What Even Is a Manor?

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By JORDAN LUSINK, Communications Coordinator

In The Secret Garden, Mary Lennox leaves behind everything she knows in India after her parents pass away, and is sent to live with an uncle she has never met in a home called Misselthwaite Manor. But what is a manor?

Manors were originally and historically used during the medieval period in Europe, when the feudal system was in full swing. With the feudal system, a lord would be in charge of dealing with all of the territory in its manorial area, including managing all of the economic and legal business for that area. According to the Church, this feudal system of government was the only system authorized by God.

The manor house itself was typically the administrative center of the manor. In addition to being the dwelling place for many of the feudal lords, the manor house’s primary feature was often its great hall, where legal trials often took place.

And while there were lay lords who had been awarded their manors in return for military service (or cold hard cash, money has always talked), there were also a large portion of manors that belonged directly to the king, and about a third which were held by the Church via bishoprics or monasteries.

The manorial system was effectively over by 1500, thanks in part to general unrest and some good old peasant uprisings, but many of the manor houses themselves remained, often managed and maintained by the families that had preserved them for centuries. Many farms in England are the direct successors of what used to be manor houses. Presumably this hereditary inheritance is the case for Misselthwaite Manor as well, by the time we see the fictional house at the turn of the 20th century when Mary arrives.

Manors in Television and Film

The manor house, though, is quite recognizable to audiences of media, as they are often utilized in period dramas set in England. (Though there is some contention as to what qualifies as an official “manor house” since technically construction didn’t start on many of these until after the manorial system had ended.)

For example, the ever-popular Downton Abbey was filmed at Highclere Castle. (Highclere Castle was also used as a filming location for the British comedy Jeeves & Wooster with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.)

Highclere Castle PC Jonjames1986 CC BY 2.0

The beloved television 90s Pride and Prejudice miniseries starring Colin Firth was filmed partially at Lyme Park.

And though Misselthwaite Manor is likewise a fictional location, both Allerton Castle and Fountains Hall (which is rumored to be haunted) were used as exterior filming locations for the 1993 movie version of The Secret Garden.

Click here to find out more about The Secret Garden and purchase tickets.

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