From the style of the architecture of the parts of the building and from tree-ring dating of some of the timbers still present, the present house at Donington was probably built between 1288 and 1295.
From documentary sources, we know that William le May leased land in Donington from Charley Priory. In 1293, Robert de Herle, from Kirby Muxloe, purchased all of William le Mey's land in Donington. This fits well with the dating evidence from the building so Robert de Herle built the house which is on the site today.
Ten years later Robert bought more land there from Thomas, son of Robert de Charleye. We also know that Isabella de Herle, Robert's widow was still living in the house in 1332.
Some of the features of the house along with tree-ring dating of the timbers in the roof, show that the Manor House was heavily modernised in around 1618. It appears that at this time, the downstairs storerooms were converted into a kitchen and a parlour. A new roof was put on and the rooms upstairs were remodelled with a new internal staircase. Externally, the most obvious addition from this period are the large rectangular mullioned windows.
At this time, the house was probably owned by John Digby, whose elder brother, Everard Digby was a close friend of Guy Fawkes and was executed in 1606 for his part in the Gunpowder Plot. John Digby's daughter, Anna, married Thomas Swinglehurst in 1618 and it is possible that the house was modernised and given to the couple as part of her marriage settlement.
By 1670, the house and its land had come into the possession of Thomas Harley, a wealthy man whose main landholdings were at Osgathorpe. When he died, he left a provision in his will setting up a charity, the Harley Trust, which then owned the Manor House.
From 1670 to 1960, the Harley Trust rented out the Manor House as a tenant farm. As the charity spent the rents on its work and the tenants could not afford to make major changes to the house, the house remained unchanged, apart for essential maintenance. Luckily for us, that meant that many of the thirteenth and seventeenth century features were left
The pigsty period - 1960 - 1965
The last tenants left the house in 1960 and it was sold to a local farmer. He then used the building to keep pigs in! Sadly, in this phase, the Manor House was slowly deteriorating. In 1963, the Manor House was scheduled as an ancient monument and in 1965, Leicestershire County Council made the decision to buy the Manor House in order to preserve the building for future generations.
Restoration - 1965 - 1972
The stabilisation and restoration of the Manor House took about seven years.
Finally on July 1st 1973, Donington-le-Heath Manor House was opened to the public as a museum.
Here are some photographs of the Manor House before, during and after restoration.
The Manor House today
Today, the Manor House is a thriving museum. Since 1997, visitor figures have increased from 6,700 per year to over 25,000 per year.
700 years as a family home. - Here is some information about the families who have lived at Donington over the past seven hundred years