Although frequently grouped along with Worksop, Welbeck, Clumber and Thoresby, Rufford was never actually a ducal seat. It gets classed as a Dukeries property because of its geographic location and family links.
Before the Norman Conquest, Rufford was the property of the Saxon Lord, Ulf. William the Conqueror gave the land over to Gilbert de Gand. His successor (also a Gilbert), founded a Cistercian abbey there in 1148. The English Pope, Adrian IV gave the blessing for the abbey in 1156, after which the villagers of surrounding Grimston, Cratley, Inkersall, and Rufford itself were evacuated to make way for the expanding abbey grounds.
In 1538 the abbey was dissolved after two agents for of the Crown, sent specifically for the purpose, brought dubious charges against Thomas Doncaster the seventh abbott. The only part of the abbey which remains today (2014) is the crypt, which later became the servants’ quarters, and the adjoining cellars.
After the dissolution the remains of the abbey, its grounds and three water mills, soon passed to George Talbot, 4th Earl of Shrewsbury in an exchange with the Crown for castles and properties in Ireland. When George’s grandson the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury married Bess of Hardwick the link between Rufford and the emerging “Dukeries” was forever sealed.
Starting in 1560 the old monastic buildings were gradually converted into a house. In 1626 Mary Talbot, daughter of the 6th Earl, inherited the estate which then passed to her husband upon her marriage to George Saville in 1590. The Savile family and their descendants would make it their home. Notable additions to the building were to be a new north wing in 1679, with reception rooms and a long gallery, and a large stable block. The property continued to be a family home to the Savile’s until 1938 when the third Baron Savile inherited the estate as a 12 year old minor and his trustees divided the property into lots for auction.
During Word War 2, in November 1941, the 144th Regiment RAC was formed at Rufford Abbey with the intention of converting the 8th East Lancashires infantry unit into an armoured tank division. Lt-Col S.T. James was the commanding officer. I can also verify, due to the fact my father was one such soldier stationed there, that they received a visit from a not too healthy looking King George 6th, apparently reduced to wearing a degree of make-up in order to compensate for his sickly appearance.
You can read more about The Dukeries on these links: Welbeck
, and Clumber
, and more about Bess of Hardwick and her role in the formation of the Dukeries on THIS LINK
. And more about World War 2 and the Dukeries on THIS LINK