The house was built by Sir Francis Willoughby at the close of the sixteenth century, while still Queen Elizabeth held the sceptre of the Tudors.
His daughter Bridget married Sir Percival Willoughby, of another branch of the same family. They left five sons. The eldest, Sir Francis, was the father of Francis Willoughby, a great naturalist. His "History of Birds" (in Latin) was published after his death, and is a most valuable work. He died in 1672, leaving two sons and one daughter. This young lady (her name was Cassandra) married James, Duke of Chandos, the "Gracious Chandos" of Pope, whose splendid hospitality and magnificent house at Canons the poet was accused of ridiculing in his Essay on "False Taste "; but Pope denied that he meant to allude to the duke's house.
James Brydges, first Duke of Chandos, was Paymaster of the Forces under Godolphin; and when, in 1711, the public accounts of Godolphin were examined by Harley, thirty-five millions had not been passed; fourteen of these belonged to the Paymaster's department. He was, however, successfully defended by St. John.
Francis Willoughby's eldest son died young and unmarried. His second son was created a peer in 1711. On the death of Thomas, Lord Middleton, without children, the estate descended to Henry Willoughby, Esq., of Birdfall, County York.
In consequence of the want of issue in many of this family, the title and estates have generally gone to a distant relative of the last peer.
Wollaton Hall is a really grand building in the Italian style, built when the Gothic of Elizabeth's reign was undergoing a change. It is square, with large towers at each angle with pinnacles, and in the centre the body of the house rises higher than the towers, with projected coped turrets at the corners. The front and sides arc adorned with Ionic pilasters, and there arc very rich mouldings.
"In the richness of its ornaments it is surpassed by no mansion in the kingdom."
The hall is very fine; the roof, which is at a great height from the floor, is supported by arches. There is a beautiful screen with Doric pillars; and there are a great many quaint devices under the beams, as satyrs' heads, chimeras, etc., etc.
Laguerre was the painter who adorned the walls and ceilings.
The rooms are all lofty and spacious, and the house has really more resemblance to a palace than to a family mansion. it is the seat of Lord Middleton.