Cheshire’s Crowning Glories, Part Three

        Leaving the far southeast corner of Cheshire and passing by Macclesfield on the way, only four miles south of Knutsford, off the A50, Peover Hall makes its home on fifteen acres of landscaped gardens including 5 walled gardens boasting every type of flower, a moat with lime avenues and perfect topiary work. This altered Elizabethan Manor House, which was built in 1585 by Sir Randal Mainwaring has very attractive building works throughout the estate with Carolean Stables that are Grade 1 listed- higher than the home itself !They were a gift from Ellen Mainwaring to her son, Thomas. The stable block with a plain exterior and Tuscan-style columns were built in 1654. A new stable-block, coach house plus Georgian extensions were added by Sir Henry Mainwaring, the last male heir, in 1764. The estate remained in the possession of the Mainwaring family until 1919 at which time it was sold to John Graham Peel who was a cotton magnate. The Georgian T-wing extension was demolished in 1964 and a new Elizabethan brickwork façade erected in its place by R.B. Wood-Jones who was commissioned by the current owners, the Brooks family. Peover’s claim to fame is its occupation by General Patton during WWII and was used as a POW camp and a resettlement home for allied prisoners among other repatriated Englishmen.
     As you can imagine, this did not improve the house and is one of the reasons for demolition in the 60s along with modifications and the addition of a new three-bay facade. This red brick rectangular mansion is still privately owned by the Brooks family and retains a lot of charm. The earliest parts of the house are two-storied and the gabled southwest front has a flat roof. All sides wink at visitors with mullioned and transomed windows from every part. The interiors hold much of the charm. The sitting room features 16th century woodwork and furnishings, the dining room paneling and pilasters came from Horsley Hall, Clwyd (Wales) and contains 18th century furniture and art. The Morning Room has beautiful paneling with ornate bookcases from Oteley, the Mainwaring’s Victorian seat at Shropshire. One first floor bedroom has a wonderful view of the yew garden topiaries, all installed in more modern times, surprisingly.
     A Georgian oak dog-leg staircase along the northeast side leads up to the Long Gallery which has scissor-trussed beams overhead and is filled with the current family’s  possessions. The Drawing Room, in the center of the house,  reveals  portraits of Hanoverian monarchs, George III among them, and a 1639 Van Dyck of Wentworth, the Earl of Strafford , with his secretary, Phillip Mainwaring, of course. Phillip was knighted in 1636 for his service to Stafford towards the efforts of a State for Ireland.
     Underneath, the former kitchens are now the Great Hall which has diagonal oak beams overhead, two large fireplaces which sit opposite to each other and Mainwaring arms and armor are displayed  along with two dressers, one sporting The Knights of the Round Table and the other, scenes from Pilgrim’s Progress.            St Lawrence’s Church
     On the grounds, St. Lawrence’s Church nearby contains several Mainwaring tombs and the north Chapel was added by the family in 1648. A south Chapel attached to the Church was built by Ellen Mainwaring for Phillip. The red brick two-storied, nine bay coach house still stands, built on a stone plinth with stone dressings and a slate roof and a cupola with a clock which makes it look distinctive. Ashlar gate piers with wrought iron gates, a mounting block and an unusual sundial also add subtle ambience to the estate.
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 Tabley House facade

     Tabley House and Tabley Old Hall  are not far away- only a couple of miles northwest just off of the M6! This splendid neo-Palladian country mansion, the original seat of the Leicester family for 700 years, is one of the best examples of period architecture during the Georgian era to be seen in Cheshire. The wonderful nine-bay south front is its best feature with a four-columned Doric portico and Baroque curved twin staircases.  The expansive lawn showcases the classical façade to best advantage. The old hall sits on an island on the lake behind the courtyard in isolation, nearly forgotten.
      A portion of Tabley House can be toured showing off the entrance hall, Octagon room and the gallery. Designed by Carr of York in 1761, its staterooms are filled with so much art that it has become an art museum extraordinaire housing the country’s most important paintings and principally collected by Sir John Fleming Leicester, the 1st Lord de Tabley. Among the collection merveille are Fuseli, Lawrence, Northcote and John Martin works and a beautiful family collection including works by J.M.W. Turner, Dobson, Lely and Reynolds. These collections are displayed throughout the mansion and dominate even the fine furnishings of Gillow, Bullock and Chippendale.  Be sure to include the Oak Hall in your visit where the genealogical family tree is displayed and James Northcote’s version of Reynolds portrait of Sir John Fleming ! You will find art in the old entrance hall, drawing room, common parlor (which shows off delightful Rococo plaster work on the ceiling! ), dining room, oak hall and gallery. 
     St. Peter’s Chapel houses a portion of the Old Hall which occupied the same island in the Nether Tabley mere, referred to as The Moat from 1674. The Old Hall dated from 1380 and was abandoned when Tabley House was built. Because of undermining by brine-pumping, the Chapel was moved to its present location in 1827 when the foundations of the Old Hall began to crumble. By 1829 the Old Hall was demolished. The Old Hall Room of the Chapel (now called the Tea Room) was built at the same time preserving some of the feel of the old house. Besides being in the possession of the University of Manchester, portions of this former home are a Nursing and Retirement Home. A unique arrangement for a mansion of this caliber.
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                                           Tatton Hall
      Two miles north of Knutsford, Tatton Hall and Tatton Old Hall  are set in two thousand acres of freely landscaped parkland with lakes and a deer park. Tatton Hall’s magnificence manages to dominate the scene by sheer beauty of construction alone. It has been a popular filming site for many years. Commissioned by Samuel and, later, Wilbraham Egerton, this monumental work by both Wyatts was built between the period of 1780-1813  although it was started originally in 1716 on 25,000 acres which stretched into Derbyshire land. This work included a conservatory. Tatton was donated to the National Trust in 1958 by the 4th Baron Maurice Egerton whose personal collection of art is on permanent display there.
     This grey two-storied Palladian Villa is also featured with a portico and hipped roof but the front is decorated with a marvelous landscaped multi-tiered garden. Like Tabley, its staterooms are filled with works of art in all mediums and furnished similarly but some furnishings are works of art all by themselves. The entrance hall shows off a Greco-Roman precedent with porphyry columns, coved ceiling with classical motifs and a painting by Calvert of an Egerton hunting expedition. Four reception rooms surround the domed staircase hall among them the music room hung in red silk damask, alcove bookshelves with leather-bound scores and Guercino’s Absalom and Tamar featured. The library is the dominate center where most of the books were collected in the 18th century or earlier with the core of the collection from the 16th century acquired by Thomas Egerton- the first Lord Egerton who lived during the reign of Elizabeth and James I. It contains 8,000 volumes and is possibly the most well-equipped private library in England. Alterations were made in the 1860s with an upper floor being added to a family wing and a special entrance for it in 1884. Electricity was added about the same time with the distinction of having its own power plant !
     The old hall stands off by itself, practically hidden by trees but is a delightful instance of medieval preservation and well worth the tour. Built in red brick and a slate roof, it was originally timber-framed and then replaced by brick toward the end of the 17th century or a little later. The L-shaped hall appears two-storied but inside the floors which were added were removed, exposing the wooden roof, carved beams and three tiers of quatrefoil wind braces. It was built circa 1520 for the Brereton family which later was acquired by the Egertons before the 17th century. Eventually it was leased to tenants who divided the space into three farmers’ cottages. The highlight of touring this relic is the Great Hall which is decorated authentically with tapestries and a high table. It even smells authentic and that’s above and beyond expectations! The quarters in the back represent 17th, 19th and even 20th century with period hangings and some of the original furniture. It is a museum unto itself. There are many period exhibitions (called Tour Through Time) depicting medieval life  and Shakespeare plays and it’s well worth taking children along for the education alone. A recent event involved a ghost hunt on October 24th and was televised for the hit TV show Most Haunted
     Many activities and special features of the park make this a great venue for a day outing. The extensive gardens, farm, playgrounds, shops and events will keep everyone happy.
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    Further north of Knutsford and a few miles southwest of Altrincham, Dunham Massey can be found on one of the most beautiful stretches of parkland in the north. They were laid out in the 18th century featuring a series of beautiful avenues and pools but much of the deer park remains beautifully untouched and contains some notable specimen trees. The gardens vie with the greatest in England and are exclusive with having the largest winter garden.
     Its exterior is of the plainest Georgian style but the interior more than makes up for the so-called dull exterior. Photos belie a  large red brick square with symmetrical windows and one tall classical entrance. This 18th century house was reworked in Edwardian style in the interior with collections of walnut furniture, paintings and the finest collection of Huguenot silver in Britain. The Stamford family history is considered scandalous by English standards but would not make an American blink. To make a long story short, Haile Selassie was its most honored guest, hosted by the 10th Earl who laid out a special garden for him during his stay.
       It was built by George Booth, 2nd Earl of Warrington, who inherited the estate at the tender age of nineteen in 1694. His father died at forty-two leaving his son a huge debt. George rallied, however, by marrying well. A L40,000 dowry paid off the debts, the restoration of the house and a daughter he produced also married into money. There was a penchant in the family for gambling which finished off the 7th Earl leaving the title and property to a South African Hottentot who tried to claim the estate and was paid off by trustees. This sole Hottentot British aristocrat went to live in Worthing. Quel dommage !
      A 9th Earl from Canada showed up in 1906 and claimed the estate but died three years later. His son took over although with the heavy hand of his mother and he refused to marry. However, he was a model landlord who supported the United Nations and passed the property onto the National Trust upon his death in 1976.
     The finest rooms redrawn in Edwardian style are the saloon, formerly the old Parlor, furnished with satinwood bookcases and Stamford portraits done by Romney. The Great Hall features plasterwork done in the style of Inigo Jones. A small chapel, just behind the Great Hall is paneled with Wren-style pilasters around the altar. The Grand Staircase leads into the Great Gallery which contains five paintings of the Dunham estate covering the 1690s to the 1750s along with other famous or amazing portraits including Lord Warrington’s mastiff, Old Vertue! The Library also contains art among the books with Grinling Gibbons’ masterpiece, The Crucifixion.  This is a National Trust property.
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   Arley Hall Chapel                                              
     Just a handful of miles south of Warrington and west of Knutsford off the M6, Arley Hall  is a fifteenth century wonder described as Jacobean Victorian seated in 2,000 acres of gardens and parkland. It’s one of the prettiest Elizabethan manors I’ve ever seen with the façade in dark red stylistic brick with black ironwork and trim. Its plethora of mullioned windows give it a lively face for such strong features. There has been a seat here for the Warburtons, Viscounts Ashbrook, since the time of the Norman Conquest. The original medieval hall built here by 1469 no longer exists but the present seat was built in brick by Sir Peter Warburton before the beginning of the 19th century.
     His estate passed to his great-nephew, Rowland Egerton, who was only eight years old at the time of Sir Warburton’s death in 1813. Rowland adopted his uncle’s name and grew up to be a good Victorian Squire with sporty and literary taste. He married at twenty-six after he courted a local girl, Mary Brooke who was delighted to be his choice. They rebuilt house and garden sparing no expense and the current edifice reflects their taste, particularly avoiding classicism in this case. George Latham, a local architect was employed for the task and after quite a bit of argument over the true nature of Elizabethan features the cost jumped from L6,000 to   L30,000 !
     The result is the current building, completed in 1841, with diapered brickwork, Dutch gables, stone windows and a classical porch. The interiors are contemporary to the exterior with grand staircase and careful recreations of 16th and 17th century ceilings, so much so that one can’t help but have their eyes drawn up to the elaborate ceilings! Inside, fireplaces, paneling and portraits are everywhere. The library is the most elaborate with caryatids and niches above its fireplace and- again!- a wonderful ceiling with a frieze and pendants in the plasterwork. The gallery ceiling has most recently been repainted in Wedgwood colors.
              Tudor barn Restaurant
     Today, the great-great grandson of Rowland, Lord Ashbrook and his wife Zoe, along with his sister oversee a large enterprise  dominated by the award-winning extensive gardens with one-of-a-kind varieties, a magnificent Tudor barn converted to a restaurant, a nursery where you can buy nearly every variety of flower and plant growing on the estate, a gift shop and event, wedding and film venue. A visitor has almost too much to see and do on a single day trip to Arley. Advance planning is highly recommended.  

    You’ll encounter the remains of Kinderton Hall  a bit north of Nantwich  which  remains only in cropmarks and slight earthworks. These scant remains are situated on the A54 close to Middlewich, midway between Northwich and Nantwich. A word of warning: there will be nothing to see above ground. It appears that there was a timber castle here but the experts don’t have evidence enough to say for certain these earthworks prove there was a fortification of any kind. What exists is a medieval moat around a trapezoidal mound forty or fifty meters from east to west and fifty meters north to south. Formal garden earthworks are also present. Ormerod, the author of the 19th century book, "The History of Cheshire", suggested that there was an ‘ancient hall of Kinderton stood near the banks of Dane, at the distance of two fields breadth from the site of the Roman works of Condate’ but no listing appears in the Domesday book which is taken as the authority, most often, in England. At this point it is unknown to me whether any excavations have taken place.
       Kingsley and Shipbrook Castle sites are closer to Northwich with the latter mentioned near Davenham only showing scant remains and no motte or bailey. According to informants, remains were supposed to have existed of a Norman castle until 1850 and cleared away under the direction of Mr. Edward Tomkinson. The castle is mentioned in the Domesday book as being a possession of Richard de Vernon but closer to the river crossing and not near the site of doubtful remains of a baronial castle. Kingsley, on the other hand, has a cone-shaped motte in existence with a diameter of 75 feet at the base which tapers up to 20 feet in circumference and almost 10 feet high. The presence of a motte this size is nearly always a clear reason to do excavations. In this case, historians originally thought it was a large barrow, which is a burial ground, most likely because it was made from black soil. They found stone steps and a concrete foundation which were obviously not a part of the castle and were excluded from the scheduling. It has been referred to as Castle Cob, and was most likely a timber castle, never rebuilt in stone.  From these three examples you should get a clear idea of how a castle may be researched without remains but there are clear guidelines in England which brings history and written records into importance along with physical evidence.
                                           Black and white exterior of Winnington

     Winnington Hall  is a former seat of Lord Stanley designed by Samuel Wyatt circa 1600. This mixture of Tudor, Georgian and Victorian styles was built on a site between the Trent and the Mersey Canal overlooking the wooded hillside across fields which lie a mile north of Northwich.  It was purchased by two immigrant engineers in 1872 and has gone through some transformations as far as usage is concerned. The black-and white Cheshire façade has been a series of restaurants and staff club but is now being rented as office space. The mansion was built circa 1780 in hard blackened stone with Adamic motifs on the front and side elevations. This was Wyatt’s work which features wonderful interiors, as usual. A gallery forms a corridor behind the main receiving rooms, with a coved ceiling, attached columns, fans in panels and Greek medallions.
                                     Northwich, the town.

     Northwich Castle exists in name only today. Apparently it was situated on the southwest part of the village that consisted of thirteen acres of land at the confluence of Weaver and Dane Rivers and was known during the Roman occupation as Condate, which means confluence. There is archaeological evidence that a fort  existed which is now referred to as a castle dated 70 A.D. Most likely it was built as an auxiliary as they moved north from the stronghold they built in Chester. There was also a manor of Northwich which belonged to the Earls of Chester until 1237 when it was most likely given to a noble family. A church which  has been believed to have existed on the site of the current St. Helen Witton Church from the 13th century hasn’t been verified but stones placed within the fabric of the porch there carry inscriptions attributed to Ricardus Alkoke Capellanus. His name is associated with local documents dated from 1468. During the Civil War in 1642-43 the town was fortified and garrisoned by Sir William Brereton for the Parliamentarians.
     An interesting motorcycling event called Thundersprint  is held every year in May which attracts over 130,000 people over a period of two days and claims to be the world’s biggest street bike party. I guess they haven’t ever been up to the summer event in Sturgis, huh ?  ; ) (Check out the special photo album I made for Thundersprint in 2008 !)
     If anything remains of Warrington Castle

it’s about 15 miles north of Northwich just along the Manchester border, northeast of Runcorn and not far from Wythenshawe Hall which is in Manchester. In 923 A.D. Edward the Elder, son of Alfred the Great, set up forts in Manchester, Runcorn and Thelwall and there is a Saxon Cross in Thelwall bearing an inscription of his occupation of the area. Historically, Warrington Castle was a part of Lancashire but now resides in Cheshire. Unfortunately, there are no remains of Warrington Castle but its former site can be visited on the edge of St Elphin’s Park where a 7th century restoration cathedral sits a short distance away but it’s unknown whether it had any part in the castle even though archaeological excavations were carried out in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Paganus de Vilars who was the 1st Baron of Warrington, built a motte and bailey there on high ground a few hundred yards from the ford adjacent to St. Elphins Cathedral. It remained the family home until the mid-13th century when the 7th Baron William Fitz Almeric le Boteler moved to Bewsey Old Hall  just above Warrington near Burtonwood which is very much in existence and is worth a trip further north to view along with Bradlegh Old Hall  a short distance away.

     Heading back south toward the Mersey and the mouth of  River Weaver, Frodsham Castle’s remains are a memory but it had taken in quite a bit of history before it burned down in the mid-17th century. Its location was on elevated ground at the base of Overton Hill which is the western end of the town of Frodsham. This area would have guarded the narrow pass between Frodsham Marsh and the hill. Frodsham’s name comes from the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia, most likely to mean Hamlet on the Ford, (i.e. the ford being the River Weaver.) The Earl of Chester in the 13th century was Ranulph de Blundeville and he granted a charter to the town at that time, which gave it the right of self-administration.
      The castle was originally a timber structure, of course, built by Hugh Lupus around 1070 which completely collapsed in the 14th century. A replacement was built possibly in stone but most likely was a fortified manor house because of the physical evidence and the fact that no records of a license to crenellate have been found. Walls were erected but were only minimal fortifications. Sir Thomas Savage of Clifton purchased the manor in the 17th century from the Crown and this was inherited by his son John in 1635 upon Thomas’ death. John Savage was a Royalist and his seat at Rocksavage was attacked by Parliamentary forces. He escaped, apparently, and made his way to Frodsham Castle in 1654 and died there. While his corpse was still in the castle awaiting burial, the building was destroyed in a fire. John Daniel of Daresbury bought the ruins and apparently didn’t rebuild but sold the remains to Robert Wainwright Ashley in 1750 upon which he and his son, also a Robert who was also a solicitor, tore the ruins down and built the first house there originally called Park Place.
     From that point the house passed through many hands through purchases and leasing. Under the ownership of Joseph Stubs in 1851 the house was redeveloped and extended along with outbuildings by the architect Edward Kemp who even laid out the woods and gardens covering an area of more than 24 acres. Stubs did not live to see the completion of the work on the house.
     A Quaker by the name of Edward Abbott Wright purchased the house for an enormous sum of money by the time’s standard, L 9,500, sometime after 1861. At this time the house came to be named Castle Park during the occupation of the Wright family which ended upon the death of one of Edward’s daughters, Harriet, who had once received King George 5th. She died in 1931. In 1949 the grandchildren of Edward presented the house and 12 acres of ornamental gardens to the Runcorn Rural District Council for public use and has remained public property through various local government entities since that time. It is currently used as a centre for public services, charities and meetings and conferences along with facilities for an Adult Learning Centre. Only the cellars of the castle remain as the foundations of the house. There is a black and white litho by Sam and Nat Buck in the Cheshire photo album that show how the ruins looked.  
      Daresbury Park , the birthplace of Lewis Carroll, is not far away and inhabits a nice little surprise for such a small village. Apparently, there is a steady stream of Alice in Wonderland admirers, such as myself, and there are a few small gestures toward his memory that are worth taking in which will make this a good side trip or a convenient and interesting place to stop for awhile. The little town is very pretty and right in the middle of this parish a cathedral, All Saints Church, displays a stained-glass window using Tenniel’s images to honor Lewis Carroll’s birth and death record. The Daresbury Park Hotel is a good place to stop, they have a Lewis Carroll clock in the lobby and it’s a four-star hotel. Tell them the White Rabbit sent you !

     Halton Castle sits high on the rocky summit of Halton Hill, overlooking the Mersey estuary as the closest surviving medieval castle to Liverpool. Built of sandstone in the late 11th century by Hugh Lupus, Nigel de Halton of Cotentin, the first Baron of Halton, reigned over the timber castle as a tenant of the first Earl. It was later replaced  with the current stone edifice in the 12th century by Henry de Lacy, who was the Earl of Lincoln. Henry’s son and only heir drowned in a well at Denbigh Castle ( in nearby Wales) and he passed away in 1311 leaving the de Lacy estates to Thomas, the Earl of Lancaster. Since Thomas’ passing the castle has been a dependency of the Dukes of Lancaster. 

     This concentric castle has two baileys with towered curtain walls. Only the inner part  retains a good amount of masonry. It is not difficult to imagine what Halton looked like when it was young. The enclosure wall appears to be rebuilt but does incorporate genuine parts of the original wall which you’ll find pierced by two cross-slits. It is flanked with a square tower with a perpendicular window and close by you’ll find an ornate window still survives.

      It passed into the possession of Henry Bolingbroke, the 15th Baron, when he ascended the throne as Henry IV and from then was used as an administration center and prison during the Tudor era and by 1609 was declared to be in a state of total disrepair. It was besieged and retained during the Civil War but was dismantled afterward and was allowed to continue to fall into ruin. Much of its stone was used to build a court house which has been converted to a hotel, The Castle Hotel and (and pub). This occupies the space where the former gatehouse of the castle stood. The ruined walls on the east side of the castle are actually follies which were built around 1800 and were placed to  improve the view from Norton Priory. One wall was removed, however, around 1906. Within the castle you’ll find a Victorian sunken garden and two bowling greens. The safest tour around the castle is the perimeter which is still quite impressive. Occasionally, the interior is opened to the public and eventually it will be made more accessible in the future. From the perimeter walk it is possible to see as far as Lancashire, a good part of Cheshire and the hills of the Peak District and even the Snowdonian mountains of Wales ! !
     Halton Castle is still owned by the Duchy of Lancaster and is managed by the Norton Priory Museum Trust.
    If you head northwest to the centermost part of the Wirral Peninsula, the village where Brimstage Hall resides is between Heswall on the west and Bebington on the east which is a part of Merseyside.
      Mostly the Wirral consists of small villages with few dwellings but numerous farms and Brimstage is no exception. As late as 1974 the local government was reorganized and this interesting plot of land became a part of Merseyside as part of the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral.
    Brimstage, a medieval truncated pele tower, may be one of the oldest buildings on Merseyside and is a bit of a curiosity since the building date has been undetermined. Guesses range from the 12th to the 14th century. Originally it was a moated site with earth ramparts comprising a area of roughly sixty acres of land. It is unknown who built it but the first known owners were Sir Hugh Hulse and his wife, who were granted the right to build a chapel on February 11, 1398. There is speculation about a carved stone corbel which was placed in the corner of the chapel may have been the inspiration of the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Many changes were made to the house portion which was lowered and the arrow slits were replaced by windows. One blocked up arrow slit still can be seen in the vaulted room.
     The tower still exists but has been commercialized with a restaurant and craft center built up in its courtyard. This is a new trend in redevelopment by city councils and local governments who take a more active role in their historic properties than in years past for Britain. Brimstage, along with neighboring villages of Raby and Thornton Hough are designated as Areas of Special Landscape Value with the intention of preserving the historical character and appearance of these monuments. Extensions were built in the 16th and 19th centuries to Brimstage Hall so there is much to see and do when you get there!
To see all the photos in large size please click on Photos at the top of the page and look for the new Cheshire album !
Next up, I have a few Palace and Manor Hotels in Cheshire I want you to see and
we’re headed back to Chester to show you a little more of this magnificent town !
Until then, I will crown your head with my glorious kisses !
The Castle Lady

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