarage on glebe land in the village, putting the commodiuous old Vicarage by the Church up for sale. Mrs. Ward bought it for her nursing home business and left the Temple.

In 1957, Clive Wormleighton, a prosperous speculative builder and owner of Mallory Park Racing Circuit, purchased Rothley Temple. He was a member of the modern order of Knights Templar. Wormleighton changed the name of the house from Rothley Temple to Rothley Court and it was opened as an hotel in 1959. He continued to own the property until 1979.

As a footnote to the history of the garden, in 2004, pieces of stone were discovered outside the Chapel, being used as rockery stone. On closer inspection, these turned out to be an incomplete stone effigy of one of the Knights Templar. The history of Rothley Court had come full circle!


  • Early 20th Century (1901-1932)
Associated People



  • Terry Sheppard


  • Sue Blaxland